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CHAPTER XXXVI

THE JUDGE'S FIRST RIDE

 

SINCE this photograph has been in the possession of the author, he has been often asked why the engine and train are represented in the unique and sombre style in which they appear in profile, or black outline. To this inquiry he will reply by informing those who are not familiar with the facts, that, from his earliest recollection, he has been gifted with a rare and peculiar talent or faculty (entirely intuitive in him) of executing with wonderful facility and accuracy the outlines or form of any person or object from a single glance of the eye, and without any machinery whatever, but with a pair of common scissors and a piece of black paper.

This peculiar style of outline portraiture, or shaping exact resemblance's of persons or objects with black paper, and commonly known as profiles, was invented, according to the elder Disraeli, in 1757, in Paris, and called by the French silhouette. In the author this faculty was not confined to shaping the mere outlines of persons or faces, but was extended to portraying entire family groups, military companies, fire companies with their engines and hose-carriages, sporting-scenes, racecourses, and marine views, representing a harbor and shipping. All were executed in black paper, and with a pair of scissors. Hence, in the same style he executed the above mentioned likeness of the locomotive "De Witt Clinton," with the cars and passengers, and afterward presented the same to the Connecticut Historical Society. This rare and peculiar faculty or gift was so strongly developed in the author, that all objects, when once presented to the eye, are, as it were, photographed upon his brain, so much so, and with such indelibility, that it was not actually necessary for an individual to be present and stand for a likeness. A glance for a moment at an individual in some accustomed position or attitude only was necessary, and the likeness could be produced hours, days, weeks, and often years thereafter, entirely from memory alone.

The author, for several years, made a very lucrative business by the exercise of this peculiar faculty of taking likenesses, and during that time visited all the principal cities of the country. His first object on visiting a new field for the exercise of his art was to notice several prominent and well-known citizens as they walked upon the streets, and place their likenesses most accurately upon paper as evidences of his skill in this peculiar art and his wonderful memory of persons and forms.

It so happened that, on one of the author's professional visits to the city of Albany, that a trip, which vas then supposed to be the first train of cars drawn by a locomotive in America, was run upon the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad. A graphic and particular description of this same first trip is given in a letter from a well-known and distinguished gentleman, now over eighty years of age, who is one of the few survivors. The letter is as follows:

RIDGEWAY, PA., JUNE 24, 1870

WILLIAM H. BROWN, ESQ.—

"DEAR SIR: Your note of the 21st last, asking for my recollections of such incidents as impressed themselves on my mind in the ever-memorable first trip by locomotive-power from Albany to Schenectady in 1831, is before me. In the early part of the month of August of that year I left Philadelphia for Canandaigua, New York, traveling by stages and steamboats by way of New York to Albany. Stopping at the latter place with my friend J. M. Hughes, now of Cleveland, Ohio, I learned that a locomotive had arrived there, and that it would make its first trip over the road to Schenectady the next day. I concluded to lie over and gratify my curiosity with a first ride after a locomotive."

That locomotive, the train of cars, together with the incidents of the day, made a very vivid impression on my mind. I can now look back from one of Pullman's palace-cars, over a period of forty years, and see that train, together with all the improvements that have been made in railroad travel since that time, for I have been a constant traveler for over half a century, and have observed the steady and constant progression in motive-power and railroad facilities up to the present time. And now, taking 1870 as a stand point, looking back and forward forty years, who can say that the next forty years will not exceed the past in railroad intercommunication, and that Dr. Krumer's theory of using compressed air as a motive power may not, ere that, be brought into general use, and that the engineer will manage his whole train with the same facility and ease that the Mexican caballero starts, runs, and stops his horse?

"I am not machinist enough to give a description of the locomotive that drew us over the road that day, but recollect distinctly the general 'make-up' of the train. The sketch you showed me when I was last at your place, taken by you in your peculiar style, is very correct, and brings to my mind, as vividly as though only seen yesterday, the engine and train as it appeared on that never to-be-forgotten occasion.

"The train was composed of coach-bodies, mostly from Sprague's stage-coaches, placed upon trucks. The trucks were coupled together with chains or chain-links, leaving from two to three feet slack, and when the locomotive started it took up the slack by jerks, with sufficient force to jerk the passengers, who sat on seats across the top of the coaches, out from under their hats, and in stopping they came together with such force as to send them flying from their seats.

They used dry pitch-pine for fuel, and, there being no smoke or spark-catcher to the chimney or smoke-stack, a volume of black smoke, strongly impregnated with sparks, coals, and cinders, came pouring back the whole length of the train. Each of the outside passengers who had an umbrella raised it as a protection against the smoke and fire. They were found to be but a momentary protection, for I think in the first mile the last one went overboard, all having their covers burnt off from the frames, when a general melee took place among the deck-passengers, each whipping his neighbor to put out the fire. They presented a very motley appearance on arriving at the first station. There rails were procured and lashed between the trucks, taking the slack out of the coupling-chains, thereby affording us a more steady run to the top of the inclined plane at Schenectady.

