Reprinted from the series of stories of Camden’s earlier days, under the title Sixty Years in Camden County – Gosh! by Will Paul, appearing in The Community news, of Merchantville, NJ.
In an earlier chapter I suggested that a young writer seeking a subject for a story could take any Camden street that leads to an old turnpike. But better than any of them would be Cooper Street, which has to break its straight line to reach an old turnpike.
The story of old Cooper Street would have more romance, more beauty and less tragedy than that of other prominent streets. It would be a pleasing story with many interesting characters—senators, important doctors, an attorney general, one of the world’s most famous publishers, the head of Camden’s first gas company, the president of its early city transportation system, prominent businessmen, some important politicians, and the city’s first dude. It is probable that, back in 1890, the combined wealth of all of Cooper Street’s residents would exceed the combined wealth of any other street in the city,
I will take the role of the fellow with a megaphone on a sight-seeing bus and we’ll imagine we are back in the days when Cooper Street had a hard gravel road, which was kept dustless by a sprinkling cart, and make a tour from Front street to the railroad.
There were front yards or grass plats between doorsteps and a wide sidewalk with a row of maples in many blocks, forming a line along the sidewalk where it met the grass plats. The grass later gave way to concrete when the roadway was widened, and curbs and sidewalks set back. Vacant spots in my own memory of the homes and their residents have been partly filled in by former Senator William T. Read, president of Camden Fire, and William H. Chew, publisher of West Jersey Press. I don’t know where to look for the answer to: Why Cooper Street ? Who laid it out and made it the widest of the city? What started the style of people seeking sites there for homes that would show their wealth better than it could be shown on some other Camden street?
At the lower end of Cooper when I was a boy there was no romance about the Esterbrook pen factory, and little about the saw mill across the street, perhaps a little below Delaware avenue or at the corner. Delaware avenue was a cinder drive with a bulkhead holding the river from washing over it at high tide. I remember the bulkhead because I stumbled into the river there, fully clothed. The saw mill gave out a loud scrunching, screeching cry as its big saws ripped long logs into heavy planks—it was that kind of a mill. Romance that once played about the trees of the old park adjoining the mill had died before my time. The park had once been a German beer garden attracting Philadelphians. It ran from Delaware avenue to Front Street and north almost to Linden Street.
East of Front street was the Cooper mansion, now the library, with its surrounding grounds. On the Front Street side, across from Coopers, there was a row of willow trees that made swell whistles. Of the south side of the block my memory retains little; nor did Bill Read and Bill Chew give me any help there. The block was nondescript, as I recall it. It held the brick building, painted gray, to which I have referred as my first public school.
My collaborators failed me again when I got to Second street, but I recall a large house on the southeast corner occupied by Kaighns; perhaps one of the old family. In the “Eighties” it had a “milk depot” in the rear and an ice cream parlor that was reached by high steps on the Second street side. Kaighn was the name of the man in charge; a Quakery fellow, very pleasant, with sideburns.
Skipping a few houses came a row of six or eighty in which there were no tenants claiming social prominence, but average people. I remember that “Whitey” lived in one of them. His father drove a truck for some firm. At the Third street corner Abraham Anderson. He and his sons conducted the Anderson Preserving Company at Second and Arch Streets. His grandsons live in Merchantville; one of them Councilman Frank Anderson. The youngest Anderson boy, Voorhees, was one of my friends. The Andersons, it was my impression, had a bigger business than their rivals, Campbell’s, around on Second street, but Campbell’s later absorbed the Anderson plant.
On the north side of the block there was a large home at Second street but I don’t recall who lived there. In recent years it was an Italian restaurant. I must skip other houses to reach that with brownstone trimmings on the corner of Friends avenue, the home and office of Dr. Schenk, a prominent physician when I was ten. I remember curly-haired Tommy Logan. who lived on Taylor avenue and drove the doctor’s carriage. Dr. Schenk’s home was later the clubhouse of the Carteret Club.
Across Friends avenue was the side yard, enclosed by a high fence, adjoining the home of John Stockham, wealthy lumber dealer. I have mentioned his two daughters, Mrs. Taylor and Mrs. Horace Githens, in an earlier chapter. Perhaps there were two sons, but I remember one, Grant, who drove a fine team of horses. I could hardly forget the horses, for my grandmother, who was very deaf, stepped off the sidewalk at Sixth and Penn streets directly in their path, and had both of her legs broken.
Next to the Stockhams lived the family of which Lew Seal was the most conspicuous; the first “dude” to attract my attention. They were people of means. Lew, I think, was in the stock brokerage business. He belonged to a circle of Philadelphians who dressed in the best New York and London fashions. A few years later there were plenty of Camden boys who added a few frills to their attire, and the “dude’ became extinct through ceasing to be a novelty. But Lew Seal pretty nearly had the stage to himself on this side of the river at the time of which I am writing. The only other family I remember west of Third street was that of Charles Watson who was head of the Camden Gas Company. He lived in a smaller house that set back of a fenced-in front yard with flowers. Mrs. Watson was an invalid and their only child was “Emmie.” Emma Watson married Dr. S. Bryan Smith, and her personality with her active interest in various organizations made her one of Merchantville’s best known women. Her death, a few years ago, was deeply mourned.
The collaborators helped more beyond Third street, and we are able to account for 90 percent of those who lived between Third and Fourth. Or the southwest corner lived Dr. Davis, whose son also became a doctor. Next was the home of Joseph Potter, active in politics, representing the “snooty” Second Ward, and serving as president of council. He had a large factory on Front Street below Cooper where they made women’s straw hats. In a nearby dump could always be found hundreds of plaster of parts casts upon which hats had been shaped, or from which their blocks had been made. Next to Potter was the old Lee home. I don’t remember any Lees living there, but remember it as a Republican headquarters. I was there once when some prominent visiting statesman was a guest, but I don’t recall the statesman; The old Lee home is now owned by W. Leslie Rogers, of Pennsauken Township, well known in today’s politics. He has his offices there. Dr. Strock had his home and office in the block, and Dr. Ireland, whose wife was a Cooper, lived at the corner of Fourth street.
On the north side, at Third was the home of Henry B. Woolston, a prominent citizen; and next was that of Dr. H. Genet Taylor. William Lafferty, another important citizen of the time, was next. Then came the home of Judge “Uncle” Peter Voorhees. Perhaps no other lawyer in Camden ever reached the position held by “Uncle Peter;” a pillar of First Presbyterian Church, a man whose knowledge of the law was respected by all lawyers, and one of the kind of men who stand out in a community. They called him “Uncle” Peter because his nephew was also Peter Voorhees. The Voorhees home became the Camden Club which for years was the rendezvous and lunching place or the city’s foremost business men, enjoying the peak of its popularity in the 1920s.
