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Sir Hiram Maxim was a very prolific innovator - his inventions ranged from a steam powered aircraft (in 1894) to the Maxim gun.
this from Merchants of Death: A Study of the International Armament Industry, 1934
His son, Hiram Percy Maxim, wrote the following book about growing up with such a Dad -
A Genius in the Family
by Hiram Percy Maxim
Most of us men become fathers at one time or another. As far as my
information goes, none of us has very much experience in the business
when he embarks upon it. I am sure my father merely blundered into
fatherhood without giving the matter any serious consideration. He gave
every evidence of conceiving fatherhood to be a means provided by nature
for perpetrating humorous misconceptions upon young and inexperienced
offspring. As the first of these offspring I was the butt of a host of
most amazing undertakings. From birth to the age of twelve, when my
father went abroad, to remain permanently, as it turned out, I lived an
utterly different sort of family life from that of any of my young
friends. I am prepared to believe that no boy was ever brought up as I
was. Having had no previous experience in being brought up, I was not
conscious that there was anything unique about my situation, and it was
not until after my father left the family and we gradually settled down
to the conventional, that I realized what an unusual life we had been
It would be unfortunate, it has seemed to me, were the atmosphere of my
father's house not recorded and made available, for I am persuaded that
the examples of clever invention, amazing audacity, extraordinary humor,
and passionate persistence of purpose (and heaven-born patience on the
part of my mother) may be of interest outside the family. It is in this
spirit that I present this intimate picture of the family life of my
father, the late Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim, one of America's distinguished
engineers and scientists.
Hiram Percy Maxim.
THIRD STREET, BROOKLYN
I Suspect I had one of the most unusual fathers anybody ever had. I was
his firstborn. He knew considerably less than nothing about children and
he had to learn how to be a father. He learned on me.
He did not learn easily. In fact, as I look back upon it, he never
thoroughly learned how to be a father. As for me, although I had no
previous experience, I do not remember having very much difficulty in
learning to be a son. I accepted my father as a general run-of-the-mine
father; he wore trousers, had a deep voice and a beard, and otherwise
looked like other fathers. When we first met he did not impress me
particularly. Indeed, either he was so colorless or I was so unobserving
that it was well over two years after we first met that I noticed he was
a member of the family.
As the reader will discover, he was anything but colorless. I must have
been unobserving, because I utterly failed to note the adding of such an
important item to our family as my sister Florence. I distinctly remember
when there were but three of us, my father, my mother, and myself; but to
save my life I cannot remember the occasion of my sister's joining the
family, although I was nearly four at the time. As for my second sister,
who arrived two and a half years later, I remember her coming very
clearly, as I had the impression the house had caught on fire.
My father saw to it very early in my life that there should be an
erroneous impression in my mind concerning the words "papa" and "man." I
was allowed to acquire the impression that the words were synonyms. On a
certain occasion this led to a misunderstanding between me and the driver
of a coal-truck. I happened to be out on the sidewalk in front of our
house in Brooklyn, New York, when this driver delivered our coal.
Shoveling the coal down the coal-hole was an interesting operation to me.
I became impressed also with the evident importance of our family,
because of the large amount of coal which we seemed to need. I spoke to
the driver of the coal-truck on the subject, addressing him as "papa." It
surprised him very much. He denied that he was a papa, was very positive
that he was not my papa, and went so far as to state that he was not
married. What being married had to do with it was not plain to me, and I
maintained that because he wore trousers and had a mustache he must be a
papa. I am told that I added that most papas of my acquaintance did not
have such dirty faces as his.
When the coal had all been put in this person took the matter up with my
mother, stating that I had called him "papa." My mother explained to me
after this little colloquy that I had only one papa, that he was not the
driver of a coal-truck, but, instead, was the papa who lived with us.
Younger readers would do well to realize that in the days of which I
write there were no telephones, no electric lights, no electric street
cars, no bicycles, no automobiles, no skyscrapers, no radios, and no
airplanes. To go anywhere one either walked or was hauled by a horse or a
steam-locomotive. We were living on Third Street near Smith Street in
Brooklyn at this time. Even in the large cities--and Brooklyn was
one--the streets had a very small amount of traffic in them, except in
downtown districts. No one ever thought of stop lights and traffic
policemen. The average street car or wagon moved at about five miles per
hour. No one ever thought of being run over and killed. The streets were
clear and open. Indeed, there were very few overhead wires on poles,
except in downtown New York. The streets were lighted with gas-lamps and
men came around every evening on every street in the city and lighted
them, and came again in the early morning and put them out.
The streets in many places were paved with rounded cobblestones. Probably
there was not a rubber-tired vehicle in all the world. Had there been
bicycles, they could not have been ridden in most city streets.
Our house on Third Street, was a few doors from Smith Street There was a
horse-car line on Smith Street. In one direction it ran to Fulton Ferry,
which, in my estimation, was a very long way off. My father went to his
business in New York on the Fulton Ferry. In the other direction the
Smith Street horse cars ran to Ninth Street, where they turned and
crossed the Gowanus Canal, the water in which was indescribably dirty. I
used to marvel that water could be so dirty.
Some distance beyond the canal the car line ran past the place where the
snow plows were kept. I used to watch carefully for this place when I was
taken to Prospect Park, because the gate in the fence would be open
sometimes and I could see the snow plows. This vision used to thrill me
to the marrow every time; snow plows were the most interesting things in
my world. In the winter, when they would pass along Smith Street with a
long string of horses pulling them, sweeping the snow off the tracks and
blowing it all over everybody on the sidewalk, the spectacle rendered me
speechless. The driver of the snow plow reminded me of Santa Claus. He
had a very red face and he was always frosted all over with snow. He had
a very loud voice and he used to shout at the horses and crack a long
whip. Nothing fascinated me quite so much as the passage of the snow plow
and I used to beg my father to talk about it.
My father had wandered down from the wilds of Maine, where he was born,
and at the time of which I write, 1873, he was senior partner of the firm
of Maxim & Welch, builders of steam-engines and gas-generating machines
on Center Street, New York.
Our house on Third Street, Brooklyn, had a high stoop which led to the
second floor, where were the parlor, living-room, and two of our
bed-chambers. The dining-room, pantry, and kitchen were on the first
floor, which was two or three steps below the ground level. They were
entered by means of a basement door which was under the brownstone stoop.
There was a front yard, which must have been very minute, and in which my
mother attempted to coax a bit of sickly grass to grow. I was the cause
of the grass being sickly. I was forever in difficulties because I was
forbidden to walk upon this grass, and it seemed to me to be the one
place where it was imperative that I should walk frequently.
Between the yard and the sidewalk of the street was a very ornate
cast-iron fence. It had a gate in it which had to be swung open and
closed with deliberation.
Being made of cast iron, it was heavy, and swinging it open and closing
it took time. This gate stands out conspicuously in my memory because,
being invariably in a hurry, as was also the case with my father, I could
not resist the temptation, now and again, to postpone closing it. This
always got me into trouble with my mother, who, I am sure, what between
me and my father, must have lived a troubled life.
My father had a simple solution for the gate nuisance. It was to vault
over it. Both going and coming he always vaulted it, unless he was
burdened with packages. I used to envy him this ability, and I used to
direct the attention of my little friends to the fact that my father was
the only father on the street who jumped his gate. Business men in those
days always wore high silk hats and Prince Albert coats. I believe we
call them frock-coats today. It would be quite a spectacle in these
times to see a gentleman in a silk hat and a frock coat vaulting his
On the corner of our street was a drug store in the windows of which were
large glass vessels containing highly colored liquids. All drug stores
had these vessels of highly colored liquids in my day. Only very
old-fashioned drug stores have them today. I was sent frequently to this
drug store on simple errands.
The man in the drug store owned a little white dog. He was a very gentle
little dog and he seemed to like me. We had no dog at our house. All we
had was a very small baby which cried too much. One day I told the man in
the drug store that I loved his little dog. I think I suggested to him
that it would be very nice of him if he gave me the dog. Indeed, I
suspect that I suggested it several times. The drug-store man became
impatient finally and one day told me to go out and find a penny with a
head on each side and bring it to him and he would give me the dog. This
seemed a simple thing to do, so I hurried home to get one.
I found my mother and asked her to let me see all of her money. This
seemed to astonish the dear lady. She asked me why. I told her that the
man in the drug store promised to give me his little white dog if I would
bring in a penny which had a head on each side. My mother smiled and
explained to me that the man was joking, that every penny had a head on
one side only, and that he made the offer only because he knew there was
no such thing as a penny with a head on both sides. My mother was wasting
her breath. There was the dog, and I wanted him, and all I had to do to
own him was to find a penny with a head on both sides. My mother could
not sense the importance of the matter. I insisted that we look over her
pennies for one with a head on both sides.
I remember how we argued as we went upstairs to her bureau drawer, where
she kept her purse, and how she emptied all of her coins out of the purse
into her lap; and how I, standing at her knee, examined both sides of
every penny; and how disappointed I was when I found that every one of
them had a head on one side only. I was thwarted, but by no means
defeated. I made up my mind that my problem was above a woman's head and
that I would he obliged to seek my father's assistance. He was a man and
I was very sure that he could find me a penny with a head on both sides,
for he could do wonderful things.
The rest of the afternoon was spent waiting at the corner for him to
arrive. He always came by horse car and I knew exactly where he would get
off. After a very long wait he arrived. Running up to him, I asked him to
look in his pockets and see if he had a penny with a head on both sides.
Naturally he was astonished, but instead of showing his surprise and
treating me as though I were a little child, he pretended to take the
matter seriously. Stopping on the sidewalk and handing me his evening
paper and a package to hold, he fished out of his pocket all the coins he
had, and selecting the pennies, we went carefully over each one, looking
to see if any of them had a head on both sides. They all had a head on
one side only. He professed surprise at this and he went over them again
in order to be sure. This encouraged me, for obviously he had expected to
find one. Evidently they were to be had, which was precisely the
impression he wished to convey to me.
As he gathered up his paper and package he asked me casually what I
wanted the penny for. I told him that the man in the drug store had said
that I could have his little white dog if I would bring in a penny with a
head on both sides. "Well," said my father, "that ought to be easy. When
I go over to New York tomorrow I will see if I can find one. They must
have plenty of them over there."
I was very much elated. I knew my father would have no trouble with a
little matter like this. He could do anything, and if he said he would
bring me a penny with a head on both sides he would do it, which meant
that the little white dog would be mine. When he left for New York the
next morning I was careful to remind him about the penny. He assured me
he would not forget.
It was a very long day. I thought late afternoon would never come. I had
made up my mind just where I was going to have the little dog sleep,
where he was going to have his meals, and what we were going to do
together. In the meanwhile a very busy man in New York, with heavy
responsibilities resting upon his shoulders, went into his factory
tool-room, put a penny in a lathe and faced off the tail side of it
until it was just half the thickness of a normal penny. Then he repeated
the operation with another penny, which gave him two half pennies. He
then soldered these two thin half pennies together, thereby producing a
coin of normal thickness but with a head on both sides. When the edge had
been burnished the joint could not be seen, whereupon he probably smiled
and placed the unique coin in his pocket.
That afternoon I was at the corner, waiting for him. When he arrived I
ran out to greet him and asked him if he had found the penny. Acting as
though he had forgotten the matter, but that on a chance shot he might
have one among his other coins, he reached into his pocket and drew them
out. There were several pennies, and looking at each one, he picked out
one which had a head on both sides. Handing it to me, he asked if that
was what I was looking for. I was none too familiar with the heads and
tails matter and I had to compare the double-headed one with the others
in order to make up my mind. With his assistance it became clear that
this penny had a real head on each side. I was for going and getting the
dog forthwith, but my father suggested that we go home first, and then
after supper he would go up to the drug store with me.
I can see my mother now, as we three sat at the table, she astounded at
the double-headed penny, utterly unable to account for it, but knowing it
was a trick, while my father laughed at her, for there the penny was, and
it certainly had two heads on it. Knowing my father as she did, and as I
came to know him in due time, she must have said what I heard her say
many hundreds of times in later years, "Now, Hiram, please don't do
anything foolish and in bad taste." This all went over my head. I recall
my inability to understand her attitude. There was the penny, staring
everybody in the face with its two heads. Why all the talk? The
double-headed penny assured getting the dog. What possible objection
could my mother have to the proceeding?
After supper my father and I sauntered up to the drug store. As we
entered, I dancing with joyous anticipation, my father hung back. Running
up to the man, I held out to him my double-headed penny and told him I
had come for the dog. The man took the penny, turned it over and over and
over again, stared at me, glanced at my father in a sheepish sort of way,
and gave every evidence of being taken thoroughly aback. I suppose that
this little scene was what my father had been looking forward to all day.
The drugstore man asked me where I had obtained the penny. I told him
that my father had given it to me. This involved the latter, who then
stepped forward, asking what the difficulty seemed to be, and acting as
though he had no previous knowledge of the matter. The drugstore man held
out the penny in a helpless sort of way, saying something about a joke.
My father, acting as though he could not understand, took the penny,
glanced at it casually, and handed it back, saying something about not
remembering having seen one like it before.
I asked if I was going to get the dog. To my complete dismay, the
drug-store man indicated that I was not. I remember the maze of confusing
talk, which did not interest me, for it was the dog that I wanted. My
father did not put as much value on the dog as did I. He appeared to be
involved in the legal aspects of the case. After a lot of talking, during
which I thought him particularly stupid, because he knew perfectly the
original terms of the bargain between me and the drug-store man, he
appeared to discover for the first time that the proposition had been
that if I brought in a penny with a head on both sides I would get the
dog. Having established this fact, my father summed up the difficulty. It
appeared to him I had been offered a certain dog in consideration of my
bringing in a penny with a head on both sides. It appeared to him I had
done this. It appeared to him it was up to the drug store man to fulfill
his part of the bargain. In other words, if the bargain between me and
the drug-store man was what both sides agreed it was, then there was but
one solution, and that was for the drug-store man to hand over the little
white dog. Of course the drugstore man had not the slightest intention of
giving up the dog. When this had become established my father made it
plain that it would be more prudent if the drugstore man would be careful
about making offers in the future, unless he proposed to live up to them.
Where that poor drug-store proprietor thought we had got the
double-headed penny was never disclosed.
We took our double-headed penny home. I was very much disappointed. I had
believed the drug-store man, and I fairly pined for that little dog. It
was my first contact with a broken pledge. I had not known before that
there was such a thing in the world as a broken pledge. My father did not
take my view of the matter. He had had his little joke; the drug-store
man had been given the surprise of his life and had been placed in an
embarrassing position. That was all there was to it. The incident was
With my father, one never knew what was going to happen from one moment
to the next. On one occasion he and I were walking through an uptown
street in New York after dark. In those days Fifty-eighth Street was far
uptown. We probably were walking through Fifty-eighth Street from one
avenue to another. There were any number of house lots which had not yet
been built upon. These lots had board fences to prevent passers-by from
falling into the rock pit which most of the vacant places seemed to be.
In front of one of these board fences, and in the very dim light of the
infrequent gas lamps, a tough-looking specimen demanded money. It really
amounted to a hold-up, although no pistol was involved.
My father was an extraordinarily powerful man and as quick as a cat.
Before the man had finished speaking my father grabbed him and actually
boosted him up on top of the fence and pushed him over. What he fell into
on the other side, how much he was hurt, how he got out, and what he
thought had happened to him have filled me with wonder these many years.
My father was the last man on earth to start monkeying with.
One of our many cooks at Third Street was an Irish girl. One day a man
came to the door and told her that he was taking orders for photograph
enlargements. If she would let him have one of her photographs he would
enlarge it, put it in a beautiful frame, and bring it back in a few days.
The price was only two dollars, which was less than the cost of the frame
as he represented matters. He exhibited a beautiful frame in which was an
excellent enlargement of a cabinet-size photograph of a young woman. Our
cook yielded, gave him one of her photographs and two dollars. As might
be expected, the man never sent any enlargement. After several weeks had
passed my mother told my father of the fraud. To everybody's complete
surprise he became very indignant, scolded the girl, and evinced a deep
resentment against the man who would thus prey upon servant girls. He
cross-examined her and gathered all the information she could give him,
and for several Sundays after that he and I pursued the trail of the
After he had run down a great many addresses in Brooklyn and found that
the man had moved on, the trail led to the stockyards in Jersey City.
After securing another address at these stockyards my father noticed that
the cattle in the pens crowded toward him whenever he moved about. This
seemed a curious thing, and he went from pen to pen, experimenting, the
cattle crowding toward him in every case. Something led him to suspect
that the animals were thirsty. To prove it he opened a valve in a pipe
leading to a trough in one of the pens. As soon as the water began to
flow a terrible stampede developed among the cattle in that and in
neighboring pens. They became crazed at the sound of the water and fought
desperately for a place at the trough. It terrified me because they
seemed very large beasts and very angry, and I feared they might break
down the fence in their fighting and get out.
My father then went to other pens and opened the water-valves, and the
thirsty animals behaved the same way there, too. His indignation over
this new situation diverted him from the pursuit of the photograph man.
He was busy opening valves when a watchman came hurrying up. I knew there
was going to be a scene and I dreaded what I knew was to come. Sure
enough, my father pitched into the watchman, demanding to know when the
cattle had last been watered. The poor watchman realized he was dealing
with a man who meant business and explained that it was orders from the
office that the cattle should not be watered after Thursday morning, so
that when they came to be sold by weight on Monday they would drink
enormous quantities of water and weigh more. This was too much, and my
father delivered himself of a few well-chosen and very pointed remarks
about such inhuman practices, warning the watchman that he would report
the matter to the proper authorities the first thing Monday morning. It
was impossible for him to water all the cattle in the stockyards, so
after more very acid remarks about the persons who operated the
stockyards we departed and resumed our search for the photograph man.
We finally located the swindler. He turned out to be a barber in the most
wretched barber shop I have ever seen. My father recovered the two
dollars obtained from our cook, and had the man arrested and fined. As
for the cattle, my father did just what he said he would do, and I am
under the impression that he went to great lengths in the matter, giving
a lot of his time to it, and being instrumental in having some kind of
law passed in New Jersey prohibiting this form of cruelty.
While I am on the subject of cooks I am reminded of an especially hectic
Sunday morning with one of them. My father used to pretend to be overcome
by the stupidity of the average cook or housemaid. We came to have a
series of stupids. I remember Stupid the Fifth very distinctly. I thought
this was her real name. Everybody, my mother excepted, called her by that
It was one of the several stupids who was the unwitting subject of one of
his so-called "experiments" one Sunday morning in the kitchen. The
kitchen is no place for the head of the family. I learned that very early
in life. In my family I naturally keep out of the kitchen if it is
possible to do so. Not so my father. He loved the kitchen, and I came to
learn never to leave his side when he was in it. There was likely to be
action at any minute.
He had been reading that the sensation of extreme cold is the same as
that of extreme heat. It occurred to him one Sunday morning to
demonstrate it. He secured two stove pokers, hooked affairs which were
used in those days to poke the ashes out of a coal fire in the open
grates we had. One of these pokers he placed in a bath of snow mixed with
alcohol. The alcohol melts the snow and produces a liquid which may have
a temperature considerably below zero. The other poker he placed in the
open grate in the kitchen range. When it was red hot he walked around the
kitchen with it, and used it to burn a bit of wood and create an odor of
something burning. While all this stage play was going on the Irishwoman
was busy preparing the Sunday dinner. Unconsciously she became aware of
the presence of a red-hot poker. As I look back at it, I marvel at the
perfection of the man's psychology.
When he had paraded the red-hot poker around the kitchen for some time,
and had told me (in a voice which he intended the cook to overhear), how
red-hot irons were used to brand cattle on their necks, and how it must
hurt, he went outside and got the cold poker, which he wiped off and
secreted under his coat. Returning to the kitchen, he withdrew from the
open grate of the kitchen range the other poker, which was at a brilliant
red heat. Grasping this red-hot poker, and dancing about as though it
were so hot that even the handle burned him, he stepped up to the cook
from behind, waved the red-hot poker where she could see it and feel its
heat, pulled it back, drew the cold poker from under his coat and clapped
the latter against the cook's neck, shouting, "Look OUT!" and emitting a
loud hissing sound.
Naturally, the poor woman thought he had branded her on the neck with a
red-hot poker. I saw the entire proceeding and knew that he did nothing
of the kind. The cook gave a piercing scream, clapped the corner of her
apron to her neck, and fell fainting into a chair. My mother, convinced
that some dreadful accident had occurred, came running from upstairs, to
find my father in fits of laughter and the cook emitting periodic screams
as she came out of her faint.
My poor mother was distraught. The screams shattered her nerves as they
did mine. She tried desperately to get the cook's hand down from her neck
in order to ascertain the extent of her injury, but the cook evidently
thought she would bleed to death if she removed her hand and the apron.
This nerve-racking scene went on for some time, the cook letting go a
piercing scream every so often. After a great amount of effort my mother
succeeded in getting the woman's hand down from her neck, and the
surprising fact was disclosed that there was not even a mark visible,
which threw my mother into complete confusion. She was very excitable and
for some time she and my father and the cook shouted at cross purposes at
one another, nobody listening to anybody else and nobody being able to
make head or tail of what the others were talking about. My father saw
that he must have gone too far, and did his best to explain that it was
an experiment he had been conducting, that nobody had been hurt, and that
it was all very funny if only the others would see it in that light; and
besides, things had come to a pretty pass if a man could not experiment
in his own house.
The cook could not be persuaded to see the matter in that light,
insisting that she had been branded on the neck with a red-hot poker,
although a look in the mirror failed to disclose even a slight mark. She
threw up her job then and there, declaring that she would not remain with
a family where the man of the house branded the servants on their necks.
My mother had a flood of tears, the cook packed up her belongings and
departed in high dudgeon, and the Sunday dinner was late and a very
On another Sunday morning my father called to me and asked if I had
noticed that every Sunday morning the policeman on the beat spent an hour
or so in the areaway of the house across the street. I had noticed it and
I had also noticed that the housemaid of the people opposite was involved
in these Sunday-morning visits. My father asked me what I imagined could
be the trouble over there that they had to call the police every Sunday
morning. I was old enough at the time to sense that the policeman was not
there to straighten out any trouble or to protect anybody; he was there
because the housemaid was there. I had on two or three occasions heard my
father use the word "sparking," although he had not realized that I had
noticed it; so I suggested that perhaps the policeman was sparking the
housemaid. My father was amazed at my knowledge, for I was only five, and
he repeated the word after me. "Sparking?" Then, unable to resist the
temptation, he continued, "What do they do when they spark?" I could see
the little lines around his eyes and I knew that I had interested him.
My father pretended to be concerned about the sparking business. We
watched the policeman and the maid, and finally he said: "I tell you what
we ought to do, Percy. We ought to make them stop that sparking every
Sunday morning. If they spark on Sundays, how do we know that they will
not spark on other days; and we cannot have this policeman spending his
time sparking when he should be watching for bad people."
There seemed a certain virtue in this point of view, and with the
directness of the child I asked how we could stop them. Said he: "Of
course we can't go over there and tell them to stop sparking; but I tell
you what we could do. We could get a bean-blower and blow beans at them."
I inquired what he meant.
"Well, I'll tell you," said he. "Between now and next Sunday I shall bring
over from New York a long brass tube that will be nice and straight. It
will be just big enough on the inside to accept a bean. Then we can get
some beans from Mamma and we can blow them over there and make him stop
sparking the housemaid."
This seemed most irregular to me; but no matter if it was irregular or
not, if he was going to do it, it would be interesting. So I gave my
whole-hearted support to the plan. I recall how funny he looked, even to
me, when he cautioned me not to tell Mamma about it because she would not
understand. He was absolutely right. I knew that Mamma would not
When the next Sunday came around I had forgotten about the sparking
business. But my father had not. When my mother had disappeared upstairs
for the morning he laid aside a drawing he was working on and, calling
me, pointed across the street, remarking something to the effect that
they were at it again. That reminded me and I hastened to ask him if he
had remembered to bring the brass tube for the beans. He said he had the
tube in the closet where we kept our umbrellas. There followed a pause,
so I asked him why he did not get it out and blow some beans. He seemed
to have been waiting for me to suggest this, which struck me as being
very odd. I probably suggested that while he was getting the brass tube I
would ask Mamma for some beans. He vetoed this idea instantly. He would
get the beans. Mamma ought not be disturbed. And it needed a certain kind
of bean which only he knew how to select. I saw the wisdom of this
procedure, for I could see that to ask my mother for beans would raise
the question of what the beans were wanted for; and something told me
that she would not give her whole-hearted support to using them to blow
at a policeman.
