Saturday, 25 June 2011

Secret Boxing Match - 1886


“In the faint grey of light of dawn yesterday, groups of men emerged from the house and streets of the city and climbed the mountain steps. When the summit was reached, they waited around for upwards of an hour, glancing suspiciously at one another and exchanging remarks under their breath. Their talk was evidently about a fight that was going to take place and which they had come to witness.”
                             In the 24-foot Ring : Prize Fight Near Hamilton Yesterday
                                Hamilton Spectator. August 3, 1886

          When the crimson sky in the east brightened into gold, the sixty or seventy men gathered on the mountain brow began to grow restive. A difficulty over money had prevented the fight’s organizers from proceeding.
          Finally, the crowd was invited to enter a large barn in a nearby field, with each person obliged to show a red ticket for he had previously purchased for a dollar.
          However, the fight did not take place in the barn. As noted by the Spectator reporter observing the proceedings noted, “the invitation into that convenient edifice was merely a bluff to draw money from several persons who wanted to see the show for nothing.”
          After the crowd filed out of the barn, two men in a buggy dove up and told the crowd to follow them.
          The Spectator man later wrote that the route taken led the party off the beaten track, “they drove down up the stone road running south from the Mountain View hotel, and about a quarter mile from the hotel, alighted, tied the horse to a fence and crossed a field to the left.”
          After another field and some woods were crossed, the party came to an area where a space had been cleared for the fight. The reporter observed that “stakes were driven into the ground and ropes stretched from stake to stake until a 24-foot ring was completed.”
          When the fight was about to begin, nearly one hundred men were present, but each one who was asked to act as a referee for the fight refused point-blank.
          The fighters then declared their intention to go on with the match anyway, leaving it up to the crowd as a whole to decide the outcome of the match. Given that decision, an east end market gardener reluctantly agreed to accept the duty of refereeing the fight.
          The match was then ready to begin.
          The combatants were not well-matched in size.
          Jack Dempsey, of Detroit, was the larger of the two at 5 feet, 6 inches in height and 130 pounds in weight. The other fighter, Enoch Taylor, a young Englishman currently living in Hamilton, was only 5 feet 2 inches in height and 110 pounds in weight.
          Just before the start of the match, Enoch Taylor was interviewed by the Spectator reporter.
          “I haven’t had half an hour’s training for this fight,” he claimed. “My brother is the only person in Hamilton that I care to spare with for practice, and I haven’t been able to practice with him on account of an accident that happened to his hand two or three days ago. If I’m beaten, it’s because my wind won’t hold out – that’s all I’m afraid of.”
          After both men, in the words of the reporter, “stripped to the buff,” the fight began. It seemed that Dempsey, despite being handicapped by a broken bone in his right forearm, would have things very much his own way.
          In the Spectator writer’s account of the match, he wrote : “ one of his (Dempsey’s) tremendous body blows caught Taylor just above the belt. Taylor gasped and uttered a long groan and retched as f about to vomit; he staggered back and reeled, but recovered just in time to dodge a blow that would have landed on his jugular and probably would have laid him out.”
          After the third round, Taylor seemed to recover his wind and his determination, inflicting a deep cut on Dempsey’s lower lip.
          The action was savage for the rest of the bout, with Taylor seeming to get fresher with each passing round.
          At the end of the match, the two combatants were described in some detail by the man from the Spec : “when the fight was over, Dempsey’s face, neck and breast were covered with blood and his face was puffy and bruised; the only mark on Taylor’s face was the cut on his left temple, but his chest and sides bore the marks of hard punishment.”
          Enoch Taylor was more closely examined a few minutes later, and it was discovered that one of Dempsey’s harder blows, aimed at his opponent’s body, missed, and connected instead with Taylor’s head. Taylor’s right forearm, which already had one minor broken bone, was found to have two broken bones, causing him to be unable to use his right glove at all.
          The ultimate decision on the fight was that it was a draw.
          As described by the reporter, “both men took the decision philosophically. With the assistance of their seconds, they dressed hastily; the stakes were drawn, and the crowd had dispersed before the mists had rolled away from the hillside.”

