Mudhole to Metropolis
"RAGS TO RICHES" was the title of one of the Horatio Alger success stories so dear to the hearts of a past generation. "Mudhole to Metropolis" epitomizes the Rochester success story in the days of the city's youth.
When in 1848 Louis Phillipe, King of France, heard that a Parisian firm had received an order for an immense plate glass window from a dry goods store in Rochester, N. Y., the elderly monarch exclaimed:
"Is it possible that mudhole is sending for such a plate of glass?"
As a young man touring "The Great Western Wilderness" on horseback in 1797, the future sovereign had visited the falls of the Genesee.
He remembered the "mudhole" and could not visualize the "metropolis" it had become in a mere 51 years.
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There is plenty of evidence that the Flower City was an un- promising and unprepossessing infant.
When in 1807 the State Legislature was petitioned for funds to - build a bridge across the Genesee at the falls, solons from southern and eastern counties arose to ask:
"Who would cross it? It is a God-forsaken place, inhabited by muskrats, visited only by straggling trappers, through which neither men nor beast could gallop without fear of starvation or fever and ague ?"
Let's read into the record the testimony of Edwin Scrantom, who after a 10-day journey by wagon from Constableville, N. Y., with his parents, first saw his new home on May 1, 1812. When he was an old man he penned these memories of Rochester in 1812:
"It was a wild and desert place. It was more. Not merely was it a wilderness and . . . cheerless in daytime and doubly dark and dreary in the night, but clustering on either side of the river and run- ning from it for a goodly distance was a thick jungle of all kinds of dogwood, elder, birch and choke-cherry, brambles and blue beech, into whose tops were matted ivy and wild grape vines and under this tangled canopy, the wild beasts crouched and serpents innumerAble crawled. That was Rochester in 1812,"
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The Scrantom family had expected to find a snug log home on the lot sold by Nathaniel Rochester to Henry Skinner, the historic Four Corners site now occupied by the Powers Building. The first dwelling reared west of the river was far from complete that day in May of 1812.
The Scrantoms found "the logs rolled up for the body of the house with an opening left for a door and another for a window, but without roof or fireplace or floor."
Some of the men who had been working on the structure were stricken with the fever and ague and the others promptly deserted the project. The family found shelter in a shanty on the east side of the Genesee near the saw mill Enos Stone was building at what later was the end of the Aqueduct. Enos Stone also had raised a dwelling nearby and Isaac Stone had a tavern on what is now South Avenue, near the present Milner Hotel.
It was July 4 before the Four Corners residence was ready for occupancy. But let Edwin Scrantom continue his "Genesis of Rochester:"
"Mosquitoes . . . annoyed us much and nightly we were obliged to kindle smoldering fires on the outside to prevent their eating us up alive. In the daytime we could hear and see in the neighboring swamp the wild deer as they came to the deer lick near the corner of Buffalo (West Main) and Sophia (Plymouth) streets, and at night we could hear the mournful owl hoot, the sharp barking of the fox and occasionally the howl of the wolf.
"The snow came early that year and more than ever since did winter seem to bring a desolation. There was, however, some stir and some trade in consequence of the war but everything was dear and it took money to buy it-
"I know we got through that winter and if the inquirer asks how, I will only say that we captured one or two deer and that we boys had success that winter in catching rabbits in our box traps around the swamp where Corinthian Hall now stands and that our dessert . . - was from the bushels of butternuts that we gathered from the trees all along the ledge of rocks where now stands the block occupied by The Democrat and Chronicle. That is a little of the small beginnings of Rochester."
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After 11 years, the picture changes. It is livelier, less dreary but, still raw at the edges. List to another pioneer, Jesse W. Hatch, reminisce about the Rochester he first knew in 1823:
"No paved streets-sidewalks made of slabs liable to be removed by heavily loaded trucks, conveying logs through the street. During the rainy season in fall and spring, vehicles of all kinds might be seen in front of the Arcade, floating up to their hubs in a sea of mud-there was a tan bark pile at Front and Corinthian Streets-the streets were filled with teams and wagons, laden with lumber from Allegany County, tan bark from eastern towns, farm produce from the surrounding country, prairie schooners bound for the West and with an occasional run-away, frightened by the fife and drum of the military company on parade.
"There were few dwellings up Lake Avenue from Driving Park to the Four Corners-the Catholic Church at Platt and Frank streets had the forest for a background-the business part was bounded on the north by the Mansion House at State and Market; on the south by the canal; on the east by the river and the west by Fitzhugh Street-The Eagle Hotel at the Four Corners (Powers Building site) had a watering trough in Eront of it-a few dwellings around Main and St. Paul-on approaching the village via the Buffalo Road in winter, frequently a string of teams loaded with firewood, would force the traveler to fall in line, waiting for a place to pass."
And here are some style notes of 1823:
"Ladies parted their hair in the center and used bear's oil to plaster it down-Dudes wore a white beaver hat, its nape beaten with a rattan and roses blown into the fur, a stock about the neck, its frame made with bristles to keep the head erect; a broadcloth coat, white stockings, low cut shoes with square toes."
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Add to the ensemble of the later 1820s these picturesque touches:
Stray cattle roaming the village burying ground where the General Hospital now stands-the sound of a bugle blast and the raffle of loose planks on the river bridge as the stage pulls in from Canan. daigua to draw up before the wooden building that bears the sign, "A. Reynolds, Tavern and Postoffice"-streets full of busy townsfolk, not to mention canalers, lake boat captains, drovers, Quakers in broad brimmed hats, idle and often drunken Indians, a visiting dandy or two in white beaver hat and gaudy waistcoat. And sometimes newcomers and westward bound migrants sleeping in their canvas top wagons for lack of other accommodations.
A Main Street of little frame shops, mostly one story, the shops of gunsmiths, hatters, cobblers, apothecaries, cabinet makers - potash kettles along the highways - wooden footbridges over the mill races-pigstys in abundance - the circus with equestrian acts and the nearby museum with wax figures - the open market at the end of the Main Street bridge, the sandy beach and grass common along Front Street extending to Andrews - the first Court House with belfry and cupola and high steps-the pioneer churches, St. Luke's and First Presbyterian, towering above the village-and always the roar of the falls and the grinding of the mill wheels, and the slow and silent waters of the Erie Canal-these were moulding a metropolis out of a mudhole.
