More Cleveland Characteristics – American Travel

BECAUSE I have told you so much about the Chamber of Commerce you must not assume that the Chamber of Commerce was with us constantly while we were in Cleveland, for that is not the case. True, Chamber of Commerce representatives were with us all the first day and until we went to our rooms, late at night. But at our rooms they left us, merely taking the precaution to lock us in. No attempt was made to assist us in undressing or to hear our prayers or tuck us into bed. Once in our rooms we were left to our own devices. We were allowed to read a little, if we wished, to whisper together, or even to amuse ourselves by playing with the fixtures in the bathroom.

On the morning of the second day they came and let us out, and took us to see a lot of interesting and edifying sights, but by afternoon they had acquired sufficient confidence in us to turn us loose for a couple of hours, allowing us to roam about, at large, while they attended to their mail.

We made use of the freedom thus extended to us by presenting several letters of introduction to Cleveland gentlemen, who took us to various clubs.

Almost every large city in the country has one solid, dignified old club, occupying a solid, dignified old building on a corner near the busy part of town. The building is always recognizable, even to a stranger. It suggests a fine cuisine, an excellent wine cellar, and a great variety of good cigars in prime condition. In the front of such a club there are large windows of plate glass, back of which the passer-by may catch a glimpse of a trim white mustache and a silk hat. Looking at the outside of the building, you know that there is a big, high-ceiled room, at the front, dark in color and containing spacious leather chairs, which should (and often do) contain aristocratic gentlemen who have attained years of discretion and positions of importance. One feels cheated if, on entering, one fails to encounter a member carrying a malacca stick and wearing waxed mustaches, spats, and a gardenia. The Union Club of New York is such a club; so is the Pacific Union of San Francisco; so is the Chicago Club; and so, I fancy, from my glimpse of it, is the Union Club of Cleveland.

In the larger cities there is usually another club, some-what less formal in architecture, decoration, and spirit, and given over, broadly speaking, to the younger men—though there is often a good deal of duplication of membership between the first mentioned type of club and the second. The Tavern of Cleveland is of the second category; so is the Saturn Club of Buffalo, of which I spoke in a former chapter. Almost every good-sized city has, likewise, its university club, its athletic club, and its country club. University clubs vary a good deal in character, but athletic clubs and country clubs are in general pretty true to type.

Besides such clubs as these, one finds, here and there, in the United States, a few clubs of a character more unusual. Cleveland has three unusual clubs : the Rowf ant, a book collector’s club; the Chagrin Valley Hunt Club, at Gates Mills, near the city, and the Hermit Club.

Were it not for the fact that I detest the words “artistic” and “bohemian,” I should apply them to the Hermit Club. It is one of the few clubs outside New York, Chicago, and San Francisco possessing its own house and made up largely of men following the arts, or interested in them. Like the Lambs of New York, the Hermits give shows in their clubhouse, but the Lambs’ is a club of actors, authors, composers, stage managers, etc., while the Hermit Club is made up, so far as the theater is concerned, of amateurs—amateurs having among them sufficient talent to write and act their own shows, design their own costumes, paint their own scenery, compose their own music, and even play it, too—for there is an orchestra of members. I have never seen a Hermits’ show, and I am sorry, for I have heard that they are worth seeing. Certainly their clubhouse is. It is an Elizabethan building, with a heavy timbered front, suggesting some ancient, hospitable, London coffee house where wits of old were used to meet. This illusion is enhanced by the surroundings of the club, for it stands in an alley—or perhaps I had better say a narrow lane—and is huddled down between the walls of taller buildings.

The pleasant promise of the exterior is fulfilled within. The ground floor rooms are low and cozy, and have a pleasant “rambling” feeling—a step or two up here or down there. The stairway, leading to the floor above, is narrow, with a genial kind of narrowness that seems to say: “There is no one here with whom you’ll mind rubbing elbows as you pass.” Ascending, you reach the main room, which occupies the entire upper floor. This room is the Hermit Club. It is here that members gather and that the more intimate shows are given. Large, with dark panels, and heavy beams which spring up and lose themselves in warm shadows overhead, it is a room combining dignity with gracious informality. And let me add that, to my mind, such a combination is at once rare and desirable in a club building—or, for the matter of that, in a home or a human being. A club which is too informal is likely to seem trivial; a club too dignified, austere. A club should neither seem to be a joke, nor yet a mausoleum. If it be magnificent, it should not, at least, overwhelm one with its magnificence; it should not chill one with its grandeur, so that one lowers one’s voice to a whisper and involuntarily removes one’s hat.

