|The New-York Times, Sunday,
January 12, 1879
A few days ago a jolly party was gathered around the glowing stove
in Uncle John Van Tine's place in Fair Haven, N.J., on the banks
of the Shrewsbury. Through the windows they looked out on the wide
expanse of snow-covered river to the far-distant Highlands, but
could discover nothing of interest to relieve the monotony of the
scene. They had exhausted the amusements of spearing eels and dredging
for oysters through holes in the ice, and the time was beginning
to hang heavily on their hands. While they questioned as to what
they should do next, Uncle John appeared with a quanitity of lucious
frozen "Shrewburys" that he had just opened; and while
they ate them he was persuaded to related some of his experiences
of year ago when he was a member of the Common Council of this City.
"Well, boys," he began, "it's an old story, and the
papers had a good deal to say about it at the time, but, perhaps,
you might like to hear how we took the old steamer Manhattan No.
8 over to London to show the Britishers a specimen of New-York's
Fire Department. You see 'twas in '60, and I was in the Council,
and we'd just been to a big expense fitting up a dock for the reception
of the Great Eastern on her first trip across the ocean. I was Chairman
of the committeee for her reception--they always put me on the reception
committee for foreigners, Japanese Tommies, Turks, and the like--and
her agent in this City was so pleased with what I did for 'em that
he said to me: "Councilman, whenever you want to take a trip
across, there's your ship, and it shan't cost you a cent."
Well, I was busy in the City Hall, you know, and didn't think much
of going till one morning Chief Decker--he lived right opposite
my place, the Chief did--came to me with a letter from Chief Shaw,
of London, and, says he, "Councilman, read that." Twas
an invitation to the Fire Department of New-York to participate
in a grand international fire-engine tournament at the Crystal Palace,
at Sydenham, and when I'd finished reading it the Chief says, says
he: "By gracious! Councilman, how I'd like to go." I says
to him, "Chief," says I, "you shall go, and I'll
go with you." Then I took the Chief down to the agent of the
Great Eastern and we showed him Chief Shaw's letter, and he said,
"All right; how many was there of us?" and I said, "Six,"
at a venture, and he said he'd fix us, and then we went down to
Aspinwall's, and he said that there shouldn't be any freight charges
on the machine, and, by gracious! there it was all fixed.
When the time came for the ship to said the Chief couldn't go because
his mother was sick but there was Foreman Charley Nichols and me
and three others, and the machine was stowed snug enough down betwixt
decks. We just a had a beautiful passage over, you better believe.
Smooth! Smooth as a mill-pond all the time, and she never rolled
no more than this house does now. Yes, Sir, it was a grand passage,
and we looked for a big reception in Liverpool. But we didn't get
it; there wasn't a soul to receive us, and we were left to look
out for ourselves. We went ashore, and Nichols says to me, "What
shall we do now, Councilman?" I says, "I don't know, Foreman:
you're boss of this gang." Well, we got the machine ashore
and put her in a stable, and telegraphed to Shaw that we were there.
It seems that he didn't really expect us to go over there with a
machine, and only sent us the invite out of courtesy: but when he
heard that we were really there he telegraphed for us to come on
to London. There he had some of the boys down to meet us, and they
took the machine up to one of their houses. We didn't like to leave
it there because, you know, they was awfully cut up at our going
over, but there wasn't any other place, and so she had to stay there.
Well, when they heard she was there lots of them Lords and Dukes
and other honorary members came down to see her. They examined her
all over, and we was afraid they might fool with her some way and
put up a job on us; we we couldn't do nothing, only watch 'em close.
By gracious! it was an anxious time, I tell you, for us, for they
saw that she was a better machine than any of theirs, and we was
dead sure that they'd fix her somehow.
" When the day come for the tournament we couldn't run her
out alone to the Crystal Palace, at Sydenham, you know, and we had
to trust her to a dozen of them Britishers that was detailed a purpose.
Just before we got to the place there was a steep hill leading down
to the lake that we was going to get the water from. Well, they
got all their own machines down safe enough; but when they come
to take the old Manhattan down, by gracious! if they didn't let
her run off the bank.
There she lay on her side, and we thought at first that the game
was up; but we got her on her feet, and though one of the wheels
was badly broke up, we took her on down to the lake and set her
to going. She worked after a fashion, but she wasn't herself, and
we didn't do any more than just come up to them, and they wouldn't
give us any prize. There was an awful big crowd to see her play,
all the lords and Dukes, and the Prince of Wales and other honorary
members; but they didn't give us no reception such as we would have
give them if they had acome to New-York; the Prince didn't even
shake hands with me, and say "How are you, Councilman?"
but we was left pretty much to ourselves.
We wanted them to let us fix her up and give 'em another trial,
but they wouldn't do it, and so we brought her home again the same
way we went. You just oughter have seen the storm we had coming
back; I tell you boys a storm on the ocean is an awful thing. I
was down in the cabin in the worst of it holding on for dear life;
but Nichols he came down, and says he, "Councilman, if it's
the last thing you do in life, you want to, you want to get up on
deck and see her roll." So I got on deck, kinder crawled up
on my hands and knees, you know, and, by gracious! I never thought
to see anything like it. Roll? Well you can just bet she rolled.