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Now let's hear from a British tourist, Capt. Basil Hall of the Royal Navy, who visiting Rochester on June 26, 1827, found "everything in this bustling place seemed to be in motion . . . half finished and embryo streets crowded with people, carts, stages, cattle, pigs,far beyond the reach of numbers-lifting up their voices together in keeping with the clatter of hammers, the ringing of axes and the creak of machinery . . . . And within the immediate limits of the town itself, in streets where shops were opened and business actually going on, we had to drive, first on one side and then on the other to avoid the stumps . . . ."
And only 15 years before there had been heard only the hoot of the owl and the bark of the fox in the forest.
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The next picture is dated 1840, which was only a little more than a century ago. Whereupon we put into the record the reminiscences of Frederick Whittelsey the chancellor, who lived in the lovely Greek revival house on Troup Street that now is a shrine of the past.
In 1840, Rochester is a city of 20,000, It has passed its old rival, Buffalo, which numbers but 18,000 people. It is a "very stirring enterprising little city-the center of the flouring interest of the country-" There are few houses east of Chestnut Street, west of Ford, south of Troup or north of Jay-no buildings on the south side of the Main Street bridge and only half way built up with one story shacks on the north side.
Main Street ends at the Liberty Pole (Franklin Street) and beyond Grove Place is open country with no houses, bounded with rail fences-there are woods where now is the Women's Campus of the University-West Main (Buffalo) Street is settled as far as! the cemetery, the site of present General Hospital-near the canal bridge is the United States Hotel, later to be the birthplace of the University and then the terminus of the new Tonawanda Railroad to Batavia-the town pump at the Plymouth Avenue corner-the great Bull's Head Tavern where the Chili Road begins-Charlotte is considered an unhealthy place and Irondequoit is a Sahara.
From Water Street runs the horse-drawn railroad along the river's brink to Carthage-between the Tonawanda Railroad terminal and the Mill Street station of the Auburn Road, hacks "ferry" the passengers across the town-the rails are made of wood with straps of iron affixed to their tops-sometimes the straps come loose and snag traffic-the railroads are single track affairs without signal systems or telegraph-baggage is piled atop the cars-the steam locomotives have but one driver on each side, a tall and narrow smokestack and are without cow catcher, bell or whistle-the engineer sounds a bugle or conch horn to signal his approach.
The Erie Canal is a center of excitement with its gay packet boats arriving and departing. There are many boat yards. The new Aqueduct is under way. There are scows on the Genesee and small boys swim the river. Boys play truant from the high school on the site of the Unitarian Church, wander off to such fascinating playgrounds as the Pinnacle or the river gorge and are soundly thrashed when caught:
The river and the canal provide the only water for fire protec- tion. The volunteer fire companies have colorful uniforms but are impotent in quenching fires. The police force, called the Watch, consists of half a dozen elderly men with staves and lanterns-whale oil lamps sputter atop wooden posts at the street corners-houses are heated by wood-burning open fireplaces-ice is an unknown luxury and perishable food is lowered on trays in the cool depths of dooryard wells.
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The Rochester that had been a mudhole in 1797 had become a metropolis in 1840, quaint and crude as that metropolis may seem to this electronic, atomic age.
The Roar of the Crowd
A DAREDEVIL leaps to his death over a waterfall in the view of thousands.
Two young girls claim the power to converse with the dead. "The Rochester Rappings" are heard in a crowded, hostile halt. They echo around the world and the great Spiritualist Church is born.
A clown is put in jail and on the wall of his cell he scrawls a song that he later sings in circus tents all over the land.
Those bizarre events took place long ago, between 1829 and 1851. Puring those years Rochester was striding, industrially, com- mercially, culturally into the front rank of American cities.
But there were thousands in the nation who gave no thought to Rochester's substantial development, her picturesque setting or her pre-eminence as the flour milling capital.
They associated the name of Rochester only with Sam Patch's last leap or the Fox Sisters' mysterious rappings or "The Blue Eagle Jail" of Dan Rice's ballad.
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SAM PATCH, the, leaper of cataracts, never lived here. But he died here and the manner of his death brought fame to Rochester and the falls of the Genesee.
Had his second plunge over the upper falls on Nov. 13, 1829, been successful, this city would have been just another place where the Jersey Jumper performed.
But his failure, watched by 7,000 horrified persons, for a quarter of a century brought curious throngs here just to see where Sam Patch died. It gave rise to a host of songs, poems, legends, sermons and editorials. It was a national sensation. Nathaniel Hawthorne soliloquized over the daredevil's fate. William Dean Howells wove the story into a novel, "The Wedding Journey," in which he called Rochester, "The Enchanted City."
Before he came to Rochester, the 22-year old New England born exhibitionist was famous. Patch bad conquered the Passaic, N. J., falls and other chasms. He had leaped over Niagara Falls from Goat Island and lived. He was an ebullient youth who dressed like a tramp. He was uncouth but with a keen sense of showman- ship.
Three thousand saw him first jump over the Genesee falls on Nov. 6, 1829. First he sent his pet bear whirling into space from the rocky parapet, then followed the animal into the foaming rapids. Both Sam and Bruin emerged safely.
Then he advertised another and a higher jump at the same place. Flouting superstition, he chose Nov. 13 as the date. That day some 7,000 from all over Western New York swarmed around the jumping off place.
As Sam walked out on the 25-foot high platform .that had been. erected above the cataract, some thought he swayed a little. Sam was known to have a fondness for the flagon. Intimates said, however, he had quaffed a single glass of brandy to ward off the chill.
He made a characteristic speech, the tenor of which was that both Napoleon and Wellington were great generals but that neither could jump the Genesee falls. "That I can do and I will," Sam shouted.
Those were his last words on earth. He leaped out without his usual grace and precision. A great gasp of horror came from the crowd as he disappeared from sight.
The river was dragged for his body. It was found the next St. Patrick's Day by a farmer, breaking the river ice at Charlotte to water his horse.
Sam Patch was laid to rest in the old River Street cemetery along the river which had taken his life. For years a board marker stood at the grave. It was inscribed: "Here lies Sam Patch. Such is fame." The board rotted away and there was no marker until in 1912 three strips of tin were nailed to a spruce tree near the grave. They bear his name and the misleading numerals, 1829 (the date of his death) and 1912 (the date the sign was erected).