In some clubs a man leaves his hat upon his head or takes it off, as he prefers. In others custom demands that he remove it. Some men will argue that if you give a man his choice in that matter he feels more at home; others contend that if he takes his hat off he will, at all events, look more at home, whereas, if he leaves it on he will look more as though he were in a hotel. These are matters of opinion. There are many pleasant clubs which differ on this minor point. But I do not think that any club may be called pleasant in which a man is inclined to take off his hat instinctively because of an air of grim formality which he encounters on entering the door. To make an Irish bull upon this subject, one of the nicest things that I remember of the Hermit Club is that I don’t remember whether we wore our hats while there or not.

The Chagrin Valley Hunt Club lies in a pleasant valley which acquired its name through the error of a pioneer (General Moses Cleveland himself, if I remember rightly) who, when sailing up Lake Erie, landed at this point, mistaking it for the site of Cleveland, farther on, and was hence chagrined. Here, more than a hundred years ago, the little village of Gates Mills was settled by men whose buildings, left behind them, still pro-claim their New England origin. If ever I saw a Connecticut village outside the State of Connecticut, that village is Gates Mills, Ohio. Low white farmhouses, with picturesque doorways and small windows divided into many panes, straggle pleasantly along on either side of the winding country road, and there is even an old meeting house, with a spire such as you may see in many a New England hamlet.

The old Gates house, which was built in 1812 by the miller from whom the place took its name, is passing a mellow old age as the house of the Hunt Club. In this charming, homelike old building, with its grandfather’s clock, its Windsor chairs, and its open wood fires, a visitor finds its hard to realize that he is actually in a portion of the country which is still referred to, in New York, as “the west.”

The Connecticut resemblance is accounted for by the fact that all this section of the country was in the Western Reserve, which belonged to, and was settled by, Connecticut. Thus travel teaches us! I knew practically nothing, until then, of the Western Reserve, and even less of hunt clubs. I had never been in a hunt club before, and my impressions of such institutions had been gleaned entirely from short stories and from prints showing rosy old rascals drinking. Probably because of these prints I had always thought that “horsey” people—particularly the “hunting set”—were generally addicted to the extensive (and not merely external) use of alcohol. As others may be of the same impression it is perhaps worth remarking that, while in the Hunt Club, we saw a number of persons drinking tea, and that only two were drinking alcoholic beverages-those two being visitors : an illustrator and a writer from New York.

I mentioned that to the M. F. H., and told him of my earlier impression as to hunt-club habits.

“Lots of people have that idea,” he smiled, “but it is wrong. As a matter of fact, few hunting people are teetotalers, but those who ride straight are almost in-variably temperate. They have to be. You can’t be in the saddle six or eight hours at a stretch, riding across country, and do it on alcohol.”

I also learned from the M. F. H. certain interesting things regarding a fox’s scent. Without having thought upon the subject, I had somehow acquired the idea that hounds got the scent from the actual tracks of the animal they followed. That is not so. The scent comes from the body of the fox and is left behind him suspended in the air. And, other conditions being equal, the harder your fox runs the stronger his scent will be. The most favorable scent for following is what is known as a “breast-high scent”—meaning a scent which hangs in suspension at a point sufficiently high to render it unnecessary for the hounds to put their heads down to the ground. Sometimes a scent hangs low; sometimes, on the other hand, it rises so that, particularly in a covert, the riders, seated upon their horses, can smell it, while the hounds cannot.

