Alfred Duryee Guion’s Autobiography – Passenger Trains and Advertising – (4)

Alfred Durye Guion @ 1895

Alfred Durye Guion
@ 1895

Another exciting time I recall was the announcement of the blowing up and sinking of the. U.S. Battleship Maine by the Spanish in Havana, Cuba harbor, the declaration of war against Spain and the slogan “Remember the Maine”, Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, the charge up San Juan Hill, the destruction of the Spanish fleet and Dewey’s victory in Manila Bay, culminating in a stupendous, triumphal parade in New York for this great national hero. “You may fire when ready, Ridley”. My whole family went. We had secured seats in a wood reviewing stand erected on Fifth Avenue. The city was thronged with people, much like Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Somewhere, somehow, in the seething, pushing crowd, I got separated from my parents. As I searched in vain here and there for them I realized that I was lost. I almost panicked but had sense enough to realize my folks would go home by way of the Grand Central Station (that was the old station, not the present structure) so with fear and wildly beating heart I got there somehow and there, at last, I found them.

Incidentally, it is interesting to recall the method of handling incoming passenger trains it Grand Central Station in those days. There really were “brakemen” on the railroads then. An incoming train, when it reached the switching area in the station yard, would be dispatched from the locomotive at exactly the right instant. The locomotive would immediately speed up before the train could follow on the same track, and an alert tower man would throw the switch and the train would glide off to another track. Naturally, the speed of the train at this breaking point had to be carefully judged, because if to slow its momentum would not be enough to carry it to the passenger unloading platform some distance ahead, and if too fast it would be brought to too sudden a stop by hitting the big bumper at the station end of the track. So each brakeman would rush to the car platform and by alternately turning and releasing the brake wheels, which manually controlled the brake shoes, the train, in a series of jerky movements, was finally brought to a halt at the platform. It was remarkable how few or poor landings there were under the circumstances. I’m getting off and walking to the end of the platform, one was besieged by scores of “Hansom cab” drivers, each carrying his whip and soliciting “fares” to various parts of the city, and all adding to the chorus of “cab, cab, cab.”. The Din and excitement of it all made one realized he had finally arrived somewhere.

I recall keeping a picture album in which I pasted pictures of Mellin’s food (for babies), Baker’s chocolate, Pears soap, Sapolio,Pearline (washing powder). Advertisements in the papers and magazines featured Smith Bros. cough drops, Redways Ready Relief, Sloan’s liniment, Carter’s little liver pills, Lidia Pinkham’s pink pills for pale people, Adam’s chewing gum and a round chip gum called Faultless Pepsin Chips. The Sunday papers were beginning to run conic sections featuring Buster Brown, the Yellow Kid, Mutt and Jeff, etc. Ice cream sodas were a new, delightful treat.

Alfred Beck Guion

Alfred Beck Guion

My father seldom drank any alcoholic beverage stronger than beer. One hot summer day both father and mother had beer at the evening meal. It looked so cool and bubbly

I asked for some. My mother said “no” but my father said, “Oh, let him have a taste.” What a disappointment! Instead of a nice sweet taste I had expected it was bitter. To this day I don’t like beer.