"The incidents of the train were quite as striking as those on the train. A general notice having been given of the contemplated trip, excited not only the curiosity of those living along the line of the road, but those living remote from it, causing a large collection of people at all the intersecting roads along the line of the route. Everybody, together with his wife and all his children, came from a distance with all kinds of conveyances, being as ignorant of what was coming as their horses, drove up to the road as near as they could get, only looking for the best position to get a view of the train. As it approached, the horses took fright and wheeled, upsetting buggies, carriages, and wagons, and leaving for parts unknown to the passenger, if not to their owners, and it is not now positively known if some of them have yet stopped. Such is a hasty sketch of my recollection of my first ride after a locomotive.

"Hoping that your contemplated history of early locomotives in America may be appreciated by the reading public, and a pecuniary success to yourself,

" I remain truly yours,
"J.L. Gillis"

The writer of the foregoing letter, Judge Gillis, is a native of the State of New York, and is now eighty years of age. He served in the War of 1812, and was wounded at the battle of Lundy's Lane. He moved to Ridgeway, Pennsylvania, in 1822, then in Jefferson County, now the seat of justice of Elk County. He was an active member of the Masonic fraternity in the State of New York previous to his removal to Pennsylvania

Four years later, in 1826, when political anti-masonry took its rise in that State, in order to show the extent of the conspiracy for the abduction of one Morgan, a bill of indictment was procured against Judge Gillis and others at Canandaigua. As soon as he heard of such indictment, he returned to the State of New York and surrendered himself to the court and was placed under bonds of ten thousand dollars for his appearance at the next term. He visited that county nine terms of the court, the prosecutors putting the case off at each term. Finally, the trial came off in 1829, and he was acquitted, no evidence being found for conviction.* Judge Gillis has served his district in the House and Senate of the State Legislature and in Congress. He was an active and ardent supporter of internal improvement in the State of Pennsylvania, and one of the earliest advocates of the construction of the line of railroad from Philadelphia to Erie, which he supported until completed. He was appointed Judge of the Court of Jefferson County in 1843, and re-appointed in 1844 as one of the first Judges of Elk County. In 1862 Judge Gillis removed to Mount Pleasant, Henry County, Iowa, where he now resides. In 1859 the author, having quitted the profession of artist, was living in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, as an employee of the Huntingdon and Broad Top Railroad. Many years had passed away since he had thought of the "De Witt Clinton," when he received from an unknown hand a newspaper containing a paragraph marked with a pen to attract his attention. It revived in his memory his old picture of the "De Witt Clinton" and his visit to Hartford very many years before. The paragraph was as follows:

* It was some time during his trips to attend trial that Judge Gillis rode in the cars after a locomotive.

A RARE CURIOSITY—We were this day shown by Mr. Bradley, Secretary of the Fort Wayne and Chicago Railroad, at Pittsburgh, a photograph copy of the first American locomotive ever built in this country and run upon a railroad in the United States. The photograph was made from the-original picture now in the Connecticut Historical Society, and was taken by a Mr. Brown in his peculiar style of art. It was cut out of black paper with a pair of common scissors. In the cars we recognize the likenesses of several of the old citizens of Albany, Thurlow Weed, Esq., ex-Governor Meigs, old Hays, of New York, the celebrated thief-catcher, and several others. The picture is executed with great skill and fidelity, and is a rare curiosity when compared with the locomotives and trains of the present day."

The author then determined to procure a copy of his old world and applied to Mr. Bradley for information, which he obtained, and also to F. L. Howard, Esq., of Hartford, from whom he received the following letter:

HARTFORD, CONN., May 26, 1859,

William H. Brown, Esq.—

"DEAR; SIR: We have neglected to answer your very pleasant letter of the 5th of March, not from any hesitation in complying, with your request, which we are happy to do, recognizing a right in the grandfather to have one of his own children's children, but, anticipating an opportunity of sending it as far as Altoona free of cost, like the present, we have allowed time to pass.

"Have you any memorandum of the precise time this train was run?—1832 is as near as we can locate the time. Please say if you have any memorandum of the persons who are represented in the cars. We personally remember you well, having had our figure cut out by you when in this city.

With respect, and very truly yours,
JAMES L. HOWARD & Co.

A few days after receiving the above letter, the picture arrived by Adams's Express, free of cost and charges. The author is at a loss how to describe his pleasurable feelings of pride and satisfaction when, after a lapse of twenty-eight years, he placed his eyes upon this specimen of his handiwork which he never expected to behold again, rescued as it was from almost absolute forgetfulness. Every curve and angle in the outline became as vivid as on the day when it was executed. The likenesses of the citizens represented in the cars were as fresh in his memory as if only seen the day before, and he was, as it were, transferred again to Albany and its associations.


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