Now the strips of tin are rusty and the lettering is hard to decipher. The spruce tree is dead. But if it comes down-as it must one day-there will still be a marker to Sam Patch in the old cemetery. The senior English class at neighboring Charlotte High School has seen to that.
The boys cut away the grass. One of their number found a suitable boulder on a Greece farm. It now graces the grave and an American flag waves above it and the high school pupils are making a metal plate which will be inscribed and placed on the boulder.
So Sam Patch is not entirely forgotten in the city he made famous so long ago.
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Two young girls originated modern Spiritualism in nearby Wayne County, the drumlin-shadowed land where also Mormonism was born.
But it was from the stage of Rochester's old Corinthian Hall that the whole nation heard of the spirit rappings and the movement received its greatest impetus.
The famous Fox sisters lived in Rochester both before and after the first knockings were heard in the little house at Hydesville on the outskirts of Newark, a house that the countryside considered haunted because it was believed a peddler had been slain there.
They were humble folk, natives of Canada. The father, John, was a blacksmith. Margaret was 14 and Katherine was 12 when the rappings were first heard at Hydesville.
On the night of March 31, 1848, Katy first sought to converse with the invisible one. When the weird rappings came she snapped her fingers a certain number of times, calling out, "Here, Mr. Splitfoot, do as I do." The spirit answered like an echo. After that the two girls conversed often with "Mr. Splitfoot." A simple code was evolved and from the knockings it was determined that the spirit was that of Charles B. Rosna, the slain peddler.
The sensational news spread and the roads leading to Hydesville were choked with the curious. The Foxes decided to take flight to Rochester. An older sister, Mrs. Leah Fish, brought Katy back first, on a canal packet. Later the rest of the family followed.
In Rochester, the rappings continued, always in the presence of the two young girls. The first public manifestations were made through the agency of Margaret at Mrs Fish's home in what is now Madison Park, then called Mechanic's Square. Friends heard of the phenomena and soon little groups were meeting in the Fox and Fish homes, Mrs. Fox was prevailed upon to accept a small fee from those seeking communications from beyond the grave.
At Hydesville only the spirit of the slain peddler had been contacted. In Rochester it was found many spirits could be reached. The spirit alphabet was enlarged. More and more Spirit Circles were being held and the contagion spread.
Finally it was decided to hold a public demonstration in Corinthian Hall on November 14, 1849. Four hundred persons attended. Katy was in Auburn and Margaret was accompanied to the stage by her sister, Leah, who discovered she had psychic powers, too.
The audience, which numbered many skeptics, named a committee of five to investigate the rappings and to report back to a second meeting the next evening. The committee subjected the girls to numerous tests and reported it Could find neither the cause of the ghostly knockings nor any deception on the part of the sisters. The crowd demanded another test by another committee and another meeting the next night.
The new committee made the same report as the first. Incensed, the audience called for still another investigation by a group that would contain some members openly hostile to the movement.
This committee made even more exhaustive tests. A woman's group had the girls disrobe and made them stand on such non conductors of electricity as feathers and glass. Still the result was the same.
When that result was announced, some of the crowd made a rush for the girls on the stage. A doughty police justice and his men fought them back and got the sisters to safety.
That near riot brought nation-wide publicity. New York newspapers evinced great interest. Pamphlets espousing and denouncing the new "ism" were widely printed. Public opinion was fanned to intense heat.
After that the spread of Spiritualism was as irrepressible as the conflict that William H. Seward a few years later predicted in that same old hall. Seward's phrase went into the history books.
On their return from Hydesville the Fox family lived in the former residence of Deacon Alvah Strong in Troup Street between Eagle and Washington. Later they moved to the house that still stands at the northwest corner of Troup and Plymouth, opposite the Spiritualist Church.
Deacon Strong's son, Augustus H., who became president of the Theological Seminary, as a youth in 1850, attended one of the seances in his former home. He recalled in his published reminiscences that while many of the visitors went away converts, Miss Mary B. Allen, head of a girls' seminary, was not one of them.
Katy Fox was presiding at this session. Miss Allen asked the spirit of her own grandmother to spell the word "scissors." It came back, "sissers."
"Oh," said Miss Allen, "that is just the way Katy Fox spelled that word when she was a pupil in my school."
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In 1850 Margaret and Katy Fox went to New York, where no- tables, including Horace Greeley, sprang to their defense. Societies were formed throughout the country. By 1854 there were 40,000 followers in New York City alone.
The blacksmith's daughters became celebrities. They traveled to many cities. They led rather spectacular lives. Rochester saw little more of them.
In 1888 Margaret returned to the city of "The Rochester Rappings" to make a "confession." She was making the same one all over the country. She explained to her Rochester audience, which was orderly and did not attempt to mob her as in '49, that she and Katy as children had found they could snap the joints of their big toes and produce loud and clear sounds like rappings on a wall. She demonstrated to the audience ftnd the sounds could be heard throughout the hall.
Later on, Katy, and according to some historians, Margaret, repudiated the "confession."
By that time it did not matter. The church that had been born of the Western New York rappings was on solid foundation. It had thousands of members all over the world. The faith that had been conceived by two little girls had brought solace to many a troubled heart.
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Few ballads have been written about Rochester. The juke boxes and the radio blare out "Sioux City Sue," "Atlanta, Ga." and "I Got a Gal in Kalamazoo," but Tin Pan Alley ignores the Flower City.
In the middle of the 19th Century a song about Rochester, not a very agreeable ballad, was being sung in many places-always by the same singer.
His name was Dan Rice and he was the clown prince of his day. He was a one-man circus, a master of cracker barrel philosophy and wisecracks. He was the Will Rogers of the time. He was a favorite of the quip-loving Lincoln. Once a banner hung across New York's Broadway, boosting "Dan Rice for President."
He wore the motley for 30 years-with Barnum's, Forepaugh's and other shows, including his own. In 1866 he received $27,500, the highest annual salary ever paid a circus clown. He made and lost a fortune and died in penury.
