I next discovered that a year at Durand's under the instruction
of my gifted brother and my fellow workmen, who were the best in the world,
qualified me for easy admission into any other jewelry shop in Newark, and there were a dozen of them. For
two or three years I led a butterfly existence, flitting from factory to
factory, picking up knowledge, until I became a designer for a firm now
extinct. In the old building they occupied may still be seen, I am informed, a
windowpane with my name scratched on it with a diamond. It may be that they are
preserving the structure as a memorial. The jewelry trade demands more than
mere workmanship; it necessarily requires a high degree of character; personal
honesty is as requisite as it is in banking. In all the years that I spent in
engraving, only two cases of theft of gold were known. In one instance the
ingenious thief used to brush his hands, dusted with fine gold filings, through
his well-oiled hair and wash his spoils out at home: in the other a wire-drawer
would cut off an ounce or so from the bar he was reducing to wire. The floors
of the factory were of corrugated iron, to keep the gold waste from sticking to
the men's shoes, and they were carefully swept every night; even the smoke of
the chimneys had its gold extracted. I have often seen the floor about my stool
fairly sanded with golden chips that fell from my modeling tools.
This particular stool had a rather singular history in that
it had been used for years before my advent by Walter Shirlaw
distinguished artist, and after me for some years Will Crawford
cartoonist and illustrator, occupied it.
Of the experiences of my adolescence, two may be of enough
interest to be recorded. One was the making of an aluminum fan for Mrs.
. The spreaders of this beautiful creation were made of the valuable and
rare metal then recently discovered, or, rather, first obtained in workable
quantity. These spreaders, after being sawed out in a filigree pattern, I
carved with an intricate foliated design, with a keen pleasure at working upon
this novel material. The men were constantly coming to inspect and marvel at
the new metal and its almost absurd lack of weight.
Had one predicted that within twenty years yachts and
bathtubs would be formed of this material, he would have been regarded as
harboring bats in his cupola. I have often wondered what became of this fan,
for, apart from its workmanship, it soon became, I suppose, of little value and
quite unsuitable for the display of wealth.
The other incident held graver possibilities. On one of my
idle days I was painting a little water color in the half-deserted shop, and
had just returned to my seat with an old beer glass filled with water. At my side
sat Dumont, the famous diamond-setter from
Paris, now a Maiden Lane
dealer in precious stones, at work upon a splendid tiara of very large
diamonds. Suddenly a big stone, as large as one's finger nail, snapped into the
air from under his tool. Fortunately the windows were closed, and so the search
for the stone, worth thousands, was confined to our immediate vicinity at first,
but we failed to find it. Soon everybody was engaged in the search; every box,
drawer and crevice was probed, but unavailingly, and finally another large
stone was substituted.
The memory of the lost diamond hung over that section of the
shop like a pall, and I well remember the uneasiness and anxiety of a young
chain-maker, Theodore Bergdorf, who afterwards went to the Naval Academy at
Annapolis and died a captain of a battleship a few years ago, and he was by no
means alone in his solicitude. What secret measures were taken by the firm, I
One day, about two months later, in another idle hour, I
opened my color box and took up the beer glass to fill it with fresh water.
There on the bench, in a circle of dust formed around the rim of the glass, lay
the lost diamond twinkling merrily up at me! As it had flipped away from Dumont's grasp, it had rolled across the bench and I had
set the beer glass down upon it without seeing it. Thereafter, each eager
searcher had pushed the glass to and fro about the bench without lifting it,
and, of course, the big stone rolled along under its hollow base. My loud yell
of delighted amaze stirred the three floors of the building into life, and we held
a sort of general jollification as an expression of the relief felt by all, from
the "Old Man" down to the office boy. Under the circumstances, it had
been possible for no employee to feel entirely free from suspicion.