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Dances in 1888


1888 – Dances
        As he was walking home late one night in September, 1888, a reporter for the Hamilton Spectator was told by a policeman that “there’s a ball down James street tonight, and some of Hamilton’s fairest daughters are full as goats.”
          “It’s about the first “tough” dance of the season,” the policeman went on to say, “and you shouldn’t miss it. She’s a dandy. The fellows are all fighting drunk and half the girls have their nosesful.”
          A few days later, on September 20, 1888, the reporter filed a story under the following headline, “Dancing as She Did : A Review of the Public Balls Reporters Attend” in which he analyzed the various levels of society in Hamilton as reflected in the types of dances they attend.
          In the winter, there were balls almost every night in Hamilton, often three or four at a time. Newspaper reporters, on their way home from an evening shift at the paper often made a point of dropping into one or two of the public dances to see what was happening. Reporters were always welcome, whereas the police were not.
          The tougher the “ball,” the more exclusive it was. The revels of the “Podunck Pelicans” were particularly hard to attend :
          “Their exclusiveness is of such a practical kind that when ‘de dude’ awakened to the fact that his presence was not desirable, he would be on the icy sidewalk below with a whirring sound in his ears and a dim impression that he paused for the infinitesimal fraction of a second on everyone of the 197 steps on his way down.”
          The police, of course, could enter any dance at any time, but when they did, festivities came to a halt. With the reporters, this was not the case. Reporters were confidants with the police and knew who was wanted by them. The reporters were trustworthy because it was well known that they would never inform on anyone :
           “No matter how tough a ball or how drunk the company may be, they never fail to treat the reporters with a certain rude courtesy, because they both like and fear them.”
          In analyzing the various levels of society in Hamilton, the reporter noted that “the lower the social scale of the ball, the higher it is usually situated, the toughest being generally held in some hall up two or three flights of stairs.”
          The dances usually began slowly with a seemingly endless procession of men climbing up and down the stairs, between the ball and the nearest saloon.
          By 2 a.m., the revelry would be in full swing. A typical “tough” ball was described by the reporter as follows :
           “The low-ceilinged hall, hung with bleary kerosene lights, is stifling; the floor slippery with tobacco juice; the gang of men and girls flushed with dancing and new wine. The fiddles twang and buzz, there is a hub-bub of conversation and a whirl of dancing feet, the din being punctuated here and there by the unmusical yell of the ‘caller-off’ directing the dancers … here and there, on the floor, lies a reveler untimely overtaken by the insidious booze … the dance goes on until the musicians get too drunk to play or a free fight calls for the interference of the police.”
          The next class of ball up the social strata is the one where “dull respectability” was the rule. This level, the reporter felt was “unrelieved either by the wild animal and malt spirits of the previous class or the little airs  and graces of conversation and costume that distinguish the class above it.”
          The dancing and the music were both uninspired at this level and the reporter felt that most of the people at these balls were only trying to pretend that they were enjoying themselves, when they really were not. The reporter particularly noted the “wan and hard-worked faces of the girls and he sadly felt “a touch of pathos as you think what must be the sterile and sunless character of the lives of those to whom this is festivity.”
          The next higher level included the balls which were organized by the “pastime clubs.” These dances were by invitation only, and the company was primarily composed of clerks and shop girls. The men would usually wear dress suits and the ladies were usually prettily dressed in bright and tasteful dresses. These balls were “conducted on the lines of good society” and were usually very enjoyable.
          Once or twice during the winter, the “junior bachelors” of the city would rent the upstairs ballroom of the Arcade Building for their dances. These gatherings, the reporter said, were “wholly delightful,” because they were “freer from constraint than the public balls in the opera house.” Chaperones, for the ladies, appear at this level, but not so prominently as at the highest level of ball, the Garrick Club ball held at the Grand Opera House.
          The Garrick Club ball was the society event of the season when “all that flags, flowers, and bunting, beauty, grace and expensive dresses, excellent music and artistic catering can do to make folks enjoy themselves is concentrated on a single occasion.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Art vs. Nature Debate - 1888