When he came to Rochester in 1850, he, ran into legal difficulties which are best explained by the song he wrote and which he for years afterwards sang wherever his circus tents were pitched. "The Blue Eagle Jail" song goes like this:
The Chamberlain referred to was the sheriff of Monroe County. The clown is credited with being the first to call the jail "the Blue Eagle."
Rice wrote the words on the walls of his cell in the old jail and memorized them, The story goes that when he came back to Rochester after 15 years he found his ballad still discernible on the wall.
The Blue Eagle Jail, with its rock pile in the yard, has been gone from the Rochester scene for 60 years. It was built of the native rock, in 1836, close by the river, where the old Erie train shed stood. In its 50-year span, it housed many a noted prisoner. A few escaped by swimming the river.
In 1839 William Lyon Mackenzie, grandfather of Mackenzie King, premier of Canada, was imprisoned there for fomenting insur rection against the Dominion government in the "Patriot War." For 18 months he languished in the dank dungeon. From his cell he saw the funeral procession of his mother pass by. He couldn't attend her funeral. And his grandson, the prime minister, in recent years has tried in vain to locate her Rochester grave.
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A daredevil, a circus clown, neither of whom was a Rochesterian, and two little girls-what a lot of publicity they gave Rochester in a bygone time.
The Big Parade
THIS is about a parade.
It is a fanciful procession, one that takes 134 years to pass a given point. Down the Main Street hill, Rochester's traditional parade ground, pour the columns, seemingly interminable. The marchers are the thousands who left their loved ones and their firesides beside the Genesee to shoulder arms in six American wars.
The Big Parade passes a reviewing stand in which there are no generals, no admirals, no mayors, no top-hatted dignitaries-only an unseen hand turning the pages of Rochester's war history.
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"Yankee Doodle keep it up. Yankee Doodle Dandy." The fifes sing, the drums roll and the Big Parade is on.
At its head marches a nondescript detachment of 33 men, led by three officers, each in swallow tail coat with brass buttons, a long visored black leather cap with a bucktail for a plume, and nankeen pantaloons tucked into leather boots. The rank and file wear buckskin shirts and leggings, with here and there a jaunty feather or a sprig of pine stuck in felt hats. Each carries a long flintlock rifle. They look more like backswoodsmen bound for a coon hunt than a military company. Raw recruits are Stone's Dragoons. Other than their colonel, Isaac W. Stone, the east side tavernkeeper, and a few other veterans of the Revolution, none has seen military service.
The 33 represent every able bodied man there was in Rochesterville the night of May 14, 1814, when word came of a British fleet of 13 sail off Charlotte. They are the men who grabbed their flintlocks and marched down to the river's mouth in the mud and the rain.
An unsoldierly company, but the only Rochesterians in history ever called upon to defend their home soil against an invader.
The hit and run commodore, Sir James Yeo, was on the prowl along Lake Ontario's shore, seeking spoils, in the War of 1812. The 33 villagers deceived the Redcoats by marching and countermarching among the trees to create an illusion of strength. The bluff worked. Yeo did not land his forces which included 400 Indians.
Capt. Francis Brown, the Frankfort miller, is in the Big Parade. It was he who met a British officer under a flag of truce and to a demand that the public stores be surrendered, gave the answer: "Blood knee deep first."
Couriers spread the alarm over the frontier until 600 had assembled to defend Charlotte. After a desultory and harmless exchange of cannon balls, the British fleet sailed away, to vent its spleen on Pultneyville and Sodus Point.
Along with the valiant 33 is the cannon, an 18 pounder, that had been hauled up from Canandaigua by 17 yoke of oxen for just such an exigency. There also is a four pounder that the Dragoons had mounted on the breastwork they had thrown up at Deep Hollow (Lexington near Lake) and christened Fort Bender. It was to have been Rochesterville's last line of defense.
Trailing along with the 33 we see the women of the settlement who had taken their children and hidden in the woods until the danger passed.
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In the parade are the Revolutionary War veterans in bull and blue who greeted their hero, Lafayette, when the aging marquis came to Rochester on the Grand Canal in 1825. Those veterans paraded every Fourth of July until there was none left to march. Alexander Milliner is in line, beating the drum he carried in the War for Independence as a member of General Washington's Life Guard, the drum that today is preserved in the chapter house of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Livingston Park.
In line are the militia men who drilled every Training Day in the years between wars, the Penfield Rifles, the Washington Guards, the Pioneers, the Union Grays, the Williams Light Infantry, the old 54th and the others, in their resplendent dress uniforms.
Swinging along in their tall plumed black shakos and spike tailed jacket.s are the 70 volunteers that Capt. Caleb Wilder recruited for the War with Mexico in 1847 and who finally crossed the Rio Grande, suffering some casualties along the way.
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"Bring the Good Old Bugle, Boys," "John Brown's Body Lies a Moulderin' in the Grave;" the bands blare out the old tunes as a mighty blue-clad division comes in view.
They are the thousands who answered the call to arms when the republic was rent by civil war. Above them float the tattered banners that waved above the bloody fields of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Antietam and Gettsyburg.
In line are all the brave volunteer regiments recruited here-the old Thirteenth, the 108th, in their blue uniforms and peaked caps; the Eighth Cavalry and the Third Cavalry, sabers shining in the sunlight; the 140th Zouaves, resplendent in their red fez2es, white turbans, bright blue jackets, baggy blue trousers; Reynolds Battery, Mack's Battery, the 15th all-Irish regiment; the sailors who served under Farragut and who helped blockade the Cotton Kingdom; all the other warriors with their battle flags, brave in their swords, sashes, epaulets and whiskers.
There are civilians marching with the Grand Army. Mother Hieronymo and her devoted Sisters of Charity who nursed 800 sick and wounded soldiers at St. Mary's Hospital have a place in the Big Parade. So has Congressman Alfred Ely in his linen duster, for he was a prisoner for some five months in Richmond. He had driven out from Washington in a hired carriage to see the Rebel rout and was caught in the gray tide pursuing the beaten Yanks. There's the blind man who drew the 1,096 Monroe County name from the wheel in America's first conscription. And the women who sewed and baked and held bazaars and stayed at home, waiting and praying and weeping, as women must in all wars.
