Saturday, November 21, 2009

Tales Told by AGH, Installment #4: Money and Miscellaneous

More of my grandfather Art Harrington's stories from Syracuse NY in the first two decades of the 20th century, as transcribed by his eldest daughter, Mary, when he was an old man.

1) Once when I was working for Dan Kelly we finished a job and he got paid for it -- five hundred dollars. He took it home and gave it to his wife. Of course, she wasn't going to keep it around, -- she was going to put it in the bank that afternoon. She stopped at Lacey's store -- it was like -- do you remember? -- Stone's? -- dry goods and women's stuff.

She laid her pocketbook on the counter while she was being waited on and looked over some stuff to pick out what she wanted. She was fussy.

When she went to pay for what she got, she opened her pocketbook, and the five hundred dollars was gone. Well, she near died right there!

They locked the door, and kept everybody in, and phoned the police. I don't suppose there were very many people in there. An inspector came over with two or three policewomen. I guess they didn't search everybody, but they questioned everybody, and searched some. They didn't find a thing.

When she got home, was she disgusted with herself! There was the roll of bills on the stand beside the telephone.

Sure. She called the store and told them about it.


2) I remember another time Dan got paid about noon. (Dan was a contractor and building mover.) It was a rainy day. That afternoon as we were riding along in the wagon, I looked down and saw something stuck on -- sort of clinging to one of the tires. It was one of those gold twenty dollar bills. I said "Oh! Oh!", and pointed to it. "My God!" said Dan, "I had three of those!" He felt in his pocket, and they weren't there. We went back where we'd been, and looked all the way but never found the other two.

A "gold twenty dollar bill," 1922. Paper money of this sort -- redeemable for an equivalent value of gold or silver coinage -- was common in early 20th-Century America. (In 1933 they were discontinued in favor of the current Federal Reserve notes, and from then until 1964 they were actually illegal to possess!)

3) Once working in the R.R. yard out in East Syracuse, I found a pocketbook that had nearly nine dollars in it. I thought I knew whose it was, -- it belonged to a big Irishman named Steve. I didn't say anything about it until quitting time that night. Then I asked "Did anybody lose anything?"

Steve said "I lost a pocketbook."

"Anything in it?"

"Oh, eight, nine dollars."

"Is this it?"

He nodded and took it and put it in his pocket, and said "You damn fool. Why didn't you keep it and buy beer?"

Another time he wanted me to have a beer with him. He'd already had a few, and I thought that would be a good way to get rid of him. So I went into ____________'s with him, and had a couple. When he reached in his pocket, he dropped a twenty dollar bill. I didn't know how much it was, but I put my foot on it until I got a chance to pick it up.

I didn't say anything about it, but a few days later he came and asked if I'd lend him a quarter.

"Is that all you want?" I said.

He said, "It's gotta be. I'm broke."

I fished out the twenty dollar bill and handed it to him.

"No. I don't want to borrow that much."

"GO on -- take it. It's yours."

Well, he wanted to know how that was, so I told him. Even then, he wanted me to take half.

(No, I didn't.)


4) A brakeman I know told me about an experience he had.

There was an old man out west somewhere who sold out his ranch, or whatever his business was, for $30,000, and started back for somewhere in New England. He had the money in thirty one-thousand dollar bills in a wallet -- like a book -- tucked in here [vest].

The train had something like a twenty-minute stop in Syracuse, and he got out to walk up and down the platform. While he was walking, he felt for his wallet and it was gone. He went back into the car, and searched from one end to the other. When he got to the other end, the brakeman saw him and said, "Did you lose something?"

"Did I! I've lost every cent I have in the world!" -- and he told the brakeman more about it.

"Is this it?" the brakeman asked, drawing out the wallet. It was. The old man opened it up, counted out the money, and pulled out one of the thousand dollar bills to give the brakeman. He didn't want to take it at first, but the old man said, "Take it! I'm not giving it to you to reward you for your honesty. I'm giving it to you to punish myself for my carelessness!"

Well, when he put it that way, I don't blame the brakeman for taking it.


5) Once when I was working for George Steele, we were using a wagon and one of the springs got broke. I told him about it several times, and he'd keep saying "All right, I'll get a new one." But he'd forget.