After much shifting of things and adjusting of the window curtain we were
ready to blow our first bean. I was very much excited, for I had not the
slightest notion in the world what the bean was supposed to do after it
had been blown. To my surprise, my father pointed the bean-blowing tube
at the top of the building across the street. Putting his mouth to the
tube, he sent a little white bean across the street where it struck the
building about three stories up, directly over the areaway where the
policeman and the housemaid were sparking. The bean bounced off the wall
of the building and fell vertically into the entrance into the areaway.
Nothing happened, so my father blew another. It also fell into the
areaway. It seemed to me to be a most curious way to go about "smoking
out" a policeman. But I was wrong.
After half a dozen beans had been blown against the wall and had fallen
into the areaway, the policeman came out and looked very hard at the
windows over his head. Then it was that I saw and appreciated my father's
strategy. By blowing the beans against the wall and high up, my father
made them appear to the policeman to be coming from overhead. Probably
the very last place he would have expected to find the beans coming from
was across the street. He peered at all the windows, waiting for the
unknown one upstairs to throw another bean, so he could catch him at it.
But nothing came, my father being too clever to blow while the policeman
was looking up. Presently he went down into the area again, which was the
signal for a perfect fusilade of beans. Out the policeman popped again,
this time walking out on to the sidewalk in order to gain a better view
of the windows above. I suppose if some innocent person had selected this
moment to raise a window and look out, nothing on earth would have
convinced the policeman this person was not guilty of blowing the beans.
But nobody raised a window, so the mystified policeman had nothing else
to do but to return to the areaway and the housemaid. He had no more than
entered when the beans rained down again. This time he dashed out,
thinking to be so quick that he would catch the blower. But there was
somebody quicker than he was. He had not a chance in the world. He walked
around this time in a most determined manner, my father in the meantime
rolling around in gales of merriment. I remember that I thought it was a
good joke, but that--like all my father's jokes--it was not entirely
above criticism. It seemed to me to be playing with fire, this making a
policeman the butt of a joke.
The policeman finally had to give up and return to the areaway and the
housemaid. The instant his figure disappeared into the areaway another
downfall of beans took place. He did not pop out so quickly this time.
When he did come out he waved good-by to somebody in the areaway,
doubtless the housemaid, and came directly over to our side of the
street. I thought he had detected us and I became alarmed. I suspect my
father had a bit of a turn, because he rushed to the umbrella-closet with
the tube and the beans, and when he returned pretended to be hard at work
on his drawing. However, the policeman had come across the street in
order to obtain a good view of all the windows in the house opposite. He
stopped directly in front of our window, not fifteen feet from my father
and me, and waited several minutes. Little did that policeman suspect
that directly behind him were a man, a boy, a bean-blower, and a supply
We broke up that morning's sparking and we broke up several other
sessions. Finally the policeman had to give up and do his sparking at
other times. He never found out where the beans came from.
A certain incident in our life on Third Street is very vivid in my
memory, probably because of the fuss my mother made over it. It was
something which she had to piece together, bit by bit, before she had the
We had among our friends a married couple of about my parents' age. Their
name was Righter. The Righters were very "high church." My father, as
might be imagined, was not "high church." He used to go to church
occasionally with my mother to hear Henry Ward Beecher preach; but my
mother said that she had to give up taking him because, unless the sermon
was unusually interesting, he would yawn so much, sigh so loud, squirm in
his seat so continuously, and stare so hard at the people in the near-by
pews, that it made her fidgety. She finally had to give up trying to soak
a little religion into him.
The Righters had me in frequently, not having any children of their own,
and probably finding a little boy interesting. Mrs. Righter conceived it
her duty to assist in my religious education, and so she used to teach me
verses from the Bible. My mother kept this condition of affairs from my
father, because she well knew that it would be most unsafe to let him in
on any religious matters. But one day, like a child, I inadvertently let
the cat out of the bag. In one of the fascinating philosophical
discussions with which I was sometimes favored by my father, something
was said about what should and what should not be done on a Sunday. I
must have been between four and five years old at the time. Probably I
asked why it was that things which might be done all right on Saturday
afternoon were not proper on Sunday morning. Anything of this sort was
irresistible to my father. He led me on until the word "Sabbath" crept
into the discussion. I realized for the first time that it meant the same
thing as Sunday.
That reminded me of my latest accomplishment, the result of Mrs.
Righter's efforts; so I said to my father that we always should remember
the Sabbath and keep it holy.
I shall never forget the look of amazement which swept over his face.
Coming straight out of the blue from a little child of four, it must have
been startling. When he had caught his breath the conversation continued
something like this, according to family legend:
"Who told you that?"
"Mrs. Righter told me that's what everybody should do."
"Are you sure you have it the way Mrs. Righter told you to say it?"
Yes. That's the way she says it."
"Just say it again, so I can try to find what is wrong about it, because
I am sure you have it wrong."
"Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy."
"Well! I am surprised."
"What's the matter with it?"
She told you wrong. Nobody who knows says it that way. I am surprised
that Mrs. Righter should have told you the wrong way."
"Well--what is the right way?"
"The way I always say it is, 'Remember the Sabbath and go fishing.'"
"Yes. You see, Percy, the fish always bite better on the Sabbath and
people do not have to go to their business on that day, so, as you know,
when you and I have gone fishing we always have gone on Sunday. We never
went on any other day, did we?"
He was absolutely right. He always was right. He had taken me fishing
down near Coney Island in a river and we had caught a lot of crabs, and
it was on a Sunday. It had to be on a Sunday because, as he said, he had
to go to his business every other day.
"Remember the Sabbath and go fishing," I repeated, wondering at the wide
difference between what Mrs. Righter had told me and my father's version.
"That's right. Now you have it. That's the way everybody says it. You
ought to tell Mrs. Righter the right way to say it, because she probably
does not know about it."
I resolved to do it quickly, which was precisely what my incorrigible
It is a very curious thing what one remembers. I can distinctly remember
climbing up the stairs in the Righters' house soon after this discussion.
I remember that the stairs were carpeted and that the steps were very
high for my short legs. I called to Mrs. Righter from downstairs and she
called back to me to come along up. I must have begun my announcement to
her when only part way up, for there is a clear picture in my mind of
holding on to the banisters to help mount the high steps as I began
telling her my father had said she had told me wrong about what to say.
"Told you wrong, Percy?"
"Yes, Mrs. Righter. My Papa says you told me wrong. The right way to say
it is Remember the Sabbath and go fishing."
Something went wrong at this point. I did not know what it was, but I
could see that Mrs. Righter was very serious. She said something in a
very solemn voice which I took to mean that she was cross with me. This
led me to cut my visit short. I went home. I was depressed. Mrs. Righter
had never spoken to me that way before. There was only one person to whom
I wanted to go--my mother.
She saw, quickly enough, that something was wrong, as mothers have a way
of doing. She asked me why I had returned from Mrs. Righter's so quickly.
I did not want to discuss the question. It was too painful. But by
degrees she aroused in me an argumentative mood, not a difficult thing to
do with a Maxim. I assumed the offensive myself. I asked her what day it
was that Papa and I went fishing. This appeared to surprise her more than
ever. She replied that she could not remember, and what in the world had
that to do with Mrs. Righter's being cross with me? I asked her if it was
Sunday. She recalled that it must have been on a Sunday, because Papa
always went to his business in New York on the other days. This clinched
the matter with me. My father was right. We had gone fishing on Sunday.
There was no other day when we could have gone. "Remember the Sabbath and
go fishing" must be right. Mrs. Righter was wrong.
Convinced that I had the best of the argument, I told my mother that Mrs.
Righter had told me wrong and that Papa had told me the right way to say
"Say it!" exclaimed my mother. "Say what?"
"Remember the Sabbath and go fishing," I replied. The dear lady was
aghast. Drawing me to her, she became very serious.
"What was it you said to Mrs. Righter, Percy? Tell Mamma exactly what you
"I told her that she told me the wrong way to say it. My Papa knew and he
said the right way to say it was 'Remember the Sabbath and go fishing,'
and," I added by way of convincing her, "that's right, because Papa and I
do go fishing on Sunday, don't we Mamma?"
My poor mother! She saw the entire picture. It was considered, in those
days, wicked to go fishing on Sunday. The fishing we had done was done
secretly, so far as our neighbors were concerned. Here was a pretty
how-d'-do. I recall nothing more about the incident. I have a vague
memory of a tearful scene with my father over the Righter affair and some
kind of coolness concerning the Righters. My mother patched up matters,
but I am sure my father became persona non grata with the Righters, and I
know that I did not enjoy going there as much as I had.
FANWOOD, NEW JERSEY
We moved to Fanwood, New Jersey, in the spring of 1875. My father used to
come out from New York on Saturday afternoons and remain with us until
Monday morning. It was very much "out in the country" for us. It seems to
me, as I look back upon it, that our house was miles out from the
railroad station; but my uncle Frank and I walked the distance many
times, so in reality I suppose it was half a mile or less. We had a horse
and carriage, a barn, a pig, some chickens, a cow, a garden, a blackberry
patch, and a hired man. My sixth birthday was on September 2 1875, and my
birthday present was to be taken to school for the first time. This
enables me to establish the date of the incidents I am about to describe,
and my own age. We had been in Fanwood some time before I went to school,
so that I must have been only five years old when many of the events
With the exception of my father, we were city-bred people. My father had
been born and reared in the country near Sangerville, Maine. While he
took no specific responsibilities for our amateur agricultural
activities, nevertheless he made suggestions and acted in a consulting
capacity. My mother decided that the house needed painting soon after we
became settled, and it was decided to make use of this opportunity to
bring down from Maine my uncle Frank, my father's youngest brother, then
a young man in his twenties.
Uncle Frank was a particularly handsome young fellow, with wavy black
hair, dark eyes, and a wonderful complexion. Like all the rest of the
breed, he was remarkably profane. However, his profanity, like my
father's, was never vulgar. Indeed, it was never ordinary profanity.
Instead, it was a very real flow of soul. It was poetic; it had rhythm.
My father was circumspect in his language before us children, but when he
thought none of us were around he would give expression to some very
wonderful sentiments. Young as I was, I realized that the words they used
were exquisitely chosen. I listened to them entranced when by some good
luck I happened to overhear one of their outbursts. It affected me in the
same manner that splendid music affects me today. Their profanity had
spaciousness, was commanding, had a strong dramatic flavor.
Hudson Maxim, another uncle, whom I came to know very intimately in later
life, had this poetically profane gift in a particularly highly developed
form. In recent times at his home at Landing, Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey,
he was showing my wife and me and our son Hamilton a certain painting of
which he was very proud. He jostled another small painting which was
hanging higher up, and it fell and hit him on the head on its way to the
floor. It was only a moderate bump, but the principle of the thing
aroused him. Addressing my wife, because she happened to be standing very
close beside him, he apostrophized Heaven, consigned to everlasting fire
the inspired idiot who hung the picture, wished damnation upon the person
who had selected the wire and hooks by which the picture had been hung,
expressed his profound wonderment that his brains had not been knocked
out, and then went on with his story about the first painting. It was
profanity, and it startled my wife no end, because she had never heard
anything like it before; but it was poetry, also.
Returning to Fanwood and my uncle Frank: He seems to have been given the
job of painting our house. There were two colors on the clapboards, those
above a certain point being one color and those below this point being
another color. Uncle Frank was particularly anxious to finish the job by
the time his brother arrived from New York on Saturday afternoon. He had
worked very hard indeed in order to finish it on time. Some half-hour
before it was time for my father to arrive, he had finished, and he
removed the ladders, paint-pots, and things, and cleared up generally.
When all was done--and he was immensely pleased that he had been able to
finish it--he and I walked out to the road to note the general effect.
The first glance disclosed the ghastly fact that he had put the dark
paint one clapboard too low on the end of the house. The end of the
house, in short, did not match the front.
Uncle Frank was stunned. In a deep, resonant, ringing and very carrying
voice that would have resounded in the largest theater and must have been
heard all over the neighborhood, he called upon the Almighty to look down
and explain how, on this beautiful afternoon, He could have found it in
His heart to permit such a thing as this to happen. He submitted that it
was a most damnable example of injustice wreaked upon an innocent and
well-meaning man who had done his level best to finish the job before his
brother Hiram arrived from New York. Why had he been permitted to go on
and finish it without one thing being done to apprise him that he was
doing it wrong?
After he had been going on in this strain for a few minutes my mother
came to the window to find out what the loud talking was all about. As
she listened and realized the magnitude of the flow of blasphemy, she
became horrified and retired precipitately from the window. Next, our
Irish cook burst out of a side door and ran out into the garden, where
she stopped and stuck her fingers in her ears. She told me afterward that
she ran out because she was afraid to stay in the house for fear it would
be struck by lightning, notwithstanding there was a perfectly clear sky
overhead. She assured me that with such swearing going on it was very
dangerous to stay in a house. Next, my poor mother hurried out of the
front door, evidently with the intention of interceding with Uncle Frank,
but before she could reach him she was stricken. Poor dear, profanity,
dog fights, and violence in general always made her ill. It was at this
interesting juncture that James drove my father into the front yard.
The spectacle presented to his astonished gaze staggered even him. There
was his brother Frank standing in the middle of the front lawn delivering
an argument to the Almighty concerning the freshly painted clapboards;
there was his wife not feeling at all well on the front lawn; there was
his small son standing close to the orator, gazing up into the latter's
face, fascinated and drinking in every word; and there was the servant
girl standing out in the garden, terror written all over her face and a
finger stuck in each ear.
My father asked to be informed what in the world was going on. When it
was conveyed to him that Uncle Frank had painted one row of clapboards
too low on the end of the house and was blaming it upon the Almighty, he
calmed down Frank and brought the scene to an end. It was too bad, but
while the scene lasted it was magnificent.
We had what I considered a large body of water on our property. It was
located on the edge of a growth of trees which I regarded as a great
forest. I suppose it was a small grove of trees and that the body of
water was a pool some forty or fifty feet in diameter. It was big enough
to contain frogs and turtles and was about knee deep in the deepest
place. I regarded it as a young ocean.
One Sunday my father wondered if it might not be good fun to build a
raft. He had to explain to me what a raft was. He said that one put a lot
of pieces of wood in the water, fastened them together, stood upon them,
and went sailing around. This impressed me as being a very excellent idea
indeed. No doubt I suggested that we ought to make one right away. I
could not imagine anything that would be more wonderful than to go
sailing around our pond. At five, one does not know that anticipation is
much better than realization.
My father fell in with the notion. Together, he doing all the work and I
asking all the questions, we built a raft, placing a box on it on which I
was supposed to sit. A pole was cut to push the raft around. I was
disappointed when the raft was finished. It seemed to me to be very
ragged looking. Its top, where I was to stand, seemed dangerously low in
the water. In fact it was just awash, which did not inspire me with
confidence. Everything seemed very wet when we got it in the water. All
things considered, it was not a prepossessing craft, and to venture to
sea upon it appeared to me a most foolhardy undertaking. The entire
enterprise lost its attractions and when it came to the trial trip I
dared not venture upon it. This precipitated an unforeseen dilemma. I had
asked for the raft, my father had worked very hard building it, and now,
when it was all done and ready to try, I declined to get on it.
He argued with me and I fully recognized the soundness of his position.
Nevertheless, it seemed to me that it was my life which was at stake, and
not his. Nothing was said about his getting on the raft. Somehow, my
mother, the hired man, the servant girl, and my little sister Florence
had all been attracted to the pond to see me take a sail, and what had
started out to be a little matter between me and my father had grown into
a major family ceremony in which I was to play the stellar role. My
declination to get on the raft brought the entire program to a stop.
I resisted until the tears threatened, which I knew I must control at all
hazards, because my father was extremely unpleasant when I cried.
Somehow, he got me on the raft and my mother, not wholly in sympathy with
the proceedings, urged me to go along and get it over with. This attitude
on her part, and the fact that she was near at hand, exercised a powerful
influence, for I knew that she would not see any harm come to me. I am
very sure that had she not been present I would have resisted embarking
upon the pond on the crazy raft with the last ounce of strength I
My mother being present and mildly consenting, I allowed myself to be
pushed on to the miserable thing, struggling mightily to hold back the
tears. I was frightened at the novelty of the idea more than anything
else, because, after all, standing upon a piece of wood which was resting
on the land at one end was not so alarming. But presently it began to
move as my father worked it into the water. I remember that this
concerned me deeply and I began to regard the holding back of the tears
as a matter of secondary importance. Suddenly the raft was afloat and I
felt it moving. I noticed with horror that it was receding from the shore
and from my mother. My father, with the aid of the pole, was pushing it
out from shore. This was too much. Casting an appealing look at my
mother, I held out my arms toward her and broke down, blubbering out, "I
shall never see my Mamma again."
This was too much for my soft-hearted mother. She, too, broke down and
demanded that I be brought ashore at once. This was done amid derisive
ridicule from my father. My mother and I retired to the house thoroughly
discomfited. I was horribly disgraced and I was days recovering from the
shame of having failed.
One Sunday morning in Fanwood my father made the startling announcement
that he was going to hypnotize a chicken. He had been reading about it in
a scientific paper. I had not the remotest idea what hypnotize meant, and
when I asked him what it meant he said, "You know--sort of mesmerize
him." The trouble with this explanation was that I did not know what
"mesmerize" meant. I was just as much at sea as ever. However, I knew it
would be interesting, whatever it was, and I determined to be on hand.
He said that he would need some chalk and a chicken, and that,
considering Mamma's way of regarding matters of this sort, we had better
perform the operation out in the barn. He asked me if I knew where we
could find a piece of chalk. I remembered seeing a piece in a box
containing some nails out in the barn, and we both went out to get it.
The box was not where I expected to find it, but, looking around, I spied
it on a beam. It was up too high for my father to look into, and he asked
me why I thought there was any chalk in it. It seemed like second sight
to him. I was positive about it and insisted that he get it down and look
into it for a piece of chalk. He reached up, brought it down and, sure
enough, there was the chalk in it just as I had said it would be. He was
immensely amused and gave me that funny little look which I had grown to
know meant that he thought I was bright. I used to treasure these little
looks, for he was not easy to please.
Then we cleared away a place on the barn floor. I could see that the
hypnotizing operation was going to require a lot of space. Then we went
out to where the chickens were. He asked my opinion about which one we'd
better hypnotize. He was very apt to ask my advice on matters of this
sort, consulting me at length as though I were his equal. I have no doubt
that I was very earnest and that he extracted a lot of fun out of my
seriousness and the naïve answers of a child not yet six.
It was difficult to form any idea at all about which chicken to pick out,
because I had no notion as to whether it involved killing the chicken, or
petting it, or feeding it, or what. After much mental fumbling around, he
patiently awaiting my verdict, I told him that I did not know which
chicken would be best because I did not know what he was going to do.
Again he said, "Oh--you know--just mesmerize it."
This got us nowhere, and one of his favorite types of conversation then
"Well, what do you do to a chicken when you do that to him?" I asked,
avoiding the word because I knew I should not be able to pronounce it.
"Do what to him?"
"That thing you said."
"What I said to the chicken?" This in a surprised tone.
"No, not that. That thing that you said you were going to do to the
chicken. What do you do when you do it?"
"You mean, what does the chicken do?"
"No, not the chicken. You don't understand me, Papa." Getting up very
close to him this time and doing everything in my power to impress the
man, I said, "What do you do to the chicken?"
"Oh! You mean what do I do?"
"Yes--to the chicken."
"The chicken you were going to do that thing to."
"That's what I say. What chicken shall we do it to?"
"Now, Papa, you don't understand. I said, 'What
are-you-going-to-do-to-the-chicken?' Can you understand that, Papa?"
"Oh yes, indeed! I can understand that all right. But what I am trying to
find out is, do you think we better do it to a hen or a rooster."
This did not help any. I still did not know what it was he was
contemplating doing, and until I knew, there was no way in which I could
decide between a hen and a rooster.
"What is it you have to do?" I ventured once more.
"Who? Me or the chicken?"
"I said, 'What-is-it-you-have-to-do-to-the-chicken?'"
"I don't have to do anything to the chicken. Do you?"
At about this stage of one of these cross purpose discussions I would be
right up under his nose in my efforts to get him to understand, for not
only was I an easy mark, but I was the personification of seriousness.
Probably he would get where he no longer could contain himself, for he
would break the combination by taking some, entirely new slant. He
selected a rooster without more ado and told me to chase him, to chase
him slowly, not to catch him, but to keep running him until he told me to
stop. This was nothing less than a gift from heaven, for I was strictly
forbidden to chase the chickens and it was something I dearly loved to
do. Here I was being sent to do it!
I selected the rooster which he had pointed out, and started to chase
him. At first the rooster was very spry as well as thoroughly astonished.
After a few minutes his wind gave out. I kept steadily after him, in and
out and around, and it was as, plain as anything could be that he was
utterly at a loss to understand what in the world had suddenly happened.
I clearly recall how he waddled from side to side as he became more and
more tired and winded. When he began to show signs of becoming groggy and
to droop his wings and waddle very badly indeed, my father called to me
that that would be enough. He then caught the rooster, which in the
latter's exhausted condition it was easy to do.
Carrying him into the barn, he sat him down on the barn floor, pushed his
head down so that his beak was close to the floor, and placed the chalk
directly in front of his beak. Moving the white chalk back and forth a
bit to attract the bird's attention, my father held the creature
motionless a moment and then slowly drew a broad white mark on the barn
floor straight out from the rooster's beak. When the mark was about a
foot and a half long he stopped. Then he arose, walked around, and waved
his arms, as though to shoo the rooster away; but the creature never
moved. He remained absolutely motionless, squatted down, staring at the
chalk mark--completely mesmerized.
My father was delighted. He explained to me that the chicken was
hypnotized or mesmerized and would remain in that condition for several
minutes. He wanted to see how long the bird would remain mesmerized, so
we sat down and watched it. I imagine we sat there something like three
minutes, when the rooster seemed to awaken from a sleep. He raised his
head, looked around, appeared to be surprised at his surroundings, gave a
violent flap with his wings and ran out of the barn. Once out of the barn
he hurried away, cackling indignantly.
There came a time, probably in the fall of the year, when our pig must be
slaughtered and dressed. It was a very important occasion and I recall
that it was the cause of much discussion. We were city people and, except
for my father, I suspect that we were a bit wanting when it came to farm
technique. Looking back at it, I think the harrowing details of the
slaughtering must have been kept from me. I seem to have no memory of
anything connected with the passing of our pig until the poorer neighbors
began coming around for parts of him. It must have been the custom to
give to the poorer people those parts of a pig which a family such as
ours would not be expected to need. I remember that there were people
coming every day and that my soft-hearted mother gave them the feet, the
head, the hide, the liver, and all the other things which a pig provides
and which we were expected to give away.
One Sunday morning a very seedy and disreputable-looking man walked up to
the front piazza on which my father and I were talking. After wishing
each other good morning, the seedy one asked my father if he had given
his soul to God. My father, not understanding him, and thinking that he
was another applicant for a part of the pig, replied:
"I don't know. I'll ask my wife."
This seemed to surprise the seedy one, but my father arose, went into the
house and, calling to my mother, who was upstairs, said, "Oh, Jane,
there's a man down here asking for part of the pig!"
My mother, probably very busy with the baby, replied that we had given
everything that we had to give and had no more. My father returned to the
man and told him he was sorry, but that we had nothing more left to give
away; what we had left we would like to keep for ourselves.