Through the postwar years the boys in blue kept marching-on their Memorial Days, at their encampments-and into political power, General Reynolds, Colonel Pierce, Alfred Masters, Joseph Bauer on horseback, Henry Lilly, the grand marshals all are departed, all save one. The ranks grow thinner, the marching steps slower until there's only James A. Hard in his 106th year, left, waving a thin, white hand at the curbstone crowds from an automobile.
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"There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight," "Good Bye, Dolly Gray"-the bands are playing the war tunes of '98 and the cry wells up: "Remember the Maine."
The 138 Guardsmen of the Eighth and First Separate Companies, Third N. Y. Volunteeer Infantry, later transferred to the regular army, swing past, in their heavy blue woolen uniforms, and campaign hats; with their wobbly canvas pack carriers and black web woven belts, just as when they left the old Armory (now Convention Hall) on April 30, 1898, for the War with Spain.
The Rochester boys of the 202d Regiment who saw service in Cuba and received a royal welcome home, are there. So is the Seventh Battery, Light Artillery, mostly recruited here. So are all the sailors who served under Dewey and Sampson in the short and one sided conflict.
There are memories of the Yellow Jack and "embalmed beef," of uniforms of varying shades of blue shoddy; of sleeping on the bare ground and in tents without cots.
Then come the men in khaki, armed with Krag-Jorgenson rifles, who fought down the insurrection in the Philippines in the wake of the war with Spain. They came to know the hills and jungles of the islands as their grandsons were to know them nearly 50 years later.
The parade winds through a graceful white arch at Main Street and "The Avenue" and General Elwell S. Otis, commander of American troops in the Philippines, receives a hero's welcome on Otis Day as he returns to his home city and retirement on June 15 in 1900.
Claude Bragdon, eminent native son architect, designed the arch. Old timers recall there was difficulty with organized labor over its construction.
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To the strains of "Over There" and "A Long, Long Trail a Winding," the warriors of 1917-18 stride along in the Big Parade. They wear olive drab uniforms with high, uncomfortable coat collars and spiral leggings that are hard to wrap just right. Sam Browne belts are for officers only. Springfield rifles have replaced the Krag-Jorgensons of 1898. For the first time tanks rumble along and crate-like airplanes wing overhead.
There are the home town outfits: The Third Infantry, later the 108th, and Troop H of the First Cavalry, both just back from the Mexican border. These Guardsmen become part of the 27th Division and the cavalrymen are bereft of their mounts and become machine gun units. The Fifth Marine Regiment is there along with the 102d Ambulance Company, Base Hospital 19, the Naval Reserves and the Field Signal Battalion.
Keeping step poorly are thousands of youths in mufti, carrying suitcases, They soon will learn the ways of war. They are the draftees, for in this first World War America abandoned the volunteer system.
Rochester men are in all the divisions; in every battle fleet; in all the theaters of action-at Belleau Wood, in the Argonne and at St. Mihiel. There are women in the ranks: Army and Navy nurses, yeomanettes, Red Cross volunteers.
Memories awaken of the Liberty Loan drives, of the heatless and wheatless days, of the knitting women, of the flag raisings, of the spy scares, of the mayor bidding the boys farewell at the Armory; of the mothers' parade at Exposition Park, of the booming munition plants; of the crowds that packed Main Street on Armistice Day; the civic homecoming dinners-after the war that was to end all wars.
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"Coming in on a Wing and Prayer," "Bell Bottom Trousers," "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas."
The last division is the greatest. It was in the greatest war. It belongs to only yesterday. It is made up of the more than 40,000 who left Monroe County for the war that began at Pearl Harbor and ended aboard the Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
Again there are the home town outfits: The Guardsmen of the 108th who knew bitter battle in the Pacific and the 209th, mechanized successor to the cavalry troops, who saw fierce action in Europe; General Hospital 19, the Naval and Marine Reserves.
Because this was global war, Rochesterians served in hundreds of units all over the world, on all the seas, in the skies. Their weapons were new and terrible ones.
Marching along are the women warriors, WAVES, WACS, SPARS, lady Marines, war nurses, Red Cross volunteers.
Let's cut the Big Parade short. These boys and girls want no parading-not just now. They want a place to work and a place in which to live.
* * * * *
We have seen the glitter and the glory of war in the Big Parade, the spine-tingling music, the waving flags, the shiny weapons, the cheers.
There is another side. Ghostly divisions are in the line of march. They are the ones who never came back to the Genesee. There are graves at Shiloh and Santiago; rows of white crosses in Flanders; on Anzio Beach, in Normandy and on Okinawa. Many sleep in the great oceans.
There are the lame, the halt, the blind, those whose marching days are done, And the sobs along the curb sometimes muffle the cheers.
The Big Parade is over. Say a prayer that it is over for all time; that the last division has marched down the Main Street hill; that the Book of War be closed forever.
Of Flour and Flowers
FLOUR-or rather the lack of it-is much in the news this year of 1946.
Had the present desperate need arisen a century ago, the eyes of a hungry world would have turned to Rochester, N. Y., then the Flour City, the milling center of America, and to the Genesee Valley, the breadbox of the nation.
The words, Flour City, are still on Rochester's official seal but there's not a mill left today within the bounds of the onetime capital of the industry. The milling era that began with Indian Allen in 1789 closed in 1942 when the Van Vechten Company ground its last bushel of grain.
But long before that, the Flour City scepter had passed westward and the label, Genesee, on a barrel of flour was no longer the proudest in the world markets.
The falls that turned mill wheels and gave the city being now serve other masters than the millers of the Genesee. But ghosts haunt the raceways of this old mill town as reminders of a departed glory. They are the gray stone mills, built more than a century ago, that still squat on the river banks, although many a year has passed since they resounded to the roar of the belts and wheels, or heard the clatter of farm wagons before their doors.
Sometime, when you are crossing Platt Street Bridge, glance up at the 110-year-old "ghost" at the Brown's Race intersection. Across the building's top in bold letters that have weathered the years you, read, "The Granite Mills." It's a storage warehouse now. When you're on a bus in State Street, look riverward to the foot of Brown Street and you will see on Mill Street another gray old-timer, that was built in 1840 and still bears the sign: "Moseley & Motley Milling Company, Big B Flour." Adjoining it is another Flour City relic, 113 years old. On it the words, "Irving Mills" can barely be deciphered. Both of these structures are used by the Rochester Gas and Electric Corporation which now dominates the streets and raceways where flour was king.
