Good news! I got an article published by the New York History Blog. If you’re ever in search of interesting stories from the Empire state’s history, or news from historical organizations in the state then look no further.
My article tells the story of an 1888 presidential campaign rally for Benjamin Harrison that went horribly wrong. When local Republicans thought it would be a good idea to accompany their parade and liberty pole raising with a live cannon demonstration. The only problem was that their cannon was way too old to be used and ended exploding and killing three bystanders, including a distant relative of mine named Albert Sergeant.
In 1894, a young reporter named Ray Stannard Baker was sent on the road to cover an exciting news story. The Panic of 1893 was wreaking havoc on the American economy and unemployment was crippling millions of families all across the country. Desperate Americans were looking to more desperate and radical solutions to the country’s woes. Baker’s editor had gotten a tip that an Ohio businessman named Jacob Coxey planned to raise an army of the unemployed and march on Washington D.C. On the Capitol steps, Coxey planned to propose new legislation to the federal government to “cure the ills of the nation” and put the unemployed to work building roads. It was a call for federal unemployment aid decades before the New Deal or the Great Society. It was a grand march into the heart of D.C. a generation before the 1932 Bonus March and or the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Baker took an overnight train from Chicago to Massillon, Ohio. With a hundred dollars expense money in his pocket, he made his way to Coxey’s farm where a few dozen unemployed men and their families were gathering for the march.
Sitting in the dining room reading from a pile of letters and telegrams, Baker found an impressive looking man who looked “too good to be true:”
“He was strongly built with a heavy mustache, and a beard with two spirals. He wore a leather coat fringed around the shoulders and sleeves. A row of buttons down the front were shining silver dollars. Calvary boots, tight-fitting, well polished, came to his knees…He handed me a card with his written signature, at the end of which was a grand flourish and the words, ‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’” (7)
But to Baker’s surprise, the embellished card did not have Jacob Coxey’s name on it. This colorfully dressed and gregarious man was actually Carl Browne, Coxey’s friend and chief lieutenant. Realizing that this was a case of mistaken identity, the journalist then noticed a small, mild-mannered gentleman who was sitting next to Browne. Coxey was “mild-looking and of medium size, with rounding shoulders, an oily face, a straw-colored mustache, and gold-bowed spectacles. “He did not impress me as a great leader of a revolutionary movement,” (7) Baker wrote dissapointedly.
Coxey was indeed the leader of this growing army. He was a forward thinking supporter of labor rights and earnestly wanted to help the unemployed find relief. The Panic of 1893 had ravaged the US, putting ten percent of Americans out of work. There were few government or charitable support systems in place for workers back then, and going even a day without work meant that you and your family went hungry.
Coxey felt that the best way to help was with support from the federal government. His proposed legislation would have the government spend $500 million on a publics roads construction. Carl Browne shared Coxey’s concern for affected Americans and was instrumental in bringing Coxey’s plan to life. A consummate showman, he convinced Coxey to go on an epic march to Washington D.C. where he could personally present his ideas to Congress. With an army of job seeking men that Browne promised would number in the thousands, Coxey was sure to get the attention of law makers.
Coxey and his army’s march on D.C. are pretty well known, but I think his charismatic second-in-command deserves more attention. Carl Browne was a complicated man who had a huge impact on the march and can teach us a lot about politics and culture in the late 1800s. Though most reporters at the time focused on Coxey and his activities, Roy Baker became enamored with Browne, who “reminded me immediately of some of the soap-box orators and vendors of Kickapoo Indian remedies I had seen on the lake front in Chicago.” (7) Baker embedded himself in Coxey’s Army got to know Browne intimately during the long journey. Fifty years later in his autobiography, Baker remembered Browne vividly and wrote about him in detail. Continue reading “Mighty Carl Browne: Hero of Coxey’s Army”
Continuing their leisurely trip up to Alaska, Frank and Nell take a day-trip up to the Santa Cruz Mountains with some new friends from San Francisco. In his usual fashion, Frank takes time to describe the huge trees and mountains in detail for his New York cousins. Also in this section is a story about Mark Twain visiting similar mountains in Switzerland and finding a clever way to experience mountain climbing without all the bother of actually climbing. Twain would have been well known to the Felters’ New York relatives- he lived nearby in Elmira NY for many years.
Shortly after our Chinese affair we joined a party of excursionists and took a ride Southwest into the Santa Cruz Mountains, passing through the beautiful towns of Santa Clara, and San Jose, from which latter place one can take the stage for Mount Hamilton and Lick Observatory, where the 36 inch telescope, the second or third largest in the world is mounted, over 4200 feet above the sea.
We did not take this side trip but kept on until we reached a magnificent forest grove and picnic ground, among the redwood trees.