For many days in early December, 1888, members of the Literary and Debating Society in connection with the John Street Methodist Episcopal Church practiced their debating skills in anticipation of the society’s first public debate of the winter season.
          The subject of the debate was “Resolved, that the works of art are more attractive to the eye than the works of nature.”
          The debaters were introduced to the audience at the beginning of the meeting. Col. J. T. Holland and Professor Jesse Gant were the champions of art, while Professor Williams and Professor Miller upheld nature’s claims.
          The Spectator reporter who covered the December 10, 1888 debate felt that the result of this extensive preparation “was such as to fill the debaters with pride and the auditors with admiration.”
          “Art vs. Nature : Memorable Debate on an Important Subject”
               Spectator. December 11, 1888.
          The chairman of the meeting, Rev. J. H. Bell, had some difficulty procuring volunteers from the audience to act as judges of the debate. Finally, five judges were selected and the debate began in earnest.
          Col. Holland was the first speaker. He devoted his time making the argument that “art is more attractive to nature by means of illustrations drawn from the science of agriculture. He pointed out clearly how much more attractive to the farmer is the threshing machine than the ancient methods of getting grain.”
          Professor Williams followed with an argument in favour of nature’s attractiveness over art :
          “Don’t a mother think more of her child than she does a picture of her child? Her child is nature, and the picture is art. Wouldn’t you rather have a young lady alive and full of vigor than a statue of a young lady no matter how fine the statue is?”
          Professor Williams’ point on the beauty of young ladies went over well with the audience and he sat down to loud cheers.
          Professor Gant rose to rebut Professor Williams’ arguments. He demanded to know whether a diamond was not more beautiful after it had been polished than when it was still in the ground.
          As illustrative of art’s superiority over nature, Gant “instanced the article of diet familiar to all good housewives, namely chitterlings, which, he said, are much more palatable when prepared by culinary art than they are in the state of nature.”
          Getting somewhat worked up, Professor Gant’s rebuttal then began to get a little personal :
          “Prof. Williams’ photograph might perhaps be attractive. That was a work of art. But what was attractive about Prof. Williams himself?”
          The next speaker, Prof. Miller, had evidently carefully prepared the points he wished to raise in the debate:
          “He started out with a subtle metaphysical discrimination between the wonderful and the beautiful things which attract the eye in nature”.
 When he began to enumerate the things in nature which he deemed to be “attracting,” Professor Gant bluntly interrupted by saying, “I’d like to raise a point of order. Brother Miller is using the word “attracting” when the word in the resolution is ‘attractive.’ ”
When Professor Miller shot back that the word is “attracting,” voices in the audience called out for the minutes of the meeting to be read in order to settle the dispute.
It so happened that Professor Miller was both a debater and a keeper of the minutes. He had recorded the word as “attracting.”
On hearing this, Professor Gant hotly accused Professor Miller of “deliberately altering the word in the resolution so as to have the champions of art at a disadvantage.”
Professor Miller scornfully denied Professor Gant’s accusation and hot words were subsequently exchanged between them.
Reverend Bell, as chairman, was responsible for resolving the dispute, but he “confessed himself to be puzzled as to how to decide the matter, but in the meantime begged the gentlemen to be calm.”
While Reverend Bell deliberated, someone in the audience rose to ask what the difference was between “attractive” and “attracting.” Professor Gant answered the question by telling the man that if he had to ask for the distinction, he was illiterate.
Finally, Reverend Bell, in a solemn and deliberate tone, rendered his judgement:
“Now, the grammatical phraseology of the phrase is one thing, and its synthetical construction is another thing.”
Church Elder Walker then offered his opinion that “the difference between the two words is that one is a noun or substantive, and the other is an adjective.”
The argument was never settled to Professor Gant’s satisfaction, but Rev. Bell allowed Professor Miller to proceed with his enumeration of things “attracting” in nature:
“He mentioned water spouts, water falls, rocks that resemble human faces, the desert of Africa which contains floods of flowers, and other equally wonderful things as illustrations of the attractiveness of nature.”
Professor Holland completed the first round of the opening arguments by complaining bitterly of the substitution of the word “attracting” for “attractive” in the resolution :
“It makes it difficult to go on with the subject after they changed it to suit themselves.”
Professor Holland then tore into the main body of his speech:
“Clothing was attractive in cold weather; we couldn’t do without it in winter; and clothing was the work of the hand of art. Ever since Franklin caught gas in a bottle, it has been attractive. His opponents would say that was the hand of nature; no, it was the hand of art. Why, we couldn’t live in this country if it weren’t for the hand of art. We would go back in heathenism and be like the gorillas. The Queen of Sheba came all the way from somewhere to see Solomon’s temple. Was that the hand of nature? No, it was the hand of art. Psychology, which teaches us how many thousands of pounds of pressure there is to the square inch, is also the hand of art.”
Professor Holland brought his torrent of words to an abrupt conclusion by dramatically sitting down,“ with the air of a man who had exhausted his subject as well as himself.”
Professor Williams in rebuttal, spoke up well for nature and declared that Professor Gant loved nature so much that he kept four or five photographs of himself in his barber shop window. The professor then returned to his comparison of a statue of a young woman and a real young woman:
          “What good would the statue of a young woman be in a house? It could not keep house for you. What is art anyway? It’s something that comes out of nature. If it wasn’t for nature there couldn’t be any art. I read the paper every evening to read about murders in England. That’s very attractive but it soon dies out. I get tired looking at beautiful pictures; but do I get tired looking at a young lady? Oh, no. Solomon’s temple may have been fine; but none of us ever saw it – I know I never did.”
Professor Gant again rose to his feet to denounce the points made by his opponents and to bring out some new arguments of his own. He said hat Professor William’s point about the attractiveness of Niagara Falls could be refuted by reminding the audience that more people had been attracted to see tight-rope walker Blondin cross the Niagara gorge than would have been there just to see the Falls themselves. To show how art was superior to nature, Professor Gant compared the recently-constructed City Hall to the raw stone out of which it was made.
After Professor Gant concluded, the judges of the debate went to work:
“After comparing notes, they decided in favour of the artists who had scored 18 points, while the naturalists had only made 6.”