This appeared to surprise the seedy one more than ever. He did not seem
able to comprehend, and the two men stared at each other, each wondering
what was the matter with the other. I suspected trouble right away, for
whenever a situation such as this arose with my father there was always
trouble. Finally the man, mumbling in a very stupid fashion, repeated his
original query. His delivery was very bad indeed and my father missed it
again. Stepping down a step on the piazza stoop in order to be nearer,
and turning his head to one side so that one ear would be pointed
directly at the seedy one, he said, very energetically, "What's that?"
This seemed to intimidate the seedy one. He became tongue tied for a
moment during which the two men stared at each other in puzzlement.
Finally the seedy one found his voice and repeated:
"Have you given your soul to God this beautiful Sabbath morning?"
My father got it right this time. Snapping his head around, he stared
very hard at the seedy one a moment, then casting his glance around as
though seeking some one from whom he might ask advice, he returned his
gaze to the seedy one.
"You want to know if I have given my soul to God?" he repeated.
"Yes," answered the seedy one, waving his arms to take in the smiling
landscape, and continuing, "On this beautiful Sabbath morning."
All this had offered time for my father to gather his wits. He proceeded
in his characteristic manner. Turning abruptly to me, he said:
"Percy, this man wants to know if we have given our souls to God this
beautiful Sabbath morning. Have you given yours?"
I had no very clear idea as to what was meant by a soul, but since I was
positive that I had not given anything away since I got up that morning,
I shook my head. I knew my father's methods and I was becoming concerned
and very self-conscious.
Turning to the seedy one, he said, "My son here says he has not given
his." Turning again to me, he asked, "Do you happen to remember whether
your mother gave her soul to God this morning?"
This time I knew that I must speak, so I said, "I don't think she did,
Turning to the seedy one as though disappointed, he said, "I don't think
any of us have, mister."
This literal point of view on the part of my father threw the seedy one
into complete confusion. He was some sort of a poor miserable religious
tramp looking for a dime or a quarter, probably dull witted to begin
with, and utterly incapable of carrying on with my nimble-witted father.
I imagine that he suggested to my father that he come up on the piazza
and pray. My father thought this a good idea, so he asked him up and
offered him a chair. There was some conversation which I do not remember,
after which the seedy one started to get down on his knees.
"Hold on!" my father exclaimed. "Before you begin praying let's find out
what the chances are that your prayers will be answered. Have you done
much praying? Have you ever prayed before in your life?"
This shocked the seedy one. It was as plain as the nose on his miserable
face that he spent most of his waking hours praying. Even I guessed that,
had he spent a little less time praying and a little more time working,
he would not look so miserable.
"Well, are your prayers any good? Do they work? Have they any pulling
This knocked the seedy one speechless again for several moments. All he
could do was to mumble.
"If your prayers will work, and if they will bring you anything you ask
for, I am interested, because there are a lot of things I want,"
continued my father.
The seedy one was getting in deeper every minute. He mumbled something
about the beautiful Sabbath morning, the value of prayer, and a lot of
other mixed-up stuff that had no meaning and which my father could not
hear. I wondered how this thing was going to end.
Returning to his point, my father asked him if he had ever tried praying
for a new suit of clothes. I thought this very much to the point indeed,
for if there was one thing which the seedy one needed, it was a new suit
of clothes. But he did not seem to have thought to pray for a new suit of
clothes, which led my father to rebuke him. "Now see here, mister. If
your praying never gets you anything, there must be something wrong with
the way you pray. I've heard a lot lately about what prayers will do if
they are the right kind. If I could find somebody who had some good,
sure-fire prayers that would work I would like to get some of them. Now,
I tell you what, there's no use praying just for the sake of praying. If
you will get down on your knees and pray good and hard and loud, and will
show results, I can get you a good job. I have a music-box in the parlor
and it plays ten tunes if I wind it up tightly. Now, mister, if you will
pray to have the music box stopped, and it stops, then I shall know that
you know how to pray and that your brand of prayers is a good brand. What
do you say?"
The seedy one did not know what to say. He was not mentally competent to
do much more than mumble a lot of meaningless words; but he could do this
mumbling. Anyone could see that he had no idea of the proposition my
father had made him. All he wanted to do was to get down on his knees and
mumble, with the hope that ultimately he would get a dime or a quarter
out of it. After a moment of painful silence my father arose, motioned
the seedy one to follow, which he did like the poor miserable sheep that
he was, and I joined in. My father led the way into the parlor, where he
wound up our music-box, making quite sure that it really was wound up to
the end. Then he started it playing. Turning to the seedy one, he said:
"Now, mister, here's your chance. Get down on your knees and let me see
you stop this music-box by prayer."
The seedy one did not know any better, or else he ached so to get going
praying that he did not mind what else was involved; he got down on his
knees, clasped his dirty hands under his chin, cast his bleary eyes to
heaven, and in the most mournful voice I had ever heard, began praying.
My father took up a position back of him, winked at me, and awaited
The music-box went on and on, pausing between tunes. These pauses would
have encouraged me had I been the seedy one. The praying went on and on,
the seedy one rolling his eyes in a positively ghastly manner so that I
did not like to look at him. I listened to what he was mumbling, and as
far as I could make out he seemed to make no request to have the
music-box stopped. In fact, I could not seem to find anything that he
requested. I recall that it seemed to me that, had I been doing the
praying, I would have come out clearly and flatly and asked to have the
music-box stopped. But this poor specimen of a man was short on ideas. He
used the same phrases over and over, appearing to depend more upon a
mournful tone of voice than upon anything else. In the meantime the
music-box raced methodically on. Every time it came to the end of a tune
and paused, my heart stopped beating, wondering if it were going to start
the next tune. The strain was terrible on me. When it finished the ninth
tune there seemed to be an especially long pause and I became very tense
indeed. I think my father was going through the same experience, because
he paid very close attention during the pauses between tunes. But the
music-box began the tenth and last tune and my father announced, "This is
the tenth and last tune."
At this critical moment the unexpected happened. My mother walked into
the room. A look of surprise immediately spread over her face. Neither my
father nor I had expected this. The dear lady could make neither head nor
tail of the picture which presented itself. What looked like a tramp was
kneeling in the center of her parlor, hands clasped, rolling his eyes to
heaven and praying soulfully; our music-box was galloping through a gay
little tune; her husband was sitting in a chair, grinning from ear to
ear; her son was sitting in another chair, probably staring his eyes out.
Turning to my father, my mother mouthed the words, "What's--he--doing?"
Such a situation could not be resisted by my father. Mouthing his answer
in imitation of my mother, he replied, "Praying."
If anything was evident, it was certainly that the man was praying. This
got my mother just exactly nowhere at all, which was what my father
"Who--is--he?" mouthed my mother.
Shrugging his shoulders and holding upward the palms of both hands, he
mouthed back, "I--don't--know."
My mother was not getting ahead. Poor lady, she was utterly stuck, unable
to think of what to do next. She was fast becoming desperate, I could
"What's--he--praying--for?" she mouthed.
"To--stop--the----music-box," he mouthed back.
"To stop the music-box!" repeated my astonished mother to herself,
looking more puzzled than ever. Casting desperate glances around the
room, she presented a picture of complete bewilderment which was
excruciatingly funny to my father.
Tiptoeing nearer to him she mouthed, "Make--him--stop." To this my father
frowned and purported to be shocked, indicating that anything such as
stopping a man while he was praying was unthinkable. I could see that he
conveyed the thought, "Stop a prayer! Oh my dear! Such things are simply
not done!" Meanwhile the music-box was playing gaily along and the
praying was proceeding. My mother was stumped. What to do under such
circumstances she could not possibly imagine. While she was cudgeling her
brains, trying to think of what steps to take, the music-box stopped. It
had finished playing its ten tunes.
My father, quick to grasp that the seedy one must not be allowed to think
that he had stopped the music-box, jumped to his feet; tapping the seedy
one on the shoulder, he said: "That's all, mister. The music-box has
finished its ten tunes. It did not stop."
The seedy one was for not stopping, either. He seemed to be having a good
time listening to his own voice. My father went over to the music-box,
shut down the lid, and indicated that the seance was over. Reluctantly,
the seedy one arose. Anticipating any remarks he might make, which even I
knew would be nothing but some mumbling and of no moment whatsoever, my
father said to him:
"Now, Mister, I have given you a good chance, but you have failed. Your
prayers are no good. They don't work. You go along now and hunt up some
better prayers. Here's twenty-five cents to buy some dinner. You look as
though you had not had a good one in a long time."
Taking him by the arm, he led him out to the piazza, started him down the
steps, and wished him a good morning. As might be expected, the
twenty-five cents overcame all objections and made the transaction quite
satisfactory. Without a word and without a glance back, the seedy one
walked down the path to the road and passed out of our lives forever.
My mother had followed the two men out onto the piazza. When the man had
gone she turned to my father and asked, "What in the world have you been
My father in a very judicial manner replied:
"Merely running a little test on the efficacy of prayer, my dear. This man
claimed that he had some prayers which would work. To test him out I put
him up against our music-box. He undertook to stop the music-box by
prayer, but he failed miserably."
To this my mother ejaculated, "Hiram!"
"Who is he?" she asked, after a pause.
"I don't know. He just walked in off the road."
"What is his name?" continued my mother, no doubt wondering if he was a
neighbor and whether my father had blasted our reputations.
"Judging by his appearance, I think his name must be 'The Seedy One.'"
Whenever this incident was referred to thereafter we invariably used the
term, "The Seedy One."
It must have been about this time, October, 1875, that a very important
event happened to us in Fanwood. The doctor brought another little baby
sister whose name was Addie. I was a bit over six and I remember very
well the night the doctor brought her. We seemed to have a lot of people
visiting us at the time. There was the doctor who was in and out every
little while, a young lady who always dressed in white clothes, and one
of my mother's friends. I never knew our house to be so full of people.
My father did not go to business in New York for a few days and he did
not seem to be very well. He seemed to be worried about something and was
very quiet and subdued. My mother fell ill just at this time, which was
particularly unfortunate, because she loved babies and she would have
enjoyed this one so much if only she had not been taken sick just at this
The night the doctor brought the baby I thought the house was on fire. I
got up out of bed when I heard all the running around downstairs, but I
could not smell any smoke when I leaned over the banisters or at my open
window, so I went back to bed, wondering what they could be doing,
running around so much downstairs. The only thing I could think of was
that our pet crows had done something particularly naughty. The next
morning at breakfast I asked my father if the crows had done something
naughty. He replied that he did not think so; at least he had not heard
of anything. He asked me why I inquired. I told him that I had heard a
lot of running around downstairs early in the night. For once in his life
my father did not return with something in the way of a grotesque
explanation. I noticed this and it disturbed me. It was as plain as could
be that he did not feel well and I became convinced that he was coming
down with something dreadful. So I said to him:
"I hope you are not going to have the same illness that Mamma has, Papa."
The lady in the white dress thought there was something funny about this;
my father also thought it was funny, because he smiled a sickly smile and
said he certainly hoped he was not. Just the same, he was far from being
himself and I was very uneasy about him.
"I suppose that you and Mamma have eaten something that did not agree
with you," I offered. This also impressed the lady in the white dress as
being funny. My father acquiesced, but made no comment. This remark about
eating something that did not agree had been made to me every time I had
been upset, so I was glad of the opportunity to work it off on some one
Some time after this I was shown my new little sister. I remember my
profound disappointment. I expected that this new sister would be much
like little Florence, who was very pretty, had lovely curls, and a ribbon
on the top of her head. But this new sister was very different indeed--in
fact, painfully different. She was not at all pretty; she was homely
according to my ideas; her complexion was very much too red; it was a
sort of a dark red, which I considered less attractive than light red or
pink; she seemed hopelessly stupid; she conveyed no hint that she knew
me, although I was her brother; she could not talk; she had no teeth at
all; she could not walk; and generally she seemed to me to be a good deal
of a failure.
I gave much thought to the doctor's having brought the baby. I wondered
where he got it. I asked my father about this. He told me that no doctor
ever told where he got his babies, because everybody would be crowding in
to get a baby, which would spoil everything; but he suggested that they
grew on cabbages and that the doctor kept track of cabbages and always
knew where to go and find a baby whenever one of his people wanted one.
This was very interesting. We had cabbages, and I fell to wondering if it
could have been possible that our doctor went to our cabbage patch for
our baby. The more I thought of it the more likely it appeared. I made up
my mind to go out and look over our cabbages. I might find another little
baby sister that was an improvement on the one which the doctor brought;
and it might be that I could find the cabbage from which the one we had
had been picked.
I made a systematic examination of every cabbage in our garden. Not one
of them had a baby on it nor anything that suggested that one might be
growing; and I could find no cabbage that looked as though it had a baby
picked from it recently. I made up my mind t ask my father to help me.
But I found he had gone to his business in New York, so I was forced to
give the matter up.
It probably was in the summer of 1875 that my mother began taking me to
Plainfleld and allowing me to join her in having ice cream. Plainfield
was two and one half miles from Fanwood. My mother drove over there
frequently, probably to do her shopping and marketing, and probably made
up her mind one day that I was old enough to be a companion and to be
allowed to eat a plate of ice cream with her. I discovered at one of
these little affairs that I had conversational abilities and that my
mother and I could have a very good time together just conversing. I must
have just emerged from the helpless child stage and entered the partially
self-reliant boy stage. Being my father's son, and also her son, it was
impossible that I did not possess something resembling a sense of humor.
It became evident to me that there was a certain way to say a thing that
made it irresistibly funny to my mother. And I must have had some of her
nicely balanced sense of the fitting, for I struggled to avoid being
"fresh," as so many of my young friends were.
These little ice-cream parties gave birth to a delightful comradeship
that was to grow up between my mother and me. To reach the place where we
had the ice cream we seem to have gone down some steps to a platform
where there were tables and chairs and an awning. We sat at one of the
tables and ice cream was brought. We could look out over a little pond
while eating the ice cream and talking. Since then I have been to Monte
Carlo, Nice, Bertolini's at Naples, Shepheard's at Cairo, and most of the
other beauty spots where one sits and sips and looks out over the world;
but the memory of none of them compares with the little ice-cream
pavilion at Plainfleld, New Jersey, where I used to go with my mother.
I suppose it was a very ordinary little place, with shabby tables, shabby
awnings, shabby chairs, and a shabby little wooden building. I suppose
the pond was a miserable little pond reeking with mosquitoes. But I saw
it through the eyes of youth and inexperience, and it was transcendently
The ice cream was the best in the world. Anyway, no ice cream in the
world I have eaten since has compared with it. It had a flavor which no
words could describe. I used to employ a system when eating it. I found
that by scraping off the sides with my spoon that the ice cream would
last longer and taste better. It was our practice to converse and eat
very slowly. Our conversation had something about it which I never quite
understood. Whether it was the brilliance of my wit, the sparkle of my
conversation, or the way I ate the ice cream, I do not know to this day.
However, one of them must have been very funny to my mother, for she
always laughed a great deal on these occasions. No other recollections of
mine are so sweet as those of the little ice-cream pavilion at
Plainfleld, New Jersey, and my mother.
That I was rapidly becoming a man was borne in upon me when my father
asked me to go with him to the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia.
This invitation was extended to me one morning at breakfast. My father
selected a moment when my mother was out of the room, as might be
expected of him. Either I had learned not to hold back, or else I grasped
upon any new idea naturally, for I recall that I pleased my father by
accepting his invitation with enthusiasm. As far back as my memory went
it had been his habit to take me with him to all sorts of places and,
while there was a nervous strain connected with them, yet he was so
interesting that the pleasant overbalanced the unpleasant.
I had no more idea what a centennial was than had my new baby sister. I
imagine that I was told that it was the hundredth anniversary celebration
of the signing of the Declaration of Independence; but all this passed
off me as does water off a duck's back. My father was pleased at my
enthusiasm, as I could tell by the funny little tell-tale lines around
his eyes. From what I remember and from what has been told many times in
my presence, I imagine the conversation ran something like this:
"You know what a Centennial is, of course."
I hesitated while I tried to remember; but I could not remember a
solitary thing about centennials, so I answered, "Have I ever been to
The funny little lines came back at this. I did not realize it, but it
was considered a mighty good answer which put it up to him to find a
"Centennial exhibitions? Let's see. Why--you must have been to a lot of
centennial exhibitions, Percy."
"Well--did I go to them with you, Papa?"
This is said to have driven him into a corner again; but I was too young
to realize it.
"Seems to me we have. I cannot seem to remember," he said.
This emboldened me. If he could not remember he could not blame me for
not remembering. By way of helping him, and recalling to his mind places
I had been with him, I asked:
"Do they have cows or ice cream at them?" The cows were the Jersey City
stockyards and the ice cream was the pavilion at Plainfleld.
After a pause, which was probably necessary in order that he might
control his voice, he said in a surprised tone, Cows and ice cream,
"Well, one place we went to they had a lot of cows and you gave them some
water to drink. You remember that, don't you, Papa? And Mamma takes me to
a place in Plainfield where they have ice cream. Are they centennials?" I
knew that I did not have the word right when I saw the funny little lines
"Oh yes. I remember. No, they are not centennials. They have cows and ice
cream at centennials, but they have lots of other things, too--engines
and locomotives. Big ones and small ones. They have a little locomotive
and some cars which are too small for you to get into. You would have to
sit on the roof of a car."
"I am sure I never went to a place like that, and I want to go and see
that little train. Does it go by itself?"
"Yes, indeed. They build a fire under the boiler, get up steam and it
goes choo-chooing along the little track just like a big train."
"Does it have a bell on it?"
"Yes, a bell and a whistle, just like a regular train. It's exactly like
a regular train--everything just the same, except that it's small."
I was bewildered. Of all the things I liked to look at, a steam
locomotive held first place. Its noise hurt my ears and frightened me,
but it was enthralling, nevertheless, as it is to every boy even to this
day, the electric locomotive notwithstanding.
This conversation had gone on for some time when my mother returned. I
caught my father's eye to ascertain his attitude toward telling my
mother. A return nod indicated consent, so I launched into the Centennial
matter. She cast a swift glance down to the other end of the table and
appeared to be in doubt. This was disturbing because I wanted to go and
see that little engine and train. The hitch in my mother's mind was that
it would be my first overnight trip with my father. This meant nothing to
me, but it was quite an occasion to them. I knew exactly how my father
felt, because I remember distinctly when precisely the same circumstances
arose in my own case, when I was a young father and I ventured forth for
the first time for a few days with my young son.
My mother was not enthusiastic. She foresaw ill-advised jokes, tears on
my part, ridicule on my father's part, and trouble generally. But she was
won over and in due time the preparations for the great journey were
made. She helped us off when the day came, kissed me good-by, and told me
to be a good boy. With trembling lips and moist eyes she waved her hand
as we drove away, and the greatest adventure in my life up to that time
I can recall clearly our standing on the platform of the railroad
station, waiting for the train to come, my hand in my father's, and I
remember his explaining to acquaintances that he and his son were going
to the Centennial at Philadelphia. I did not realize then, but I did when
I grew older, that he was more impressed by my presence than I was by
The ride to Philadelphia is very hazy in my memory. I can remember my
father disapproving the purchase of candy, an unheard-of proceeding on
his part. My mother had to curb him every few minutes when she was along.
But without her he was just as conservative on the candy business as she
was. She would have marveled at him could she have known how he changed
when she was not there. Instead of the heedless person, full of bluster
and ridicule, who appeared to accept no responsibility, he was as
watchful and solicitous as she was wont to be. All this is no more than
should be expected of any father, but it was a very great deal more than
was to be expected of my father.
We went hand in hand through the great Centennial Exhibition. To me it
was like walking into a wonderful new world. I could not begin to take it
in, but my father explained the things within my power of comprehension.
We saw the little engine and train and I had several rides on it. We saw
the big Corliss stationary steam-engine and I remember how it looked. But
the thing we saw which stands out in my memory more distinctly than
anything else, including the little engine and train, was something which
never should have impressed a child at all. It was the 1,440-pound
meteorite. I even remember its weight and the sign it had on it, for I
was old enough then--nearly seven--to read a simple sign. When I stood
before it and my father told me that it had fallen to our earth from the
sky, that probably it had roamed around in the remote recesses of space
for millions of centuries, and finally by accident had intercepted our
earth, and that it was not of our earth, I felt a great wave of reverence
and awe sweep over me. Such a profoundly impressive thought had never
come to me before. I asked my father to take me back to the meteorite
again and again, and I well recall how interested he was in my awe and
wonderment. No doubt he knew precisely the feelings aroused in me, for it
is more than likely that the same feelings were aroused in him.
The thoughts of that meteorite have remained with me all my life. I have
made pilgrimages to many other meteorites since, including those at the
American Museum of Natural History in New York; and today, as I stand
before them, I never fail to think of that first one at the Centennial in
Philadelphia before which I stood as a small child, my hand in my
father's and my mind hungering to know more about such things.
I imagine that my father and I spent several days at the Centennial. I
remember that I slept in the same bed with him, which was very exciting,
and I remember the interesting matters of which we talked before we went
to sleep. I do not recall one unpleasant or painful moment during this
entire trip, and I suspect he enjoyed it just as keenly as I did.
UNION STREET, BROOKLYN
We moved back to Brooklyn late in 1877 after purchasing a house on Union
Street. I was considerably more of a boy by this time, being able to hold
my own with other children and being also less dependent upon my mother.
After we became settled my father resumed taking me with him on various
expeditions on Sunday.
I have a very vivid memory of one of these. My father wanted to find one
of his former machinists whose name was Baskerville. I believe he wanted
to induce him to return to work. He did not know Baskerville's address,
some time having elapsed since he last had heard from him, but selected
the most likely address and we investigated it one Sunday morning. The
neighborhood was very unprepossessing, the houses being wooden, in bad
repair and very shabby generally. The number we sought turned out to be a
house with a high wooden stoop in a shocking state of disrepair. We
walked up this dreadful stoop and my father pulled the bell handle at the
shabby front door. There were no push buttons and no electric bells in
I heard the bell jangle in the recesses of the house. There was a long
wait during which my father and I stood in silence and surveyed the
depressing aspect of the street. Then I heard footsteps within the house.
They grew louder and louder, indicating the approach of some one from a
considerable distance. Then I heard a bolt drawn, a chain unhooked, and a
lock thrown, after which the door was opened about four inches,
disclosing a black interior and a peculiarly repellent hatchet-faced
woman in most slattern attire. I think this woman looked so perfectly
awful that she non plused my father for an instant; but he found his
voice and said, in his most ingratiating manner, "Good morning. Can you
tell me if Mr. William Baskerville lives here?"
This was done in a very gentlemanly manner, and by no stretch of the
imagination calculated to give offense. But the hatchet-faced woman
snapped back, "No! He don't!" and slammed the door in my father's face. I
could hear the lock turned, the chain hooked, and the bolt sliding into
place, and then the footsteps receding. My father gazed at me in
amazement. I became concerned, for my father was not a person with whom
to take such liberties. However, he turned, slowly descended the steps,
and started back home. Not a word was spoken. I followed like a little
dog, watching him closely, for I found it difficult to believe that he
was beaten. He went on, head bent in thought and obviously deeply
chagrined. I wondered if it possibly could be that he at length had met
his match. Was he going to accept such an insult? It was unthinkable.
Nevertheless, here he was, slinking away like a whipped dog.
As I wondered, he suddenly turned and started back. That settled it! I
had misjudged him. He was the same old chap. He was going back and he was
going to make trouble. I had to follow, but it was with a heavy heart,
for I knew him and I knew that there would shortly be an unpleasant
scene. If only my mother were here to reason with him; she could always
control him. But she was not present and there was no escape. I must see
the unpleasant business through. Thus in silence we walked back to the
Arriving at the rickety stoop, we walked straight up as though we had
never been there before. He pulled the door-bell handle exactly as
before. I could hear the dreadful thing jangle in the recesses of the
house exactly as before. Again came the long wait, during which we stood
in silence and viewed the unprepossessing prospect. Again the approaching
footsteps. They came to the door exactly as they had before. I heard the
same bolt drawn, the same chain unhooked, and the same lock turned.
