Saturday, September 1, 2018

Parades and Entertainments

Stephen Crane (1871–1900)
From Stephen Crane: Prose & Poetry

“American Mechanics Parade on Ocean Avenue [Asbury Park],” c. 1895. From Glimpses of New Jersey Coast Resorts, 1902.
A reporter in Asbury Park, New Jersey, twenty-year-old Stephen Crane wrote a short piece for the New-York Tribune, and it appeared in the August 21, 1892, issue under the multi-level headline:
ON THE NEW-JERSEY COAST.
GUESTS CONTINUE TO ARRIVE IN LARGE NUMBERS.
PARADES AND ENTERTAINMENTS — WELL-KNOWN
PEOPLE WHO ARE REGISTERED AT THE VARIOUS HOTELS.
What should have been an innocuous society column ended up getting Crane fired.

In the years before Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894, fraternal orders and trade unions across the country marked the late summer season with processions ranging from patriotic parades to protest marches. Ten thousand men marched in the first “Labor Day” parade in New York in 1882, and similar events increased in number and size during the next two decades. During this period, in the beach town of Asbury Park, the workingmen belonging to the local chapters of the Junior Order of United American Mechanics sponsored an annual “American Day” parade in mid-August, with an emphasis on nationalism and protectionism rather than labor rights. When his boss (and older brother) Townley decided to spend the week fishing, Stephen was assigned to cover the 1892 event for the Tribune.

For nearly half a century, the Junior Order of United American Mechanics had been a force to be reckoned with. During 1843–44, Philadelphia experienced numerous anti-immigrant incidents, and officials voiced fears that “noisy and riotous foreigners” (that is, naturalized citizens) wielded undue influence in elections. In July 1845 the so-called Native American Party held a national convention in the city, and a group of men met separately to establish the organization that came to be called the Order of United American Mechanics. “To assist each other in employment,” and (notably) “to assist each other in business by patronizing each other in preference to foreigners”—by which the founders meant immigrants, particularly German, Irish, and Catholic. The organization promoted the reading of Bible in public schools and opposed “sectarianism interference” in schools and government. Within a decade the organization had over 4,000 members and 68 chapters.

In the mid-1850s several young men created a Junior Order; by the end of the century the youth auxiliary became a powerhouse of its own and eventually absorbed the parent organization. In 1892 the organization boasted a total membership of 131,000 belonging to 1,533 chapters (councils) in twenty-nine states, and its membership included white native-born Americans from all occupations. (During its first five decades, several efforts to admit blacks or to eliminate the word “white” from the organizations bylaws were soundly defeated.) The membership remained predominantly working class, but its name had become a misnomer. “We are neither ‘Juniors’ nor ‘Mechanics,’” admitted the organization’s historian in 1897.

In other words, fledgling journalist Stephen Crane was poking an immense hornet nest when he submitted an article mocking the contrast between the working-class marchers and the high-society vacationers. The Asbury Park editor filling in for Townley “was amused by it and forwarded it to the Tribune,” writes biographer Paul Sorrentino, “even though he expected that the newspaper’s staid editors would reject it.” But the Tribune offices were undergoing renovation and the piece slipped through the chaos, appearing in the paper’s “On the New-Jersey Coast” series on August 21. The satirical story was ill-timed for another reason: Tribune owner Whitelaw Reid was the Republican nominee for Vice President and could hardly afford having his newspaper alienate 131,000 voters. In spite of two apologetic retractions published by the newspaper, the Junior Order and its affiliates issued statements against Reid’s candidacy and passed resolutions condemning him. Much later Reid would joke that Stephen Crane cost him and Benjamin Harrison the election. “I don’t know whether Grover Cleveland ever knew how much he owed him.”

It has long been a matter of dispute among biographers whether Crane was dismissed by the Tribune, primarily because Willis Fletcher Johnson, the brothers’ editor in New York, later denied it. Sorrentino, whose recent biography of Crane offers the most thorough examination of documentation surrounding the incident, concludes, “The details of what actually happened are vague, but both Crane brothers were instantly fired,” although Townley was rehired when Reid found out he’d had nothing to do with his brother’s article. In any case, Crane’s contributions to the Tribune ceased with the end of the summer season. Other local papers piled on; a contributor to the Asbury Park Journal condemned his writing for “bad taste, unworthy a reputable reporter,” and remarked with eerie prescience, “This young man has a hankering for razzle-dazzle style, and has a great future before him if, like the good, he fails to die young.”

Because of the controversy, Stephen found himself unable to get a job when he applied to the American Press Association that month. Even worse for the young author, virtually all his future books were greeted by savage reviews in the Tribune, which would denounce him even after his death in 1900.

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For this week’s selection, we depart from the usual format and reproduce the selection, in its entirety, below.

ASBURY PARK, N.J., Aug. 20 (Special). — The parade of the Junior Order of United American Mechanics here on Wednesday afternoon was a deeply impressive one to some persons. There were hundreds of the members of the order, and they wound through the streets to the music of enough brass bands to make furious discords. It probably was the most awkward, ungainly, uncut and uncarved procession that ever raised clouds of dust on sun-beaten streets. Nevertheless, the spectacle of an Asbury Park crowd confronting such an aggregation was an interesting sight to a few people.

Asbury Park creates nothing. It does not make; it merely amuses. There is a factory where nightshirts are manufactured, but it is some miles from town. This is a resort of wealth and leisure, of women and considerable wine. The throng along the line of march was composed of summer gowns, lace parasols, tennis trousers, straw hats and indifferent smiles. The procession was composed of men, bronzed, slope-shouldered, uncouth and begrimed with dust. Their clothes fitted them illy, for the most part, and they had no ideas of marching. They merely plodded along, not seeming quite to understand, stolid, unconcerned and, in a certain sense, dignified—a pace and a bearing emblematic of their lives. They smiled occasionally and from time to time greeted friends in the crowd on the sidewalk. Such an assemblage of the spraddle-legged men of the middle class, whose hands were bent and shoulders stooped from delving and constructing, had never appeared to an Asbury Park summer crowd, and the latter was vaguely amused.

The bona fide Asbury Parker is a man to whom a dollar, when held close to his eye, often shuts out any impression he may have had that other people possess rights. He is apt to consider that men and women, especially city men and women, were created to be mulcted by him. Hence the tan-colored, sun-beaten honesty in the faces of the members of the Junior Order of United American Mechanics is expected to have a very staggering effect upon them. The visitors were men who possessed principles.

A highly attractive feature of social entertainment at the Lake Avenue Hotel during the past week has been the informal piano recitals given by Miss Ella L. Flock, of Hackettstown, N.J., who is one of the guests of that house. Miss Flock won a gold medal for superiority in piano playing at the Centenary Collegiate Institute last spring by her fine performance of Beethoven's “Sonata Pathetique.” She plays with singular power and grace of expression, and with the assured touch of a virtuoso.

Professor Milo Deyo and wife are spending the summer in the Park. Professor Deyo gave a delightful entertainment last week at the Lake Avenue Hotel, at which he played several of his original compositions.

The leader of the beach band has arranged Professor Deyo’s very popular air de ballet “Enchantment,” and this piece is now the greatest favorite of any that the band renders.

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