Monday, 8 August 2011

3 A.M. James St. N. - 1887

“Perhaps some of you who always keep good, respectable hours would like to know what Hamilton looks like in the wee sma’‘oors ayont the twelve, when all good, honest, easy-going people are sleeping. If you feel like it, just come along with me.”
        “About Night Hawks : Life in the Streets When the Night Begins to Wane”
                                        Hamilton Spectator.
                                                March 19, 1887.
With the above paragraph, a reporter with the Hamilton Spectator, writing under the pseudonym Jehosaphat Jefferson, began an article about what Hamilton was like during the long nights of March, 1887.
After leaving his desk at the Spectator office, Jehosaphat Jefferson ventured out onto James street :
“Now we are on the street. Quite a difference to what it was yesterday afternoon when I met you in this same spot. Then it was lighted by sunshine and alive with people and resounding with bustle and turmoil and trample of feet and jangle of wagons and the tinkle of street car bells and the hum of cheery voices. Now, everything is quiet and solemn and strange. As the city lies before you with its silent streets lined with tall and gloomy buildings, that take on a Mysterious character in the pale, cold moonlight as they stretch away along either side of the thoroughfares which, as far as you can see, are deserted, except for the solitary figure of a policeman standing like a bronze statue over there at the corner, and only adding an additional element of solitariness to the scene by his stately and dignified presence.”
        As Jehosaphat Jefferson made his way along the darkened streets of Hamilton in March, 1887, he thought about sleep and its effect on the city:
“Beneficent King Nod stretched his magic wand over the silent city that lies before you, and slowly and peacefully it has sunk into rest and stillness, as a fevered giant might under the charm of a soothing opiate – all the passions, prejudices, ambitious, the mental and physical energies of 40,000 people have stopped dead in their tracks.”
Reporter Jefferson headed towards the north end of the city :
“We will go down James street now. You see it stretching away down there to where the white frozen surface of the bay is glistening on one side of the street bathed in moonlight, and the other smothered in deep shadow that extends to the middle of the roadway. Do you notice how quiet it is; there is scarcely a sound of any kind to be heard, except the noise of our footsteps which awake the little echoes that go skipping along in advance of us, and riot among the gables of the tall buildings and fling themselves bodily against the resonant window panes as if they took a malicious delight in waking up the grave, dignified piles of architecture and wanted to show how much they despised a dull time.”
The reporter dropped into No. 1 police station at the city hall, but as nothing was doing there, he went back out on the street :
“The sky away over there in the east is beginning to have a brighter tinge than the rest, though it is a long time till daylight yet – Jeruslaem! What in creation has broke loose now? There is a deafening, strident, reverberating clang in the air above us, shattering the silence all into ‘pi’ and the sound waves go rolling down the empty streets like balls in a bowling alley, and bring up, with a rattle of echoes at the end. It is the clock in the bell tower striking the hour. Twice more the bell gives tongue and then in the stillness that follows, some vagrant rooster away over in Corktown toots its kazoo.”
The reporter then ran into a gang of drunken young men on their way home from the barroom :
“Ah me! But aren’t they a sick-looking crowd as they move slowly along, balancing themselves on the dizzy eminence of a twelve foot sidewalk?”
The large buildings in the downtown Hamilton area had a particularly threatening aspect to the Spectator man as he walked about the streets in the middle of the night:
“Do you notice how the buildings seem to take on an individuality at night that you never noticed when the streets were full of people? Some of them you imagine have a gaunt and hungry look, while other little fat structures have a bulging in their sides and a contented, sleepy look about them, as if they had gorged themselves with the little pygmies of humanity that throng around them in the daytime and were resting after it. The most of them have their blinds pulled close, but here and there a light burning dimly in an upstairs window makes the building look as if it was keeping one eye open.”
Jefferson noted that usually one could go up James street from King to Cannon street, and never meet a soul during the middle of the night, unless one ran into a gang of drunken toughs:
“They will sometimes try to pick a quarrel by purposely jostling you as you go through them, but if you keep cool and turn it off with a joke, you’re all right. Then, like as not, they become oppressively friendly and won’t let you go away until you go in somewhere and ‘take sumpin’ at the jostler’s expense.”
Occasionally, the reporter would meet a threesome walking along the late night streets, a gentleman with a young girl on his arm, her mother, “or a stout, old chaperon,” on the other arm:
“The chaperon is generally doing all the talking, and the young girl trips along with a dreamy look on her face, and her thoughts roaming off in a delicious reverie as she reviews the events of the evening in a mirage of girlish imagination. The group flits past, leaving the breath of delicate perfume in the air, and the reporter rambles on in another delicious reverie, while in the mirage of his imagination, there floats a dainty vision of a fleecy, white cloak, a pretty young face with a stray curl of gold on the cheek and a pair of lovely eyes that look out at him with a sparkle of innocent curiosity>”
Quite another type of young lady was seen passing along the street by herself :
“a rustle of rich silk, a jingle of bangles, the clicking step of a high-heeled bottine, a glitter of jewelry, a form, graceful and divinely tall, a close-wrapped cloak, a handsome, passionate face – now white and drawn – with a pair of eyes that burn like coals, approaches and a sickening odor of musk and cheap perfume fills the air as he hurries past, looking straight before her.”
The Spectator reporter finally decided to head home as he began to hear the market wagons beginning to rumble down the mountain.
Passing by a policeman on a corner, the reporter greeted him by saying:
“ ‘Good night, old hoss.’
“ ‘Good morning, you mean,’ replied the policeman. “Be off to your roosts, you young nighthawk, or I’ll run ye in.’

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