Finally the door opened as before. There stood the same hatchet-faced
slattern. When she saw the same man and little boy standing there she
seemed completely surprised. My father, in the same well-modulated tones
as before, repeated exactly what he had said before: "Good morning. Can
you tell me if Mr. Baskerville lives here?"
For a moment the woman paused. She did not know what to make of the
situation. Then in tones even more acid and emphatic than she had used
before she snapped out, "No!! He don't!!!" As quick as the wink of an eye
and before she had time to slam the door, my father snapped back at her,
imitating her tone and voice as closely as he could, "Well, who the hell
said he did?" Then we went back home.
A time came when my mother grew concerned over my father's health. He had
led a very active country life during his youth, and our city life with
its days and nights of unremitting toil, with no exercise in the open
air, were beginning to tell upon even his rugged physique. He was among
those who organized the United States Electric Lighting Company, one of
the pioneers in the electric-lighting field. He was chief engineer and he
was struggling with might and main to develop an arc and an incandescent
lighting system. He spent his days in New York and he spent half of his
nights over a drafting-table at home, working until very late and
allowing himself but a few hours of sleep. He worked just as he played.
It was a feverish, desperate rush or it was nothing at all.
My mother urged him to take an hour every evening and exercise in the
open air. She finally had her way, as she always did, for he was the
essence of amenability with her. And so it came about that one evening
about seven-thirty he asked me to come along with him and take some
exercise. I might have known that the exercise which he would take would
be characteristic of him and unlike anything ever heard of before.
It should be remembered that business men in New York in the time of
which I write wore high silk hats and Prince Albert coats. We walked up
to Court Street, which was a business street having a horse-car line. At
seven-thirty in the evening Court Street's sidewalks were always well
filled. Arrived here, my father said to me: "Come along, Percy. Let's get
some exercise." With this, he reached up and pulled his silk hat down
upon his head, bringing it to his ears and pushing it entirely too far
back on his head. He buttoned up his Prince Albert coat and, stepping out
into the middle of the street, started running toward City Hall with all
There was nothing for me to do but to follow. But I winced at the
spectacle we were making of ourselves. I wondered what my friends would
think; I wondered what the people on the sidewalks would think; and what
was more to the point, I wondered what the police would think, seeing a
man in a silk hat, which was jammed down to his ears and very much too
far back on his head, running madly down the middle of the street,
followed by a small boy. The whole affair impressed me as being in
extremely bad taste; but there was nothing I could do about it. He would
have been very difficult had I failed to join him in the running.
I had all I could do to keep up with him. As a matter of fact, I was
compelled to get right down to business and run just about as fast as I
could. But I saw that he made much heavier weather of it than I did. He
had a lot more weight to carry and the cobblestones were rough for him. I
knew that the going was much easier near the horse-car rails. I was
astonished at the tremendous power he was exerting. It seemed to me there
was danger of his tearing up the paving-stones, putting all that power
into propelling himself. He had headed east toward City Hall, as we
called Borough Hall in those days. We passed Sackett Street going like
the wind. At Degraw Street the speed had slackened off perceptibly.
Somewhere about Butler Street he became completely winded and stopped,
looking back in the distance for me. But I was immediately behind him,
which seemed to cause him surprise. He no doubt thought, from the
exertion which he was making, that he had left me away behind. He did not
realize that I spent a large share of my time running on those streets.
He limped over to the sidewalk. Here he sought out a post against which
he leaned heavily. He puffed like nothing human. I never saw a person so
utterly spent. I waited in silence for the next move, much like a
well-trained dog. I was breathing deeply, but I was far from being
completely exhausted as he was.
He tried to say something, but he could not articulate. In a few minutes
he partially recovered, straightened his hat, for which I was very glad,
and wheezed something to the effect that we better walk home slowly. I
was very glad to do this, because I really feared that the police would
be after us. It seemed to me remarkable that we had not aroused the
entire street, setting everybody to running; for if ever I saw anything
that looked like a convincing escape, it was my father tearing with all
his might down the middle of Court Street.
He limped badly as we walked slowly home. When I asked him why he had
gone lame he said that the cobblestones had hurt his feet. By the time we
reached home he was very lame. In addition, he looked as though he were
very ill indeed. My mother was calmly reading in the reception-room when
we walked in. He went directly to her and, drawing up a chair very close
to hers, he wilted into it. She calmly and deliberately put down her book
and started to ask him if he had had a nice walk, when she caught sight
of his face, his general state of collapse, and his unexpected proximity.
Startled, she exclaimed, "Why, Hiram! What's the matter?"
He had a queer way with him when he did not feel well. It was to gaze
steadily and very gloomily into my mother's face at very close range,
giving the impression that he awaited her assistance, or was about to
burst into tears, or die. He would say nothing at these times. He always
reminded me of a big dog when he did this. He had large brown eyes, and
as he sat gazing pleadingly into her face, with his own not six inches
away and with an expression which suggested nothing less than that the
bottom had dropped out of everything and that his last friend had
deserted him, he certainly resembled a big and a very mournful
Newfoundland dog. My poor mother never failed to fall for this sort of
thing. It was obvious that most of it was put on and yet she never seemed
to realize this. Sometimes I thought that I knew him better than she did.
She took him literally, the one thing which should not be done with him.
Deeply concerned, my excitable little mother jerked herself around and
repeated, "Hiram! What's the matter with you?"
Offering absolutely no response at all, he continued to gaze sadly and
pleadingly into her eyes at very close range. My mother always wore
spectacles. Readjusting these and lifting her face slightly so as the
better to look through them, she peered at him intently. For the moment
that the two of them sat there gazing at each other in silence, their
faces not more than a few inches apart, I thought I had never seen
Jumping to her feet, she put her arm around him, stroked his head, and in
a frightened voice asked me to tell her exactly what had happened. I
waited a moment for him to do the explaining, but as he gave no
indication of doing it, I told her that we had run down Court Street and
Papa had hurt his feet on the cobblestones. At this my mother stopped
stroking his head and directed her attention to his feet. He lifted one
leg limply and held out his foot to her, wheezing, hoarsely, "Please take
it off, Jane."
Men wore what were called "congress gaiters" in those days. They had
elastic sides and they could be pulled off. She pulled the shoe off the
foot offered her, and then with a show of the greatest difficulty, and as
though his strength were fast ebbing, he held out the other foot. She
pulled the shoe off and examined his feet. There seemed nothing wrong
and, looking critically at his face again, she said, "Hiram, tell me what
He replied in a wheezy whisper, "You nearly killed me, Jane."
"I nearly killed you, Hiram! For mercy's sake, what did I do?"
After great effort and much grotesque gulping, which suggested a person
in the last throes of something very dreadful, he managed to get out, I
caught on right here. He was going to try and blame my mother because he
felt badly after exercising.
"Did the exercise hurt your feet?" All she got from this was an
affirmative and a very sickly nod.
"Does it hurt you to walk?"
His reply to this was to hold up both his hands, roll his eyes to heaven,
and then point to his stockinged feet, which he then managed to curl up
and make appear frightfully deformed. This very nearly sickened my
sensitive mother. She recoiled at those two "deformed" feet, not daring
to look at them again. She took another long and close look at his face,
which did look quite haggard, for the man had grossly fagged himself.
Convinced that, she had a sick husband on her hands, she arose and in her
decisive little way announced, "You must go right to bed this minute and
I shall send for the doctor. Come along." She began assisting him to his
He laboriously arose, like a very aged man who was perilously close to
collapse, and we thought he was going upstairs and to bed; but, instead,
he laid himself down on the sofa. I began to feel concerned myself at
this turn of affairs, and I wondered if he really were ill. He dispelled
this notion in the next moment. Regaining his normal voice entirely, he
said, quite briskly, "Jane, you nearly killed me. It was you who made me
go out and exercise. It nearly killed me."
"Nearly killed you, Hiram! What do you mean?"
"You made me go out and exercise, didn't you?"
"I didn't make you go, Hiram. I thought it would do you good."
"Well, it nearly killed me, Jane."
"For mercy's sake, what sort of exercise did you take?"
"I ran with all my might nearly down to City Hall with Percy for
exercise. I simply could not run any farther."
"Ran down nearly to City Hall! What do you mean--ran?"
"Just ran. Did you never see anybody run, Jane?"
"Do you mean to tell me that you ran down Court Street to City Hall,
"We did just what you told us to do. Didn't we, Percy? You told us we
needed exercise, and we went out and got a lot of it in a few minutes. I
did my best to get to City Hall for you, Jane, but my strength gave out.
I don't think you realized how far it is to City Hall when you made me go
out and run there. I must be getting old and feeble." Whereupon he heaved
a deep sigh.
The conversation went on in this strain for quite a while, my father
taking the position that he had gone to the very limits of his strength,
even to flirting with death, in his efforts to obey my mother's
instructions to go out and get some exercise. She tried to explain that
she never expected him to run with all his might until he dropped from
utter exhaustion. And besides, what would people think, seeing a man of
his position running with all his might down the middle of Court Street?
After half an hour of blaming her for nearly causing his death, he pulled
on his shoes with vigor, gave her one of his bear hugs, kissed her into
partial suffocation, and went to work on his drafting-board. Poor lady!
She lived an eventful life, what between her temperamental husband and
her three temperamental children.
In the development of the incandescent electric lamp, one of the
difficulties the pioneers experienced was the pumping of a satisfactory
vacuum in the glass bulb. Mercury, or as it used to be called,
quicksilver, was used in the process. My father brought home a small
bottle half filled with it. I do not know, but I suspect that his sole
object in bringing it home was to have some fun with the family.
Our Union Street house was what was known as an English basement
arrangement. There was a brownstone stoop of some five steps which led to
a vestibule and thence to the front door. This gave into the main floor
of the house. This main floor had a long hall, a reception- or
living-room, a dining-room and a butler's pantry. The kitchen was
immediately below the dining-room. A "dumb waiter," or small hand-operated
elevator, brought things up from the kitchen to the butler's pantry,
whence they were served to the dining-room. The butler's pantry was a
long room with a sink, a long row of cupboards, and a clothes-closet in
which were kept overcoats, rubbers, umbrellas, and canes. It was in this
closet that we children were made to shut ourselves when we were naughty.
The cupboards in the butler's pantry contained many things besides the
dining-room tableware, and so it was natural that my father should be
fussing at the cupboards when the little family filed into the
dining-room one Sunday.
As we were taking our seats my father burst into the dining-room from the
butler's pantry. He had hold of something which seemed to be terribly
hot. He pranced around, shifting the hot object from one hand to the
other, snatched a napkin off the table, hissed with the pain, and was
desperately endeavoring to avert being badly burned, when my startled
mother rushed to him, holding out her skirts and saying: "Here, Hiram.
Drop it here."
My father did not seem to understand that she was holding out her skirts
to receive the hot object. He had his back to her, and when she ran
around to get in front of him he stupidly turned the other way, so that
she was still back of him. Seeing that my father's hands were being
burned in consequence, I shouted at the top of my lungs, "Papa, Papa,
look! Give it to Mamma!" But he could not seem to be made to understand
that she was there with her skirts held out.
"Here, Hiram. Here. Drop it here, Hiram!" she kept urging, doing
everything in her power to get in front of him; but every way she turned
he turned the opposite way, prancing and hissing and giving the
impression that he was in terrible pain. I added my shouts, being very
much excited, while little Florence looked on in frightened amazement and
did her best to keep from being underfoot. Seeing that something ought to
be done right away, I started around the table to lay hold of my father
and twist him around by brute force so he could see my mother with her
skirts held out. He hissed something about melted lead in a bottle and I
caught sight of a metallic-looking liquid in a bottle. Little Florence
kept getting underfoot and the maid got snarled up in it; everybody was
bumping into everybody else in utter confusion, and it was apparent that
unless something were done, and done quickly, my father's hands would be
horribly burned. As I was smaller and more agile than any of the
grown-ups, I jumped into the fray, fought my way to the center of things,
and snatched the bottle of "melted lead" out of my father's hands and
snapped it into my mother's outstretched skirts. My father was taken
aback. It had not occurred to him that I could act quickly enough to
snatch the bottle away from him. To my amazement, the bottle was cool to
the touch. I expected to feel the sting of the heat, but I thought that
if I were quick enough I would not be burned.
Quiet fell as suddenly as the noise and confusion had arisen. For a
moment all of us stood transfixed, staring at the bottle in my mother's
skirts. My father looked very sheepish, which led me to suspect a joke
somewhere. I came out of my trance first, and reached forward to snap my
fingers across the bottle to test its heat. My father shouted: "Look out!
It's hot!" But I had felt no heat when I snatched it from him, so I
persisted, and again brushed quickly across it with my hand. There was no
sensation of heat at all, so I made to pick it up. Both mother and father
shouted at me to look out; nevertheless, I insisted, and put my hand
directly on it. It was perfectly cool! I picked it up, which threw my
mother into a panic, causing her to urge me to put it down. But I did not
have to put it down; so I held it up to her, saying: "It isn't hot at
all, Mamma. Feel of it."
The jig was up and my father walked away and sat down at his place at the
table and indicated that he was ready for his dinner. I induced my mother
to hold the bottle in her hand, which she did, casting an exasperated
look at my father. She then delivered herself of her standard
exclamation, "Hiram!" and sat down. In the meantime, I had acquired the
bottle of mercury.
My father let me keep it. I had never heard of such a material. Its
weight fascinated me; and it certainly did look like melted lead.
We had a peach tree in our back yard at Union Street. I had noticed that
something grew on the tree, but it was such a miserable-looking, dried-up
sort of thing that I could not imagine what it might be. One day I took
one of the miserable specimens to my father and asked him what it was. He
asked me where I had obtained it, for it was such a very wretched thing
that even he was in doubt about it. I told him that I got it off our
peach tree in our back yard.
"Oh!" said he. "That's a peach."
"A peach!" I exclaimed, in wonder. "I never saw a peach that looked like
"Well, it's not much of a peach, Percy; but, you see, our tree never has
any fertilizer put on it, and it's an awfully old tree, and in
consequence it is starved. When a tree is starved, it can't grow good
I thought about this very seriously. It seemed a pity to have a peach
tree and not get any peaches off it, because peaches were good and it
would be very wonderful if we could grow our own peaches right in our own
back yard. So I said to him:
"Papa, how could we fix our tree so it would have nice peaches on it?"
Whatever led the man to answer as he did is more than I shall attempt to
explain. He said:
"Oh, I don't know exactly what we could do to it. I suppose the best
thing to do is to get an old dead cat and bury it at the foot of the
"An old dead cat!" I repeated in astonishment. "Would an old dead cat
make peaches grow on our peach tree?"
"Oh yes, indeed! Grow like anything. If you got an old dead cat and
buried it at the foot of the tree, good peaches would grow all right."
"Well, how long would it take for them to grow?"
"How long would it take before you got good peaches?" he asked.
"Yes. How long?"
I suspect that he began to formulate a scheme at this point. Up to this
time he had merely been idly answering my questions.
"Well, Percy, I should say that if you buried a good big cat under the
tree today, you probably would have plenty of beautiful peaches about
This sounded too good to be true. I expected him to say a year, and a
year was a very long time to have to wait. If a fine crop of peaches
could be grown from one day to another, I proposed to find an old dead
cat and bury it under the tree. At the time of which I write, dead cats
were frequently seen on the streets. I had seen many of them. There was
no highly organized street-cleaning department in those far-off days, as
there is now, and such a minor detail as a dead cat was left around until
it disappeared naturally. I have no idea what became of all the dead cats
I had seen in the streets.
For the next few days I was on the lookout for a dead cat. I inquired
among my friends, but none of them could recall seeing a dead cat
recently. I finally persuaded one of my friends to join me in a dead-cat
hunt. We knew many vacant lots and we decided to visit them. After
searching several we found in one of them the carcass of a cat. It must
have been dead a very long time for it was very dry and very flat. But I
hurried home with it.
Something told me that my mother would never approve of my bringing a
dead cat into the house; so I decided to take it in through the basement
and so on out into the back yard, where I could hide it easily. I did
this and then awaited my father's return from business.
When he returned he brought another man with him, which was
disconcerting. It broke up my plan for burying the cat. It must have been
a Saturday when he brought this friend home, because the next day was
Sunday. There was no way for me to bring up the dead-cat matter that
evening, so I decided to see my father about it as early as possible
Immediately after breakfast on Sunday morning he and his friend went out
on the back stoop and sat down to talk. I had to get at my father
somehow, and after much deliberation, I decided to go up and whisper in
his ear that I had the dead cat. Once he knew that I had it, I was sure
that he would find a way to put through the job of burying it. Without
more delay, and as he was talking to his friend, I went up to him, put my
mouth to his ear, and whispered, "Papa, I've got the dead cat." He
stopped his talking and shot me a surprised look, for probably the matter
had not entered his head since the original discussion.
"You've got what, Percy!" he exclaimed out loud.
Putting my mouth to his ear again, I said, "The dead cat!"
"Dead cat, Percy!" he exclaimed, again out loud and thoroughly surprised.
"Sh-h-h-h!" I warned. "Mamma will hear. You remember, Papa, don't
"O Lord! Why, of course--the peaches!" he replied. Then in a low voice
and adopting my furtive manner, he whispered, "Where is it?"
"Down by the grape arbor under a box," I whispered back.
I had interrupted his conversation when I first whispered to him; but
this seemed to be acceptable. He evidently considered the dead-cat matter
as of more importance than what they had been discussing. In a low tone
he told his friend that he and his son had been figuring on a method to
get peaches to grow on our tree, and that a dead cat was needed because,
as every one knew, if a dead cat is buried at the foot of a peach tree it
brings peaches right out. The friend acquiesced and indicated that it was
a well-known phenomenon.
Turning to me, my father asked, "Where did you get the dead cat, Percy?"
I told him that another boy and I had made a search of all the vacant
lots and we had found one and brought it home. He seemed quite interested
in this phase of the matter, even to asking me how I got it in without
Mamma knowing about it. I told him that I had brought it in through the
"How did you carry it?" he asked.
"By the tail," I replied.
"Did you drag that cat through the streets by the tail?" he inquired,
smiling. I told him that I had, wondering why he should be interested in
such a detail. He slapped his leg and laughed heartily. Then he went on:
"Well now, Percy, I tell you what. You go and fetch the coal shovel and
we will bury it right away. Then we shall wait and watch the peaches come
This was very fine. Things were working splendidly. I fetched the coal
shovel from the coal-hole and the three of us went out to the peach tree.
My father started digging the hole and I went after the dead cat. It was
but a few minutes' work for him to dig a deep enough hole, after which we
pushed the dead cat in and started covering it up. We were almost
finished when my mother called out from the window of her room, asking
what we were doing. This disconcerted me, for I feared she might not
approve burying dead cats under the peach tree; but my father replied
that we were fertilizing the peach tree so that better peaches would
grow. This satisfied her, although she said afterward that it seemed very
strange that Papa should take such an interest in the peach tree all of a
When the job was finished I asked my father how long it would be before
the peaches would grow. Looking at his watch, and casting a meaning look
at his friend, he answered:
"Oh, sometime this afternoon. They ought to be pretty good by late
afternoon, I should say."
It seemed wonderful to me that a dead cat should so enliven a peach tree
that there would be a crop of peaches by late afternoon; but my father
had said so and he knew.
I imagine that my sister Florence and I went to Sunday school about this
time. In any event, we were absent for a couple of hours. We returned
just before dinner at one o'clock. During this interval my father and his
friend must have gone out to a fruit store and purchased a basket of very
large peaches. They must have brought them home and my father must have
climbed the peach tree and stuck the peaches on the twigs of the tree. It
certainly must have been quite a labor. All this was entirely unknown to
Just before one o'clock little Florence and I came home. I had forgotten
about the peach tree. My father and his friend were still out on the back
stoop, talking. My mother came down for dinner, stepped out to join them,
and I could hear her exclaiming over something my father had done; but as
this exclaiming on her part occurred every hour in the day, I paid no
attention to it.
Presently my father shouted, "Percy! Percy! Come quickly!" I dropped what
I had and dashed out to the back stoop, knowing that something big had
"Look!" he exclaimed. "The peaches are out!"
One look and I was staggered by the sight. The tree was loaded with
I made a rush for the tree and was up in it in a moment. Shouting to my
mother to hurry and bring a basket, I began picking the peaches. I
remember to this day my intense excitement and also my surprise at
finding that the peaches were impaled upon the little twigs. I had not
expected to find that they grew that way. I picked the peaches off,
shouting in excited tones to those below to catch them in something soft
so they would not be injured, and calling my mother's attention to the
enormous size of the peaches and the number of them. It seemed to me I
had never participated in anything so exciting in all my life. Presently
they were all picked and I came down out of the tree. I was amazed. There
was a basket full of peaches. I did not know that they had been taken out
of the same basket within the hour. The most astonishing thing in the
whole matter to me was the potency of the dead-cat treatment. It was
several years before I caught on to this peach joke. For a long time I
thoroughly believed that the planting of the dead cat had produced the
There was a gas street lamp in front of our house on Union Street. As we
sat on the front stoop on summer evenings I noticed that a bird would
frequently fly close to this street lamp. I fell to wondering what sort
of a bird flew around at night. When the opportunity arose I asked my
father about it. I suppose I asked in a manner that interested or amused
him, for he dwelt at length on the general subject of bats. He knew how
to talk in a most interesting manner and he never failed to fascinate me
when I succeeded in getting him going. I had never heard of a bat. I had
supposed that anything which flapped its wings and flew must be a bird.
That there should be a little flying animal, with fur on him just like a
mouse, and teeth instead of a beak, that could fly and pick bugs out of
the air on the wing at night impressed me profoundly. I suppose I
pestered him with questions about bats all evening.
From that time on I wanted to catch a bat and have a look at him. That he
was an animal and not a bird fascinated me. I recall how I used to steer
the conversation to the subject of bats whenever the opportunity arose.
Like a boy with a brand-new and absorbing idea, I wanted to talk about it
all the time. So often did I say that I wished that I might catch a bat
sometime, it is not to be wondered that my father turned his attention to
One Sunday morning while I was playing in our back yard I heard my father
shout, "Percy! Percy! Come quickly!"
This was always an emergency call and it had an electric effect upon me.
Experience had shown that it meant something very important indeed. I
must have been a very impetuous little boy, for I remember that I was
always going everywhere at full speed. The instant I heard my father's
voice calling I always dropped everything where it happened to be and ran
with all my might. Stairs were taken two or three at a jump, doors were
all but jerked off their hinges and left to close themselves. When I
arrived at my destination I invariably was traveling too fast, and either
had to stop by bumping into somebody or something, or by catching hold of
some convenient object.
My father was in the butler's pantry. I skidded on all the turns in the
dining-room and when I arrived where my father was standing beside the
opening to the dumb-waiter well I crashed into him and came very near
upsetting him. I took him completely by surprise.
"What is it?" I gasped.
"There's a bat down the dumb-waiter well," he whispered, pointing down
the dark well. The dumb-waiter was at the bottom at the time. I peered
down into the dark well, and sure enough, there was a black object
fluttering back and forth down near the bottom.
"Gosh, Papa! Let's catch him." I was now more excited than ever. I
remember the occasion as though it were but yesterday. I believed that
haste was of paramount importance, because as long as he was down the
dumb-waiter well we could get at him and the advantage would be ours; but
the moment he got out the advantage would be his. Haste was absolutely
essential. I said to my father, "Don't let him up, Papa!" while I bustled
around the butler's pantry searching for something with which I could
reach down and whack the bat. My father was a serious handicap. He was in
my way every turn I made. I suppose the poor man could not help it,
because the butler's pantry was narrow and I was darting around like a
fly. I bumped into him every second.
The only thing I could find in the few desperate seconds I dared take to
search was an umbrella. I grabbed it in the clothes-closet. It was
hopelessly short, as I knew it would be. I tried it, doing my level best,
reaching down as far as I could stretch. I had my father hold my legs so
that I could be let down into the well as far as possible, but it was no
use. The umbrella was too short. Up to this point I had not landed one
single blow. I knew that unless I disabled the bat immediately he surely
would fly out of the well and then I should lose him.
