Category Archives: newspaper articles by Dreiser

Theodore Dreiser, “Just What Happened when the Waters of the Hudson Broke into the North River Tunnel”

 

 

‘Just What Happened When the Waters of the Hudson Broke Into the North River’

 

 

Posted here (downloadable Word document above) is the text of a very rare (now), hard to find article written by Dreiser, transcribed by Roger W. Smith.

I found this article on microfilm at the New York Public Library. It may be the only available existing copy. The article:

 

 “Just What Happened when the Waters of the Hudson Broke into the North River Tunnel”

New York Daily News

January 23, 1904

Magazine Section, pp. 6-7

 

was published anonymously in the Daily News’s Sunday supplement.

After a period during 1903 as a laborer on the New York Central Railroad, Dreiser was hired as a feature editor at the Daily News with the help of a recommendation from his brother Paul — it turned out to be a short-lived job. The paper is not the same one as the current New York Daily News.

 

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The disaster and ensuing tragedy which Dreiser recounts (with true reportorial skill and great attention to detail) occurred on July 21, 1880 during the construction of the first Hudson River Tunnel between New York City and Jersey City, New Jersey. A portion of a connecting chamber, on the New Jersey side of the river, caved in at 4:30 on the morning of the 21st. Twenty men were buried alive (not twenty-one as per Dreiser’s account). There were twenty-eight men working there, of whom twenty suffocated or drowned, with eight surviving. “The eight who escaped did so though the air-lock, and their rescue was almost a miracle,” The New York Times reported. (“Twenty Men Buried Alive: Caving In of the Hudson Span.” The New York Times, July 22, 1880, pg. 1)

The bodies of the men who perished were not recovered until months afterwards. The search for the bodies was completed on October 30, 1880 with the recovery of the last four bodies.

The Hudson River Tunnel Company was absolved of liability for the accident. It paid a final settlement of $500 to the widow of each of the married men who perished, and $200 to the relatives of unmarried men who perished.

 

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Material from “Just What Happened” was reused by Dreiser in his story “Glory Be! McGlathery,” published in the Pictorial Review of January 1925. (Pictorial Review 26 [January 1925]: 5-7, 51-52, 54, 71)

The Pictorial Review  story was reprinted under the title “St. Columba and the River” in Dreiser’s Chains: Lesser Novels and Stories (New York, Boni & Liveright, 1927).

“St. Columba and the River” was dramatized in the form of a musical under the title Sandhog: A Folk Opera in 3 Acts — in a “re-creation” by Earl Robinson (singer and pianist) with Waldo Salt (narrator). Sandhog was performed at the at the Phoenix Theater in New York from November 1954 through January 1955.

 

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The library’s copy has been torn and smudged in places, making some words and lines undecipherable.

Another post will be forthcoming in which I will discuss how Dreiser adapted the actual story for his short story “Glory Be! McGlathery”; Dreiser’s sources; and how Dreiser might have gained knowledge of the tunnel disaster and about the tunnel workers called sandhogs.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2020

Theodore Dreiser, “My City”

 

 

 

Theodore Dreiser, ‘My City’ – NY Herald Tribune 12-23-1928

 

Theodore Dreiser, ‘My City’

 
Nowhere is there anything like it. My City. Not London. Not Paris. Not Moscow. Not any city I have ever seen. So strong. So immense. So elate.

Its lilt! Its power to hurry the blood in one’s veins, to make one sing, to weep, to make one hate or sigh and die. Yet in the face of defeat, loneliness, despair, the dragging of feet in sheer weariness, perhaps, what strong, good days! Winey, electric! What beauty! What impressiveness! Neither hungry days nor yet lonely nor hopeless ones have ever broken this impressiveness–this spell for me.

A cruel and brutal city by turns; a callous. money-seeking and unsentimental city, as one looks here and there. But lyric, too, And spendthrift. Frittering, idle, wasteful–saving nothing, hoarding nothing, unless maybe, unmarketable dreams. And dreaming so, even in the face of brutality and calculation. Yet, in the face of this strain, failure, none of its lyric days going unnoted, none of its spell evaded. They have burst on me–its days –with shouts, with song, a sense of deathless verse–or have come crawling, weeping, opening and closing in despair. Yet to this hour I cannot step out of my door save with a thrill responsive to it all–its grandeur, mystery, glory–yea, Babylonian eternity.

