Robert Merry's Museum: "Uncle Hiram's Pilgrimage", by William C. Cutter (1857-1860)

"Uncle Hiram's Pilgrimage" (1857-1860), by William C. Cutter as "Hiram Hatchet," is a 30-part look at 19th-century New York City. "Uncle Hiram" narrates his journey down Broadway to representative subscribers to Robert Merry's Museum -- a journey through a world as exotic as any Gilbert Go-ahead ever encountered. Humorous encounters with "the natives" punctuate heavily illustrated descriptions of New York City landmarks which include Barnum's American Museum and the Five Points area. Every landmark mentioned is illustrated in the magazine, though only a few illustrations are reproduced here.

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UNCLE HIRAM'S PILGRIMAGE, by William C. Cutter (from Robert Merry's Museum, February 1860, pp. 36-37)

It was somewhere in this neighborhood that I met a young man, in whose history I became greatly interested. He was then about sixteen years of age, but sorrow and trouble made him look much older. He was a cripple, having had one of his legs broken, and so badly set that it was of but little use to him.

When I first saw him, he was sitting on a small box on the sidewalk, close against the iron rail of one of the houses which then occupied this part of the street. At his side was a bench, covered with small articles for sale--songs, papers of pins, matches, essences, and various other things of little value, but nevertheless his whole stock in trade, and that on which his living depended. His crutches--a sort of dumb testimony that he had other pains than those of poverty, and that he did not sit there all day from any unwillingness to work--were leaning against the railing behind him.

My attention was first drawn to him by the effort which a very benevolent-looking lady was making to rouse him from a deep pit of melancholy, or sullenness (it was difficult to guess which), and draw him back to his business. At first, I thought he was ill-natured and surly, but was soon satisfied that it was not so. After several times touching him gently with her parasol, and addressing him in very kind tones, the lady succeeded in arousing him. He start up as from a dream, and

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exclaimed, in a tone that seemed half apology and half complaint--

"Oh! excuse me, madam--you have called me away from--," stopping suddenly, as if unable to say more.

The lady was very kind to him; purchased several articles from his stock, and paid him liberally; attempting, at the same time, to draw him into conversation, but without success.

When she left, I approached him, and, after a few words of commonplace conversation, said to him--

"That lady was very kind to you, my lad. She saw that you were unhappy, that you had some great trouble in your heart, and she wished to know if she could in any way do you a service. I am afraid you did not notice what a motherly look she had, and how much interest she felt in you."

"No, sir," he replied, the tears glistening in his eyes, "I did not see it, for I was too unhappy to look up. I was afraid I should cry if I did."

"Why? What was there," I asked, "in the very kind tones of that voice to make you cry?"

"Oh, sir! that was just it," he answered, with deep emotion. "The voice was so kind, so gentle, so like my own dear mother, that I did not dare to look up, or to speak. I knew I could not do it, without crying. And I was ashamed to do that among strangers."

"Where is your mother?" I asked, after a little pause.

"In heaven, sir!" he replied, with an expression so made up of reverence, of assurance, of joy, and of deep, unutterable grief, that I was awed in his presence. I did not know what to say next. I turned, for a moment, as if to examine some of the articles on his bench. When I looked at him again, he had that same fixed, absent, sad look, which attracted the interest of the good, motherly lady, before I came up. He was away, perhaps, in some distant land, among the scenes of his early home. To divert him from this, and open conversation in another direction, I took up one of his crutches, and asked how it happened that he needed to use them, at so early an age. but here, again, I touched the tender spot. he burst into tears, and said,--"Indeed, sir, I would not mind [m]y broken leg. If both had been broken, it would have been nothing, but my poor dear mother was killed by the same accident. It was on the railroad, sir. And I am left alone, with three little sisters, for my father was dead before."

He paused to brush away tears; but his heart was open, and he went on.

"I do not mind the care of the children, sir. I would gladly die for them, they are so good and loving. But oh! sir, without my mother, it is not living. I die a hundred deaths every day, thinking of that terrible scene. I don't know why such things happen."

There was something in the eloquence of that boy's sadness and love, that far surpassed all the funeral orations I ever heard. There was a depth and pathos in his filial affection, which was the highest possible eulogy of a faithful, affectionate mother. I could not do much to soothe him at that moment, for his emotions were too deep and excited. I became better acquainted with him afterwards, and with his sisters, who clung to him with all the fondness and confidence of infantile affection. I had his limb properly attended to, so that he was, after a while, able to dispense with his crutches. He has been prospered in business, and has educated his sisters to be, like himself, ornaments to society, and a joy to each other.

UNCLE HIRAM'S PILGRIMAGE, by William C. Cutter (from Robert Merry's Museum, March 1860, pp. 80-32)

Moving quietly along, among the bustling crowds of people, I was deeply interested in everything I saw, especially in all that illustrated the never-ending varieties of city life. At one of the doors, as I went along, there stood a small girl, in earnest conversation with a woman from within. It did not seem like the ordinary talk of a beggar asking for bread, and getting a reluctant morsel, or an angry denial. There was a tone of kindness in it, and a life and earnestness, which immediately drew my attention. As I paused to get a closer look at so uncommon a scene, there was a sudden shriek, and the little girl fell in a swoon upon the sidewalk. The woman, with another shriek, that caused hundreds to stop and look round in wonder, rushed to the fallen child, seized her in her arms, and bore her into the house. My heart prompted me to follow her. She carried her to one of the upper rooms, laid her on a bed near an open window, and then fell back upon a chair, and gave way to a passionate flood of tears. I saw that something must be done, at once, for the poor child, and looked about for water. A pitcher upon a shelf in an open closet supplied this want, and I bathed the child's forehead and temples and rubbed her hands for a few moments, when the woman recovered her self-possession enough to find a bottle of hartshorn, and to assist me in my efforts to restore the child to her senses. Not a word was said, till the little one opened her eyes, and looked wistfully around, as if to discover where she was.