In the row lived Benjamin Archer, father of F. Morse Archer, now president of First Camden National Bank. I think it was the adjoining house in which Dr. Orlando White lived. His son is Jesse Starr White, of Merchantville, head of the chemical company far out Pine Street, on Cooper River. Dr. Mecray lived in the row before he moved to Maple Shade; not the father, but, I think, uncle and great uncle of the popular Drs. Mecray of today. The older Dr. Mecray’s son was Dr. Jim, a veterinarian, widely known among horsemen. At the corner of Fourth lived the Knight family with several children. In our crowd was Al, “Rat” Knight, one of the mischief makers but not vicious; and his well-behaved younger brother John, who later lived at the Stanwick end of Moorestown. I hope it won’t embarrass John’s younger sister if I recall that she; then quite a little girl, and John and I were playing along the block one day when she dropped her petticoat. She stood in the shelter of White’s front step with John and me forming a screen while she got the unit on again. They were the days of petticoats.
Authors Note—In the above are two or three omissions and at least one minor misstatement, found by the two collaborators. If the changes were made here there would be no excuse for publishing the interesting letter which Is saved to introduce the next chapter of the story of Old Cooper Street.
Old Cooper Street—Continued
A foot note in the preceding installment of Old Cooper Street referred to corrections by two former Cooper street boys, William T. Read and William H. Chew. They were sent in a letter by Mr. Read, attested by Mr. Chew. A postscript in Mr. Read’s letter reveals the interesting information that a lad ambitious to become a state senator and state treasurer, which offices Mr. Read has held, should begin with the humble job of pumping a church organ.
The postscript reads; “Have enjoyed your articles and all their contents except one in which I noted you pumped the organ in old Trinity Church and received 25 cents for your labors. I did it a few years later and only received 10 cents, although my recollection is there were two of us who took turns, and which really made an expense to the church of 20 cents.”
In providing omissions in the preceding chapter, Mr. Read writes: “My grand uncle, Joseph J. Read, lived at the southeast corner of Second and Cooper in the pebble-dash house. He had four daughters and two sons, and entertained very lavishly, even serving wine, to the consternation of the rest of the family. His son, John Read, was a distinguished lawyer of Philadelphia, of the firm of Read and Pettit.
“The large house on the northeast corner was the McKean home and was used for many years by officials of the Pennsylvania Railroad or its subsidiary, the West Jersey and Seashore. A. O. Dayton, Supt., lived there for years.
“Between that and the Dr. Schenk house was one in which the Nieukirk boys lived. Phil was with Campbell’s Soup for many years, as vice president and purchasing agent. He is now retired.
“Would like to correct an error you have made concerning Voorhees home on the north side of Cooper, between Third and Fourth. This was the home of Judge Peter Van Voorhees, who married Miss Dayton, daughter of James B. Dayton, and who was in later life a Judge of the Court of Errors and Appeals. He was a nephew of Peter L. Voorhees who was known as “Uncle Peter,” who lived on Market street, between Front and Second.
“You mentioned the saw mill at the foot of Cooper Street. It was owned by a man named Morrison, and one Sunday afternoon it caught fire and the whole sawmill and the lumber yard that went with it were consumed. It was my first big fire, and surely, if you were in town that day, you would have remembered it. After the fire the land was sold to Shimer and Boyer for their knitting mills, where they remained until Victor bought them out, and they went out on River Road and became B. F. Boyer & Sons.
“Dr. White lived at northwest corner of Fourth and Cooper. His wife was a daughter of Jesse Starr of the Camden Iron Works. Mrs. White, as a widow, lived at the homestead until her death a few years ago.”
* * * *
Having stopped our imaginary sightseeing bus for this entertaining interruption, we will resume our tour eastwardly, from Fourth street.
On the south side at the corner of Fourth street lived Joseph Morris. Then came William C. Dayton, prominent lawyer of the more dignified type. Next was the home of one of the Hatch families. That, perhaps, is the wide building with doctors’ offices on both sides of its entrance. The Markley home was next. The elder Markley was a prominent figure in Washington. Today he would have been called a lobbyist. From someone I heard that he was found drowned, and the cause of his death never explained. I knew the son Hamilton “Ham” Markley, a big man of forty or under, with a very pleasing personality. In the side yard of the Markley home was a large barn where Cooper Street society had dances. At the corner, where the Methodist church has long stood, was a large greenhouse. I think it was that of Vogt, who later built a smaller greenhouse around on Fourth street, below Cooper, and had a florist’s shop.
On the north side, starting at Fourth street, lived Wilbur Rose, cashier of National State Bank, at Second and Market streets; a handsome man with a well-tended beard and the dignity that befitted his position. His large home was at the corner where, for a long time Dr. Joseph Roberts, x-ray specialist, has had his offices. That side of the block had a row of brick houses. Perhaps the best known of those in the block was the family of Harry Humphreys. He was a lumber dealer and a prominent citizen. His daughter is Mrs. Henry Bowes, formerly of Merchantville and now living in Detroit. The oldest of the two sons married Christine Baird, a daughter of David Baird Sr. The only other family of the row that I can recall was the Keens. There were at least four sons, all of them well known as boys. At the corner was the Schellenger home. Mrs. Schellenger, who was a sister of Mrs. Alex Mecray, married Joseph P. Read, but the house was better known as the home of her son, Dr. E. A. Y. Schellenger, and now is used for offices by Dr. E. A. Y. Schellenger, Jr., of Merchantville.
I have said that Cooper Street would make a story with plenty of romance and color. The truth is that most of its blocks, between crossing streets, would make lengthy stories because there were families in all of them that played important parts in the city’s affairs of the “Eighties.”
Crossing Fifth street and remaining on the north side, were found two or three houses all alike, that set well back with fenced-in front yards. They were modest compared with some of their neighbors. At the corner lived Judge David J. Pancoast, a tall man of rather severe bearing. He had two sons. There was an older girl but I always thought she was a niece. The family later moved to Merchantville. The younger son, Wilbur, was a handsome youth with light hair that curled; bubbling over with life that made him exceptionally popular. He died about the time of reaching manhood. His older brother was a dignified boy who married a daughter of Allen, of the Chestnut street, Philadelphia, store for women, and became its head.
In the next, or second next house lived the Nash family. Wilbur was the son, a well-known young man. He married Julia Shock, a daughter of a Methodist minister, then living in Merchantville. Herbert Felton, superintendent of the Reading Ferries, lived in a house before reaching that of Dr. Hunt. This was built in my boyhood. The house was an impressive, greystone affair. Next came Henry Bottomley, of the Linden Worsted Mills; then the Koons. The daughter’s name was Laura. She was a “tomboy” who shocked the neighborhood by riding the horse-drawn scraper that smoothed the ruts out of the gravelled roadway. Then came the home of David Chambers, who was important, but I forget why. Dr. Nicholson’s home with his office was next. His widow died a year or two ago, nearly 100 years old. Adjoining was the Potts family and the home, with its side yard hidden by a brick wall, made me think of an “estate.” Mr. Potts impressed my memory because he looked like a character in a story. He was rotund but not tall. and wore a derby hat, a certain-type of standing collar, and always looked dressed up carrying his modest basket to do the marketing. At the corner of Sixth street, as I recall, lived Gus Cavanaugh, whose parents I did not know. The other side of the block must wait for the next installment.