But I think I have said enough about this kind of thing. It is a dangerous topic, for the terminology and etiquette of hunting are even more elaborate than those of golf. Probably I have made some mistake already; in-deed, I know of one which I just escaped—I started to write “dogs” instead of “hounds,” and that is not done. I have a horror of displaying my ignorance on matters of this kind. For I take a kind of pride—and I think most men do—in being correct about comparatively unimportant things. It is permissible to be wrong about important things, such as politics, finance, and reform, and to explain them, although you really know nothing about them. But with fox hunting it is different. There are some people who really do know about that, and they are likely to catch you.

Two other Cleveland organizations should be mentioned.

Troop A of the Ohio National Guard is known as one of the most capable bodies of militia in the entire country. It has been in existence for some forty years, and its membership has always been recruited from among the older and wealthier families of the city. The fame of Troop A has reached beyond Ohio, for under its popular title, “The Black Horse Troop,” it has gone three times to Washington to act as escort to Presidents of the United States at the time of their inauguration. Cleveland is, furthermore, the headquarters for trotting racing. The Cleveland Gentlemen’s Driving Club is an old and exceedingly active body, and its president, Mr. Harry K. Devereux, is also president of the National Trotting Association.

A curious and characteristic thing which we encountered in no other city is the Three-Cent Cult—a legacy left to the city by the late Tom Johnson. Cleveland’s street railway system is controlled by the city and the fare is not five cents, but three. But that is not all. A municipal lighting plant is, or soon will be, in operation, with charges of from one to three cents per kilowatt hour. Also the city has gone into the dance-hall business. There, to0, the usual rate is cut : fifteen cents will buy five dances in the municipal dance halls, instead of three. No one will attempt to dispute that dancing, today, takes precedence over the mere matter of eating, yet it is worth mentioning that the Three-Cent Cult has even found its way into the lunch room. Sandwiches may be purchased in Cleveland for three cents which are not any worse than five-cent sandwiches in other cities.

Perhaps the finest thing about the Three-Cent Cult is the fact that it runs counter to one of the most pronounced and pitiable traits of our race : wastefulness. Sometimes it seems that, as a people, we take less pride in what we save than in what we throw away. We have a “There ‘s more where that came from !” attitude of mind. A man with thousands a year says: “Hell ! What ‘s a hundred ?” and a man with hundreds imitates him on a smaller scale. The humble fraction of a nickel is despised. All honor, then, to Cleveland—the city which teaches her people that two cents is worth saving, and then helps them to save it. Two points, in this connection, are interesting :

One, that Cleveland has been trying to induce the Treasury Department to resume the coinage of a three-cent piece; another, that the percentage of depositors in savings banks in Cleveland, in proportion to the population, is higher than in most other cities. And, by the way, the savings banks pay 4 per cent.

We were taken in automobiles from one end of the city to the other. Down by the docks we saw gigantic, strange machines, expressive of Cleveland’s lake commerce—machines for loading and unloading ships in the space of a few hours. One type of ma-chine would take a regular steel coal car in its enormous claws and turn that car over, emptying the load of coal into a ship as you might empty a cup of flour with your hand. Then it would set the car down again, right side up, upon the track, only to snatch the next one and repeat the operation.

Another machine for unloading ore would send its great steel hands down into the vessel’s hold, snatch them up filled with tons of the precious product of the mines, and, reaching around backward, drop the load into a waiting railroad car. The present Great Lakes record for loading is held by the steamer Corry, which has taken on a cargo of 10,000 tons of ore in twenty-five minutes. The record for unloading is held by the George F. Perkins, from which a cargo of 10,250 tons of ore was removed in two hours and forty-five minutes.

Some of the largest steamers of the Great Lakes may be compared, in size, with ocean liners. A modern ore boat is a steel shell more than six hundred feet long, with a little space set aside at the bows for quarters and a little space astern for engines. The deck is a series of enormous hatches, so that practically the entire top of the ship may be removed in order to facilitate loading and unloading. As these great vessels (many of which are built in Cleveland, by the way) are laid up through-out the winter, when navigation on the Great Lakes is closed, it is the custom to drive them hard during the open season. Some of them make as many as thirty trips in the eight months of their activity, and an idea of the volume of their traffic may be gotten from the statement that “the iron-ore tonnage of the Cleveland district is greater than the total tonnage of exports and imports at New York Harbor.” One of the little books about Cleveland, which they gave me, makes that statement. It does not sound as though it could be true, but I do not think they would dare print untruths about a thing like that, no matter how anxious they might be to “boost.” However, I feel it my duty to add that the same books says: “Fifty per cent. of the population of the United States and Canada lies within a radius of five hundred miles of Cleveland.”

