Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Yankee Fire King, 1834

This article, entitled Yankee Fire King caught my eye, buried on page 2 of The Sun, a very old penny daily from New York, dated January 21, 1834. The entire paper is quite interesting, except for the fact that they use 4 point Roman type for the body text. No wonder they all had bad eyes. I found this paper on eBay, and I paid $9 for it. Given the rate of inflation over 175 years, that’s not so bad.

The paper is quite revealing of a community with the same problems we have today (well, they had it good on one account: they didn’t have to be concerned with the change from analog television to digital). Some articles in the paper report the following:

— “a melancholy event” about two little boys about 7 years of age, who were crossing a frozen river and never seen again; [ very sad. ]

— a woman who sued her suitor for “for seduction.” [ She won and her virginity hopefully reinstated by the court. ]

— an accident, a child by the name of Mary Pease, age six, run over by the mail stage, “badly injured by having one wheel of the stage passing directly over the body, in a manner as will cause her death.” [ So much for hope. ]

— a police report about a chap named Edward Perkins of 31 Park Row, found drunk and clinging to a light pole in Duane Street, near Elm, singing “United We Stand, Divided I Fall.” Perkins, who described himself as "a slack rope” and a “wire dancer” was none too gracious when a passing watchman politely offered him his arm to assist him to jail. As reported, he told the peace officer to “go to the devil!” He was later fined $2 and when he announced to the judge he had “forgotten his pocketbook” was “committed to Bridewell.” [a hell hole of a prison, I assume ]

If the above article is hard to read on your screen, I will transcribe it for my readers below in a slightly bigger font. The article is about a man known as D. Devine, a Yankee doctor, who apparently performed all sorts of incredible gastric feats by swallowing objects one would normally not want to ingest. The language of people during that period was wonderfully formal— the “King’s English” you might say, tempered with a mixture of dialects from numerous other immigrants of the day. It’s great.

Yankee Fire King. —The burning feats of Mons. Chabert are all thrown into the shade by those of a Yankee doctor (D. Devine) in Hartford, Ct., who made his debut in the museum at that place last Tuesday evening, to a large and very respectable audience, and to their surprise performed the following experiments; he commenced by eating sealing wax when burning and dripping from the candle to the floor; the took from a furnace a shovel full of live coals and chewed them as deliberately as though he was supping on good oysters; he then took melted lead in his hands and mouth with a red hot spoon, and washed it with a draught of Florence oil heated boiling hot. The performance closed by baking the Salamander and a beef steak in an oven heated to 230 degrees.”

This man was just born at the wrong time. I am quite sure he could have made it on the David Letterman Show. No question.

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