Old Cooper Street—Part Three
Let us cross old Cooper Street, as it was back in 1880, earlier and later at Fifth street and proceed along the block on the south side. This block too, had prominent citizens, and children who later became prominent.
At the corner of Fifth was the home of John Campbell, a leading and wealthy realty man. Myers Baker, husband of Florence, important figure today in Republican politics, was his office boy. It was a brick house of impressive size. John and Mary were the children. Next, with grassy lawns between, came the home of William T. Read, and of his better known son William T. Read, Jr., who became state senator, state treasurer and now president of Camden Fire Association. City Clerk Rightmire lived next, but I remember the family when it later lived on Market street. His daughter, Maud, became the wife of “Doc” Chris Street, dentist, and one of the best-known and most popular skippers of power boats of the Philadelphia Yacht Club.
Then came the home of residents whose first names are forgotten by this writer and his informants. They were Mrs. Wilson, Mr. Peak, Mr. Kaighn and—believe it or not—Mr. Able. I wonder if any other block in the world brought these famous Biblical names side by side as neighbors. The Laughlins came next in a small house. The block was made up of early frame houses and the more impressive homes built later. Mr. Laughlin had exceptional personality and a legion of friends. He managed the office of Wilson Coal & Ice Co. for years. Mrs. Laughlin was serious-minded. Perhaps it was she who urged the oldest son, Livsey, to study medicine. Livsey married the Cavanaugh girl across the street, a childhood romance. They went on a honeymoon, looked out of the car window at Dayton, Ohio, liked its looks and have been there ever since. I had dinner with them in 1915, and enjoyed a pleasant reunion over a few drinks with Mr. Laughlin, who was living in the Dayton Soldiers Home and hadn’t lost any of his personality.
Mrs. Hugg’s home was next to Laughlins. She had a boarding house whose guests included a number of young men who became prominent in the city’s life, some as lawyers and judges and newspapermen. One guest was Lieut. Commander Buehner who later commanded the USS Bear in Arctic waters. Mrs. Hugg was assisted by Miss Scott, her cousin. The Chew family, in the next house, is almost well enough known by oldsters to be passed with a line, but youngsters might as well be told that Sinnickson Chew’s West Jersey Press is one of the oldest newspapers in the State. Mr. Chew erected what was an important building in 1871, at Front and Market streets, and later a modern building on Third street where the business is still carried on by his son and grandson. The top floor of the original building was the first armory for the Sixth Regiment, National Guard of New Jersey. Bill Chew, the older son, has long lived in Salem but continues to be one of Camden’s better known business men. His younger brother, Eddie, was, I believe, the most popular young man Cooper Street produced. He “mingled” socially and politically, in the city, the suburbs and particularly at Trenton, from which he could return with a “ton” of state printing for his firm. He married Josephine Macomb, of Merchantville, and died while still a young man who had never lost his popularity.
The home of John Cheyney, who had moved from Penn street, and that of Mr. Shelmire came before reaching the home of Edward Fagen at the corner. I mentioned the Fagen family in an earlier chapter.
Crossing Sixth street we will look at the north side first, because the south side could demand some individual stories that could carry it beyond this chapter. On the northeast corner was the home of William S. Scull, whose father established a wholesale grocery business with a building and store at the southwest corner of Federal and Front streets. The present Scull Co. building, across from the old store, was built before I grew up and went to work in old Newspaper Row. Bill Scull was president of the old Camden Horse Railway and “mechanized” it to use trolley cars. His son and his son-in-law, Carl DeLaCour, have carried on in the same progressive manner in the coffee business.
Next to the Scull home was another with which my memory connects no name. Then came the fenced-in grove of oaks, extending about 150 feet, which belonged to Cooper B. Hatch. His two or three fine horses grazed there. There was a low spot in the grove that filled after thaws, and froze over to make a good skating pond for the neighborhood youngsters, of which I was one. Attorney Howard M. Cooper had a home adjoining the grove, but, I think, he later built a home on Penn street.
On the northwest corner of Cooper and Seventh street was the gray stone house of Rudolphus Bingham, a man whose name deserves a more prominent place in Camden’s history than was ever given it. Perhaps Mr. Bingham was Camden’s most important eccentric, for his interests were in uncommon things. He was a poet and an artist by nature, although I never knew that he wrote or painted. His nature was reflected by a number of unusual physical illustrations. On one side of his home was a heated aviary containing many birds, with trees and plants to make their prison homelike. In his front yard was a large fish pool. I think he grew something on his roof at one time when he was making an experiment.
Mr. Bingham, in the lumber business, had wealth at one time. He had a farm which was about where William Markeim laid out his Cooper River golf course. He gave temperance lectures in a tent in old Diamond Cottage Grove. He proved his theory that a sail on a wagon would take it to market and save horse power; even if he didn’t prove the wind would blow the wagon home. A lovable old gentleman with a drawl. Born fifty years later, he might have been an important scientist.
Still On Cooper Street
More Reads were found on Cooper Street upon reaching Sixth street. There was John S. Read at the southeast corner, and E. E. Read, Sr. Ed Read was a president of Camden Fire Insurance Company. Anyone who knew him could not forget his pipe, which always seemed to be working. Charles Stockham lived in the block, related, I suppose, to the Stockhams further down the street. A son, Edward V., graduated from West Point and married a daughter of Pennsylvania’s Governor Hartranft. A young daughter; I knew of only one, became the first wife of Harold S. Bottomley, of Merchantville. She died while a young woman.
A MacDonald family lived in the middle of the row. There was Malcolm, a trusting big youngster of the hothouse variety who loved to meet some boy who had more freedom. The “ornery” kind appealed to him as a novelty. He had two younger sisters, who I think, were twins, or with no more than a year between their ages. The three youngsters, all attractive at from twelve to fifteen, seemed to be under a rule that kept them within their own front yard.
Joseph Campbell lived in the row. He was the founder of the Joseph Campbell Preserving Company, now Campbell’s Soups. There was a tennis court in the block, and next to that was built a handsome brick dwelling that marked the first progress to great wealth of Cyrus H. K. Curtis. That could have been about the time he had launched the Saturday Evening Post, 1883. His Ladies Home Journal had already become a magazine nationally read and highly profitable.
The “Post” may owe its great success to the ability of Cyrus, but it was Mrs. Curtis who was responsible for the early popularity of the “Journal.” I had heard, long ago, that Mr. Curtis began his great career as the publisher of a modest woman’s magazine, compiled and edited in a small house in North Camden. The story formed in my imagination the picture of a man close to poverty, struggling to meet his printer’s bills. I learned later that the North Camden Curtis home; I think it was on North Second street, was one of the average that housed citizens getting along well enough.