I wriggled myself back and, looking at my father, probably with wild eyes
and a very red face because of hanging head down, I exclaimed:
"It's too short! What can we get that's longer?" But his mind was
entirely too slow-acting. Besides, he was laughing so much that the tears
were running down his face, a matter to which I attached no significance,
strange as it appears now. It was plain that if I left the matter to him
the bat surely would get away. My mind was working like lightning. Before
I finished speaking I had an idea.
"A broom!" I exclaimed; and while he was getting the idea through his
head I was off to the kitchen like a mad thing, shouting as I went,
"Don't let him up, Papa!"
The brooms were in the basement. I dashed out of the butler's pantry,
through the dining-room, into the hall, ricocheting off the walls in
order to make the turns, plunged down the basement stairs two steps at a
lick, grabbed and twisted the door knob at the foot of the stairs and
releasing the door just as my body struck it--I was thoroughly practiced
in this delicate maneuver--rushed for the brooms, grabbed the first one
my hand fell upon, and tore back upstairs. Of course, all of this made a
lot of noise which was heard all over the house, causing my mother, who
was on the second floor, to wonder what could be going on.
With the broom in my hand I made a dive for the dumb-waiter well. By rare
good luck, it seemed to me, the bat was still there. The broom worked
just as I believed it would. It was long enough to reach and it was broad
enough so I did not often miss. I landed my first blow fairly and
squarely. To my surprise, it did not disable the creature. I whacked and
whacked at the thing until my, arms ached. I was hanging head down in a
perfect smother of dust. The creature had the most amazing vitality. I
hit him fairly several times. One trouble which I recognized was that the
dumb-waiter well was too small to allow me a satisfactory back stroke. I
could hit the bat, but there was not enough power in the blow. I tried to
add as much push as I could after I landed on him; but he seemed to
survive the most savage attacks I could make. And thus the battle raged,
I whacking with all my might, kicking up a most terrible dust, and, what
with the whacking and kicking with my shoes against the wooden wall of
the dumb-waiter shaft and my shouts to my father, making a fearful noise.
All this time my father was at the top of the well, hanging on to my
legs--and in spasms. I had never seen the man laugh so. His eyes streamed
water. Curiously enough, this seemed of no significance to me. He often
laughed at my impetuous way of doing things.
The reason that I could not disable the "bat" was because it was made
from a black bow which my father had snipped oil of one of my mother's
hats. This black bow had been attached to a stiff wire which was fastened
to the top of the dumb-waiter well. The springy wire caused the bow to
flutter back and forth. In the semi-dark it could be mistaken very easily
for something alive.
I fought that "bat" for a long time. I became so tired that I was groggy;
but I dared not leave my commanding position at the dumb-waiter outlet
for fear the thing would fly out and escape.
The awful noise caused my mother to investigate. When she came into the
butler's pantry the picture which presented itself to her was nothing
short of astounding. All she could see of me were my legs, clutched in my
father's hands, he being in stitches of laughter. His head was held to
one side as far as he could get it in an attempt to get a breath of fresh
air. The dust was extraordinary. I heard my mother saying something, but
I was far too busy to give attention to it. Finally she insisted on my
coming up out of the well. I shall never forget my father's expression as
we looked at each other when I came up. His eyes were streaming and he
could hardly stand up. I was nearly exhausted and probably very
dirty-faced, wild-eyed, and as full of fight as a terrier at a rat. I do
not blame my father for being completely overcome.
"Look out, Papa! Don't let him up!" I shouted at the very top of my lungs
as soon as I could speak.
My mother tried to calm me down, saying it was not a real bat at all and
that I must come away and sit down and be quiet. But all that was utterly
out of the question. I stood at her knee and she had both hands on my
arms, talking to me very seriously. But she did not understand. Here was
a bat. He was cornered. We must get him at all hazards. Such an
opportunity would never come again. Still in a state of suppressed
excitement, I called to my father:
"Here, Papa. You try it. Take the broom." But he was not inclined to get
into the game. "Don't let him up, Papa," I kept urging.
My mother continued reasoning with me, insisting that I control myself,
speaking very calmly and seriously and wiping my sweaty and dirty face.
But not until I saw my father reach in, unfasten the wire, and pull up
the "bat," did I understand the hoax. What hurt me was the disappointment
that I was not to catch a real bat.
When the "bat" was retrieved my mother recognized it immediately. Rushing
to the clothes-closet, she returned with her hat. Thrusting it in my
father's face she demanded to know what he meant by daring to cut a bow
off her best hat. His defense was that no one would know whether a bow
had been taken from the hat or not; that a woman's hat was such an
indeterminate object that such a detail as one bow more or less was of no
moment. I would think twice before I undertook to snip a bow off my
wife's hat, and I think most men would; but my father would not hesitate
a moment. If the bow exactly fitted a need it would be snipped, whether
it was on a hat or anything else.
As I grew older it was natural that I should become more and more of a
problem to my mother. My besetting sins were teasing my sisters and
breaking things around the house. Finally a day came when I did a thing
which my mother felt was beyond her.
She had a full-length pier glass in her room which extended from the
floor to the ceiling. It had a white marble base with a flat place on the
latter which extended out into the room about a foot. Little Florence
discovered that a large glass marble would bounce beautifully off this
base. One day she was bouncing her marble in front of the pier glass, and
it occurred to me that it would surprise her very much were I to snatch
the marble while it was in the air. I edged up, and when I was within
reach I make a quick pass to snatch the marble. But I miscalculated.
Instead of closing my hand upon it, I struck it with my hand and knocked
it against the pier glass, which it broke.
I told my mother, and when she came upstairs and beheld her broken mirror
she sank into a chair and wept. I was desolated. It hurt me inexpressibly
that I should be the cause of my mother's weeping. She told me that I had
got beyond her control and that she would have to turn me over to my
father for a good whipping; that I paid no attention to her, and as
things were going there was no living with me.
Turning me over to my father for a good whipping was a brand-new idea to
me. I could not remember that my father had ever laid a hand upon me,
except possibly once when I was very young indeed, when he tapped me
gently with the tongue of his draftsman's T-square. This was very light
and very thin and stung for a moment. It would not bruise. It is an
admirable instrument for administering a little corporal punishment.
That evening after my father had come home he was led up to the broken
pier glass and shown my latest and worst offense. It appeared to
prostrate him utterly. He sank into a chair, held his head in his hands,
rocked back and forth in exquisite agony, and gave several similar
indications of being completely undone by the spectacle. He made it an
extremely painful scene for me and I certainly did feel low in my mind.
My mother told him that I was getting entirely out of hand and that he
must give me a good whipping or I would break everything in the house
besides making them all thoroughly miserable. Father said he was too
prostrated to undertake the whipping then, but that he would attend to it
Supper was a doleful affair. I had never sat through such a nerve-wearing
ordeal before. I was in the deepest disgrace and everybody, including
little Florence, was sunk in woe. I had never been so thoroughly unhappy.
After supper my father announced that he would read his paper first, and
when he had finished he would take up the whipping matter. I had never
had a whipping. My mother had spanked me aplenty, but I did not regard
that as a whipping. I wondered what it would be like to be whipped. I
waited patiently until my father had finished his evening paper, sitting
in a deep gloom meanwhile, but with no fear or terror. My woe was born of
having broken my mother's pier glass, which she treasured, and of
throwing the whole family into gloom.
When my father had finished his paper he got up briskly, saying, "Well
now. Come along, Percy. Let's attend to this whipping business." He led
the way out into the back yard where we visited my mother's shrubs and
bushes, from which a suitable whip was to be cut. My father had his
pocket knife open, ready to cut when he found a stalk that met the
requirements. He explained to me that it was necessary to find one that
had just the right length and thickness and straightness. If it were too
short it would not have enough spring. If it were too long it would have
too much spring and would break. If it were too thin it would be weak,
whereas, if it were too thick it would bruise, which of course would not
We searched and searched without finding anything that just suited. I
became interested in the problem and pointed out several likely-looking
sticks which appeared as though they might answer the exacting
specifications. He discussed my selections with me, examining each one
with care. After spending quite a time at it, he finally decided that the
best thing to do would be to cut several and try them. He cut a long thin
one, a long thick one, a middle-length one, and several other
compromises. This made five whips. I was very much impressed with his
technique. I could see that between all of the whips it was more than
likely that one would be found which would suit much better than possibly
could be the case were one only to be selected by guessing. I did not
recognize it at the time, but I had received my first lesson in
After all had been prepared and whittled down smooth he said, "Now come
along up to my room and we will try them." He led the way to the
third-floor front, which was his room. Arrived here, he took off his
coat, his collar, and necktie, and rolled up his sleeves. I was a bit
concerned at this, for it suggested that a whipping must be something
calling for considerable activity. He laid the five whips on the bed and,
taking one at a time, he smote the coverlet. The savage whir and the
succeeding whack sounded all over the house. He put real muscle into it.
The long thin whip broke. He explained that he had expected this to
happen, for the stick was too thin for its length. The thick one made a
fearful whir and whack when it hit the coverlet. We rejected this one
because it was evident that it would bruise. Later on I heard my mother
say that she never suffered such horrible nervous strain in all her life,
listening to the savage whir of the whip and the awful whack as it
struck. She imagined my little body might be receiving these blows; but
as I did not cry out and as she could hear me talking calmly afterward,
she assumed that I could not be suffering very acutely. I firmly believe
that most of this bed-whacking business was for my mother's benefit, as
she sat downstairs trying to read.
When we had whacked the bed coverlet for a long time, testing the whips
and breaking most of them, my father was far from being satisfied. He sat
down on the edge of the bed and outlined in his clear way the problem as
it confronted us. Said he, "What we need is something fairly long, very
strong, and yet very light. It also must be very springy. Where can we
find such a thing which we could use for a whip?"
We thought and thought. By this time I was as keenly interested in the
solution of the problem as though some one else were to receive the
whipping. I suggested a baseball bat, but in the same breath I pointed
out that it was unsuitable, although I pointed out that it would hit
"Oh, much too hard," he replied. "Why, you could break a man's back with
a baseball bat, and kill him." He recoiled at the suggestion of a
"I suppose a broomstick would be too stiff, too," I ventured.
"Altogether too stiff and too heavy. It would break bones and be very
There was a long pause here while we both thought. Then an idea occurred
to me. "Gosh, Papa! I know the very thing. That thin cane of yours."
Among his walking-sticks was a very thin one which I used to admire.
"By Jove!" he exclaimed. "That's a good idea. Go and fetch it."
I remember hurrying downstairs to the clothes-closet in the butler's
pantry where the canes and umbrellas were kept. As I ran through the
reception-room, being in my usual hurry, I had to pass my mother. She
seemed much surprised to see me hurrying to the clothes closet. She asked
me what I was after. I answered:
"We're trying to find a good whip. We're going to try the thin cane."
She asked something else, but I was much too busy to stop just then and
explain. She afterward said that my being in such a hurry to find a cane
with which to be whipped seemed one of the most extraordinary things she
ever heard of.
When I returned with the thin cane my father whacked the coverlet with it
with all his might. It made a particularly savage noise. My mother must
have winced when she heard it. After whacking the bed coverlet until my
mother was ready to fly out of her skin, my father shook his head and
handed the cane to me, asking me to try it and say what I thought. I had
noticed him putting a lot of "beef" into his blows, so I decided to put
in all I had. Getting the best grip I could, which was difficult on
account of the curved handle, I whacked the bed coverlet for all that was
in me. It only made a fair noise and my father feared my mother might not
hear it. He told me to put more "beef" into it. I wiped off my hands,
took a fresh grip, took careful aim, and belabored the coverlet with all
my might. When my father expressed disappointment over the weight of my
blows, I explained that the curved handle got in my way and that no one
could hit hard, with the handle where it was. My father was not
satisfied and we went into executive session again. It was quite
apparent to me what was required, but we would have to do a lot of
searching around to find just exactly the thing. It must have appeared
this way to my father, too, for he finally said, "Well, I guess we shall
have to give up the whipping, Percy. We can't seem to find the right
whip. But, anyway, you understand that you must be more careful around
the house and that you must not make so much trouble for Mamma, don't
you; and you will begin tomorrow morning and try to be a better boy,
won't you, Percy?"
I was very deeply impressed by the way he said it. He was asking me as a
favor to him and to Mamma to do something. I realized that it would be
very mean indeed of me to fail to do as he asked. And it would be yet
meaner not to try to make things more pleasant for Mamma. So I said,
"Yes, Papa. I will" And then we went downstairs and explained to Mamma
that the whipping matter had to be called off. I am glad to be able to
say that I kept my promise in pretty fair shape, as time proved.
I cannot imagine what led my father to do such a foolish thing, but on
one occasion about this time he took little Florence along when he and I
went crabbing near Coney Island. Fishing for blue crabs was one of his
favorite pastimes. I went with him frequently. He used to bring the crabs
home and have them boiled and we ate them. My mother was never impressed
favorably by the crabs. She insisted that they tasted of kerosene oil. I
agreed. But I did not acknowledge it, because my father loved the crabs
and I wanted him to feel that we loved them too.
When we went crabbing we used to hire a rowboat in the little river which
makes Coney Island an island, and row to a place where we could anchor or
tie up to something. We would then tie three or four chunks of raw meat
to lines and lower them overboard to the bottom. Each would be left down
five minutes or so. Then, one at a time, I would pull them up very
slowly. When they were near the surface we could see from one to six
crabs eating the meat. My father would then scoop the whole business up
in a net and empty it in the bottom of the boat. The crabs would be very
indignant, and would scuttle around on the bottom of the boat, looking
for whoever was to blame for their predicament. A freshly caught big blue
crab is about as belligerent a creature as I know.
Of all enterprises on which to embark with my sister Florence, a
crab-fishing expedition seemed to me the most ill-advised. I knew
Florence and what a small thing could send her into screaming hysterics.
But she was taken along, for what reason passed my understanding.
She was only a little girl, probably about four years of age, and she was
very talkative as she walked along, her hand in her father's, on the way
from the horse car to the boat. I suspect she may have been bragging that
she was not afraid of crabs. My father assured her they were nice little
creatures and would not eat little girls. But Florence had no idea what
six or eight of them scuttling around on the bottom of a small rowboat
would be like. I knew what they were like; how one had to hold his feet
up in the air until the crabs had settled down. My father did not know so
much about her as I did; but I thought it best to say nothing.
When we arrived at the boat, all my father's powers of persuasion were
needed to get her into it. She held on very tightly, and carried a look
of profound disapproval on her little face as my father rowed out from
shore. I fancy it was her first experience in a rowboat.
But Florence was becoming adjusted to the new experience by the time we
tied up and cast the baited lines overboard. I itched to get a good big
haul--a whole scoop-net full of crabs--so that, when they were dumped on
the bottom of the boat, Florence would be treated to a real show. I urged
my father to leave the lines a long time. I believed this would attract
more crabs. Finally his patience became exhausted and he told me to go
ahead and pull up a line. He grasped the scoop-net and prepared for
action. Florence became intensely interested. I pulled in very gently, so
as not to scare off a single crab from the bait. Then my father wielded
the scoop-net; and telling Florence she was about to see some lovely
little crabs, dumped the contents of the net on the bottom of the boat.
Instantly some six or eight large blue crabs declared war and began
scuttling furiously, claws held aloft. Some of them came my way and I
lifted my feet and squealed with mock fright. Some approached my father's
feet and he kicked them away, the crabs making savage bites at his shoes.
Still others headed directly for Florence. It was too much for her.
Holding up her feet as high as she could get them, she opened her mouth
and let go a series of shrieks that brought the entire countryside to
attention. People stopped what they were doing and stared at us; others
stuck their heads up out of small boats and peered at us suspiciously.
For once in his, life my father was thoroughly embarrassed. He tried to
calm Florence. But Florence was beyond being calmed. He finally took her
in his arms. I was outraged; I could have slapped her.
After a long time and a lot of talking, explaining, and persuading my
father got Florence where she would sit away back on the stern seat of
the boat beside him, with her feet doubled up under her, where the crabs
could not reach her. Then to show her that a crab might be ever so ugly
and yet need not be permitted to come near, he prodded one with the
handle of the scoop-net. It fought the handle as a crab will, and he
succeeded in getting the child where she could look at a crab without
screaming. It really was, a masterful effort on his part, for little
Florence was very self-willed. Most people would have taken such a child
ashore and gone home. But not my father.
After a while he told me to pull up another line, talking to Florence
meanwhile and explaining to her just what was going on, how he was going
to catch some more crabs and when we had enough we were going to take
them home and cook and eat them. He scooped another netful and had her
watch how he emptied it. She recoiled as the crabs started scuttling, for
her nature revolted at such sights. However, she held on to herself and
did not scream.
When we had caught what my father thought was enough he gathered them
into a bag and we started for home. As we walked to the horse-car line he
asked her why she had screamed. She replied, "I don't like crabs very
well. Did you see that one fighting with himself?" For many years we used
to quote, "Did you see that one fighting with himself?" As my father
pointed out, it's exactly what a crab seems to be doing.
When Florence had been at school long enough to begin arithmetic,
something happened and she could not go on. The child appeared unable to
grasp what it was the teacher wanted her to do. Possibly it was the
combination of a stupid and unimaginative teacher and an intensely
imaginative and high-strung child.
After this difficulty had continued for some time, my mother was
requested to call at the school to talk about her daughter's standing.
The teacher informed my mother that Florence had exhibited a total
inability to understand arithmetic. Manifestly the child was defective
mentally. If there be one thing which a mother will not believe it is
that her child is defective mentally. When she heard this, the fire
entered my mother's eye and the iron entered her soul. She said she would
take her daughter home, have a talk with her, and bring her back to
school. She served notice she would show all concerned that it was
somebody other than her daughter who was mentally defective.
That evening, when my father returned from business, my mother unburdened
her soul. "A child of mine defective mentally!" my father snorted. He was
for going over to the school and cleaning out the entire place. There was
a long conference during which my mother got it across to my indignant
father that the trouble had been with arithmetic, and if he would take a
hand in the matter Florence might be brought out of her difficulty. He
had pulled me out of a terrible difficulty which I had encountered in
long division and long multiplication. He had made it such a fascinating
pastime that I used to divide enormous numbers by other enormous numbers
just for the fun of doing it. The conference ended by his saying, "Let me
have a talk with Florence after supper."
After supper he inveigled Florence into some sort of conversation about
games and puzzles. I suspected this might be the beginning of something
interesting, so I hung around. He suddenly directed his conversation at
me, which was disconcerting until I realized he was talking at Florence
through me. Finally he said:
"I say, Florence, you ought to be the kind that enjoys arithmetic. You
have such a clear mind that you would be good at it. It's lots of fun
when you play it the right way. Do you have arithmetic at your school?"
Florence was not enthusiastic. She indicated that they had arithmetic at
her school but she did not like it.
"Oh well, if you don't like it then they are not playing it right. Let me
show you how we used to play it when I was a boy down in Maine. Percy, go
down to the kitchen and fetch me a handful of beans."
This was enough for me. Something big was in the wind. I fetched the
beans in a jiffy.
"Now, Florence, I'm going to play arithmetic with Percy first. After you
see how we play it I shall play it with you, because I know you would
play it better than most people. You are much smarter than most children
of your age."
He placed ten beans in a vertical row on a sheet of paper. He then asked
me to add up the beans and write down how many there were. I ran up the
row and counted ten.
"All right," said he. "You have added up all the beans and you find there
are ten. Draw a line at the bottom and write down ten, so we won't be
I drew a line and wrote down "10."
"All right. That's easy, of course. Anybody can do that. Now I am going
to make it a little harder."
He then laid down on the paper in a vertical row five groups of two beans
each. "Draw your line and add those up," said he. I started to count them
up one at a time, but he stopped me, saying, "Oh no. That's too easy. You
must add the piles. Two and two make four, four and two make six, six and
two make eight--like that."
I caught the idea, so I added, "Two and two make four, four and two make
six, six and two make eight, eight and two make ten." I drew my line and
wrote down "10." I was becoming interested.
"By Jove! Mamma," he called to my mother, "but these are a couple of
smart children. You ought to see them add by arithmetic."
He then laid out on the paper three groups of three beans each and one
lone bean. "Now add up those beans," he said. I drew my line and added,
"Three and three make six, six and three make nine, nine and one make
ten." I wrote down "10." Florence was getting interested by this time. I
saw that she was getting an entirely new slant on arithmetic, as indeed I
"Oh well, we shall catch him yet, shan't we, Florence?"
Florence's response to this was a grunt. Next he arranged two groups of
four beans each and one little group of two beans. "Let's see you add
that one up." I had the scheme by this time, so I rattled, off, Four and
four make eight, eight and two make ten."
"Well, well. This is wonderful! But let's see you do this one." He then
arranged two groups of five beans each on the paper, one over the other.
I saw the answer before he had his beans arranged, so I added, "Five and
five make ten." I wondered what he was going to do next. The end of his
scheme seemed to have been reached. He took six beans and grouped them
and then took four more beans and grouped them. Without being asked I
added, "Six and four make ten."
"Let me do it now, Papa," interrupted Florence.
This was exactly what he had been playing for, but he was not going to
let her into the game too easily. "Let Percy and me finish," he said.
He must have slipped another bean into his hand at this juncture, for he
laid down one group of seven beans and over this a group of four. I had
not noticed that he had smuggled in an extra bean. Before he had the
beans arranged I started adding, "Seven and three make--"
"No, no," exclaimed Florence, her eyes flashing with indignation. "There
are four beans there! That makes one more. Eleven!" she shouted at me,
intent upon beating me to the answer. "It's eleven, isn't it, Papa?"
"Eleven?" my father questioned, as though surprised. "It always has been
ten," and he winked at me.
Florence had her eyes on the beans and did not see the wink. "It's eleven
beans, Papa. Don't you see? There are seven in that pile and four in that
"But we only had ten beans. How can it be eleven? It must be ten."
Florence was sure, and when Florence was sure that ended it.
"Papa!" she insisted. "Don't you see seven beans in that pile?"
"Yes, Florence, I see them."
"Well, don't you see four beans in that pile?" pointing to the smaller
"Yes, Florence, I see them."
"Well, Papa, how many beans are there all together? Count them."
He counted the seven group one at a time and continued with the four
group, ending up with eleven. He seemed to be completely mystified.
Little Florence, her piercing eyes on his face, awaited his
comprehension. But comprehension did not seem to come.
"Don't you understand, Papa?" she queried, with a touch of impatience at
his slowness. Hesitatingly, he repeated, "Seven and four make--" He
appeared to be stuck fast, and unable to go on.
"Eleven," Florence prompted. "Can't you understand, Papa?" It was she who
was giving the lesson in arithmetic now.
He removed one bean from the four group, as though struggling with the
"That's ten now," she exclaimed, because there are only three in that
"I guess you must be right, Florence, but let's go on." Florence shifted
her stand and cast a bored look at me which said, "Gee! But he's stupid."
Then he laid out eight beans in one group and two in the other. Both
Florence and I shouted at the top of our lungs, "Eight and two make ten."
While we were saying it, he dropped another bean in the two bean group.
Instantly Florence and I corrected ourselves, shouting louder than ever,
"Eight and three make eleven." But before we could get it out of our
mouths he slipped two more beans into the smaller pile. Florence and I
stared at each other as we struggled to be first in performing the mental
feat of adding two more beans. It was a dead heat. We shouted in concert,
"Eight and five make thirteen!"
It is not necessary to rehearse here how he led little Florence into
adding up all sorts of combinations, gradually shifting into subtraction
without her realizing it. We played the game all the evening, he being
clever enough to keep changing it so that our interest was not allowed to
flag. My mother finally had to stop us so that Florence might go to bed.
The next day Florence was taken back to school by my mother. I do not
know what happened then, though I can easily imagine that some additional
and quite positive statements were made about her not being defective
mentally; but I do know that from that day on, until finally Florence
graduated from a four-year course at high school, she stood number one in
every one of her classes, except on three or four occasions when she
slipped and had to accept number two. When she had to accept second place
she considered herself disgraced. It used to require the united efforts
of the entire family to lift her out of her gloom.