These are a smaller species of the “Sequoia Grande,” the noted big trees of California, some of which reach a height of 400 feet, and a diameter of 30 feet. The largest tree known, in the Santa Cruz Mountains is 21 feet through and 300 feet high, but we did not go far enough to see it. Sometime we intend to visit the genuine “big trees” and if possible
to climb one or two of them. If we cannot do it any other way we will follow the example of Mark Twain when he was traveling in Switzerland. He wished very much to say that he had climbed a certain icy crag, which was not only very high and difficult to ascent, but was extremely dangerous as well. While debating with his traveling companion, his courier, whether to climb or not to climb, they are accosted by a man with a large telescope, mounted, and aimed at the peak of the mountain. “Here you are sir, have a look through the most powerful glass in Europe, sir:- take you within ten feet of the top sir:- all for two francs” So Mark, who is quick to see his chance, takes a look through the great telescope, and is seemingly carried so close to the icy top that he stretches forth his hand to break off an icicle, and draws it back involuntarily, with his fingers chilled, and the drops of perspiration which had been formed on his face from the heat of his argument with the courier, were frozen solid. Mark then retires a few feet and remarks that ” ’tis the real thing,” warms his chilled veins with a flask of brandy, while the courier takes his trip to the summit, and he is able to get back with a few cold chills down his marrow.
Mark has in the meantime paid the bill and taken a receipt in full for two round trips to the Summit. This he shows as evidence that, accompanied by his courier he reached a point within ten feet of this icy crag.
However let us leave Mark to his own ample resources and finish out lunch in the Santa Cruz forest. We do this, listening to the Band awhile, and then return to our San Francisco home.
Having rested a few days, and attended theatres a few evenings we cross the ferry one morning to Sausalito, and from thence proceed by train to the summit of Mount Tamalpias which is nearly 2600 feet high an almost isolated peak near the Coast, and North of San Francisco. We were about 1-1/2 hours on the cars, changing once, and the better part of the trip was on the crookedest railroad in the world.
There are 277 curves in a little more than eight miles of rail. The view is certainly grand from the summit:- looking down below on the city of San Francisco in front, -on the right we gaze miles out to sea, while to the left the Sierras loom up in their grandeur and magnitude, and we feel that we would like to step over the few hundred miles intervening. The atmosphere of California is so clear oftentimes that a distance of 50 or 100 miles seems but a step. Sometimes however, especially along the coast, the fogs come in from the ocean and envelope everything as in a wet sheet.
The summers of Frisco are very cool, and were it not for the high winds of July and August would be delightful. As it is the winders are much more pleasant, and while the Eastern States are covered with snow the people housed up are trying to keep warm, -the residents of San Francisco can pick flowers from their dooryards and eat Strawberries ad libitum.
This post is part of a longer travelogue written by Frank L. Felter of Los Angeles, a distant relative of mine, as he and his wife Nell journeyed up to and around Alaska in 1900. To read the previous part, click here. To read the next part, click here.
Gustavus “Gus” Egolf was a German immigrant who settled in Pennsylvania and eventually became one of the most prominent antique dealers in the United States.
Egolf was born in Baden, Germany in 1849 and moved to Philadelphia at a young age. He attended school sporadically until the age of fourteen, when he became a teamster. Saving as much money as he could for nine years, Egolf eventually was able to launch a contracting business where he employed eight teams who hauled goods all around Philadelphia. By the early 1870s, he was a financially successful businessman and went on an extended holiday to his first home in Baden. Afterwards, he spent several months touring Germany, France, Ireland, and England. Perhaps it was because of the many treasures that he saw on his European travels, when Egolf returned to Philadelphia he established an antique, china, and furniture business.
Business in the antique trade was good to Egolf and he had to move his store several times larger and larger buildings to make room for all his wares. It was around this time that he also married his wife Eliza Egolf (no relation I think). They would have 10 children together. In 1879 he moved out to nearby Norristown where he occupied a four story building on Main Street. Egolf was also a prominent local historian and was well known nationally for his extensive personal collections of antique coins and china.
The captain of the antique industry also caught the attention of one of the most important advocates for Pennsylvania history- Samuel Pennypacker. Pennypacker, best known for serving as the Republican Governor of Pennsylvania from 1903-1907, was an avid collector of antiques and other historical items- especially books. Pennypacker had so many books!
Pennypacker served as the president of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and personally published several books on the history of the Keystone State. As a prominent politician and lawyer from a venerable Philadelphia family, Pennypacker had the means and energy to amass a huge collection of antique books, maps, and other historical materials that documented the history of the state. And Gus Egolf was Pennypacker’s favorite antique dealer. Here is what Pennypacker remembered about Mr. Egolf in his autobiography:
“My books came to me in all kinds of ways, and from over the earth, and I became known to the dealers and writers not only at home but in Amsterdam, London and Berlin. Some of the incidents which occur in the search for out-of-the-way treasures are both romantic and dramatic. Gus Egolf, short and stout, with a wen on the back of his neck nearly as large as his head, a keen dealer in old furniture and old books, lived and still lives in Norristown, where he has a store. Often I went ‘incog’ in an old suit and broken hat with him to the sales of the German farmers in the country and I have bought as many as a three-bushel bag full of books at a sale. The auctioneer would hold them up at a window, half a dozen at a time, and knock them down for a few pennies. There was little or no opportunity for preliminary inspection and often the purchase proved to be of little value, but every once in a while there turned up a Franklin, an Ephrata or a Sower imprint. In this way I secured nearly all of my Schwenkfelder literature.”
It doesn’t appear that Egolf’s antique business lasted long after his death, but it was a major force in the antique world at the time. Today, you may find an old clock or a piece of china or furniture with his name on it though, a reminder of the many antiques and fine articles that were made or sent to him from all over the world and sold at his store.