It was from Mrs. Miranda Bottomley, a daughter of Howland Croft and mother of Harold S. Bottomley, that I learned of Mrs. Curtis being important in the early days of the Ladies Home Journal. Mrs. Bottomley was an intimate friend of Mrs. Curtis, whom she describes as a lovely woman. She remembers when Mrs. Curtis wrote most of the material that went into the “Journal” in its early days. If she wasn’t responsible for her husband’s early success, she at least helped him to an earlier start.
The Curtis daughter, and only child, who became Mrs. Edward Bok and a woman of great prominence, was, perhaps, born in Camden. I recall her as a girl in her early ‘teens after they had moved to their new home on Cooper Street. That was more modest by comparison with their later homes than the birthplace of the “Journal” was as compared to the Cooper Street house.
General Sewell bought the Curtis home, a more desirable location but, perhaps, not much larger than the Sewell home at Fifth and Linden streets, now the Belleview Hospital. After the General’s death, the Sewells, too, moved to suburban Philadelphia’s famous “Main Line.” Warren Webster became the next owner of the Curtis house, moving there from Merchantville where he and his two brothers were residents for a good many years.
B. D. Shreve of the Mount Holly family of several lawyers, lived in the eastern end of the block, as did Joseph Z. Collings who had a carriage works on Front street. He was a brother-in-law of William S. Scull. Some of his several children “made their marks,” one, Clifford, being the head of the Philadelphia firm of C. C. Collings & Co. On the comer lived Benjamin Reeve, a prominent citizen of many interests.
Crossing Seventh street, the Vogel family lived at the northeast comer. I can remember only Miss Alice Vogel who impressed me as being one of the important people of the street. Next to the corner was the home of Browning Canfield. Mrs. Canfield was a Browning, as were her kin, Mrs. Isaac Doughten and Mrs. Hanford, the latter now a resident of Haddonfield. The Canfield son, also Browning, is a resident of Philadelphia. Next was the stone house built by Samuel H. Grey. My recollection of Mr. Grey is that he was never without a silk hat. He was New Jersey attorney general from 1897 to 1901.
The Greys had a son who died early in life, and four daughters, all of whom married men of prominence, Julia became the wife of William C. Dayton, well-known lawyer and banker; Ethel married Rev. R. A. Roderick, rector of St. Paul’s Church. She married again after his death and lives in the West. Alice, the youngest, married George J. Bergen. His tragic death at the railroad crossing on Haddonfield’s King’s Highway shocked the county. She later became the wife of the late Vice Chancellor Edmund B. Leaming. Mary married William F. Reeve and lives in Moorestown.
In the house adjoining Coopers lived a boy with whom I went to school. He was big, inclined to be fat and was very good natured. When two of us lightweights would try to throw him, he would grin arid shake us off. None of us then suspected he was going to have an important part in giving Camden its greatest industry and the whole world a popular instrument of entertainment. The boy was Albert C. Middleton. How he became the partner, with financial backing, of Eldridge Johnson when the latter was moving on from his small machine shop to manufacture Victor Talking Machines is too well known to be told again here.
As one of his boyhood pals I should have had some enjoyment from his great wealth. And I did. It was one day when I had called at the Victor office to see some department head and had been waved to a bench by one of those reception queens who treat you like something the cat dragged in. As I sat there wishing I were the queen’s boss, so I could fire her, Bert [Albert’s nickname. –ed.] came in. the door. I greeted him with a “Hello, Bert, you old sonofagun,” and a slap on the back. If he hadn’t been a millionaire, I couldn’t have got square with the queen.
The block, which had a family that had become related to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, has too many stories for one chapter. The end of it will have to await another installment.
Cooper Street, East End
The preceding installment of Old Cooper Street mentioned that a family in the block west of Eighth street became related to the family of President F. D. Roosevelt. The family was that of George Genge Browning, which occupied the house on the northwest corner.
The Brownings didn’t improve their social position by that relationship, for the Browning family of Camden is as old as the Roosevelt family of New York. The Browning’s daughter, Elinor, married Mr. Donner of the Steel Corporation. A daughter of the Donners married Elliot Roosevelt, son of the President, and they were later divorced. Still the incident hooks Cooper Street up with the White House, if but remotely.
Next to the corner was the home of William Boardman, whom I always assumed was a capitalist. He was always very fashionably dressed and was much on the streets of Camden, but was not in any business that I knew of. His son Horace Boardman is a member of the Camden County Bar. Mr. Boardman had a brother who was among the Camden’s well-known men in the “eighties.” He was a contracting painter with a shop and office on Arch Street, below Third.
The Browning home was later occupied by George Pfeiffer, Jr., who served a term as a Democratic state senator. Mr. Pfeiffer became much in the public eye as the builder of Camden’s water plant at Fish House or Delair. His son Howard and his daughter Ada are now residents of Merchantville. Another son, Newell, is a prominent North Jersey lawyer, and was an outstanding Princeton football player.
For no other reason than to inform the present generation that some of today’s customs are not so very new, I will mention that the block west of Eighth street held the home of a young woman who attracted attention of some of the young men as the first girl on the street who openly smoked cigarettes.
Richard H. Reeve lived at the southeast corner of Cooper and Seventh, across from his brother Benjamin on the southwest corner. They manufactured oilcloth as the firm of R. H. & B. C. Reeve, and later sold their business to the well known Congoleum Company.
Another brother, Augustus Reeve, lived on State Street, and died at that old family homestead. He was the head of a firm manufacturing bricks and terra cotta pipe, chimneys and other objects. The firm made bricks from a fine strata of clay at Maple Shade.
The adjoining house was built and occupied by Joseph Forsyth, who moved to Haddonfield, and died while he was a state senator. A smaller brick house next, also was built by Senator Forsyth. For a long time it was the home of Archibald Connell, former assistant treasurer of New York Shipbuilding Company, now a resident of Merchantville where he serves on the board of education. F. Morse Archer built the next house and sold it to David Baird, Sr., who gave it to his daughter Christine as a wedding present when she became Mrs. Harry Humphreys, Jr. Next to that was Friends Meeting House, the only old building on the street, perhaps, that remains unchanged from the days of which I write. One of my pleasant memories is that of sitting there on the men’s side with my grandfather, who took me to Baptist church in winter but returned to his first religion during the pleasant months of summer. There were a good many Cooper Street folk among the Friends who attended First Day meetings.
The home of Horace Sharp was next. I mentioned the family earlier as residents of Broadway. Mr. Sharp, an active member of Calvary M. E. Church, was an executive with the famous Dr. Jayne’s medicine concern in Philadelphia. Walter, a son, is the president of a nationally known company manufacturing chocolate and confections. There was also an older son and several daughters. At the east end of the block was the home of John F. Harned, one of the city’s better known lawyers. In that building now are the offices of Judge Clifford A. Baldwin.