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Balloon Ascent - Hamilton June 1888


On a bright Saturday afternoon, June 1, 1888, a demonstration of hot air balloon flying was given, with the ascent beginning in Hamilton’s Dundurn Park. The balloonist was Mr. C. W. Williams, an unassuming, handsome young man of Athletic build who the Spectator described as “no vulgar adventurer willing to risk his life for a little money, but a man with ideas of his own, keen intelligence and gentlemanly manners.”
          With the aid of dozens of volunteer assistants struggling to hold it down, the balloon was slowly inflated with hot air. After the balloon’s 65,000 cubic feet capacity was filled, the “aeronaut” climbed into the basket, his only safety precaution being “a shapeless mass of unbleached muslin” which served as his parachute and was attached to the basket.
          To the cheers of the crowd in the park, the ropes holding down the balloon was released, and it slowly started to rise above Hamilton’s west end.
          The balloon was only air born a short time when problems arose, and the aeronaut, still in the basket, plunged over 300 feet before he was able to release the parachute:
          “Thousands of people with eyes glued to the basket falling to earth with such terrific speed drew in their breath with a sickening dread. But suddenly the white cloud expanded over the basket and spread out into the shape of a parasol.”
          Balloonist Williams tried to direct his fall toward the yard behind the Stewart and Company foundry on Macnab street north, but the wind blew him onto the roof of the Walter Woods and Company factory building:
          “Mr. Williams narrowly escaped serious if not fatal injury. He was dashed against the roof with force enough to almost knock the wind out of him, but he had enough of the latter to throw his arm over the ridge of the roof and hold on, thus saving himself from rolling off the high building onto the street.”
          The balloon itself, relieved of the weight of aeronaut Williams rose even higher than before and the wind carried it majestically over the city towards the mountain.
          Five or six minutes after Williams had dropped from the balloon, it began to wobble. Suddenly it fell:
          “The hot air escaped, and the airship tumbled ignominiously to earth like an immense stricken bird.”
          Back on the ground, Williams managed to get himself down from the Williams factory roof. His only injuries from the fall were some minor bruises.
          The balloon was brought back to the city by a farmer who lived just beyond the Jolley Cut. He demanded $5 for his trouble but only got $4. Another farmer demanded compensation for the damage done to his oatfield by the balloon’s descent. His claim was denied.
          Although C. W. Williams’ was not wholly successful, he did gain some satisfaction for being, what the Spectator declared, was “the first man to drop from a balloon in Canada, and live.”