"Marcia, dear, God bless you, darling," exclaimed the poor woman, in an agony of joy, which quite overcame her, and she sat down again to cry. I continued my manipulations, and in a few moments more the little sufferer opened her eyes again, and said, in a faint whisper, "Arnie, are you here?"

"Yes, darling, Arnie is here," sob-

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bed the agitated woman, throwing herself upon the child, and sobbing afresh, as if her heart would break. "Arnie is here, and will not leave you--no, never, never."

I stepped aside for a while, feeling that they would be better alone during the first moments of returning to consciousness, for I saw that there was a painful and interesting history involved in this sudden and unexpected recognition; and, much as my feelings were excited and my curiosity awakened, I did not feel at liberty to intrude on the first sacred interview, or to listen to the inquiries and explanations which I knew would follow. I therefore went down to the street again, and amused myself, for half an hour, with what I could see in a fancy book-store.

Returning to the upper room in which I had become so deeply interested, I found the child, Marcia, sitting cosily and affectionately in Arnie's lap, near the window. she had been much excited and exhausted, and was about falling asleep. As I entered, she started up, and looking earnestly at me, exclaimed, "you won't take me away, will you, sir?"

"No! my child," I answered, "I have no wish and no right to take you away. I am most happy to see that you seem to have found an old friend, and I have come to see if there is anything I can do to help you."

With these assurances she was satisfied, and snuggling down close to her old friend's mother heart, began to sob a little, but was soon lost in a sound sleep. I then learned from Arnie, or more properly Mrs. Arnold, that Marcia was the daughter of a wealthy merchant in one of the flourishing villages of Western New York, and Mrs. Arnold had been her nurse. One day, some three years past, while Mrs. Arnold was busily engaged in the upper part of the house, the child, who was left to play with her pet dog and kitten, in the little garden before the door, was most mysteriously spirited away. She could not be found, or traced. No one had seen her carried off. No one had heard her scream. The most diligent search had been made, in all directions, and kept up for a long time, but no trace had been discovered, either of the child or any person or persons who could be suspected of having stolen her, or aided in her capture. Her parents were almost distracted. Her mother was thrown into a violent fever, with long continued delirium, which had nearly terminated her life. Her own life (Mrs. Arnold's) was rendered so miserable, she suffered such constant and severe misgivings and self-reproaches, because the child was lost while under her care, that she could not remain in the neighborhood. She came to the city and hired a room, where, by taking care of the rooms and stores adjoining, and executing a certain kind of net-work, in which she was skillful, she had been able to secure an honest living, and get away from scenes and associations too painful to be borne. "This morning," she said, "as I was sweeping out the lower hall, the little girl accosted me, and begged for bread. There was something in the tones of her voice, and in the peculiar expression of her eyes, which at once attracted my notice. But she was so meanly clad, and spoke with such a timid and downcast air, that it was some minutes before anything like a distinct image of the lost Marica presented itself. The poor child did not seem to recognize me at all. Indeed, she

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scarcely looked at me, so much was her spirit broken. At length I said, almost afraid to trust myself to speak the words, 'Did you ever hear of a little girl named Marcia?'

"'Yes, ma'am--that is my name,' she replied, looking up with something like a smile.

"In an instant she comprehended the whole thing. She did not know me, but she knew, by a sort of child's instinct, that none but Arnie could speak so. It was too much for her feeble frame, and she swooned, as you saw, when you came up."

Mrs. Arnold then went on to repeat what Marcia had told her of her own history.

As she was playing in the garden, a dark-looking man came along, and, without saying a word to her, seized her in his arms, put his hand over her mouth, and carried her off. She was terribly afraid and thought she should die. At length, in her agony and despair, she began to cry. The man threatened to kill her instantly, if she made the least noise, or any effort to get away. He carried her to the rail-road station, and brought her to New York. Here she was put under the charge of a very cross old woman, who took away all her clothes, and dressed her in rags, and compelled her to go out and beg. For a long time, the old woman would follow her at a little distance, or get some one else to watch her, to see that she did not speak to any one, except to beg for bread. She was often severely whipped, because she complained of being tired and sick. Her heart was broken. She thought all her friends were dead, and, to use her own sad words, began to fear that God was dead, too. She did not dare to look anybody in the face. She was afraid to speak out openly, and only in mumbling accents asked for bread, which she must have, or go home to be severely punished. She would gladly have died, but she couldn't.

"And now," said Mrs. Arnold, "I shall go home with her to-morrow, and restore her to her bereaved friends."

As she said this, her feelings overcame her. She burst into a violent fit of sobbing, and Marcia awoke.

I have since seen Marcia in her own happy home. Her friend Arnie was still with her, as a sort of foster-mother, and all the bitter past was remembered only to enhance the happiness to which she was so remarkably restored.

Copyright 2000-2003, Pat Pflieger

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