None of us ever found out what happened in Florence's mind to cause this
remarkable shift. I think I knew her better than did any one and I have
always believed that the clever manipulation by my father straightened
out some sort of preconceived notion which had been holding her back.
What the teacher thought had happened to the "mental defective" is not
known to history.
One April Fool's Day a boy brought to my school at Hoyt and President
Streets a paper bag containing a few chocolate caramels, which looked
particularly inviting as one peered down into the bag. At recess he was
surprisingly generous with them. I never knew such generosity as this boy
displayed. Ordinarily, if a boy had any candy, it was cheap taffy. In a
crowd of boys he was careful to keep to himself the fact that he had any.
He might take into his confidence one or two very close friends, in which
case they would repair to some unfrequented spot where the taffy would be
divided and devoured. But this boy broke all precedents by exhibiting the
bag and its contents in public.
He was surrounded immediately by a clamoring mob. Backing up against a
fence, where he could keep his eye, on everybody, he held the crowd at
bay while he selected those who were to be favored. I pushed into the
crowd, hoping that by some lucky turn one of the candies might come my
way. He had given out four or five of them, and they were being
enthusiastically sucked, when one of the boys executed a wild maneuver
and spat out his caramel. The crowd had not made up its mind what to
think about this astonishing proceeding when another boy gave a yell,
spat out his caramel, and made a break for the drinking-water. The others
followed in short order. In a moment the crowd was in a hilarious uproar.
The word was quickly passed around that the candies, instead of being
caramels, were cubes of laundry soap coated with chocolate.
The owner of these interesting candies became a hero at once. He had
fooled the whole crowd. My soul was filled with admiration for him. For
the remainder of the recess I did nothing but feast my eyes upon him. It
seemed to me that he was possessed of every admirable human attribute.
His initiative in securing the candies, the nice clean white paper bag
which added such a convincing touch, the cleverness of the idea of
chocolate-coated soap, his boldness in carrying the offensive straight to
the howling mob single-handed, his leadership as he selected his favored
ones and bestowed his gifts--all reflected greatness. I never could have
done it. One must have been a boy and have attended a large public school
to appreciate this boy's courage.
When we reconvened in our classes I could think of nothing else. The
thought came to me that it would be a brilliant stroke to work one of
these soap candies off on my father. He had played jokes on me ever since
I could remember; here was my chance to play one on him. I resolved to
negotiate for one of the candies and to put through the joke on my
In those days, and I suppose it is the same today, it was a serious
misdemeanor to send notes during class. But to be sure of getting one of
the soap caramels I must put in my application early, or they might all
be given away, or sat upon, or squeezed, or partly melted. I decided to
risk a note. I wrote out on a scrap of paper: "Please save me one candy.
Very important." Incidentally, I remember being quite proud of that word
"important." I rolled up the bit of paper, and catching Will's eye,
indicated that the paper ball was for him. It was passed along under
cover of the desks and reached him. He unrolled it, read it, and nodded
his agreement. The dreadful ordeal was over.
After school I sought him out. I told him I dearly wanted a soap caramel
to work on my father, but it must be a perfect one.
"Your father!" he exclaimed.
"Yes," I replied, adding, he's always working jokes on me and I want to
pay him back."
"Gee, Percy! I wouldn't dare work one on my father; but you can go ahead
and work yours if you want to."
He was beginning to admire my courage. He opened his paper bag, selected
the best-looking piece of candy, and gave it to me. I thought it mighty
kind of him. He was a hero and I was nothing but one of a crowd.
I wrapped the precious object in my handkerchief and went directly home,
so that by no chance could anything happen to it during the afternoon,
when everything from the soles of my feet to the top of my head would get
bumped and squeezed and knocked very thoroughly. I secreted the candy
pending that half hour after supper when the family would be gathered in
That evening at supper I could eat only with the greatest difficulty.
After dinner I was terribly nervous. Unwrapping my treasure, I walked
over to my father, who had begun to read his paper, and said in my most
ingratiating tone, holding out the soap caramel, "Papa, would you like a
piece of candy?"
My father gave me a penetrating glance and then looked hard at the candy.
There was a painful pause of a few seconds, during which, in all
probability, his lightning-like mind canvassed the possibilities. I
suppose my face, together with the irregularity of the entire proceeding,
aroused his suspicions. But he was too clever to disclose it to me. "Why,
yes, Percy. Thank you." And he took the soap caramel and put it in his
mouth, at least as far as I could see. He began working on it as one does
on a piece of candy.
I returned to my chair behind him and awaited the explosion. I had my
boisterous laugh all ready for the moment when he arrived at the soap. I
pictured him bolting for the sink in the butler's pantry to spit it out,
and I could contain myself only with the greatest effort. The moments
passed and nothing happened. I became concerned. Surely, enough time had
gone by for him to have sucked off the chocolate. But not a sign from
After several minutes, during which I never removed my gaze from him, I
moved around to where I could see his face. He was not moving his mouth.
He must have finished it. Discovering me looking at him, he glanced up
from his paper as though waiting for me to speak. Since he expected
something from me, I asked, "Did you like it, Papa?"
"Yes, Percy, very much. Have you any more of them?"
"No. I haven't any more of them," I answered, completely set back.
I returned to my chair deeply crestfallen. I did not know what to think.
Could it have been a good candy I gave him? I could not make up my mind,
and to this day I have no idea whether it really was a good candy, or
whether, suspecting me from the start, he had only pretended to put it in
his mouth and suck on it, but had really secreted it in his hand. Or
finally, whether he actually ate it, soap and all. I never quite liked to
ask him about it. He took his secret with him to his grave, many years
I may have been eight or nine years of age when my father and I were
standing in the doorway of the old Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York,
watching a passing parade. The parade was in honor of the great American
of the day, General Ulysses S. Grant. There was a crowd out on the
pavement, but at one side of the doorway there was an open space, and my
father and I could see better from there than in the crowd. A portly,
white-haired, rather distinguished-looking gentleman with a very red face
was the only other occupant of this space.
The parade had been going on for some time, when the portly gentleman
turned to my father and, in a voice which appeared to be very badly
blurred, remarked, "Great man--Gennel Grann."
My father turned quickly and eyed the speaker narrowly for what seemed an
embarrassing interval. His eyes were very dark brown and very piercing,
and he had a quick, nervous, intense manner about him, quite unlike
anybody else in all the world except his brothers. After eyeing the
portly gentleman, he turned away as though to ignore him; but quickly
returning his gaze, he ejaculated, in his characteristic and sudden way,
"What's that, sir?"
"I shed great man--Gennel Grann."
"Oh!" replied my father. "Yes indeed." There was a pause, the portly man
meanwhile eyeing my father steadily and critically. "Let's see. Who did
you say it was, sir?" asked my father.
"Gennel Grann," answered the portly man.
"General Grant?" repeated my father, as though trying to remember where
he had heard the name.
"Didger never hear of Gennel Grann, sir?" the portly man returned,
looking at my father belligerently.
"It seems to me I have--somewhere. Let me see. Seems to me I've read
something about him in the newspapers recently."
"D'yer mean to say, sir, you doan' know who Gennel Grann is?"
"I suppose it's very stupid of me, but you know, sir, I cannot just
recall him for the moment. What did he do?"
"What did Gennel Grann do!"
"Oh! Just a moment. It's coming to me now. He wrote some very beautiful
poetry, did he not, sir?"
"Oouch-h-h!" cried the portly man, getting more red in the face than
ever. "Gennel Grann write poetry! Oouch-h-h!" Then very severely to my
father: "Gennel Grann's a shouldier, sir. Great shouldier. Great man.
Wonnerful great man 'n' shouldier, sir."
"Really! What did he do?" inquired my father, as if tremendously
"Gennel Grann?" exclaimed the portly man, in sheer amazement.
"Yes, sir. What did he do?"
"D'yer mean to shay, sir, you doan' know about Gennel Grann?"
"I don't believe I do, sir. Do you?"
"Oouch-h-h! Shay, sir, d'yer ever hear of Abraham Lincoln?"
"I think I have heard the name, sir."
"Oouch-h-h! D'yer ever hear of George Washington?"
"I don't think I ever did, sir."
"Oouch-h-h! He never heard of George Washington! Where you been all your
life, sir? Shay! D'yer ever hear of Julius Caesar?"
"Oh yes! I've heard of Julius Casar. He's an actor or something, isn't
he? He acts with Edwin Booth, seems to me."
A policeman happened along at this point. The red-faced man beckoned to
"Offisher," declared the red-faced one, "here's a man never heard of
Julius Caesar, or George Washington, or Abraham Lincoln, or Gennel Grann!
Offisher, y'oughte lock him up."
The policeman smiled an indulgent smile, looked at my father, who winked,
and remarked that he thought maybe he'd better; but in the meantime he
advised that the portly gentleman go inside and sit down and cool off, as
he might get hurt out on the sidewalk in such a crowd. My father and I
watched while the policeman assisted him inside the hotel and sat him
down on a sofa. We saw him sputtering and shaking his head indignantly as
long as we were there.
On another occasion, when my father and I were returning from some sort
of an expedition, he dropped into a very ornate barroom for a glass of
beer. I had been there many times with him. I was always deeply impressed
by what I took to be a very beautiful painting which hung on the wall at
the end of this barroom. It showed a very genial bearded gentleman in a
brilliant red cloak astride a huge barrel and holding aloft a tankard of
very foamy beer. The brilliant red cloak was stunning, in my judgment. I
asked my father who the man in the picture was supposed to be. Glancing
at it in a bored way, he answered, "Oh, that's the man who invented lager
This answer satisfied my thirst for information, seemed logical, and gave
me something to think about.
A while later, my mother and my father and I and some friends were
strolling through a picture-gallery. I believe it was the Metropolitan
Art Museum in New York. We were in the gallery devoted to religious
pictures and happened to pause before one in which there was a man in a
brilliant red cloak. Pointing to it, I piped up, "Look, Mamma. I know who
Proud of her son's knowledge of art, she asked me who it was. In a shrill
voice which is said to have penetrated the entire room, I answered,
"That's the man who invented lager beer." My mother was shocked. She
hurried me out of the room; my father followed, laughing so heartily that
he had to wipe his eyes.
One of the great troubles which pursued my father day and night was
absent-mindedness. He insisted upon losing umbrellas, packages, books,
drawings, etc., until finally he became desperate. He could not cure
himself of it. In his characteristic way he once sought my sympathy. I
was only a little boy, but all my life he had treated me as an equal, so
that it was entirely natural for him to come to me for sympathy.
On this occasion he happened to be in the mood to talk to me. He held his
head in his hands as he sat on the back stoop, sighed like a blast
furnace, and remarked that he believed he would burst out crying. This
used to concern me deeply. I had no desire to see him burst out crying.
Something told me it would not be a pleasant spectacle. I had never seen
him cry. I could not imagine such a terrible thing happening. I did not
want it. And so I sought to console him.
"What makes you feel like crying, Papa?" I asked. "Oh, nobody loves me,
nobody cares about me, nobody helps me, everybody is cross with me when I
lose my things."
This was very terrible, it seemed to me. Unless I cheered him up I could
see that we would both be in tears.
"We all love you, Papa. Mamma does, and I do, and Florence does, and
Addle will when she gets old enough."
"Yes, but that doesn't stop me from losing my things. Yesterday I lost my
gloves. Today I lost a roll of drawings."
"Well, why don't you hold them in your hand, Papa? That's the way I do
when I want to be sure not to lose what I have. I just hang right on to
it all the time, and never put it down until I get home. Then I know I
can't lose it."
"But the trouble is, I forget and I put it down, and then I walk away
I had to admit that this was a difficult problem. If he could not
remember to hold his things in his hands, it seemed very baffling.
"Well, Papa, could you remember just one thing--just one single thing to
"I wonder if I could. What would it be, Percy?"
It seems to me that if you had a piece of paper with your name on it, and
if you could remember to put it on everything when you first pick it up,
then when you lost it somebody would find it and know that you lost it
and send it to you."
"Well, now, Percy! That's an idea. You see, I could have a lot of little
paper stickers printed with my name and address on them, and if I carried
them in my pocketbook and could remember to stick them on everything that
I picked up, when I lost anything the one who found it would know who had
He was surprised and immensely pleased at my having exhibited enough
imagination to formulate a solution of a baffling problem. He was so
impressed with my idea that he had stickers printed. I remember them
clearly. They were somewhat larger than a modern special-delivery stamp,
and they had a red margin around them and bore the interesting legend:
THIS WAS LOST BY A DAMNED FOOL NAMED HIRAM STEVENS MAXIM
WHO LIVES AT 325 UNION STREET, BROOKLYN. A SUITABLE REWARD
WILL BE PAID FOR ITS RETURN.
He used these stickers until everything we owned seemed to have one stuck
on it. My mother finally lost her patience and vetoed their further use.
One of my father's brothers visited us while we were in Union Street. I
am quite sure it was his brother Hudson. These two were a pair. Each one
encouraged the other to more and more bizarre performances. What one did
not think of, the other did. Uncle Hudson contracted the toothache while
he was with us. My mother provided all manner of hot applications,
including oil of cloves and the usual run of old-fashioned home remedies,
most of which depended upon superstition or hypnosis of the sufferer,
according to my father.
There were not so many dentists as there are now. People either did not
have so much trouble with their teeth or they permitted them to take care
of themselves. And thus it was Uncle Hudson never thought of going to a
He went over to New York with my father every day. His visit may have
been something like a fortnight. During this entire visit the toothache
was troubling Uncle Hudson. Each night something different was done by my
mother. My father paid no attention; such details bored him, if they did
not trouble him directly.
And so the days came and went, Uncle Hudson bothering every night with
his toothache, and my sympathetic little mother doing everything in her
power to alleviate his suffering. One night it became very painful
indeed, and Uncle Hudson was driven to pacing the floor with a hot cloth
on his face. This went on for an hour or more, my father doing his utmost
to keep his mind free from Uncle Hudson's trouble. But there came a time
when my father's patience became exhausted. While my mother was in the
kitchen warming something for Uncle Hudson, and while I was thought to be
out of hearing, which I was not, my father, in exasperation, said:
"Gawd, Ike! You're driving me crazy with your toothache." My father
always called Uncle Hudson "Ike."
"It's a terrible pity about you. The top of my head's coming off."
"Well, I'll tell you what to do. It's what I did when I had the
toothache. Hunt up a horse doctor or a good blacksmith or a dentist, have
the tooth pulled out, put it down on the floor and let the damned thing
That is precisely what Uncle Hudson had to do finally.
It must have been when we first returned to Brooklyn, when I was between
seven and eight, that my mother and one of her friends took me to a
matinée at Booth's Theater on Twenty-third Street in New York. I remember
the inside of the theater very well. We had seats away down front, very
close to the stage. My mother's friend, a Mrs. Drake, sat inside; my
mother came next; and I sat on the aisle seat. I had never been to a
theater before. As might be imagined, I was profoundly impressed. The
action on the stage was absolutely real to me. The play had a lot to do
with Indians, my pet horror. I was too young to grasp much beyond the
fact that the men and women on the stage were in dreadful trouble on
account of the approach of the Indians. I was stunned by the awful
situation. I had thought about such a frightful thing happening. Here I
was plunged right in the middle of the reality.
I could not divorce myself from the people on the stage. There they were,
not twenty-five feet away, talking and worrying about the coming of the
Indians. If they were in such dire straits, the same thing applied to me,
my mother, and Mrs. Drake. I sat on the edge of my seat, my hands
clenched in agony, the cold sweat pouring out of me, wondering what
possibly could be done about the situation. I could not escape the
thought that the wise thing to do was to start running now, while the way
was clear. The street was handy and there would be policemen out there.
In fact, I saw a policeman at the door of the theater when we came in.
I nudged my mother and whispered that we had better get out into the
street. She seemed perfectly at ease, and whispered back something about
its being very exciting, which seemed to me to be a very silly point of
view to take of such a serious situation. I continued to sit on the edge
of my seat, my eyes starting from their sockets. The agony was fearfully
long drawn out. The people on the stage were a weak lot, for not one of
them did anything to protect himself. When one of them thought he saw an
Indian coming, and everybody on the stage started running and screaming,
I gave a terrible jump, my nerves being on edge. I thought the fatal hour
had struck. I slid off my seat and made a grab for my mother's hand,
fully intending to drag her out to the street, because I had no
confidence in her running abilities. Mothers never are much good at
running. But she caught hold of me and shook me, telling me that I
positively must sit still and be quiet and not disturb the other people.
She appeared to be struggling to restrain her laughter, which seemed to
me very odd. In telling of this incident later she said that my face, as
I watched the action on the stage, my eyes popping, my mouth open, worry
written all over me, was one of the most appealing pictures she ever
At the time I seriously questioned my mother's judgment. The Indians were
coming unquestionably. Everybody knew it. The people on the stage were
talking about it that very moment. Why hang around? Why not take time by
the forelock and get out into the street now? I made up my mind to
explain the seriousness of the situation to her. I nudged her again and
indicated I wanted to whisper in her ear. She bent down and I said, "I
think we'd better get out in the street now, Mamma, before the Indians
get here." To my astonishment she smiled and shook her head, motioning me
to be quiet. I had done my best; I could not seem to impress the woman
with the importance of getting going now.
Just as I feared, we waited too long. Amid the most nerve-shattering
screaming and confusion I had ever experienced, the Indians came pouring
in from the right-hand side of the stage. One look was enough for me. The
tocsin had sounded! The time to act had come! With a bound, I fetched the
aisle and started for the street, shouting to my mother at the very top
of my lungs, "Come on, Mamma!"
Halfway up the aisle I turned to see how she was making out. She was
coming, so I ran ahead and succeeded in reaching the door of the theater
in safety. When she came out I was overcome with surprise to find that
she was cross with me. She spoke seriously, told me I had broken up the
performance and made it very unpleasant for everybody, especially for
her; that they were not real Indians, but, instead, were ordinary men
dressed up as Indians; that it was all make-believe; that everybody was
pretending, just as children pretend when they play. It was a brand-new
idea to me. I thought the entire affair was as real as anything I ever
saw in all my life. She waited until the end of the act and then took me
back to my seat, amid the amused glances of those about us. I was
considerably reassured when I realized that no one seemed to have been
tomahawked or killed and most of the people in the theater were looking
at me and smiling. I had "stolen the show" for a few minutes, as it would
be expressed today.
My father was very even-tempered, in spite of his temperamental ways.
There was only one thing that I can remember that really would make him
cross. This was what he called "disorganization in the writing-materials
department." Almost everything calculated to arouse irritability--from
squalling children to smashed pier glasses--occurred in our house, and
he, like the rest of us, was nervous and high strung; yet I cannot
remember any irritability or fault-finding except when something went
wrong with the supply of note-paper, envelopes, pens, ink, and blotter.
Every once in a while be would be moved to write a letter. One never knew
when the urge would strike him. My mother seemed to be responsible for
everything in our house. She did her best, poor dear, but no matter how
often she put things in order in the drawer of the writing desk, they
were sure to be out of order when my father wanted to write a letter. I
blush to admit that I was the cause.
The writing-desk was in the little reception-room. Every time I wanted a
finely pointed tool with which to pick something, the only instrument I
could think of which was available to me was the pen. Nine times out of
ten I would bend or break the pen point. There were seldom other pens,
because every so often I used to get all of them out, coat them with oil,
magnetize them with my horseshoe magnet, and use them as little boats in
the large silver waiter which stood at my mother's place at the
dining-room table. My own wife has used this identical silver waiter for
the past thirty-five years. My father had shown me how to play with
magnetized pen points, using this waiter. On rainy afternoons it was my
favorite pastime. By placing in the waiter enough water to give a depth
of about a quarter of an inch, and by the proper use of the horseshoe
magnet, the little pens, which would float by virtue of the oil on them,
could be made to sail around in the most interesting fashion. The pens
had enough temper in them to be permanent magnets once they were
magnetized; this caused the bows of all "boats" to repel each other, all
sterns to repel each other, but all bows to seek all sterns. Likewise,
the bows would be repelled by one pole of the horseshoe magnet and be
attracted by the other pole. As may be imagined, it was an ideal
combination for a rainy afternoon; but a very bad thing for the
writing-materials department. The pen points which were not broken were
lost or forgotten. In any case they never seem to have found their way
back to the drawer of the desk.
Frequently the entire penholder would be missing. I was responsible for
this also. It was long and thin and stiff, and thus suited a multitude of
purposes, such as substituting for a lost king bolt in my wagon, or
serving as an axle for a small wheelbarrow, or plugging a hole in
something. It always was broken, misplaced, or forgotten.
The ink was the only paint I had. Everything which needed to be colored
had to be colored with this ink. The ink-bottle was the most detestable
object in my young life. It would get tipped over in spite of every
precaution. When the painting job was a big one, all the ink would be
used. If this did not occur, then it got spilled when the wretched bottle
tipped over. If neither of these occurred, then I intended to put it
back, but forgot to do so in my perpetual hurry.
The blotters were utterly impossible to keep. No matter how many my
mother bought, there never were any in the drawer. They were used in
quantity when the miserable ink-bottle tipped over, and also for a wide
variety of drying jobs. Blotters were indispensable in my daily
operations. Envelopes were hard to keep on hand, also. They acted as
convenient receptacles for all manner of things. When I needed one I
needed it badly and in a great hurry. I did not use much of the
note-paper; it could be used for home work from school, but I detested
home work, and so the demand was not heavy.
Thus it may be judged that when my father decided he must write a letter,
the writing-materials in the drawer of the writing-desk were usually in a
state of demoralization. He went through a regular set program when he
discovered this. First, he would be found scratching around in the drawer
of the writing-desk like a squirrel, emitting grunts. This would develop
into an appeal to the Almighty to look down and bear witness to the fact
that there was no pen, although less than a week ago he had been to the
stationer's shop and had laid in a complete supply of everything. And
here he was faced with the fact that every snitch of the pens had been
used. After pawing everything topsy-turvy he would slam the drawer shut,
lift both arms to heaven, and with a fervor that would have brought tears
to the eyes of a wooden Indian he would cry through his clenched teeth,
"O my gawd!"
This over, he would tramp upstairs, seeking my mother, hissing and
groaning on the way. My mother always seemed to be upstairs doing
something to a baby. He would almost break down over the
writing-materials. When he had announced their depletion he would
gesticulate, pace up and down the floor, apparently tear his hair, and
take on in a manner which would frighten one not accustomed to it. This
would continue until my mother was through with the baby, when the two of
them would go downstairs, she leading the way and he apostrophizing
Heaven as he followed her, referring constantly to the enormous supply of
writing-materials he had purchased the previous week.
When they arrived at the writing-desk, the chances were about even that
one or more of the essentials to the writing of a letter would be
missing. If they were, he would pace the floor, tear at his hair, hiss
the most diabolical sentiments through his clenched teeth, and finally
clap his hat upon his head and stride out the door on his way to the
stationer's, where he would stock up with a fresh supply of everything.
I suppose that I must have witnessed this little scene a great many
times. An outsider would have expected to see murder done the next
moment; but in the family no one paid much attention to these fits. I am
sure he enjoyed throwing them. It gave him an opportunity to blow off
steam and he realized that he was throwing a fit as few persons are able
to. I would have enjoyed hugely watching him throw his fits, had it not
been for the fact that I was to blame for the entire trouble.
When he would return from the stationer's, having grossly over-purchased,
as I do invariably, he would be in normal equable temper, and would sit
down and write his letter as quietly and pleasantly as any one could
WAYNE, MAINE, AND BROOKLYN
As far back as my memory goes I was taken at irregular intervals to
Wayne, Maine, where my father's parents had come to live. My consecutive
memory of Wayne begins when I was sent there alone from Brooklyn when I
was about nine. It was as crazy a thing to do as could be imagined,
starting a boy of nine alone on a trip from New York to Winthrop, Maine,
the nearest railroad station to Wayne. My mother fought the idea tooth
and nail, but she had her husband and her son against her, for I was keen
to go. I knew so little about the practical things which were involved
that I could not see anything but the excitement of going. She finally
yielded under protest, probably because of my coaxing as much as
anything. My father insisted that as long as I had "an English tongue in
my head" I could find my Way. That was a very wrong premise.