On the south side of Cooper, east of Eighth street, E. N. Cohn built himself a fine home of gray stone, in 1888. Mr. Cohn, who has been mentioned earlier in these stories, was a partner in the building business with Mr. Roberts who was the father of Dr. Joseph Roberts, the well-known physician at Fourth and Cooper streets. Mr. Cohn’s daughter Adelia was prominent as a young woman and better known later as the wife of Fessenden Hall. The Halls for a long time lived in a great frame house at Maple avenue and Church Road in Merchantville, and later moved to Haddonfield.
The Cohn home was sold in 1892 to the late David Baird who moved from 425 North Fourth street, where David Baird, Jr., was born. Mr. Baird had become an outstanding figure in Camden’s affairs as the Republican leader of Camden County. He was president of a bank and associated with John J. Burleigh, J. Willard Morgan and others in the promotion of utilities companies. It was he and Mr. Burleigh who organized the early electric company which had a plant on South Second street, on land now occupied by Campbell’s Soup. He was in a position to all appearances, to purchase the fine home owned by Mr. Cohn. It was Mrs. Baird who handled the transaction.
To Alfred Holt, the Bairds moving to Cooper Street was evidence that the Republican leader had made a lot of money through political graft, and Mr. Holt expressed that opinion in his little four-page weekly newspaper, which was published from the second floor of a printing plant at Fifth and Main streets. The paper was called The Outlook and frequently attracted attention with its attacks upon Republican politicians. As a result of the attack on David Baird, Holt was convicted of criminal libel and sentenced. Mr. Baird had his sentence suspended, and later used his influence to have Holt pardoned. At that time there was no other house in that block on the south side.
On the North side of the street in the block east of Eighth was the home of William J. Bradley, who served as state senator and was the head of American Dredging Company. His widow is still living in the house. His two sons Floyd W. and William J. Bradley Jr., are well known, the former a member of the law firm of French, Richards and Bradley, has long served on the Merchantville Board of Education. Mr. Buckhorn of Buckhorn and Reynolds, built a home in the block. That house was later better known as the home of Fred Himmelein.
If there had been motor trucks back in 1870, or whenever it was the Camden & Atlantic Railroad Co. built its tracks across Cooper at Ninth street, this story might have continued to recall fine homes and important people they sheltered. But the chemical works on Cooper creek could have discouraged large investments beyond Ninth street. There was swampy land, too, extending along Market street on the north Side from the bridge almost to where Cooper converges with Market street. Then there was the Willow Gang that loafed and drank beer from kettles in the shade of the row of willows running along the swamp for a block on Market street. Ninth street was a natural back cover to Cooper Street’s “Who’s Who.”
An attractive row of two-story homes, faced with stone and with front porches, was erected early in the “Nineties,” on the north side, east of Ninth street. No doubt some well known people lived there. I recall only two of the residents. My uncle, Harry B. Paul, moved into one close to the eastern end when he married. While there he was police justice, during a short possession of the city by the Democrats. George W. Whyte, who served two terms as surrogate, also lived in the row.
At the river end, west of Front street, the change of the old Cooper Street “atmosphere” first began, when two rows of brick dwellings were built. If any notables lived there I didn’t know about it. There were, of course, plenty of prominent people who lived on Cooper Street a few years later than my memory has been traveling over the street. I think Mayor Pratt lived between Fifth and Sixth streets, or his son, who became a well known doctor. Melvin Middleton lived in the same row, a son of Dr. Middleton. “Mel” is surely entitled to a place in Cooper Street’s “hall of fame.” He was president of Philadelphia Stock Exchange and one of the most prominent of the first of Camden’s commissioners. His brother “Budge,” thin and tall star among Bill Morgenweck ‘s basketball players, is now secretary of Pittsburgh’s stock exchange.
Winter Racing With Sleighs
One thing they seemed to get along without fifty years ago was an ordinance that compels householders to clear their sidewalks of snow. Camden may have had such an ordinance in the “Eighties” but it couldn’t have been enforced. If Cooper street sidewalks had been cleaned and the snow thrown into the traffic section, owners of trotting horses couldn’t have raced them there on winter afternoons.
I can’t recall how many winters the sport continued, or how many racing days were provided by snows, but I can distinctly see the speeding sleighs and the drivers. I can recall the appearance of some of the horses.
The city government either approved of Camden gentlemen turning a prominent thoroughfare into a racetrack, or found it couldn’t do anything about it. At any rate, the police department had an officer at nearly every intersection to prevent a crossing vehicle from slowing up a heat, as much as to protect crossing traffic.
The best snow, of course, was one of three or four inches, for a blizzard or too much snow would make a heavy track. If the snow wasn’t well packed, a few trips up and down the street by six to eight or more sleighs would soon put it into shape.
The “post,” I think, was Seventh street and the racers always drove toward the river. The finish was at Second street. That must have been three-quarters of a mile; plenty of distance for a horse to show what it could do. I think there were at least five sleighs in a heat, for the street was wide, if not as wide as it is today. The spectators lined the sidewalks. The racing would start at about four o’clock and end as it was growing dark.
It was a grand sight and there were some real trotters in the races, bred and trained as such; horses that raced in summer on county tracks, particularly the old track at Merchantville. There were some livery nags, too, that had shown speed. Charles Caffrey, I know, bought one or two horses for the purpose of winning laurels in the Cooper street races. No doubt there were bets made along the street. I was too young to notice.
Mr. Caffrey was a carriage manufacturer, with a plant at Tenth and Market streets. He built racing sulkies that were bought for tracks throughout the nation, and many went to Europe.
There was one man to a sleigh, but no handicapping. The horse with a light driver had an advantage over one driven by a man who was large and heavy. I don’t remember Joe Franklin ever winning a race. He was a liveryman with stables on Second street south of Market. He weighed, I suppose, 250 pounds.
Mr. Caffrey, a tall, sizable man, drove tall, rangy horses. I remember one was a big gray fellow with a great stride. Mr. Caffrey knew racing. He still loved it when he died, an old man. He had stables at the Merchantville track long after he had stopped building sulkies and carriages.
F. Wayland Ayer was one of the racing drivers. I suppose he used one of the horses he drove in teams every pleasant afternoon. Joseph Shinn, a horse dealer with a stable on Second street above Market, had a fast trotter that I knew cleaned up the field more than once. Josh Franklin, who succeeded his uncle or brother Joe at the Second street stables, was among the racers. A milkman named Clements drove a tall horse. He was a young farmer.
Frank McGovern, with a stable on Lawrence street, and Asa Roberts, Sr., with stables on Main street, must have been among them. I remember a youngster was Charles Helm, son of a well-known butcher. There must have been others but I can’t recall their names or faces. Perhaps the races were prearranged, but I think they became the custom, and owners of trotters drove up to Cooper Street, after a snowfall “looking for trouble.”