After the panic of 1873 business languished, and especially
the making of fine jewelry, except just before Christmas, when we had to work
at night. My brother in those hard times allotted the bulk of such work as
there was to the married men. Hence I had plenty of time for other pursuits;
fishing was good in the Passaic River, pigeon-shooting at the traps was still a
popular and, for a good shot, a profitable diversion, I was devoted to
sketching and chess and I had built a Rob Roy
after plans in an English magazine, so the lack of work never caused
me either pain or worry. I opened an engraving shop in the room next to my
father's studio, where I did everything from lettering coffin plates to making
printer's cuts, and even occasionally painted a black eye for the victim of a
combat, an object more frequently to be observed in those days than at present.
I painted several hotel signs in the antique manner, made
cigar-box labels for Oscar
and other manufacturers, as did Victor
, designed novelties for the newly established Celluloid Company, and
now and then managed to sell a comic to Judge
I wonder that I did not include whitewashing and umbrella-repairing among my
endeavors. I offered to run a chess column for the Sunday Call
the job—without pay! Somewhere about this time a young friend named Williams
persuaded me to write for him an essay on Joan of Arc, to be read, he alleged,
before a society to which he belonged. I constructed this brochure with much
careful research and great pains, and long afterward learned that it had gained
a substantial prize for Williams in a competition gotten up by a Brooklyn newspaper. ... It has been my misfortune to have
had several such friends, but that is probably the fate of every man who
regards work as a sort of pleasurable diversion. Few men have taken my money
from me, but alas! how many days have I wasted in doing things for nothing!
I was gradually, or by jerks, acquiring a new vocation, and
it is not surprising to me now that this tendency was observed by my employers,
for one of whom I painted in oil a picture of himself as a natty bass fisherman
on a lake and traded it for his Parker breech-loader, much, I think, to his own
astonishment. I went less and still less often to the factory, and when I
finally deserted it I gave away to one of the boys a fine set of tools instead
of preserving such a precious memento.
As an outlet to superabundant energy and ambition, I had
been writing many an article for the mere satisfaction of seeing my efforts in
print, for an ancient journalistic fossil, the Newark Daily Advertiser
on which the clever Sam
was a reporter until Bennett
captured him. At Sam's suggestion I put in a bill one day. It was paid, but
they never accepted any more of my stuff, and then it happened that I
encountered an Italian couple who were doing a colored-chalk act in variety
shows but who were desolated by the gross lack of culture in an inhospitable
land. They were indeed far in advance of their time.
They had dates as far West as Kansas
City, but they were determined to return to Europe,
intending to return for the Centennial
next summer. I bought their dates for a song, engraved a small
handbill setting forth the merits of "Walter Diamond, the Carbon Caricaturist,"
and started in to fill their dates in company with a number of performers,
among whom were Charles
, afterwards a Broadway success in several shows, among them being
Us and Co
," a play of which I was a co-author, and the strikingly
beautiful Lillian White, who sang the "Songs of All Nations," waving
all the national flags the while.
The "Variety Show" of those days was a stench in
the sensitive nostrils of the refined and the godly, to which class most of my
acquaintances seemed to belong. It was dirty, disreputable and replete with
rowdy unrestrained pleasures of the lowest, coarsest sort. The only women
frequenting variety houses were streetwalkers and actresses, both being placed
in the same category by the Pharisees of the time, and the stage was merely an
adjunct to a saloon and, frequently, also to a gambling house and a brothel.
Drinks were served all over the house and smoking universally permitted.
The dressing rooms were often in the cellar, ghastly, rat-infested,
moldy dungeons defying description, generally totally unheated and
unventilated. The general conditions both before and behind the curtain would
today produce an instant strike among a gang of sandhogs, and this was natural
enough, as few buildings had been erected for variety purposes. Yet from such
dives emerged Lillian Russell, Sadie Martinot, Fay Templeton, Mabel Fenton, Nat
Goodwin, Weber and Fields, and Dave Warfield. I wisely refrained from informing
my family how deeply I had sunk under my scintillant alias until I was safe in Harrisburg, Pa.