I had a vague idea I would be placed on a Fall River line boat at New
York and on a train at the place where the boat stopped; that Mr. and
Mrs. Haynes would take me off the train at Boston and look after me for a
day or so; that they would put me on another train in due time, and that
there was something about getting off this train and taking another train
which would take me to Winthrop, where Uncle Sam would meet me and drive
me to Wayne. But all of this was boring detail to me. I did not bother my
head about it.
My first awakening, and it was a rude one, occurred when I was taken to
my quarters on the Fall River boat by my father and mother, and the time
came for them to go ashore and leave me. I shall never forget to the last
day of my life the sickening sensation when I awoke to what it meant to
be left alone to shift for myself. They kissed me good-by and waited on
the dock for the boat to back out into the stream. As I stood and watched
my mother's tear-dimmed eyes, as the boat sailed away and she receded
into the distance, the greatest sadness which had ever come to me in my
nine years of life welled up within me. The tears came and I sought my
bunk and cried as I had never cried before. It was several hours before I
could even partially control myself. If ever a boy was low in his mind, I
was that boy. The stewardess had been asked to look after me and several
times she visited me and tried to comfort me; but I was broken-hearted,
and would have sacrificed gladly anything on earth to have been able to
lay my head on my mother's breast and feel her arms about me.
The night on the boat is all a hazy jumble of torture in my memory. I
must have been placed on the Boston train at Fall River, but I have no
recollection of it, probably being too depressed and too sleepy for
impressions to register.
I think I remember being turned over to Mr. Haynes by the train conductor
when the train reached Boston. I clearly remember that Mr. and Mrs.
Haynes were very kind to me and that they bought me a little steamboat.
It had an alcohol lamp in it, and Mr. Haynes helped me get up steam and
run it in a pond in Boston Common. My spirits revived in Boston because I
knew there was someone who would look out for me.
Mr. Haynes put me on the Portland train in due course. I have a hazy
memory of subsequently walking down a platform with my hand in that of a
kindly conductor and of being placed in another train. I imagine this
must have been at Portland, where one has to change cars to proceed
farther north. I also remember being on the lookout for the station where
I had seen a cage of bears when I had been to Maine before with my
parents. The train reached this station and I had a good look at the
bears. Some eight years ago--which would be forty-six years since I had
seen the station with the bears--I was passing through Maine and I
resolved to watch for the station where they used to have the bears. In
due time we came to it and I remembered it distinctly. The bears were
gone, and the cage, but the grass plots were there and the track
arrangement and the general layout were just as I remembered them. If I
am not mistaken the place was Lewiston.
My Uncle Sam met me at Winthrop and all was well. I had recovered from my
low spirits, although that dear tear-dimmed face on the dock at New York
made a lump come in my throat whenever I thought of it. Uncle Sam let me
drive the horse part of the way to Wayne. And thus began nearly two
months of unrestrained country life with my grandfather, grandmother, and
One day I took a walk with my grandfather. He seemed to be the oldest man
I had ever seen in my life. We met another man and, to my amazement, he
looked older than my grandfather. I had not believed such a thing
"Hiram Percy Maxim," said my grandfather to me, "this gentleman used to
be my school-teacher." (My father's people invariably called me by my
I was very much impressed, and after the old gentleman had gone I said to
my grandfather, "How old are you, Grandpa?"
"How old would you think, Hiram Percy Maxim?" I thought a long time. I
did not know how to answer. I felt anything I might guess would be away
off the mark, so I replied I could not think how old he might be, but he
must be awful old."
"Well, I am sixty-three years old," he replied, smiling. He was leaning
against a rail fence as he said this and I was standing beside him,
looking up into his face. He was a tall man as I remember him, and as we
two of the same blood stood there looking at each other and discussing
our respective ages, we must have made an interesting picture. He had his
life behind him, while I had mine before me.
Not long ago my grandson, John Maxim Lee, aged six, and I were out
walking and we fell to discussing ages. When I told him I was
sixty-three, the same age that my grandfather was when he and I discussed
ages, I could see that it was a figure just as far beyond his powers of
comprehension as it had been to me. That picture of the past, when I was
the uncomprehending little boy, floated before my mind. The tables had
been turned. The little boy of long ago was now the grandfather, with his
life behind him, and a new little boy had come into being, with his life
all ahead of him. Thus do the generations of us men succeed one another.
My grandmother was a very remarkable person. She was quite short,
probably not over five feet, had a sturdy and muscular little body, and
had gray ringlets all over her head, steely blue eyes and the same
intense, piercing gaze my sister Florence has at times. Her maiden name
had been Harriet Boston Stevens; she was a daughter of "Old Brimstone
Stevens," as he was termed in his day, on account of his firm belief in
the efficacy of hell fire and brimstone. From what I have heard said, Old
Brimstone Stevens must have been a very fearsome sort of person.
Certainly, he seems to have instilled into the Maxim boys a generous
supply of the fear of God and of himself, no small thing to accomplish.
The country in which these grandparents had grown up was the southern
border of what are yet the wild lands of Maine. When my father was born
they were living near a little grist mill some two or three miles out of
Sangerville. Sangervile is some forty miles from Moosehead Lake. No spot
on the face of this earth appeals to me quite so strongly as these Maine
woods. Whether it is something inherited from my early ancestors, who did
their part in beating back this wilderness, I do not presume to say; but
when vacation time comes I think first of the Maine woods. They represent
the last of the extensive and unsettled wild area in New England.
My grandfather used to make an attempt to convey to me, a child of the
city, the self-reliance which children of my father's day were compelled
to exercise. He cited as an example my uncle Henry, whom I never saw, he
having died before I was born. He said Henry, when a little boy of six,
came into the house one day, crying lustily and nursing a wound on his
leg. My grandfather asked him how he had hurt his leg. Henry replied the
gander had bitten him. "Oh," said my grandfather, "don't bother me with a
little matter like that. Go out and bite the gander in return."
This impressed Henry as being an excellent idea. The more he nursed his
wounded leg and his wrath, the better the idea appeared. He finally
decided to act. Returning outdoors, he hunted up the geese, selected the
gander which had bitten him, and attacked him. A rough-and-tumble fight
ensued which continued for a considerable time, the gander being about as
strong as the boy. Boy and gander flopped around so much and fought so
savagely that the geese began cackling, raising such a disturbance my
grandfather was led to investigate. When he arrived upon the scene the
fight was about over. Henry had the gander down and lay on top of him
with his teeth set in the gander's neck. When my grandfather pulled the
child off, the gander gave a few flaps and expired. Henry had killed him!
On another occasion, this time at Abbot Village, the dog belonging to the
man who ran the general store became involved in a controversy with
Henry. The dog was a mongrel, weighed some forty pounds, and had an
unsavory reputation; he was an ugly brute and had bitten several persons.
When he and Henry Maxim crossed swords he bit Henry. The dog did not know
it at the time, but when he bit Henry Maxim he bit the wrong person.
Henry flew into a passion and made after the dog. The latter retreated
and Henry chased him.
The general store had no cellar, being built upon posts, which left a
space underneath some three feet high. The dog ran into the space under
the store. Nothing daunted, Henry followed him. Somewhere away in
underneath, the dog turned on Henry. Henry grappled with him forthwith.
What actually went on no one knows; but the people in the store at the
time said the noise and the bumpings against the floor and the growls and
snarls were fearful. The owner went out and peered under the store and
shouted, but he said there was so much dust being kicked up and so much
noise that he could see nothing and his voice could not be heard.
After a time the noise ceased and Henry crawled out from under the store.
His clothing was in ribbons and he was covered from head to foot with
dirt and blood. As he started for the river bank to clean up, he remarked
to the bystanders, "That dog will never bite anybody again." In a space
three feet high, in among the rocks and dirt, Henry had fought and killed
a forty-pound dog barehanded!
My grandmother used to tell me about a scene they had with Henry when he
was very little, probably about three and a half years of age. She and my
grandfather were giving one of those country parties in the late fall, at
which the neighbors are invited in to shuck corn, put up preserves, play
games, and eat prodigious quantities of cookies, cakes, and pies. Henry
in his bed upstairs was awakened by the noise and began to cry. My
grandmother went up to quiet him. Instead of quieting him she made him
cry louder. She was gone such a longs time, and Henry was making so much
noise, that my grandfather went up to lend a hand. He spanked Henry, in
an effort to bring the child to his senses and stop crying. Instead of
stopping, Henry started screaming. He had got out of hand completely.
There was a hogshead outside which caught the rain water from the roof.
It being late in the fall, the water in this hogshead had a skim of ice
over it. My grandfather, desperate over the disturbance and the
interruption to the festivities, decided that severe measures were called
for. Taking Henry from his bed, he carried him downstairs, strode with
the screaming, kicking child through the assembled guests to the kitchen
and thence to the hogshead, and plunged the child through the ice into
the cold water. Of course, this quieted the child thoroughly. He was
taken back upstairs, dried, and put back into bed. My grandfather and
grandmother then joined their waiting guests.
No sooner had they returned than Henry, having regained his breath, and
realizing what had been done to him and how angry he was, began screaming
louder than ever. There was no use trying to run a party in all that
noise, so my grandfather went upstairs a second time, brought the child
down, and plunged him into the ice water again. Again it knocked out the
last bit of breath the child had and he was quieted. Again he was
returned to his bed and again an attempt was made to continue the party,
although my grandmother said it was under considerable of a cloud.
While efforts were being made to reorganize the festivities Henry got his
breath back, remembered how angry he was, and resumed his ear-splitting
screams. By this time he was mad all the way through. My grandfather, now
very determined, went upstairs, brought the screaming, kicking youngster
down, plunged him into the ice water and held him under as long as he
dared and not drown him. Naturally, the child stopped crying. He was put
back in his bed and a third attempt was made to reorganize the party.
Games were resumed, but the enthusiasm had been quenched, as the family
conflict had damped everybody's spirit. While they were doing their best
to live the difficulty down, Henry was heard again. This time there was
nothing to do but call the party off and send the guests home. Henry
screamed himself into exhaustion in a couple of hours and then fell
When Henry grew up he went into the Civil War--precisely the place for
him, one would think. But by the irony of fate he fell ill, was invalided
home, and died in bed.
In due course the day came when I was to start for home. I had finished
my breakfast and Uncle Sam had brought the horse and buggy to the door,
when I discovered that I could not get my shoes on. I had not had them on
for some five weeks and I suppose my feet had both grown and spread.
I called for my energetic little grandmother and told her my shoes were
"Land sakes! Can't you get 'em on?" she ejaculated, realizing in a flash
that after five weeks this easily might be true.
"No, Grandma, I can't. See! I can't even get my foot started in."
This was a pretty how-d'do! Everything had been thought of and made ready
but this one thing. The buggy was waiting, Uncle Sam was urging us to
hurry, and here we were at a standstill because I could not get my shoes
on! Visions of going home barefoot floated across my mind and I suggested
the idea; but my grandmother would not listen to it for an instant. She
went down on her knees on the floor and in her characteristic way tried
to force my foot in. To all appearances my foot was four or five sizes
larger than my shoes. In desperation she got up, dashed to the door, and
screamed to Uncle Sam that Hiram Percy Maxim could not get his shoes on.
She waved her arms wildly to emphasize the seriousness of the situation.
Normal persons would have called to each other and have sat down calmly
and worked the problem out. Not so the Maxims. Anything of this order
precipitated a panic or a riot, and all concerned became immediately and
Uncle Sam hopped down out of the buggy and came running. He had not
understood what had been said and he had a perfectly good right to expect
to find the house had caught fire, by the way my grandmother had acted.
As he dashed into the room, his eyes snapping, he glared around wildly
and shouted, "What's wrong, Marm?"
She had not been idle while he had been coming, having returned to the
struggle with renewed energy. On her knees on the floor she was wrestling
with might and main to get one of my feet into its shoe. "Can't get his
shoes on!" she said between her teeth as she struggled. Without pausing a
second, Uncle Sam flung himself into the fray. He grabbed my other foot
and a shoe and began operations on his own account. One would have
thought unless the shoes were got on me in the next sixty seconds the
world surely would come to an end. Between the frantic pushing and
pulling of both of them I was sliding all over the floor. I finally
caught hold of the leg of the table to keep my position.
After a few vigorous attempts Uncle Sam dropped everything and dashed out
into the kitchen. In a moment he returned with a cup containing flour and
also with a tin plate. Snatching my shoe, and shouting to my grandmother,
"Hold on a minute, Mann," he poured some of the flour into the shoe,
shook it around vigorously, and emptied it out into the tin plate.
Grabbing my foot, he started working it into the shoe and finally
succeeded. Repeating the operation with the other shoe, he managed to get
it on also. They were terribly tight and I assured the assembled
relatives I could not walk a step; but the shoes were on, and whether or
not I could walk in them was a minor matter.
About this time I sat in on my first business conference. It was the
practice of my father and mother to have a Mr. Spencer D. Schuyler and
Mrs. Schuyler to dinner in Brooklyn on Sunday once in a while. Mr.
Schuyler was either the president or some high officer in the United
States Electric Lighting Company. My father was chief engineer, or
something like it. Hartley and Graham, an old New York firm, which the
older generation will remember, had some connection with the company,
probably a financial one. Hartley and Graham were also owners of the
Union Metallic Cartridge Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut. It appears
that an arrangement of some kind was made, under the terms of which
Hartley and Graham furnished factory space and capital for the
development work which Messrs. Schuyler and Maxim had in mind in
connection with their electric-light project.
At one of the dinners for the Schuylers at our house on Union Street, the
two men remained at table after the ladies retired to the reception-room.
I had become interested in their conversation, and, being a man, albeit a
small one, I remained with the other men, listening to every word they
uttered and watching the way Mr. Schuyler smoked his cigar. My father
never smoked, so smoking was something of a novelty to me. Mr. Schuyler
was a business executive and knew very little about electrical matters.
My father seemed to be on the defensive most of the time with him,
explaining that there were technical limitations beyond which it was
impossible to go, even if the promised reward were great; but Mr.
Schuyler chafed at these limitations, pointing out the opportunities that
were offered if certain things could be done. After a lengthy conference,
Mr. Schuylet became prophetic. Said he, "Maxim, you may say what you
like, but I can see the day coming when electricity will be generated in
large electricity works and be distributed through the streets for house
lighting just as gas is generated in large gasworks today and distributed
through the streets for house lighting."
To this my father shook his head and replied, "No, Schuyler. You are
looking too far ahead. Such a day may come; but there are too many
unsolved technical problems for me to believe it will be in our times."
I fancy this particular conversation must have occurred in 1878 or 1879.
The electric arc lamp had just about emerged from the experimental stage.
It gave the most wonderful artificial light the world had ever seen. It
was such an advance over the only other artificial light available, the
gas jet, that a great business opportunity was foreseen by those
interested. But the arc lamp was too hot and too bright and too large for
many purposes, so that a race began between Edison and Maxim to see which
would be first with an incandescent electric lamp. This incandescent
development work seems to have been undertaken on a large scale after
Schuyler and Maxim had succeeded in interesting Hartley and Graham. I
have one of my father's old diaries. It is for the year 1880 and it is in
as good condition as when he carried it around in his pocket. It had what
he used to call a Russia-leather binding, which had a characteristic
odor. I remember when I used to climb up on him I could smell this Russia
leather. The diary has a trace of this odor today. It is a beautiful
piece of work, this old notebook, has his name and address embossed in
gold on it, and must have cost him a pretty penny.
Under the date of January 1, 1880, in my father's handwriting, appears
At home in Brooklyn all day. Write to Schuyler relating to the Edison
The next day, January 2, 1880, he wrote:
Call on Hartley. See Schuyler. This day we commence in dead earnest the
experiments so long delayed on the electric light in a vacuum space.
Apparatus for experiment ordered. Go to Pearl River and get from old man
B a lamp made one year ago. Satisfaction.
This reference, "light in a vacuum space," makes it appear the
incandescent electric lamp was not yet an actuality. The reference to a
lamp being made at Pearl River a year previously indicates to me that he
built one experimental lamp there, and I imagine that the early arc lamp
development work was done there. I remember being taken to Pearl River,
New Jersey, when a child. There was a factory there and I remember a
lecture given in this factory by my father in which he demonstrated
several electrical phenomena, and also a very powerful electric arc
An entry under the date of January 3, 1880, reads:
In New York, purchasing apparatus for electric light. Hunting up a glass
blower. Go to Bridgeport in the evening.
An entry on January 6, 1880, reads:
Make drawings of current regulator. Prepare case for patent office.
This suggests that he had something in the way of an application in the
Patent Office in 1878.
On January 9, 1880, he wrote:
Room finished complete. But no glass blower comes.
This glass-blower and the glass vacuum pump he was to make gave him
plenty of trouble, evidently, for all through the diary are entries
indicating his desperation over the glass-blowers and the pump. For
example, on January 10, 1880, there appears this entry:
Ready for glass blower but he cometh not. Whooping cough worse.
I remember very vividly this whooping-cough trouble. He would have a
spasm at home in the evening and cough and whoop and turn purple in the
face, driving my mother to the verge of distraction. His habit, when he
felt the cough coming, was to hurry to a doorway, put out both arms and
brace himself between the sides of the doorway and then cough and cough!
I used to fear be might explode. After a spasm had passed he would be
very cross and watery-eyed.
Succeeding entries suggest the progress he was making.
On January 14, 1880:
Glass blower comes. Contract for pump. Sterling on rheostat. Determine to
make a wheel commutator with a surface a la friction gearing. Sterling
approves of it. Work in evening on regulator.
On January 29:
Oh the pump. Boss nuisance. Glass blower fooling with pump.
On the next day the entry reads simply:
Oh the pump!
On February 2:
No glass blowers. Start up my regulator. All right. A big thing.
On February 5:
My 40th birthday. Work on lamps all day. Lecture in evening on
Electricity at Opera House.
On February 7:
Pump finished and one lamp finished. Machine, lamp and regulator all
working first time in the world. Gasoline an apparent success.
On March 10:
Mr. S. D. Schuyler visits shop and sees incandescent lamps. Says to me,
"Maxim, light a house in New York with those lamps and I'll sell your
stock for 200 cents on the dollar."
In the early days of the development work on the incandescent electric
lamp, Mr. Schuyler and my father had offices in the old Equitable
Building at 120 Broadway in New York. These offices were taken over by
the United States Electric Lighting Company when the latter company was
ready to sell electric-lighting equipment. These old offices were
destined to remain electric-light offices for many years, for when the
electric-light industry became established and the modern Westinghouse
Electric and Manufacturing Company became the final owners of the United
States Company, they maintained the old office at 120 Broadway. I am
informed that my father's picture hung on the wall there until the old
building burned in recent times.
As a little boy I can remember the troublesome glassblowers at work in
the old Equitable Building. One of them, by the name of Pflock, made a
marvelous glass pipe for me one day, as my father and I watched him.
Demonstrations of the wonderful new electric light were given frequently.
One of these demonstrations was to immerse an incandescent lamp in a
glass jar full of water and watch it "burn" under water. This would not
attract passing notice today; but in those days it was considered
marvelous, because a gas light would not burn under water. People came
from far and near to see the unbelievable sight. Later on the company
established a factory in the vicinity of Twenty-fifth Street and Avenue B
in New York. In this factory the company made a real start in the
electric-light business. I used to visit it frequently and came to know
many of the leading men. There are a few of them left who never fail to
tell me they remember me from the days when I was a little boy and my
father used to bring me to the factory.
Both Mr. Schuyler and my father lived to see the day when Mr. Schuyler's
prophecies came true a thousand times over.
At about the time of which I am writing my father bought a
twenty-one-foot steam-launch. She was a thing of beauty, with all her
polished and nickel-plated work. He named her the Flirt. I quickly
learned about steam-engines and steam-boilers, and what must be done and
what must not be done with them. We used to cruise around New York Bay.
My mother despised the Flirt, as she did all craft excepting ferry-boats.
She went with us only infrequently. Invariably she was badly frightened
and seasick. One day she became so frightened and so ill that my father
had to put her ashore at Staten Island so that she could go home on the
On one occasion, my father had me go aboard the Flirt immediately after
school, build a fire under the boiler, get up steam, and have everything
all shipshape for him at five o'clock, when he was to arrive with another
gentleman. At five o'clock I had steam up and everything in order. When
he and his friend arrived, I noticed that the latter had to be led down
the float to our boat. Clearly he was blind. Arrived alongside, my father
guiding him, he put one foot out and felt the boat. After forming an idea
as to her size, he came aboard, my father assisting him. He sat down,
felt of the seats, got the general layout of the cockpit, and finally
moved down toward the stern. Then he asked to be told about the engine
and boiler. Before starting to explain them my father beckoned me over.
Putting my hand in that of the blind gentleman's he said, "Mr.
Herreshoff, this is my son Hiram Percy Maxim."
Then turning to me he said, "Percy, this is Mr. Herreshoff, who knows
more about boats than any other man in the world."
Mr. Herreshoff took my hand and held it in his and smiled a very lovely
smile. He felt of my head, evidently estimating my height. He said he
always liked to meet little boys and asked me how old I was. I told him,
and he drew me to a seat close beside him, put his arm around me and
asked my father to continue. While my father explained the power plant,
this kindly gentleman kept his arm around me. I recall that he kept
saying, as my father explained detail after detail, "I see. I see." I
thought this a curious remark in view of the fact that he was stone
blind. This gentleman was Mr. John B. Herreshoff, one of the founders of
the famous boat-building company which is still in business at Bristol,
Rhode Island. Mr. Herreshoff long since passed on.
After I had become familiar with the steam-plant on the Flirt I wanted to
know about other steam-plants. The first to receive my attention was the
railroad locomotive. I must have driven my father desperate with my
questions about steam-locomotives.
This obsession of mine reached such a stage that he appealed to my
mother. "Good Lord!" said he. "Is there no way we can satisfy this boy's
thirst for information about steam-locomotives?"
"I think if he were allowed to see a real one it might satisfy him," said
So it was arranged that I should be taken to one of the terminal stations
of the new Sixth Avenue elevated Railroad in New York, where James, who
had been our man at Fanwood, was engineer of one of the locomotives.
In those days there were only three methods of propelling railroad
cars--by horses, by endless cable, and by steam. The elevated lines in
New York were operated by little steam locomotives. And thus it came I
was taken uptown somewhere in New York and shown one of these little
locomotives. I was but moderately impressed. These locomotives were
small, they had no tender at all, everything about them was all bunched
together, and they did not even have a bell. They were so malformed, it
seemed to me, that unless one were told one would hardly suspect they
were locomotives at all.
James helped me into the cab of the one of which he was the engineer, and
then he ran it out of the shed for a few yards and backed it in again. He
explained how it was operated, and the differences between the way
matters were arranged on a locomotive and on a boat. I saw the principles
were the same, but the application of these principles was startlingly
When I returned home my father asked me if I were satisfied now that I
had had a good look at a locomotive. To his consternation I was worse
than ever. Having seen the inside of an imitation locomotive, I could not
rest until I saw the inside of a real one. I probably made everybody's
life utterly miserable, for when the locomotive complex fastened itself
upon me I talked locomotive all the time and made every effort to have
the other members of the family do the same.
My mother and father and I were invited to spend a Sunday at Paterson,
New Jersey, visiting friends, and they decided that this trip would offer
an opportunity for me to see a real locomotive. They accordingly made
arrangements to have me ride out to Paterson in the cab of the locomotive
of our train.
When we walked out on the platform of the railroad station at Hoboken, I
with my hand in my father's, while my mother went into one of the
passenger-cars, I began to have misgivings. The enterprise was assuming
more serious proportions than I had contemplated. Arrived at the great,
black, hissing monster, my courage began to ooze away. But a hard
experience with my father in the past had taught me there must be no
backing out. I positively must go through with the business even though
it killed me. And so, after a word with the engineer, who was leaning out
of his cab window and looking very grimy and dirty, my father lifted me
up and the engineer helped me into the seat in front of him. I was
completely overcome by the hissing noise. The engineer yelled something
in my ear which I could not understand because of the hissing, but I
recognized it as being intended as a kindly overture of some sort. His
voice was the harshest and most rasping I had ever heard in all my life.