Down the street they would go with the snow clods being tossed by the speeding, roughed, iron shoes; drivers watching for an opening to pass, others jockeying to hold them back; spectators cheering as the racers passed, drivers talking to their steeds, with the words that drift from a track as men hold their nags from breaks and urge them to give more speed.
In these days a stretch of three days of such sport would be called a carnival. Winter always brought a carnival to Cooper Street. The sidewalks attracted sledders at night, and the middle of the street often made better sledding on snow packed by the racing sleighs.
No doubt the drivers on carnival days were all of one clan—sportsmen who loved horses, and social ridges must have been ironed out. They were wealthy men, men in “good circumstances” and, no doubt, some of modest means. But it was easy to tell those who had wealth or vanity if not wealth. The horses could have been much alike, although there were some undipped nags with no family trees that showed the thoroughbreds plenty of speed and sometimes beat them. It was the sleighs and the robes that reflected the size of a driver’s bankroll.
Another mark of distinction was the fur cap with a visor. Every driver wore a fur cap. I suppose a good sealskin cap cost from ten to twenty-five dollars. Those of muskrat fur cost five dollars. I remember Shinn’s cap was of the costlier type, and I remember Clements wore one of longer hair and not so “nifty.” Most people, men and boys, wore fur caps in winter, and the boys kept wearing them through thaws and warm spells.
With a level snow fall tightly packed. Cooper Street would be black at night with its sledding carnival. People of all ages ran up and down, taking turns pulling each other. There must have been romances as the result of such gatherings. I recall that a girl from Kimber street could have become the wife of the scion of one of the “upper class” families, if a sledding “crush” had lasted. The boy, one of our crowd, liked the Kimber street girl, and we all went to his home one evening after an hour of sledding, where he introduced the several Kimber street girls to his mother, and she served us with refreshments.
If Camden’s government should ever be looking for something to brighten a dull winter it could arrange a carnival night with sleigh racing. There are a number of old sleighs stored away in lofts of stables that have become garages. It would be a grand thing for the “bookies.” The mayor could lead a parade of sleds.
And Cooper Street, for once in a year, wouldn’t be cluttered up with parked automobiles.
Diamond Cottage Grove
It would be pretty hard today to find an oldster whose boyhood was spent in Camden, who did not know old Diamond Cottage Grove. If he wasn’t among the hundreds of boys who gathered its acorns as small children, who loafed beneath the great oaks or played various games in the popular playground, he was one who never ventured far from his South Camden haunts, or from those of extreme North Camden.
The old boys think of it today as they cross the Delaware River Bridge, for the grove extended from the railroad at Pearl street to Penn street, and from the rear of the houses on Sixth street to Seventh. But there were few, if any, of the old oak trees to be felled by the time the bridge approach was built. The oaks also extended from Penn to Cooper Street, but that section was enclosed with a fence.
Wide paths were worn and packed hard by the feet of many who took cuts from the four corners. You could spin a top on the hard-packed paths. It was Camden’s first public playground and was popular from my early childhood up to the time I went to live in the country, about 1888. It was by no arrangement, but natural that a set of older boys bossed the grove and proposed various diversions.
It was a place for a youngster to enjoy nature and find innocent amusement, and it was also a place where considerable deviltry was hatched. A kid could learn to smoke and chew tobacco there, encouraged by seasoned sponsors. The only day I ever “bagged school” I spent in the grove. In winter a pool formed by a heavy thaw would freeze over and provide skating.
Occasionally a small carnival show would stop there with the merry-go- round the chief attraction. A large tent at times sheltered congregations attending gospel meetings and temperance lectures. Good and evil were constantly fighting each other in the old grove. There were boys of the “better-class” families who were just as ornery as juvenile products of the “lesser class.”
With the passing of such playgrounds as old “diamond cottage,” a good many of the old-time games for boys undoubtedly died. I don’t notice today’s kids playing the games popular in the “Eighties.” We played “Foot and a Half,” and “Spanish Fly,” both leapfrog games. In the former, the boy to become “it” and relieve his playmate stooped over to serve as the jumping post, was one who failed to reach the landing mark, which kept growing farther away. In the latter, if you missed saying “Spanish Fly,” or one of the names following it, as you cleared the bent back, you were “it.”
We kept tops spinning with whips. There was “Ball in the Hat,” “Duck on Davy,” “Prisoner’s Base,” “Kick the Wicket,” “Hunky Dee”—where each boy caught and held long enough to say, “Hunky Dee, once, twice, three times,” had to become another pursuer of the remaining “fugitives.” From Good Friday, until and including Easter Monday, there was real gambling in the grove when we picked eggs for keeps. Every egg you won was worth a cent if taken to Sach’s bakery at Fifth and Market streets. At twelve cents a dozen, eggs were cheap for baking cakes.
Older boys sometimes pitched pennies at a line scratched on a hard path, and they played the “wicked” game of Euchre. Mumblety Peg was always popular with all ages.
Diamond Cottage Grove would have inspired writers of the James Whitcomb Riley type to write stories about the place and its habitues. There were “characters” aplenty. Perhaps the main character about whom a story could be written was Frank “Soupy Duck Vinegar” Williams. Frank lived in Diamond Cottage. The building that never lost its faded coat of yellow paint, had diamond – shaped glass windows, which gave it its name. Before my time, the house had been used, and probably built for that purpose, as a part of a German beer garden, once popular with Philadelphians.
Frank’s father sold vinegar and horseradish and supported his family by peddling these and other homemade needs of the housewife, with a little store at the cottage. Being a poor boy didn’t make Frank sensitive about mingling with other youngsters of much better circumstances who played in the grove. When he first appeared, perhaps ten years old, he wore a home haircut. He got one nickname from his father’s vinegar and the other from a line about “Soupy Duck” in one of several songs he sang.
Frank, no doubt, was the leading comedy character in the grove story. He was always whistling through his teeth. No one knew where he picked up the odd songs never heard anywhere else. He didn’t lose his “character” after he went to work in the pressroom of the West Jersey Press plant. When he had become expert at feeding small presses, the Chew boys, who had played in the grove were interested in his advancement. He was invited to work downstairs on cylinder presses at more money. Frank responded to the offer by stating that he couldn’t think of accepting it until he had gone to Philadelphia and discussed the subject with the pressmen’s union.
Many of the boys mentioned in earlier chapters played in the old grove. Among those not mentioned was Tommy McGann, from over near the woolen mills. He was tough and proud of it. His only contestant for the title of best fighter was Bill Fagen. The rivalry led to an arranged fight to decide which was best. I think it was a draw.
Charley “Cabe” Malmsbury was another leading character. His father was a minister and they lived on Fourth street near Linden. But when “Cabe” and some of his closest pals were in a card game it was no place for some other minister’s son. They could all swear fairly good, and “Cabe,” a big farmer-type fellow with a drawl, could hit a spot like the tobacco chewers of fiction. He was good-natured and didn’t awe the kids who obeyed his orders to “come here,” issued to show his authority as “king of the grove.” He became a top-notch freight railroader, and I frequently met him in later years.