One day we finished a job on Tallman Street about noon, and our next job was over on the North Side.

We had a board standing on end to hold up that end of the seat, even [height] with the end that still had a spring. I turned the seat around so he'd be sitting on the end held up by the board. The rest of the gang just had a board laid across the box to sit on. We came down Onondaga St. to Clinton. I was driving. At that time, Clinton St. was paved with cobblestones.

I turned down Clinton. (Ordinarily I'd have gone on to Salina -- that was paved with asphalt the same as Onondaga.) I got the horses into a good trot.

When we got near Clancy's Hardware, George told me to pull up and stop. One of the men in the back got out and stretched his legs. He says, "I'd rather go to hell on foot than go to heaven with you driving!"

When George came out of Clancy's, he had two new springs.


6) When I was working down at Smith Typewriter, there was an old Dutchman working in the same room. One day when he didn't know it, one of the boys took all of his files into the plating room, and held them against the magnet in the generator. When he went to use them, they were magnetized, and all the filings clung onto them. He didn't know what to make of it. When he found out what happened, he shook his head and said, "I don't fool around like dat. I'm a married man."

One day some of the boys got fooling around with a ball of [metal filing] waste. It was about that big, and wadded pretty tight. They'd throw it and then turn right back to their work as if they didn't know anything about it.

When one of them threw it, it hit one of the sprinkler heads and knocked it off. The air coming out made quite a hiss. Dutchy looked around and said, "Vot's dat?" He was standing right under it. I said, "You'd better get out of there!", and he did, just before it let loose.

The repair room was right under us and they did some hurrying getting the stuff out of there. The water poured right down through. They never found out what set off that sprinkler.

(Another time, Harry Hammond got drenched by the sprinklers over a fire in the dust of a blower, while he was climbing up a ladder with a pail of water to throw on it.)


7) Working at Brown-Lipe-Chapin, when they installed two searchlights on top of the plant, they had to put up a permanent ladder to each one, for replacement work, etc. On a Saturday aforenoon, I was working with an air-drill, on a rope, drilling holes for bolts to put the ladder up the face of the new office building. It must have made an awful racket inside. You'd see a head stick out of one window and then another. Finally, H.W. Chapin stuck his head out and said, "How long are you going to be at that?"

"I haven't any idea. Probably a couple of hours if I don't strike any steel -- and if I do, there's no telling how long."

"It's an awful racket. You'll have to stop pretty soon, or I'll have to go home."

I laughed and said, "You might as well go home. You ain't doin' nothin' anyhow!"

Chapin grinned and said no more.

Henry Winfield Chapin -- the "Chapin" in Brown-Lipe-Chapin -- was a captain of industry in Syracuse during the early 20th Century. His companies manufactured gears and differentials for the young automobile industry. This cartoon is from Club Men in Caricature, a 1915 collection of ink portraits of 189 of Syracuse's most powerful men. (Cornell University Library.)


8) MEH: Once Dad, using a drill, cut through an electric conduit embedded in the concrete wall at Brown-Lipe-Chapin.

Chapin asked, "Didn't you know it was there?"

Dad:-- "Sure. I could see right through the concrete."

Chapin:-- "Well there are blueprints."

Dad:-- "Where?"

Chapin:-- "In the office."

Dad:-- "That's a good place for them!"

They got out the blueprints, before any more work was done on the job.

One of the most elegant structures in Syracuse's Oakwood Cemetery is this monument to Chapin and his wife, Marie, whose graves are incorporated in it. Art Harrington's monument is still being built, in a way. (Photograph copyright by Larry Hoyt from his blog NewFolkFotos.)


9) Once, at B.-L.-C. there was a quarter-ton chain-falls missing. There was quite a stink raised about that, until one day Lihou came into the room where the men were taking off their overalls, and washing up to go home. He asked if there wasn't anyone of them who knew where that chain-fall went.

Ran Waughter spoke up, "I don't know where it is now -- the last time I saw it, it was hanging in your garage."

Lihou turned and left, and he never mentioned the matter again. I don't think Ran had ever been near Lihou's garage, but he made a good guess.

Next: More short tales from AGH's memories.

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