My yearning for this particular form of adventure was
completely satiated by the time I sighted the muddy slow-moving Mississippi, which
romantic stream was a sad disappointment. In St. Louis
I first contemplated deserting, moved thereto by alluring descriptions of the hunting
and trapping in the northwest
territories poured into my charmed ears by a young
ex-Confederate lieutenant who, being temporarily embarrassed, was willing to sell
me a half-interest in a fur-trading enterprise. In Kansas
City I made the decision that Newark
was a pretty good place to return to.
I was never tempted back into vaudeville until an offer from
$500 per week to do a sketching talk entitled "The Mystery of Female
Shape" lured me from my reposeful Atlantic City home in 1908, the recollection
of which is still a torment, as on the night before my first appearance I
fractured the little finger of my right hand and was obliged to do my stunt in
severe agony. Repetition of the performance prevented proper healing for weeks.
On my return from the West, I had to fill a date at Waldman's
Variety Theater in Newark,
and, apprehensive that I might be recognized, I decided to do my act in
"blackface." In my unpretentious but realistic performance, I had to
appear in the doorway of a country grocery store placarded with more or less
witty price-signs, among which hung the sheets of manila paper upon which I
worked, in patched juvenile attire that made me appear far younger than I was,
and after falling into a barrel labeled "charcoal" I emerged with a
chunk of carbon in each hand to proceed to draw what to my uncultured audiences
appeared to be startling and lifelike portraits of General Grant, Peter Cooper
, Ben Butler,
Bill Tweed and other familiar public characters.
, a very promising comedian who died before attaining the renown that
many of his less clever rivals achieved, offered to disguise me properly, but when
he had generously blackened my face and hands he dumped the box of feathery
burnt cork down my back. I left a smoke screen of soot behind me as I moved,
but my discomfort turned to relief when I discovered two of my cousins in the
first row of seats. They did not penetrate my disguise, and years afterward one
of them described to me the act of a remarkably clever kid he had once seen
make some wonderful charcoal sketches at Waldman's, and hazarded a guess that I
might have made good in a similar stunt. When I confessed to being the
identical clever kid, I was compelled to repeat the little performance before
he was convinced that I was not spoofing him.
Now walking down the street in Kansas City, I encountered Buffalo Bill. It
seems to me that he was not yet a colonel, however. In my gratification at the sight
of a familiar face, I accosted him. He recalled me when I mentioned Colonel Joy
of Newark, and took
me to his hotel to dinner. When I told him that I was about to desert the
footlights, he suggested that I join his company and do my little act. Had I accepted
the offer, I might have anticipated Fred Remington's studies of Western life by
ten years or so. The picturesque cowboy had not yet appeared with his chaps and
gun, buffalo still swarmed on the plains, their hides selling for about a
dollar each, and I bought for five dollars a magnificent bull's head mounted on
dark wood, but I think it cost me about thirty to get it safely home.
In Fort Leavenworth, whither I accompanied Cody's gang of
plainsmen, buffalo-hunters and scouts, most of whom seem to have been ex-Confederate
soldiers, I met Colonel
, a fat, genial desperado who did his long hair up as a woman
does or did, and who became Cody's press agent and advertising man. I think he
knew every newspaper man of any account between San
Francisco and Moscow
by his first name. He bore the scars of several severe scrimmages, but I never
heard him tell the same story twice about these grim reminders.
At Burke's suggestion I painted my first portrait in oil, a
terrible daub, of Buffalo Bill in his fringed suit of buckskin. It was
transferred from the lobby of the showhouse to the hotel each day under guard,
and parked at night in Cody's bedroom. He presented me with his own favorite
saddle, a ponderous thing mounted in black bearskin, which, badly moth-eaten,
is still among my cherished possessions.
Being the first hand-painted oil portrait ever done in that
section of the country, I suppose, this painting placed me upon the eminence
occupied by Custer, Miles, Cody, Wild Bill Darrell and the James Brothers, and I
soon received a commission to decorate the canvas side of a popular gambling
house with a still-life composition representing poker-chips, coins, cards and
champagne bottles. I had each day a gallery of awed and interested admirers who
were uniformly well pickled at the end of my day's work. The picture was about
eight feet square and was executed with house paint in the free broad manner of
the most modern school. I was away ahead of my age!