See, here it is. Miles and miles. You shall not be rid of it in any direction under hours of rapid riding. And the millions and millions tramping to and fro within it! A veritable stream of them; as at Times Square at the theater hour–a Niagara of them, as in Wall Street or Fifty-seventh Street or Fifth Avenue at the opening or closing hours of each day. And each so small. A Parsee of dust. Yet each with its hunger, lust, hope.

Each with that something–call it mind, soul, mood; electrons in electro-physical combination, ions in electro-chemical union or libido or what you will. But each with the power to stir the other–to hate, to love, to longing, to dream, to aches, to death. And all gathered here in this endless pother of dreaming and seeking–seeking among canyons of stone, beneath tall towers of matter that stand foursquare to all the winds.

 

* * *

 

It is as old and as young as I am. As curious and indifferent. Amid all the stupendous wealth of it a man may die of hunger–a minute atom of a man or child, and so easily fed. And where there is so much wherewith to feed. Or of loneliness–where millions are lonely and seeking heartease, the pressure of a single friendly hand. Ho! one may cry aloud for aid and not be heard; ask for words only and harvest silence only where yet all is blare. Or be harried by too much contact, and fail of peace; be driven, harried, buried by attention. God!

 

 

* * *

 

 

And yet for all this or that here it runs like a great river, beats and thunders like a tumultuous sea; or yawns or groans or shrieks or howls in sheer ennui.

I never step out but I note it. Yet I never step out but I think, power, energy. strength, life, beauty, terror! And the astounding mystery of it all! You–I–all of us–with our eager. futile dreams. We are here together, seeking much, straining much. You, I. We are yearning to do much here in my city–be so much—-have some one group or phase or audience, or mayhap one other somewhere in all this, to recognize just us–just you–me. And not always finding that one. My fateful city!

 

 

 

TALL towers–
Clustered pinnacles–
Varied and fretted flowers of stone and steel
That island the upper air,
That tops the fogs and storms.
Erect–
Elate–
Frowning-­
Stern–
That shoulder in toothy canyons;
That march in serried ranks.
Dreams–
Ambitions–
Illusions–
Moods.
An architect has uttered a building;
A poet a tower.
Tall towers that ants have builded;
That mite and midge have reared.
Clustered pinnacles–
That prow and pierce the windy sky,
Thar ark a horde of trudging ants,
That roof a world of burrowing moles.

 

Yet at the base an immemorable river;
And about your feet the contemptuous,
Immemorable soil;
And before your strength the innumerable years.

 

Tall towers–
Clustered pinnacles–
Defiant spears of steel and stone.
Aye, but the inevitable winds that tag your strength!
Aye, but the inevitable cold that bites and eats!
Aye, but the inevitable days that front and wait!
Aye, but the unbroken grass that will bed you all!

 

 

— “My City,” by Theodore Dreiser, New York Herald Tribune, December 23, 1928, pg. B1

 

 

 

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An email of mine to a not quite Sub Sub (that’s a joke, echoing Herman Melville) former English major:

I’m in the NYPL now. I always find something.

I just stumbled across a newspaper article by Dreiser. December 1928. About New York City.

Never saw it before.

It almost makes my heart palpitate (an overstatement). It says simply and powerfully things I have thought and would like to be able to say.

One should, I never do, give up on Dreiser.

 

 

— posted by Roger W.  Smith

February 6, 2020

 

 

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comments

 
Michael Lydon, February 7, 2020

Why, I don’t know why, but TD’s poetry leaves me cold, even as his prose lights me on fire!

 

 

Roger W. Smith, February 7, 2020
Michael — We are in agreement. I debated with myself whether to even include the poem, but decided that — in the interests of completeness — I should. This TD poem is at least on topic, and it’s not as bad as many of his other ones. But Dreiser’s prose poetry is jejune and insipid.