From The Gold Leaf, Thursday, Sept. 7, 1905. I wondered about Girard College after reading the story below, so I looked it up. It is still in existence, but unlike most colleges, it also educates needy children through 12th grade. The wall surrounding the college still exists. If you are also curious, see http://www.girardcollege.com/page.cfm?p=359.
Things Seen and Heard…On a Trip by One Who Travels With His Eyes and Ears Open
After some weeks at home it gives quite a novelty to life to go into other States and communities and notice how they do things. It is wonderful too to see the spirit of braggadocio that exists everywhere. O matter where one goes he can find “the best in the world,” “the largest in the world” and things galore that are “unparalleled.”
I was walking along on Chestnut street in Philadelphia on Tuesday when a patriotic Pennsylvanian said to me, “There is the largest store in the world.” I saw that it indeed was a very great building and that people passed in and out of its doors, and along the aisles and up the elevators, story after story, and down into its basements in such crowds and with such fervor, that to conclude that shopping must be done there or nowhere, was almost inevitable. Still I could not exactly repress a little doubt about its being the very largest in the world. I had not gone five squares from that place before I was shown another building, “the tallest in the world,” the famous Washing monument being just a little taller. The greatest of everything was there. Wm. Penn’s old home, just as he left it; Liberty Bell, crack and all; and the building where the Declaration of Independence was signed. The house, made of poles for Gen. Grant to live in near Richmond during a winter campaign in the Civil War, has been taken down and restored exactly, in that famous city of liberty lovers to be viewed by all who come as worthy of their most patriotic adoration! It is almost treasonable not to go to Willow Grove and see for yourself Valley Forge, and hear again recounted stories of the bravery of the Revolutionary Fathers.
Girard College and the Girard estates can be seen everywhere, for as rich as he was it is richer now because he could not take it with him into the grave. Stephen Girard was called a philanthropist because he gave his money to buy him a reputation and yet he gave the college with the condition that “no ecclesiastic, missionary or minister of any sect whatever is permitted to hold or exercise any station or duty in the college, or to be admitted as a visitor within the premises.” There it stands with his high walls looking as forbidding as a penitentiary.
A short walk from the tallest building, I came to “the finest theatre in the world,” and so on until I was about to decide that I was in the superlative city; but I took a sleeper that night and slept across the State and awoke in Pittsburg. I had scarcely arrived before I was informed that a circle around that place with a radius of 25 miles would enclose “the richest place in the world” of any size. Just a few squares away I was suddenly called upon to stop and behold “the largest store in the world!” I was bound to call a halt by saying to my informant, who wanted me to go in and see the wonders, that I had been to New York and Philadelphia and to the big store in Henderson. I suppose they all told the truth, but truth is very much like some good old tunes I used to know. They are still played but they are played nowadays with variations. Imagine my feelings after I had been tired of turning up my nose at the bragging Yankees and had let it down again to its normal position after getting in Vance county, before I could get home I saw in big letters “the best on earth,” and said by a Southern man.
Lest what I shall not relate may seem to be personal, if it should come under the observation of whom it concerns, I will say that, as I passed through Kamschatka a very masculine looking woman came into the car. Her eyes, in color and gleam were very much like highly polished knife-blades. Her jaws hanging down beside her ears warned one of danger. Her mouth shut together like a steel trap except that it seemed to be tilted up at the corners at an angle of about 45 degrees. She seemed to be physically as cool as a cucumber, but I dare say her disposition stood at 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit. I saw no sorrow in her face or manner, though I am sure from the signs of mourning on her that that her husband, poor man, had gone to a better country, though I know nothing of his life here, nor would I change the expression if I knew he had been a bad man. The word “better,” you know, represents no absolute quality but is a relative or comparative word. The lady in question, as soon as she came in, seated herself occupying an entire seat. A man and his wife and two children came in at the same time and the four sat opposite our heroine in one seat. With a great effort at commiseration, she finally suggested that one of her little ones might sit with her. It was a very hot, sultry day and nearly every window in the car was open, as the heat was almost unendurable. A gentleman came in at the next station and took a seat in front of her and began to raise his window; but she soon squelched him, much to the amusement of the passengers. Finally she moved her seat and got in front of me and wanted my window down, but I explained to her that I was suffering from asthma and that fresh air was an absolute essential to my happiness, and she must excuse me; so stabbing me with her knife-like eyes she yielded the point, but first inquired with an insinuating tone if I had ever travelled much? I replied that my opportunities in that particular had been somewhat limited. I fear there was some sarcasm in the reply. In a few minutes we rolled into the great station at ---- let us say Cairo.
There coffee and sandwiches were brought in for sale. I took a sandwich and coffee. She took a sandwich and coffee. As soon as the odor of her sandwich penetrated her olfactory nerve her nose turned up like the nether end of a wasp preparing for battle and she said to me, “Mister, may I throw this out of your window?” I said, “Certainly, Madam, as far as I am concerned; but I think it would be a violation of the law to.” By that time she seemed to have warmed to 96.9 degrees and threw the whole thing through my window diagonally, half her sandwich landing in my coffee. To be thus deprived, when there was no chance of getting another, somewhat spoiled my very affable disposition, and I could not help telling her of my travels in several states of American, and some little in Canada; but I had never hoped to see as much as I had seen that day—that my experience with her was a new one and that I was glad of it. She left the train in Borneo, which helps America that much. The last I saw of her she was striding along with an air of “I can take care of myself, sir,” and I hope she will confine her efforts to that direction.
One thing I have learned: No matter where one is, it is the best place. I am reminded too that “Truth is stranger than fiction.” I am beginning to believe that in the multiplication of novels and novelettes, it is becoming more and more a stranger.