There are other reminders of the old Flour City, among them the erstwhile Macauley-Fien mill in Graves Street near the tablet that marks the site of the pioneer Allen grain grinder, and the massive old Whitney elevator building at Brown Street and the Subway, now a warehouse. Once the waters of the Clinton Ditch lapped its sides.
And at the northwest corner of the Platt Street bridge is the daddy of them all, Half of the old Phoenix Mill that dates back to 1818 is still there, utilized by a furrier firm. The other part of the building was cut away in 1892 when the bridge was built.
But most of the mills that made the name of Rochester famous, that sent out thousands of barrels and sacks of such brands as "Pride of Dakota," "Granite" and "Corona" are no more. They have either burned down or been razed.
In 1807, the year that fire leveled the remains of Allen's old grist mill, Charles Harford, an Englishman, started a crude tub wheel turning at Platt Street and the river. The Brown brothers bought the mill and when it burned in 1818, erected the Phoenix Mill on the site called Frankfort. The year before, the Elys and Josiah Bissell had built the Red Mill along the Allen raceway.
When in 1822 the eastern section of the Erie Canal was completed and the first boat laden with flour left the basin on the east side of the river for Little Falls, Rochester already had five flour mills.
But it was the canal, providing a new transportation outlet, that really made the milling industry here. Rochester blossomed into the greatest flour manufacturing center in the nation and the Genesee Valley became the major producing region.
Most of the mills clustered around what is now called the Upper Fall. The 14-foot cataract, the most southerly of the three waterfalls, the one that powered the Allen mill, was all but obliterated by the building of the Aqueduct. Some mills were built along the Erie Canal and in time machinery made it possible for boats to unload the wheat and receive the sealed barrels of Hour without changing position and without benefit of human hand.
In 1855, day after day, rain beat a devil's tattoo on the roofs of the Genesee Valley farmers and their wheat lay in the sodden fields until it sprouted. Then the weevil and other plagues scourged the Valley. But in the end it was the plow that broke the western plains that ended the golden reign of Genesee wheat.
In 1860, this was still the Flour City and had 21 mills. But in the years that followed, Midwestern cities, nearer the great producing areas, kept encroaching on Rochester's supremacy. In 1878 the industry here had passed its zenith although the city remained an important milling center into the 20th Century.
The late Maud Motley, historian of the local industry and daughter of a milling family, called the business of merchant milling "a great chance game." Certainly fortunes were made and lost in the highly speculative business that once was centered in the gray old mills along the Genesee.
When World War 1 began, the star of the Flour City was setting. One by one the mills closed their doors, until in the centennial year of 1934, only three were left. Van Vechten's new mill in Smith Street held out until 1942.
Then as written in the Book of Ecclesiastes:
"And the grinders shall cease because they are few."
Even while the chant of the mills was strongest, another industry was taking root in the rich earth on the fringes of Rochester.
That was the nursery and seed business. It stepped neatly into the economic breach as "the grinders became fewer." A change in a couple of letters and the Flour City became the Flower City, not overnight but gradually.
Rochester has always been able to adapt her economy to changing times and save for the infancy of the milling business, has never kept all her industrial eggs in one basket.
Throughout the last half of the 19th Century, east side, west side, all around the town, but particularly on her southern borders, over hundreds of acres sprawled green and growing things-fruit trees, shrubs, shade trees, and bright flower gardens. Gaily colored catalogues advertised Rochester seeds and plants to the far corners of the earth.
Rochester is no longer the nursery capital. Expansion of the city with its demand for building lots and the rise of new production centers have crowded virtually all the nurseries beyond the city's borders. Seed houses in Rochester and environs still do an extensive business but not as in the days when James Vick had eight acres of tulip and peony beds where today are the two streets that bear his name; when upper East Avenue was virtually lined with flower gardens and nurseries.
The pioneer commercial nursery of any consequence was the one Asa Rowe opened in 1833 on 20 acres along what then was Rowe Street in the town of Greece and now is Lexington Avenue and well within the city limits.
The next year William A. Reynolds and M. B. Bateman opened a seed store in the old Reynolds Arcade and maintained a five-acre garden in Sophia Street (North Plymouth).
In 1837 they sold the business to their young German-born manager, George Ellwanger. Three years later he formed a partnership with a young son of Erin, Patrick Barry, and what later became one of the world's largest nurseries was born on eight rolling acres along Mt. Hope Avenue.
The partners toured Europe for rare plantings; they introduced new methods of horticulture and of distribution. Their nursery flourished like a green bay tree until in 1871 it comprised 650 acres.
In the early 1850's a frustrated seeker after gold, G. H. Woodruff, picked up some cones in a grove of giant California redwoods or sequoias. He packed them in a snuff box and shipped them to Ellwanger and Barry, with the request that he share in any proceeds from them. Fifteen years later the firm paid him $1,030, half the profits. The seeds were first planted under glass and the next year 4,000 were set out in the field. Hundreds were shipped abroad, especially to England where the gentry fancied them for their estates. Seven of the giant trees, averaging 52 feet in height and 50 inches in circumference were landmarks in the old nursery tract until they were cut down in 1925, winter killed.
Ellwanger and Barry products went all over the world, even to India and Australia. The firm for years supplied most of the western nurseries. It spawned most of the orchards of California. It sold the Japanese government the trees and shrubs for the Royal Gardens in Tokyo. One wonders if they survived the hail of Yankee bombs. George Ellwanger helped introduce a cherished custom to Rochester. In 1841, with others from the Fatherland, he set up in front of the German Lutheran Church in Grove Street the city's first Christmas tree, brilliantly lighted with candles.
The E and B firm, after cutting up much of its vast acreage into building lots, donating beautiful Highland Park to the city and erecting a downtown office building, finally closed its books in 1918.
* * * * *
The heyday of the Rochester nurseries was the 70s and 80s. English-born James Vick stands out among the hundreds of nurserymen and seedsmen. He pioneered in the mail order business which he built to tremendous proportions.