Down below was all the trunks and surplus baggage, and we gould
hear them going ker smash over to one side, and then ker smash back
again to the other. There was three horses down there, too, and
she rolled so that their stalls broke loose, and we we could hear
them horses going ker smash from one side to the other with the
trunks. Nobody could help 'em, and next day when she got a bit more
steady like, and we could get down and estimate the damage, them
horses and the trunks was so mixed up together in little pieces
that you couldn't tell which was which.
Well, we got the old machine home, and we got a big reception, too,
from the boys, which was more than they give us on the other side.
After that the old Manhattan was put up in Harlem, and they called
her Undine 52, and she was the first steamer that ever crossed the
ocean, and, by gracious! she'd a beat them Britishers, too, if they
hadn't a run her off the bank.
"After all, boys, that trip wasn't a circumstance to the one
that I took in the country about a score of years before that, and,
if you like, I'll tell you about it. You see when Gen. Jackson got
through with the war of 1812 folks couldn't do enough for him for
giving the Britishers ballyhoo, as he did. Every city presented
him with some testimonial, and New-York's was a snuff-box--gold
and diamonds; cost $350; fine, you better believe. Well, when the
old man died, his will said that all these testimonials was to go
back to the cities they come from, and be presented to the men from
each State who should prove bravest in the next war.
Well, the next war was the Mexican War, and after it was all over
the question came up in the Board and Council who should have the
New-York snuff-box. I was Chairman of the committee in the Council,
and we investigated the claims of everybody, from Scott and Taylor
down, and finally we decided that the bravest man from this State
was Garry Dykeman, and that the snuff-box was to go to him. Now,
Garry didn't have no more use for a snuff-box than I did, and there
was a lot of remonstrances from the big-bugs that wanted it theirselves
came into the City Hall from all over the country; but we didn't
pay no attention to them, and I was appointed a committee of one
to go down South to the Hermitage, and get the snuff-box and bring
A thousand dollars was appropriated for my expenses, and, by gracious!
I spent it, like a sailor, in 19 days--every cent of it. I took
steamer from New-York to Savannah, and then the cars to Augusta,
Atlanta, and Nashville, for, you see, I didn'tn know when I'd have
another chance, and I was bound to see as much of the South as I
could while I was there. When I got to Nashville I put up at the
hotel, and told the landlord who I was, and that I wanted him to
get me just the finest turnout in the City and never mind the expense.
By gracious, Sir! you ought to have seen the style in which I rode
out to the General's place, and may just imagine that I didn't disgrace
When we drove up to the house who should I see on the veranda but
Andrew Jackson Donelson himself. I didn't say a word, but just handed
him my credentials signed by the Mayor of New-York, and waited for
him to speak. He didn't more than look at the name when he made
me a bow and said, "Councilman, I have been apprised of your
mision and welcome you, walk in;" but not a word did he say
of the snuff-box. I spent the day with him, and he treated me like
a prince; introduced me to his folks, took me all over the farm,
dined me and wined me, but never a word of the box. You see, all
the New-York Cusom-house fellows had been sending him remonstrances,
till he really didn't know whether he ought to give it to me or
not. Finally, he says to me: "Councilman, you have had a long
journey, and must be tired; perhaps you'd like to retire?"
I said, "Perhaps I would," and he showed me up stairs
to Gen. Jackson's own room, and said that up to that time no one
had occupied it since the General's death; but that as the representative
of the great City of New-York he couldn't think of putting me in
any room but that of the great man whom New-York had delighted to
honor. He said good night, but never a word of the snuff-box, and
I began to think that I hadn't got so easy a job on hand after all.
"In the morning he came to see how I had rested, and, said
he, "Councilman, I had a consultation with my family last night,
and we decided that you were entitled to the box, and here it is."
With that he put it in my hand, and, by gracious! Sir, I was relieved.
When I went down stairs he began to ask me about New-York, and to
say how much he should like to visit the City, and run up to West
Point and see his son who was there, for all them Southerners used
to educate their sons at West Point at Government expense before
the war. A hint was good enough for me, and, quick as thought, I
says to him, says I, "Come back to New-York with me, and present
the box to his Honor the Mayor of our great City yourself; it shan't
cost you a cent." He says, "Done," and we shook hands
on it then and there.
While we was at breakfast I happened to look out of the window
and saw some mighty pretty things, like big icicles, hanging to
a tree on the lawn. I asked what they was, and he said they was
"stlactites [sic]" from the Mammoth Cave. I said, where
is this cave? And he said, about 90 miles from there; and I said
let's go home that way. He said it would cost a good deal more to
got that way, and I said never mind the expense, the City of New-York
was wealthy and she wasn't often represented in that part of the
country. So we went to the Mammoth Cave, and to Louisville, and
Chicago, and Buffalo, and Niagara Falls, and Canada, and the White
Mountains, and Portland, and Boston, and Newport, and by the time
we reached New-York I had just 10 shillings left of that $1,000.
By gracious, boys, didn't we have a reception! You see I had telegraphed
to the Hall when we might be expected, and the military was out,
and the board and the Council in carriages, and bands, and we had
a dinner and speeches, and I rather guess it cost the city another
$1,000 before that snuff-box was handed to Garry Dykeman.
"How would I have come home if the appropriation had been $2,000
instead of $1,000? Why, by way of California or Europe, I don't
know which; anyway, I wouldn't have let 'em appropriate all that
money for nothing, by gracious!"