Among the Linden street boys I haven’t mentioned who made the grove a rendezvous were Andy Donahue, a sophisticated but likeable boy who died in early manhood; and “Polly” Waller, of an aristocratic family, whose nickname came from his aristocratic nose. The Starr boys, of the Ben Starr branch of the old ironworks family, played in the grove ahead of my time, but Jesse Starr was still around when I was pretty young. So were some of the older Armstrong boys. Bill Starr, son of John, played in the grove. He was mentioned in an earlier chapter.
It isn’t my fault that I have no roster of the boys who played in the old grove. I am purposely omitting mention of those who have already appeared or will later appear in other chapters — too much is too much. Two boys who were active members of the “gang,” were the Izards, “Big Dog” and “Little Dog.” As well as I knew them, I can’t recall their first names. The younger became a conductor on the trolley line running to Merchantville. They were cousins of Bill Izard, son of the doctor. Bill, who has been an assemblyman and perennially in the public eye through his political activities, was growing up when I left Camden. So was his neighbor Bill Rex, later a lawyer. They were among the boys then preparing to take over the “directory” of the playground. Plenty of other kids followed them before the old grove was no more.
It never occurred to a boy to wonder who left the old grove unfenced and open for public enjoyment. As I wrote of what I remember, I wondered about ownership. When you wonder about such things the West Jersey Title Company is the place to find the answer. Entering the offices that are strictly up to today’s ideas of modernism, you can walk fifty feet to a vault and back to a time 300 years or so before you were born. Mr. H. S. Stepler, title examiner, took me back to 1818 when a line running at an angle across Sixth street showed the westerly side was owned by Richard M. Cooper. The easterly side of the line belonged to Joseph W. Cooper. But enough of Joseph’s side was sold to the sons of Richard to permit the building of the row of homes on the east side of Sixth street, the lots being 115 feet deep.
It was not until 1879 that Joseph died. The grove was then divided among sons and daughters, and we were still the guests of the Coopers when I played with the gang among the oaks.
I didn’t dare start wondering if they were the last of a forest that once spread over most of North Camden.
More About Diamond Cottage
Football, the college brand, was first introduced in Camden around 1885 or ’87, I had long believed. And I cherished the memory of having been one of a bunch of boys who scrambled around in the game without knowing much about what they were doing. That was on the triangular field on the Seventh street border of old Diamond Cottage Grove.
Martin Bergen, who had come home for a holiday after starting his first year at Princeton, assembled all of the available boys hanging about the grove and lined us up in two teams to teach us the game. “Mike” Bergen, as all Camden oldsters know, became one of the outstanding football stars at Princeton, was assistant coach there after graduation and later coach at other colleges. His older brother, George, was a Princeton pitcher who enthused the sportswriters for at least one year.
But Bill Chew, who checks some of my North Camden recollections, robs me of my claim as one of football’s pioneers, by informing me that the Merriweather brothers, who lived on Sixth street between Penn and Linden, introduced Diamond Cottage to football a year or so earlier. They too, were outstanding athletes at Princeton. I don’t remember them, but I am sure Bill hasn’t mixed up his memories with the Frank Merriwell stories, because they came along later.
In Diamond Cottage athletic outcrops the Undine Baseball Club undoubtedly was most important. Nearly every one of the club’s boy players had some future important role in business or the professions. The picture appearing with this chapter was sent to me by W. Joyce Sewell. There were two or three other boys who later played with the team—Roscoe Avis and Billy Erye among them, I believe, but none were better known than those in the picture.
In the top row of the picture, Harry Barnard became owner of a canning factory in Maryland, Charles Boyer a manufacturer of yarn with Camden mills, and the president, if not founder, of Camden Historical Society; F. Wallis Armstrong is the head of a famous advertising agency bearing his name; in the second row, George Bergen was a lawyer of prominence, Richard Heyl was an orphaned Indian boy brought from the West by Lieutenant Heyl and adopted. Dick became a high-class mechanic at the Pavonia Shops. Martin Bergen worked several years to get a bridge across the Delaware River before the idea finally took hold. In the bottom row, Clarence Freeman and his brother Edgar were among the leading real estate agents in Camden, Edward A. Y. Schellenger became one of the best of Cooper Hospital surgeons. His son, of the same name, is a Camden physician. Shrey Nicely was succeeding as a business man in Philadelphia when I lost sight of him some thirty years ago. The Marshall boy, whose first name I have forgotten, I also lost sight of. Joseph Burrough, son of a well known North Camden family, was at one time one of Philadelphia’s most successful dealers in hides. Joe went to Friends Central in Philadelphia and developed into a pitcher. Later he pitched for Merchantville Field Club and was among the best of the county’s amateur moundsmen.
I know that seven of these eleven boys are dead and am only sure of two who survive. They represent the extremes of what Fate may hold for any group of youths. Wallis Armstrong is a wealthy man living on a fine country estate. “Indian Dick” Heyl is an invalid at Delaware State Hospital, Farnhurst, Delaware.
The Undine boys formed an important group at Diamond Cottage with several non-playing associates. I remember listening to their stories after a dozen had gone together for a week in Atlantic City, which was a pretty important adventure back in the “Eighties.”
There were people living within half dozen or more blocks of old Diamond Cottage Grove who may never have given the place much thought if it hadn’t had an artesian well of fine water, about midway of the block on Penn street. I never knew who had the well drilled or why it was there, but there came a time when it was a godsend to hundreds of North Camden families.
It was, I think, about 1886 that Camden water became practically unfit for use. The water supply was then pumped from the Delaware. There was a reservoir somewhere near Pavonia, I seem to remember. There must have been some form of filtration, but the water was so frequently discolored, housewives strained it for drinking and cooking through muslin bags tied to the kitchen faucets.
There came a time when small fish began to appear too frequently, and sometimes they clogged the water pipes. That was the climax, I suppose that brought Camden’s present artesian wells at Delair and Morris Station. But while the water continued to be bad, at the time of which I write, some member of hundreds of families made at least one daily trip with a pail to Diamond Cottage Grove pump. There would be a waiting line at times. It was remarkable that the well produced so large a supply. I suppose there were old dug wells remaining throughout the city that provided drinking water for other sections when river water ceased lo be potable.
Perhaps I only think I remember that water was then being sold from outside sources, in bottles, but it wasn’t long after that when a wagon was peddling “Ypsilini” water from a spring at Horning Grove, now Iron Rock golf course. Those who used it had to be warned to take it easy. The water was a close relative of the famous Pluto Water [a laxative of the day. – ed.].
It was about 1888 or ’90 that Howard M. Cooper made himself unpopular with neighborhood youngsters by building a home on Penn street that intruded upon the playground that should have been legally theirs and their descendants, because it had been a playground “since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.” But I was through with it then, and carried away the memory of Diamond Cottage Grove when it was a place apart, where a boy could “escape from it all”—the “all” being the errands someone was always finding, in addition to hauling out the boxes of ashes and bringing up the coal for the kitchen range. Errands such as going for some oysters for supper to a place three or four blocks away, or a pint of milk from the “depot” two blocks away— “and be sure to ask the man if the milk is fresh!”