Vick started growing seeds in a little garden in Union Street and in 1866 established 35 acres of flower beds in the East-Park Avenue area. Later he moved to 65 acres in Irondequoit near the lake. His floral catalogues went into thousands of homes and helped Rochester win recognition as the Flower City of America. Others in the same field were Hiram Sibley, the elder, and Joseph Harris.
Vick's east side gardens were on the site of the old Union Race Track and Park Avenue has sweeping curves today because it follows the course of the race track.
Incidentally, the official city flower is the Rochester aster, developed by the same James Vick.
In the l870s, nearly all East Avenue from Oxford Street to Culver Road was a maze of trees and flowers, the plantings of many nurseries. Rochester's nurseryland was widely scattered, including the Frost Avenue sector, the Genesee-Thurston area, Mount Read Boulevard near Lexington, the present Kodak Park site, St. Paul and Norton, Monroe Avenue, the site of Riverside Cemetery. And there's Browncroft, today an ornamental residential tract on the site of a nursery.
* * * * *
Rochester is no longer the nursery capital but that industry left its imprint upon the town in the form of the well tended shrubs, hedges, trees, flower gardens that surround virtually every home, brownstone mansion and cottage alike. She still is the Flower City.
Her lilac collection is world famous. Every spring thousands, many from other states, view the multi-colored splendor of the slopes of Highland Park. Lilac Sunday, now 38 years old, is an institution.
The azealeas and rhododendrons that follow the lilac show; the gorgeous pansy bed at Highland Park; the poinsettias of Christmas and the lilies of Easter time under the glass roof of Lamberton Conservatory; the dogwood and the cherry blossoms of Durand. Eastman; the roses of Maplewood; the tulips of little Plymouth Square; the magnolias of Oxford Street-all these are Rochester traditions as well as things of beauty.
And is not Rochester the capital of the great orchard belt along the lake that is a fragrant blossomland in the springtime?
Yes, this is still the Flower City. Rare is the Rochester yard, in which some flowers do not bloom, even though they be only humble morning glories tied up with strings to a grimy porch.
THERE are Four Horsemen who lurk at the gates of every city, waiting in the shadows, biding their time. Their names are Fire and Flood and Storm and Plague.
And when they ride, the cities that men built in their pride and thought unconquerable, are humbled. Sometimes they are prostrate.
The grim riders have spared Rochester as they have spared few cities. Still Rochester has known the Horsemen.
* * * * *
A fuse blows out in an elevator and before the ensuing flames are quelled, they have licked up the commercial heart of the city as a kitten laps a saucer of milk. It is a three million dollar fire.
An ice jam gives way up river after seven days of rain and swirling waters six feet high cover the principal streets. It is a million dollar flood.
A twister blitzes out of the western sky and in a few minutes has scythed a swath of ruin seven miles long and a mile wide. It is a million dollar tornado.
Snowflakes start falling in the silent night. They come down faster and faster, until morning finds the city blockaded, helpless, paralyzed.
A nomad arrives on a canal boat. With him come tiny, deadly cholera germs. The result is an epidemic that takes a tenth of the population before its course is run.
Thus the Four Horsemen have made their rounds beside the Genesee.
* * * * *
Rochester's first big fire struck the same spot as the last big one, the Main Street bridge.
On January 25, 1834, the year Rochester became a city, fire consumed every one of the row of wooden business buildings that the pioneers had erected on the north side of the span. The loss was $100,000, a staggering sum in that day.
It was 116 years later, on the early morning of November 26, 1940, that the fiery Horseman rode the bridge again. Three buildings went up in smoke then with a loss of $300,000.
August 17, 1858, was a gala day. Rochester celebrated the completion of the Atlantic Cable with parades, oratory and revelry by night. Just before midnight the livery stables in Minerva Alley caught fire. Soon the big Minerva Hall in Main Street was ablaze. There was no paid fire department. The befuddled volunteers, routed out of the taverns, were of little help. Dawn saw every building on the south side of Main Street between South and Stone in ruins. That disaster led to the formation of a paid fire department.
Some 60 workmen, most of them boys under 20, were toiling overtime the evening of November 9, 1888, at the Rochester Steam Gauge and Lantern Works on the river bank at the foot of Commercial Street. Many of them were on the top floor of the seven-story brick factory.
An explosion, probably of gas, sent tongues of flame leaping up the elevator shaft and the stairways. Workmen on the upper floors were trapped. Thirty-four of them died that night, many in jumping from flame-bordered windows to the river rocks below. Seven others succumbed to injuries within a week. The toll of 41 lives was the heaviest fire has ever taken in Rochester.
Six bodies were so terribly burned their individual identities could not be established. There was a mass funeral, a combined Catholic and Protestant service, for them in the old Washington rink.
Bitter cold was the early morning of January 8, 1901, when the pitiless Horseman galloped through the Hubbell Park Orphan Asylum. A boiler explosion turned the rambling brick building into an inferno. Twenty-eight children and three members of the staff lost their lives of the 110 who had been sleeping in the orphanage.
There were heroic rescues. Onlookers as well as firemen dashed into the blazing structure at the risk of their lives. There were heartrending scenes. No one who was at the orphanage fire ever forgot the little bodies lying on the snowy lawn.
* * * * *
Sgt. Frank Mehle was leading his morning squad up Main Street from the central police station at 4 o'clock the near zero morning of February 26, 1904, when they saw flames bursting through the roof of the five-story building of the Rochester Dry Goods Company. During the night, tiny sparks had shot out from electric wires in an elevator shaft. They ignited the woodwork and the draft swept the flames upward, a seething red geyser. Thus began the greatest conflagration in Rochester's history.
The flames raced westward to the St. Paul corner, leaped across narrow Division Street. Walls toppled and it seemed the whole downtown district was doomed. Help was summoned from Buffalo and Syracuse. They came with their apparatus by train. Horses were dispatched to the railroad to haul the equipment to the scene. The crowds cheered the visiting firemen as they passed by as visiting firemen have never been cheered at a convention parade.
The fire raged for six hours before it was pronounced under control and for nearly 40 hours before it was declared officially "out." It had burned out one and three quarters acres of the shopping district. The loss was nearly three million dollars. Three thousand persons were thrown out of work temporarily. Four mercantile and office buildings, a stable and three residences were destroyed and the tall Granite Building was severely damaged. The heaviest loser was the Sibley, Lindsay and Curr Company which occupied lower floors of the Granite Building and the adjoining Marble Building.