I supposed that it had to be this way in order to penetrate the awful
noise in which he lived. I was not very communicative by force of
circumstances, even had I wished to be, which I did not, for I was too
stunned by the awfulness of everything. Steam seemed to be hissing
savagely to get out and threatening destruction to all concerned if it
were much longer denied; everything seemed to be sizzling hot; something
very close at hand was throbbing passionately; there was coal spilled
over the floor, which was of steel; the fireman on the opposite side of
the cab had a very dirty face and seemed not of this earth; and the
engineer seemed to be deeply concerned about something back of us, for he
kept peering out behind.
The heat was frightful and the smell of hot oil was sickening. While I
was wondering why I ever came to such an inferno the engineer gave a
violent jerk, convincing me that an emergency of some kind had suddenly
arisen. He yelled something to the fireman, and then reached up and
pulled with all his might on a long lever. The fireman snatched at a rope
which he began to pull at regular intervals and which led me to suspect
that he was ringing the bell. A fearful and terrible straining sound
developed and I realized we were beginning to move. Then something
underneath broke, or appeared to. The entire engine gave a fearful wrench
and began coughing and snorting like an enraged monster; great clouds of
steam and smoke belched from the smokestack, while the engine made a
valiant effort to shake itself to pieces, trembling and vibrating in a
manner calculated to raise every hair on my head. Something underneath
was grinding as I never imagined anything in this world could grind. I
glanced quickly at the engineer to see what he thought of the situation.
Catching my eye, he smiled a reassuring smile and made a whirling action
with his hand, pointing down, which I recognized meant that the driving
wheels were slipping on the rails. My immediate fears were allayed, but I
was a long way from being at ease in my mind.
We ran along over a maze of switches and cross tracks which caused me to
marvel at the confidence of the engineer that his beast of an engine
would take these switches and not run off the track. He did not seem to
concern himself enough to watch out ahead and see where he was going. In
a few minutes, and with no warning of any kind, we plunged headlong into
a tunnel. We came upon it so suddenly, what with all the curves and
switches, it made me flinch. I expected we were going to run headlong
into the masonry which framed the tunnel entrance.
The moment we entered the tunnel a new complication arose. This one
defied any explanation I could bring to bear. I was face to face with the
most baffling mystery I had encountered in all my short life. It was so
baffling as to cause me to forget the deafening noise, the frightful
jolting, the heat, smell, fire, smoke, and hissing steam. It was dark in
the tunnel. Right straight ahead of us there seemed to be something like
a birdhouse on the top of a high shiny pole. My first impulse was to
dodge, as it seemed unavoidable that we should hit it. Strange to say,
however, we could not seem to reach it; and yet there it stood directly
in front of us. I could see that the bottom of the shiny pole was very
close to the front of the engine. I cudgeled my brains, struggling to
account for it. For the first time in my life my eyes were deceiving me.
I suppose I stared at that bird-house on the top of the shiny pole for
two minutes before it resolved itself into the outlet portal of the
tunnel and the glistening steel rails leading to it. I was so impressed
and upset by this optical illusion that I could not adjust myself to what
Every once in a while the fireman seemed to encounter some new and
terrible emergency. With no warning, he would leap from his seat, grab
something and pull desperately at it, and there usually would follow some
kind of an ear-splitting clang. The fire door would burst open, an
inferno of flame would be disclosed within the firebox; the fireman would
peer into this inferno and seem to consider diving into it in order to
fix something. But he would always think of another expedient, whereupon
he would dash for the tender and engage in mortal combat with some kind
of a long article which I could not see. Then he would attack the fire
savagely with another long tool which he would withdraw smoking hot. He
would slam this long hot tool down on the steel floor and dash out into
the tender again, be gone for some seconds, and then dash back and
proceed to shovel coal into the fire feverishly. He did this shoveling in
such desperation that I was convinced he was doing his utmost to save all
our lives. The shoveling done, he would slain the fire door shut, pitch
the shovel into the tender, and scramble for his seat as though the devil
himself were after him, and then gaze idly out his window and wave to
somebody, appearing utterly to forget the emergency he had been fighting.
To a little boy this exhibition was bewildering.
The engineer was less excitable. However, he made me very nervous, for he
could not seem to resist the temptation to keep adjusting handles. A new
and more alarming noise developed every time he touched one. The engine
itself seemed to me to be bent upon its own destruction. It appeared to
be rapidly coming to pieces, crashing and pounding and reeling drunkenly
in its headlong plunge down the track. I could not but feel that if we
arrived safely in Paterson it would be a marvelous achievement; and under
no circumstances could I imagine anyone having the courage to start out
again with this clattering, drunken, wheezing machine, once it got us
safely to our destination.
In due course we staggered into the station at Paterson and the engineer
was successful in stopping the dreadful monster at the right place
without killing anybody. My father came up in a few moments, thanked the
engineer and lifted me down.
"Well, Percy, how did you like it?" he inquired as we walked back to join
my mother. My ears were ringing with the noise and I was half stunned,
but I answered, "Not very much."
After this I pursued the subject of locomotives with my father whenever a
favorable opportunity offered, but not with that burning passion which
had previously possessed me.
One day I saw in Crandall's toy-store on Fulton Street a small stationary
steam-engine. It was a little bit of a thing, having a copper boiler
which would hold not more than a quarter of a teacup of water. It had a
diminutive alcohol lamp under the boiler and a single oscillating engine
on top of the boiler. It was a very primitive sort of a steam-engine, but
it was real and it would run by steam. When my father came home that
evening I told him of what I had seen.
"Gosh, Papa, you ought to see it! It has a little flywheel and all!" I
My enthusiasm was so overpowering that he put down his paper and looked
at me, with that quizzical expression in his face which made him look as
though he were trying not to laugh.
"Oh, I've seen those engines. They stand up, don't they? It's an upright
design. And the engine has a lead flywheel on one end of its shaft and a
grooved pulley on the other end. Is that right?"
"Yes, that's right. Gee, Papa, but couldn't we have fun if we had one!"
"Do you know what the grooved pulley is for?" he asked.
I did, for I had seen a larger engine of this type driving a lot of
things which looked like machines in a little toy factory.
"Yes. I know what that's for. You put a string on it and run the string
to another wheel and it makes the other wheel go. They have a little toy
factory down at Crandall's and all the machines are made to go by strings
and wheels from one engine. Gosh, Papa! You ought to go down to
Crandall's and see all the things they have."
"Is it open at night, do you suppose?" asked my father, still with that
"I don't know whether they are open at night. Wait till I ask Mamma," and
I was off like a wild thing for my mother upstairs.
"Mamma, do you suppose Crandall's is open at night?"
"Yes. You know. Crandall's toy-store, downtown."
"Oh! No, I don't think so, except on Saturday nights."
Hurrying back downstairs, I told him Mamma thought they were open at
night only on Saturdays. He had returned to his paper during my absence,
and all I could get out of him was that he would go down some Saturday
evening and look at the engines.
When Saturday evening came I was on his trail and he happened to be in
the mood, so he and I set out for Crandall's. I was so excited I could
not walk; I had to skip and jump. Arrived at Crandall's, I pointed out
the engine in the show window and he took a good look at it.
"Let's go inside and see what it's like," he finally remarked. Things
were coming along beautifully. I never had induced him to go into a store
that he did not buy me something before he got out.
A young woman waited upon us and my father told her we had come in to
look over their steam-engines. She knew her business, for she brought out
samples of every steam-engine they had in the store.
My father, the chief engineer of the United States Electric Lighting
Company, pleaded ignorance of machinery, and he quickly had the young
lady so completely tangled up with his questions that I had to step in
and prompt her. She was not at all well informed about steam-machinery.
When I explained a detail to her I recall that she and my father
exchanged glances and smiles. It was not very long before I found myself
explaining the engines to both of them, pointing out how they were made
ready for a start and how they were operated after steam was up. My
father appeared to be intensely interested but particularly stupid.
"Do you have to bother with putting water in it to make it go?" he would
ask. I was too excited to realize that I was being led on.
"You have to have water to boil if you are going to get any steam, Papa.
You have to have water in the Flirt's boiler, don't you?"
"The Flirt is our steam-launch," my father felt called upon to explain to
the saleswoman. Then to me: "Oh yes. But the Flirt is a steamboat."
I thought this about as weak an argument as could be devised. I was
surprised that his knowledge should be so superficial.
"SteamBOAT!" I exploded. "What's that got to do with it, Papa? It's the
steam-engine in the boat that makes the boat go. The steam is for the
engine--not the boat," and I shot him a sharp look of impatience.
"Oh!" he answered uncomprehendingly.
"Did you think the steam pushed against the boat and made it go?" I
asked, becoming exasperated and eyeing him intently.
"Well--I--Something pushes against the boat, Percy, or it wouldn't go."
"Gosh, Papa! I thought you knew more than that. Look here. To get steam
you have to boil water, don't you?"
"When you boil water and get steam you let the steam go into a
steam-engine, don't you?"
"When you let steam into a steam-engine it makes the engine go, doesn't
"When the steam-engine goes it makes the propeller go, doesn't it?"
"It seems--I should think--Never mind. Go ahead."
"Well, when the propeller goes, it pushes against the water and this
makes the boat go ahead. Everybody knows that, Papa."
By this time I suppose my eyes were flashing and my voice had become very
loud and penetrating, for I remember that we were the center of all eyes
in the store.
"That's all right if you have a boat; but this is not a boat," my father
insisted, picking up the smallest of the engines, idly twisting the
little flywheel and looking very silly.
"Of course it's not a boat. It's an engine, Papa. But it will go if you
put water in the boiler and light the lamp. Anyway, I can make it go."
"Are you sure you can make it go, Percy?"
"Yes, Papa, I'm sure."
"Who told you how to make it go?"
"Mr. Haynes bought me a little steamboat when I went to his house in
Boston that time I went to Wayne alone, and it had a little engine in it
something like this one. And anyway, I know about these engines."
At this point he nodded to the saleswoman and she wrapped the engine up
and handed it to me. When we had it at home I found, to my surprise, that
my father knew more about the engine than I did. He explained the penalty
when too much water is put into the boiler, or too little water, and for
failure to blow out the lamp before the last bit of water is boiled away.
I played with this engine for a long time, learning its tricks, its good
points and its bad points and every minute detail of its construction. I
must have impressed my parents with my genuine love and appreciation of
it, because the day came when my father bought me a little
steam-locomotive, train of cars, and track. I was overcome! My father
explained to me how the engine was constructed and how it had to be
operated, emphasizing that it was a very expensive toy, was a real steam
railroad in miniature, and that failure to handle it carefully and
intelligently would quickly ruin it beyond repair.
That evening he and I set up the track, got up steam, and ran the outfit.
It was wonderful! I suppose this was the high point in my life up to this
time. I actually owned my own steam-locomotive and railroad! I am glad to
be able to say I was as good as my word, for I played regularly with this
little steam-train for many years, and never injured the boiler or any of
the delicate machinery.
Some twenty-nine years after my father gave me this steam-train I gave my
son one almost exactly like it. He got the same exquisite pleasure from
his that I did from mine, and he did even better than I did, for while he
played regularly with his train for many years, it is still in good
running order today, though it must be over twenty years old. My hope is
that I may see the day come when the second generation will be handed
this identical toy to play with.
I recall what was to me a series of very impressive evenings on my next
visit to Wayne. (This time my father accompanied me.) It seems to have
been a custom of my grandfather's for Samuel to read aloud to the family.
When evening came and it was time to start the reading aloud, my
grandmother would take her seat in a low rocking-chair and start knitting
or sewing. Beside her was a small table on which stood a kerosene lamp.
My grandfather would sit in his large rocking-chair in the center of the
room, his hands folded in his lap and his large dark eyes staring into
space. He rarely spoke.
Before a high desk on a high stool would sit my uncle Sam, the reader.
Another small kerosene-lamp furnished him light. The remainder of the
room would be dark and mysterious to me, for I was accustomed to plenty
of gaslight when evening came. On the floor near the reader, his back
resting against the wall, would sit my uncle Hudson, known in the family
as "Ike." Astride a chair and also close to the reader would sit my
father. I sat in a small chair. I was careful to place this chair close
to my grandmother's side. She was a woman and the nearest thing to a
mother that was available to me. It seemed to me the better part of
wisdom to be as near to her as possible.
On this visit the book being read was Mark Twain's "Roughing It". Uncle
Sam had a wonderful voice. It was deep and resonant and dramatic. His
wavy, jet-black hair, his flashing dark eyes, and his remarkably handsome
face suggested Wilkes Booth, the actor, my mother used to say. Hudson and
my father were of the same type, both having wavy black hair and very
dark eyes. When a passage was read which impressed these young men as
humorous they would throw back their heads and laugh so loudly and
savagely that it frightened me. The deep-throated voices, the reckless
abandon, and the noise of their feet scuffling on the bare floor, seemed
terribly sinister to me. When the end of the humorous passage was
reached, Uncle Sam would add his roars to that of the others.
During these scenes my grandmother would never look up from her work,
except to look at me to see if I were awake or asleep, I suppose. My
grandfather, likewise, would sit in silence, bolt upright in his chair,
his hands folded in his lap, and never change the expression on his face.
I have heard much reading in the days which have come since those early
ones down in Maine; but never have I heard anything so dramatic, virile,
My father and I returned to Brooklyn after a ten days' visit. Little did
I realize, when I said good-by and drove away, that more than forty years
were to pass before I should drive back over that road and that I was
never again to see my grandfather and my grandmother. They died a few
years after this. When next I drove down that road to the old house I had
with me a wife, a fourteen-year-old son, and an eight-year-old daughter.
I tried to convey to my children an idea of the place as it had been when
I was last there with my father; but it was impossible. The old
atmosphere had gone. All that was left was the old house and my uncle
Sam, now an aged man with failing eyesight. It was the end of that
particular generation of the house of Maxim.
Many years ago, during one of my visits to Chicago, I met Judge Kohlsaat,
then a conspicuous figure. After we had finished the business matters
about which I had to consult him, he asked me if I were any relation to
Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim. I told him I was his son. "Well," said he, "I
have the greatest respect for your father's persistence. I was crossing
the Atlantic not so long ago and he gave an exhibition of determination
which I have rarely seen equaled.
"I was sitting in the dining-saloon of the steamer one day when a
disheveled, white-haired old gentleman came in and sat down at a table.
He was a distinguished-looking man with his bushy white hair; but he was
in bad shape, for his clothing was terribly rumpled and he wore no collar
and no necktie. He gave an order to the steward and it was evident to
everyone that he was suffering from seasickness. The steward returned in
a few minutes with a tureen of soup, which he placed before Sir Hiram,
and from which he proceeded to ladle out a portion into a soup-plate. Sir
Hiram went to extremes to avert his gaze from the soup while the steward
was ladling it out. The ladling done, Sir Hiram picked up his napkin and
looked intently at the soup in his plate, making no motion to eat it.
Suddenly he clapped his napkin to his mouth, jumped to his feet, and beat
a hasty retreat. Everybody smiled at his predicament and decided that he
had had all the lunch he would care for that day.
"But," continued Judge Kohlsaat, "we had not estimated our man properly.
In fifteen minutes he came striding back into the dining-saloon, looking
very hollow-eyed and ill. Seating himself, and with determination written
all over him, he said to the steward, 'Bring that soup in again.' The
steward smiled and departed. In a few minutes he returned with another
tureen of soup, and went through the same procedure of ladling it out.
When he had served the soup the steward withdrew, watching to see what
would happen, as did everyone else in the dining-saloon. The old
gentleman picked up his spoon with great deliberation, very evidently
fighting a royal battle with his insides. He toyed with the spoon a
moment, finally putting it into the soup and slowly stirring it. Suddenly
clapping his napkin to his mouth again, he jumped to his feet and again
beat a hasty retreat out of the dining-saloon.
"Again everyone concluded that the old fellow was through for that meal.
But to our amazement, in another fifteen minutes he came striding back
into the saloon, looking, if possible, a little worse than before. He
resumed his seat and ordered the steward to 'Bring in that soup once
more.' Every eye was now on the old gentleman, for this had become a real
sporting event. The steward brought the soup again and the same procedure
of ladling it out was gone through with. Sir Hiram picked up his spoon,
toyed with it a moment, placed it in the soup, stirred it around a few
times, braced his shoulders, and lifted the spoonful of soup to his
mouth. He got the soup into his mouth, but the instant it arrived there
was a violent explosion and he had to grab his napkin and hasten out. We
waited for him to return again, but he never came. He was a sick man; but
in spite of it he had made three gallant attempts to eat his soup."
Another example of my father's unusual tenacity was the way he followed
up two sharpers who robbed him. The robbery occurred in Paris. In some
sort of a transaction, the nature of which I never knew, he had to make
payment in gold. The money was counted out on a table in an office on the
second floor of a building on one of the principal streets of Paris.
Immediately it was counted out, two strangers approached and one of them,
with a deft motion, swept all of the money into an opened bag and ran for
the street. The other man made as though to assist in the capture of the
thief, but upset so many chairs, and created so much confusion, that my
father's progress was delayed. By the time he could reach the street the
thief had become lost in the crowds.
It was a considerable sum of money, and my father took the matter up
immediately with the Paris police. He was stopping in London, where he
had taken up residence, and had gone over to Paris for the purpose of
completing this transaction, whatever it was. Several days of intensive
effort were spent in Paris with the police, but no trace of the thief and
his confederate could be found. He was forced to give up and return to
London. Knowing him as I do, I can picture his mental attitude. He had
been taken advantage of. So long as he lived his search for those who had
victimized him would never cease. Thenceforward his eyes would search
every group of men for those two sharpers.
Over six years rolled by and he was returning to London from Paris. At
one of the stations, in France on the way to the boat at Calais, he went
into the railroad station for a cup of hot tea. A train bound for Paris,
was also in the station, and several people were standing round the
stove, warming themselves. Looking them over, as was his invariable habit
since he was robbed, he was electrified to recognize one of the men as
one of those who had robbed him. Deciding there was no use in waiting for
the police, he rushed up and tackled the man, shouting, "Police! Police!
Police!" A savage fight began immediately. The other members of the group
vanished as the two men struggled in the station, no one lending my
father a hand, notwithstanding his call for police assistance. In the
meantime the train for Paris departed. Immediately thereafter the train
on which my father had been traveling started. The thief saw his last
opportunity. Slipping out of his coat, he eluded my father's hold, dashed
out of the station and down the platform, and caught and climbed on the
Not to be diverted by this move, my father also dashed down the platform
and managed to catch hold of the guard rail of this last carriage. Just
as he did this the train entered a tunnel. The robber endeavored to kick
Father in the face and thus beat him off the train; but in the darkness
he did not succeed in landing a single kick. A woman seated in the last
compartment of the carriage saw the fighting and screamed, and a guard
pulled the signal cord, which brought the train to a stop in the tunnel.
This was all my father could have desired. Getting hold of his man, he
dragged him off the carriage down on to the ground in the tunnel; and
there he beat him into subjection, possibly much as his brother handled
the dog down in Maine.
The train crew quickly collected, and with their help the man was taken
back to the railway station. My father is said never to have released his
grip upon him, trusting no one but himself. The police of the town were
called, my father's luggage was removed from the train, and he devoted
himself exclusively to seeing to it that the man was properly locked up
in the town jail. In the course of time be had him transferred to Paris.
My father, running true to form, gave up his business for the time being,
moved over to Paris, and devoted himself to securing the man's
conviction. Weeks were necessary to collect the evidence, and
considerable money had to be spent, but this was all gladly contributed
in the effort to "get his man." The thief was finally sent to one of the
French penal colonies for a long term of years.
Seven more years had rolled by when, one Thursday night in the Crystal
Palace in London, my father believed he caught sight of his other man in
a candy booth. When he was able to get to this booth the man had gone. He
bought some candy and engaged in conversation with the young woman
attendant, but did not succeed in obtaining any information of value. He
waited around until the place closed for the night, but the man did not
The next day he appealed to Scotland Yard. From the time the Crystal
Palace opened in the afternoon until it closed at night several Scotland
Yard detectives and my father kept the candy booth under surveillance.
Their watch availed nothing on Friday. The exhibition was to close at
midnight on Saturday. Nothing happened Saturday afternoon, and Saturday
night, as the closing time approached my father became more and more
disappointed. But just before midnight, when my father had given up hope,
he caught sight of his man entering the candy booth. He gave a signal to
the detectives and they descended upon the fellow and arrested him.
A long tedious procedure had then to be followed to extradite the
prisoner to France and then to try him in Paris; but this was nothing to
my father. He postponed all his business affairs and devoted himself
exclusively to the job of convicting his man. After many weeks this man,
too, was sent to the French penal colony.
Nothing I could recount would so well illustrate my father's character as
this tireless search on his part for the two men who had robbed him. For
thirteen years he searched every face for the men he sought. He never
relinquished his intensity of purpose and never permitted
himself to give up. It was this same spirit which had animated his
brother Henry when he bit the gander to death and when he killed a
forty-pound dog for biting him. They were the wrong persons to impose
In later years my father became a British subject. In consideration of
the service his Maxim gun had been to British arms in the Sudan he was
knighted by Queen Victoria and became Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim. In the
course of events his machine-gun business was absorbed by Vickers Sons &
Company and the firm became Vickers Sons and Maxim. It was one of the
largest firms in England, building battleships and all that went into
them. My father became internationally known and occupied a position of
great importance and dignity.
At one time during the height of his glory it was observed by some of his
associates that he went out every evening about seven-thirty and did not
return until about nine-thirty. His associates had come to know him and
his characteristics, and it was agreed that this mysterious absence every
evening had better be investigated, lest Sir Hiram be led into doing
something foolish and get himself into difficulties. And so he was
trailed one evening and seen to enter a building in the business district
of London. About nine o'clock he came out and returned home.
Investigation disclosed that he had hired a front room in the top of the
building. When the room was searched the only things found were a chair,
a long brass tube, and a bag of black beans. Had I been one of the
investigators I would have solved the mystery the moment I saw the brass
tube and the beans. It so happened that the Salvation Army paraded every
evening in this part of London and held a meeting on the opposite side of
the Street. For some time complaints had been made to the police that
some one was disturbing the Salvation Army group by dropping beans upon
them. The beans always came from directly overhead and it was thought
that some miscreant in the building in front of which the meetings were
held was guilty of tossing out the beans. However, careful watch had
failed to disclose anyone throwing beans, and a search of the building
produced no evidence. Where the beans came from was an unsolved mystery.
Those who were trailing Sir Hiram kept a watch on the window of his room,
and it was thought that he was seen at the window at times; but nothing
was thought of this until some one picked up one of the beans which had
been thrown at the Salvation Army and found it was the same kind of bean
that Sir Hiram had in the bag in his room. That was enough. Sir Hiram was
the bean-thrower. He was making use of the same trick he used when he was
a young man and lived on Third Street in Brooklyn; he had been blowing
the beans at the upper part of the building opposite, so that they
bounced off and fell vertically, thus giving the impression that they
were coming from directly overhead.
A session was held with Sir Hiram and it was explained that he had better
give up this bean-blowing practice before he was discovered. He gave it
up; but I know he had enjoyed himself mystifying the Salvation Army
people and having all the blame laid at the door of the occupants across
the street. The use of black beans should be noted. It was impossible to
trace their flight in the dark.
And thus I come to the end of this intimate picture of that remarkable
person, Hiram Stevens Maxim. I think it must be conceded that he was an
unusual father, and that being his firstborn was an unusual experience.
In this picture I have confined myself to his intimate family life. I
have attempted to show that he had an extremely attractive side and also
an extremely difficult one. He had a brilliancy which sparkled, a
masterful cleverness and resourcefulness that placed him above any other
man I ever knew. But he never quite learned how to be a father.
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