When the Delaware Bridge opened, I wrote a story of old Diamond Cottage Grove for the Camden Courier’s special bridge edition. In that I mentioned that I hadn’t seen Tommy Magan, (referred to in the first chapter of Diamond Cottage,) since he volunteered to climb a fence to recover my new ball that had rolled under a gate. Tommy came into the Courier office a little later to see the “old boy” who had written the story, and I told Harry Saylor, managing editor, of the call. Harry asked: “Why did he come in—to bring back the ball?”
The Human Side of Walt Whitman
Any writer attempting to tell of the old days of Camden could not be forgiven if he neglected to mention Walt Whitman, the Good Gray Poet. On the other hand, the writer who approached this subject with reverence and wrote only of the poet’s greatness, describing the man as one of the Saints, could hardly be entertaining in his repetitions.
If I write of the man, instead of the poet, and happen to know a few stories that differ from most of the others, it does not mean that I have anything less than the highest regard for the poet’s great mind, his talents and what his fame has done for Camden.
Thus freed from any Suspicion of irreverence, I can say that when I was thirteen, Walt Whitman to me was just another old gentleman who would have shown spots on his vest if it hadn’t been protected by his long, white beard. Joe Jennings leading the Sixth Regiment Band, or Printer Phillips blowing a fife in the Ivy Fife and Drum Corps, were more entitled to fame. Most other youngsters of my age felt the same way about it. We saw Walt Whitman being pushed around in his wheel chair. He was growing feeble at the time I remember him. We knew he was “Somebody,” but what he represented didn’t mean anything to us.
Yet, at that time Walt Whitman was already famous. I realized this with some surprise when I met an artist named Gilchrist, sent from England to paint Walt Whitman’s picture. I met the artist at my mothers home on Fourth street in the first house below Stevens on the east side. Two married but childless couples of my mother’s friends had induced her to open a boarding house where they might live. A brother of my mother was a boarder, as was Robert Gebhard, a young Swiss watchmaker who had come to Camden to work for Lungendorfs jewelry store, of which he later became owner. There was a Mrs. Lewis and her son Clarence, and a Mrs. Gill among the “paying guests.’*
The presence of the artist didn’t change the opinions of some of the ladies in the house that “Walt Whitman was probably an old man with an evil mind from some of the things he had written.”
It must have been in 1884 when Mr. Gilchrist came to live at our house, for we were there during the Famous Blizzard of that year. He was quiet but pleasant enough. No doubt the other boarders were of a lower social sphere. I don’t remember how long he spent on the picture or which of them he painted. No doubt I reveal my ignorance of art in not knowing that, and in not knowing more about the artist.
I then realized that the old gentleman in the wheelchair was a personage, if an Englishman had crossed the ocean to paint his picture. But I was more impressed with the artist’s attire. His sash, a strip of grey flannel wound about his waist, was the first I had seen. Some years later I had several myself, when silk sashes for young men became so popular that the haberdashers began offering them with buckles. That, too, was the era of the celluloid collar and hook-on cravat for lazy dressers.
I was impressed with a recent newspaper mention of the return of Lew Mead, of Cleveland, another boy of Walt Whitman’s neighborhood, for a visit to his old home town, in which Lew told of being one of a party that accompanied the poet when he selected a soot for his final resting place in Harleigh Cemetery. Lew remembered the poet saying: “Over there, where the leaves are falling. And don’t remove the leaves.” I enjoyed the mention of Walt Whitman in “Kitty Foyle,” where the young man stepped in between a group of boys on a ferryboat and the subject of their laughter to say. “Let me tie your shoestring, Mr. Whitman.”
But, somehow, I treasure more the memory of the stories I heard of Walt Whitman’s “human” side, and of him being a “regular fellow.” My friend George Cole, of Merchantville, recently told me of seeing Walt Whitman riding about with the pony and phaeton given the poet by Tennyson, a great admirer. That was before the wheelchair, and I never saw the gift. And Mr. Cole was at Whitman’s funeral, in a tent erected at Harleigh, when Bob Ingersoll spoke of the poet in words that added to Ingersoll’s fame as an orator. Ingersoll, Mr. Cole said, spoke of the birds and flowers where the poet had gone, and thereby injured his reputation as an atheist.
Mr. Cole, however, remembers Walt Whitman as an almost daily occupant of a chair at the door of the bar of the old West Jersey Hotel. The poet may have gone there because it was a spot where one could see more of life with the vehicles and foot traffic passing to and from the ferryboats. The poet sat there and, perhaps, composed verses, but he also accepted invitations to have a drink with many who knew him and considered it an honor to treat the old gentleman and enjoy his conversation. It was no disgrace in those days for a man to drink considerable whisky and spend some time at a drinkery, if he did it openly and kept sober. It might shock worshippers at the Whitman shrine to know that “Billy” Thompson was an intimate friend of Walt and for whom the poet had a high regard. “Billy” Thompson became famous (and, with some, infamous) for things Walt Whitman could never have hoped to achieve. From an Irish lad who set up the balls in the billard room of the old Continental Hotel in Philadelphia, he became the “Duke of Gloucester” where he established a racetrack, after he had, as the political boss of New Jersey, influenced Legislature to legalize gambling. With Thompson as mayor, Gloucester had a district alive with gambling houses. His home was that big building that now houses the Immigration Station.
The story is not my own, but I know it to be authentic. Before Thompson built his famous Washington Park, which was after Walt Whitman died, he had Thompson’s Hotel on the beach adjoining the old Gloucester ferry. I learned this week the hotel still stands. It was known as well in New York as in Philadelphia as the only place where planked shad was perfect. On the first floor was a bar and the kitchens. I saw in more recent years, the long row of coal stoves that had doors to drop and expose the red hot coals. In front of these coals the shad was planked.
On the second floor was a porch on two sides where dinners would be served as well as inside. In planked shad season it was common to find Walt Whitman seated on the porch, a picturesque figure in his broad-brimmed hat, with his long beard and his cane.
It required no prearrangement for Billy Thompson to mention to the members of a party of prominent New Yorkers that Walt Whitman, the poet, was outside on the porch. The more prominent the diners, the more they wanted to meet Walt Whitman. I need hardly add that he was always invited to share the dinner. There was never a shad dinner at Thompson’s Hotel without champagne.
I wouldn’t intimate that I ever suspected Walt was a willing attraction at the hotel, recognized as such by the shrewd Irish host. Walt liked company, like champagne, and it was there for him to enjoy.
If my memory of Walt Whitman should offend some who know him only through his verse. I apologize, but remind them that he couldn’t have written what he wrote had he not mingled with men and enjoyed what real men enjoy.