Although there were big fires afterwards, old-timers in Rochester still date events as before or after "the Sibley fire."
* * * * *
For seven days the rain had descended on the Valley of the Genesee after a long winter of extreme cold and heavy snows. The little tributary streams poured down the hills to swell the river torrent. Ice floes clogged the channel near Avon. On the windy night of March 16, 1865, the jam broke and the pent up waters were loosed on the hapless city.
Farm buildings, animals, logs and trees rode along on the sullen, yellow tide. The river overflowed into the Erie and the Genesee Valley Canals and all the waterways were over their banks. Soon the central part of the city, particularly Main, Water, Front, Graves, Aqueduct and adjacent streets, were inundated. The water was six feet deep at the Four Corners that dreary St. Patrick's Day. Rescuers went about in rowboats. Boats passed through the entrance of the old Reynolds Arcade and their occupants reached up to take their mail from the postoffice boxes.
A stranded horse car was yanked off the Main Street bridge and over the falls. Pieces of lumber from mill yards floated through the streets. Timbers thudded against buildings. Business was at a standstill. The city was in darkness that night for the gas plant was submerged.
When the waters receded the second day and Rochester counted the cost, it ran into a million dollars-but not a life was lost.
The flood of '65 was not the first nor the last but it was the greatest. The Genesee, ordinarily well behaved and tranquil, had a habit of going on spring sprees and turning on the city it had cradled, Every Spring when the thaws and the rains came and the ice jams formed, Rochester would cock an apprehensive eye on the river and prepare to man rowboats and don hip boots-at least in the area immediately west of the Main Street hill.
After the 1865 flood was repeated in miniature in late March of 1913, causing damage of half a million dollars, the city tired of the Genesee's tantrums and resolved to tame it, The river was deep- ened and retaining walls built and since there have been no serious floods in the city proper.
* * * * *
It was stifling hot the afternoon of July 1, 1932. Ominous yellowish cloud banks formed in the sky over Gates and Chili. There was a deathlike hush and then Monroe County's only tornado struck with a roar like the rush of many waters, with the crackle of light. ning and the crash of thunder. At a mile-a-minute clip it raced across the western end of the county and along Lyell Avenue in the city to the river before its fury was spent.
It unroofed buildings, twisted huge trees as if they had been matchsticks. It lifted a 300 foot warehouse in Dewey Avenue from its foundations. It felled 100 shade trees in Saratoga Avenue alone and in a parting burst of rage leveled many century old trees in Jones Park. A youth and a girl were drowned when the backlash of the storm upset their boat in Irondequoit Bay. The twister was over as quickly as it had come but it presented a bill for a million dollars.
The "Big Wind" of Dec. 31, 1895 was not officially recorded as a tornado although it reached a velocity of 72 miles an hour. It flattened tall chimneys, among them that of the Sibley store, then at the Main and St. Paul corner. It ripped heavy stone ornaments off St. Michael's Church in North Clinton.
* * * * *
The Storm King rides roughshod over Western New York in the winter time. Rochesterians are used to blizzards.
Let's recall two of the many. One was the 43-inch three-day snowfall that began on Feb. 28, 1900 and tied Rochester in a tight white knot. It was the worst blockade in the city's history-up to that time. It paralyzed business. It stalled the electric trolleys and the railroads. It begot tall tales'of drifts so deep that people could climb out on them from second story windows.
But those were horse and buggy days and sleighs can negotiate drifts better than motors can. Besides the city was smaller than when the next great blizzard came and people were not so dependent on rubber-tired vehicles to get places.
The storm that began in the early hours of Dec. 12, 1944 brought 23 inches in two days and paralyzed Rochester more effectively than any general strike ever could. It closed stores and schools, cut vital war production, stalled buses all over town, marooned hundreds of private autos for the rest of the winter and stirred up a considerable political tempest.
Rochester's civic pride was wounded, too, when the city had to appeal to the governor to send in the big state plows. Hitherto the "Best Governed City" had been able always to clean its own house.
* * * * *
There remains the most stealthy of the Horsemen, Plague, which is one of the riders of the Apocalypse, too.
In July, 1832, when Rochester was a village of 11,000, the cholera came to town, via canal packet and in the person of a wandering peddler. In the little over two months that it raged, the epidemic took 118 lives.
It struck as swiftly as a rattlesnake and with less warning. People seemingly hale in the morning were dead by nightfall. Doctors were virtually helpless. They possessed neither the knowledge of the disease or the treatment for it. Few were willing to risk their lives nursing the sick. In that dread time one tall figure stands out like a knight in shining armor. That was Col. Ashbel W. Riley. He nursed many of the sufferers, prepared for burial and interred with his own hands scores of corpses, that others shunned. A cart rumbled through the village streets picking up the dead who were buried together in a ditch in the old cemetery out West Main Street.
Back in 1902 there was a pesthouse along the east bank of the river, south of the Clarissa Street bridge ironically called Hope Hospital. That was the year of the smallpox plague when 100 persons out of 1,000 affected died between April and October. Hope Hospital consisted of a wooden building, a barn and some cabins. When these quarters were overtaxed, tents were added. At the end of the epidemic the pesthouse was burned to the ground.
In the closing days of World War I, that fall of 1918 just when the skies were glowing with the promise of early victory, a silent, deadly enemy attacked the home front. It was the Spanish influenza.
It killed 948 Rochesterians, 45 in a single day in mid-October. Besides 504 others died of pneumonia during the epidemic. Emergency hospitals were set up, one in the Main Street armory; doctors and nurses - and undertakers - went without sleep; schools, churches, places of amusement were closed; public meetings were forbidden. People went about with gauze masks on their faces. The "flu" wave was on the wane when the throngs jammed Main Street to celebrate the Armistice.
It was a grim time, not soon forgotten. The Fourth Horseman is the most terrible because his harvest is human lives.
* * * * *
Men have devised effective ways of fighting and preventing fires. They have dredged the unruly rivers and hemmed them in with retaining walls. They have rigged up powerful weapons to battle snow drifts. Medical science has learned how to contml most epidemics.
But no one has found a way to halt that fast riding Horseman, the wind.
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