This masterpiece set the proprietor of the gambling house
back a hundred and fifty shining silver dollars, but as he very likely took in
that sum from my gallery of critics, he had little cause for complaint. Colonel
Pat Donan, "The Silver-tongued Orator of the Dakotas," told me at a
Clover Club dinner at Seagirt twenty years afterwards that the picture was in
his possession, and, later on, Gumshoe Bill Stone
who was afterwards Senator from Missouri,
assured me that it was still to be seen in a certain notorious levee resort in St. Louis. But when I
visited that city in the wake of the tornado of 1896, I was unable to locate
the place, although David Graham
, expert amateur detectives, assisted in the search. Perhaps the tornado
gave it the air along with the picture.
For the sole purpose of inculcating probity in a decadent
generation, I must record, to my eternal ignominy, one audacious and criminal
deed of my early engraving days. At that period circus tickets were on sale in
a certain stationery store several days in advance of the Great Show, simple
yellow tickets costing fifty cents, with a miniature elephant printed on the
reverse side—many of them showing palpable evidence of previous use. Who
suggested the knavish plot is now unknown, but I am quite certain that it did
not originate in my guileless, untainted mind. It evolved as a scandalous and
wicked conspiracy to counterfeit these yellow tickets for the benefit of poor
and worthy boys who belonged to our social circle and who could be depended on
to appreciate pure benevolence and not blab.
The son of the printer of the city directory procured the
saffron-tinted cardboard, I engraved a quite exquisite replica of the tiny
pachyderm, and the present austere head of a great Newark industry printed, on
his little fifteen-dollar hand press, one hundred of the spurious tickets. No
boy got one who was not known to be upright, honorable and trustworthy enough
to follow implicitly his orders, which were to the effect that the principal
criminals were to enter first in order to absolutely insure admission to them
at least, in case the fraudulent nature of the pasteboards was prematurely detected.
But there was not the slightest suspicion manifested, and a happy yet somewhat
tremulous gang was soon lost within the vast tent and witnessing a spectacle
that held an added thrill never to be duplicated in this life. A deadhead seat
on a crater's edge!
For about twenty years after 1886, I made almost every
newspaper illustration used by Barnum's Circus, its genial treasurer, Louis
Cooke, being a Newark chum, and some two decades after this disreputable (and deeply
regrettable) prank I attended a dinner given to his principal aides by P. T.
Barnum at Iranistan
, his Bridgeport
home. It was not a very lively affair—in fact, it was in marked contrast with
many jovial meals I have participated in under the big tent—and when I was
called upon for some remarks I told the story of the three young
counterfeiters. For some reason it made a great hit, and when I had taken my
seat Mr. Barnum addressed his treasurer in a thin, squeaky voice; "Mr.
Cooke," he asked, "do we owe Mr. McDougall any money now?"
"No, sir. I paid him off in full last week," Cooke
"Well, remember," drawled the great showman, "when
he brings in another bill, you take off fifty dollars from it."
After the banquet was over, Mr. Barnum drew me into a
smaller room, a sort of home office, and, putting his arm over my shoulder,
"McDougall, I think you must have been a pretty bad boy,
and how you escaped state prison I can hardly see. Now, you know that I hate
rum and tobacco, but as I think you are beyond all help I am going to give you
this box of cigars that somebody sent me from Cuba, instead of burning it
Then in a furtive and hasty manner he pushed into my hands a
sizable package. I think he felt guilty.
"The Old Man must have recognized a kindred
spirit in you!" declared Tody Hamilton afterward. "I'll swear that he
never did such a thing in his life before. He came near firing me for chewing
tobacco in one of his greenhouses once!"
*** END OF CHAPTER TWO PART TWO ***