I find that when I try to recall to my mind the picture of a city, I think of certain streets which, for one reason or another, engraved themselves more deeply than other streets upon my memory. One of my clearest mental photographs of Cleveland is of endless streets of homes.

Now, although I saw many houses, large and small, possessing real beauty—most of them along the boulevards, in the Wade Park Allotment or on Euclid Heights, where modern taste has had its opportunity—it is nevertheless true that, for some curious reason connected with the workings of the mind, those streets which I remember best, after some months of absence, are not the streets possessed of the most charm.

I remember vividly, for instance, my disappointment on viewing the decay of Euclid Avenue, which I had heard compared with Delaware, in Buffalo, and which, in reality, does not compare with it at all, being rather run down, and lined with those architectural monstrosities of the 70′s which, instead of mellowing into respect-able antiquity, have the unhappy faculty of becoming more horrible with time, like old painted harridans. Another vivid recollection is of a sad monotony of streets, differing only in name, containing blocks and blocks and miles and miles of humble wooden homes, all very much alike in their uninteresting duplication.

These memories would make my mental Cleveland picture somewhat sad, were it not for another recollection which dominates the picture and glorifies the city. This recollection, too, has to do with squalid thoroughfares, but in a different way.

Down near the railroad station, where the “red-light district” used to be, there has long stood a tract of several blocks of little buildings, dismal and dilapidated. They are coming down. Some of them have come down. And there, in that place which was the home of ugliness and vice, there now shows the beginning of the city’s Municipal Group Plan. This plan is one of the finest things which any city in the land has contemplated for its own beautification. In this country it was, at the time it originated, unique; and though other cities (such as Denver and San Francisco) are now at work on similar improvements, the Cleveland plan re-mains, I believe, the most imposing and the most complete of its kind.

When an American city has needed some new public building it has been the custom, in the past, for the politicians to settle on a site, and cause plans to be drawn (by their cousins), and cause those plans to be executed (by their brothers-in-law). This may have been “practical politics,” but it has hardly resulted in practical city improvement.

No one will dispute the convenience of having public buildings “handy” to one another, but there may still be found, even in Cleveland, men whose feeling for beauty is not so highly developed as their feeling for finance; men who shake their heads at the mention of a group plan ; who don’t like to “see all that money wasted.” I met one or two such. But I will venture the prophecy that, when the Cleveland plan is a little farther advanced, so that the eye can realize the amazing splendor of the thing, as it will ultimately be, there will be no one left in Cleveland to convert.

It is a fine and unusual thing, in itself, for an American city to be planning its own beauty fifty years ahead. Cleveland is almost un-American in that ! But when the work done—yes, and before it is done—this single great improvement will have transformed Cleveland from an ordinary looking city to one of great distinction.

Fancy emerging from a splendid railway station to find yourself facing, not the little bars and dingy buildings which so often face a station, but a splendid mall, two thousand feet long and six hundred wide, parked in the center and surrounded by fine buildings of even cornice height and harmonious classical design. At one side of the station will stand the public library; at the other the Federal building; and at the far extremity of the mall, the county building and the city hall.

Three of these buildings are already standing. Two more are under way. The plan is no longer a mere plan but is already, in part, an actuality.

When the transformation is complete Cleveland will not only have remade herself but will have set a magnificent example to other cities. By that time she may have ceased to call herself “Sixth City”—for population changes. But if a hundred other cities follow her with group plans, and whether those plans be of greater magnitude or less, it must never be forgotten that Cleveland had the appreciation and the courage to begin the movement in America, not merely on paper but in stone and marble, and that, without regard to population, she therefore has a certain right, today, to call herself “First City..”