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Springtime Horse Ride


   On Tuesday, April 16, 1888, a reporter for the Hamilton Spectator filed a story which appeared under the following headline : “An Early Morning Ride : What a Reporter Saw and  How He Felt on Horseback.”
          In the latter part of the nineteenth century, recreational horseback riding was an exceptionally popular pastime in Hamilton, especially among the younger portion of the city's population. The reporter noted that “numerous cavalcades start off every morning for an early gallop in the suburbs.”
          At 5:30 a.m., one fine spring Sunday morning, the Spec reporter went out with his friends to hire a horse for an excursion to the outskirts of the city.
          Hamilton, the reporter felt, was particularly blessed with beautiful localities in which to visit on horseback :
          “The man who doesn't derive enjoyment from a dash along the brow of the mountain, around the end of the bay, or down among the fruit farms to the Beach on a bright, cheery morning, must have very sluggish blood in his veins.”
          As the party set out, it passed over very quiet, deserted streets. Things were so quiet that “there is not a policeman at any corner to book summonses and things if the horses should happen to take their heads a little while yet in the city.”
          In a very few minutes, the riding party was out of the urban environment and into an area where they could sense the joy and excitement of the coming spring:
          “The bird orchestra is tuning up for the concert of the day, the gaunt faded fire on the mountain side contrasted with the bright, gay green of the bursting buds and mantling fields and the cool, morning winds laden with the delicate odors of youthful vegetation blow gently through your whiskers.”
          The reporter was not an experienced rider. The horse he hired was “a tall honest equine, sufficiently sedate but with plenty of go, together with such independence of character that he scorned all guidance from his hurricane deck.”
          As the party explored the countryside, the discomfort of the ride began to set in:
          “But the trot. Ye Gods! It would make our eyeballs jingle in their sockets.”
          While the trotting pace was uncomfortable, it was tame compared to the terrors of the gallop. As the party turned east on Ida street (later known as Delaware avenue) the horses all started to speed up their pace dramatically.
          The reporter started to think that he was “riding on the breath of a Samoan cyclone … there was a mad rush of atmosphere all around him, a sensation of being hurled through space – he was sorry he came – but the gait only got more severe.”
          Finally, the horses slowed for a rest, giving the reporter a chance to take in the scenery:
          Mountain Avenue extends between two stately rows of poplars; on te right lies the mountain, and on the left a line of fine residences. The road past the Delta and along to Bartonville and Stoney Creek traverses one of the most  fruitful sections of the Niagara peninsula, following the base of the mountain all the way, while in the distance the blue waters of the lake gleam through the trees. Interesting old houses, dating back to the days of 1812 appear at intervals, and the historic battlefield of Stoney Creek, with the old cemetery on the hill, assist in lending a glamour of historic interest in the locality.”
          Turning their horses north, and then west to return to the city, the party followed the shoreline of the lake and bay. In all, the ride was about 20 miles lon, and when the party dismounted back at the stables, they all, according to the reporter, felt “like millionaires.”