Monday, March 5, 2012

From Boy Soldier to Dapper Upholsterer

On this blog, I've chosen to focus on places, which allows me to do a show-and-tell with photographs, maps and prints. As I've already burned through much of the available photos from the days of old, I thought I'd turn to my own particular interest, that of every day life.

Every so often, the Boston Globe would run 'in the old days' articles featuring historical nuggets. Here we learn something I would never have guessed in a million years - plaid streetcars! And cars named after famous heroines, as well. In this case, both women cited have Wikipedia articles, so it must be true!

Daily Boston Globe December 23, 1928

Wore First Uniform of Streetcar Conductor

R.H.J. Nagle Finds Modern Girls Only Improvement Over Things of 60 Years Ago

"Give me the old Boston of 60 years ago!" exclaimed R.H.J. Nagle, the upholsterer, as he worked on a Duncan Fyfe table sent in by King's Chapel for renovation.

"There was not the hustle and bustle in those days; we seemed to have time to enjoy life. Today everything is just rush, and what does it benefit us?"

The only thing modern Mr Nagle approves of is the girl of today. "She is OK. In my day they were too timid," he asserted. probably the hoopskirts had a lot to do with this opinion. As Mr Nagle had been a hoopskirt spangler,* which was attaching the thin gauze covering to the hoops, he probably realized how much they hindered the women in getting about.

Mr Nagle is not 75 years of age. He was one of the first advertisers in the Boston Daily Globe. He had a yearly rate of $20 for four lines on the front page. He has always read the daily and Sunday Globe. he calls it a fine home paper "and mighty interesting."

Street Cars Painted in Plaids

Mr Nagle had the distinction, when he was a conductor for the old Metropolitan St. Railway, to be fitted with the first uniform ever worn by a street car conductor in Boston.

His run was from Bartlett st, Roxbury, to the East Boston ferry. It was the Highland car lines, and the cars were painted in plaids and named after popular heroes and heroins, including Flora MacDonald and Grace Darling. Fares were six rides for a quarter, half fares were three cents, single fares were a nickel. The hours were from 8:45 a m to 12:00 midnight and the pay was $1.75 a day. he had a layoff of four hours in the afternoon.

Mr Nagle remembers the visits of all the Presidents of the United States. President Grant stopped at the St James Hotel, now the Franklin Square House; President Harrison at the Hotel Brunswick, and President McKinley at the Vendome. He also recalled the visit of the Prince of Wales who become King Edward VII.

The visit of the first six Chinese mandarins to this country in their gorgeous costumes of silver and yellow was the most colorful event that he recalls. They were conducted by Ambassador Burlingame, and left the train at what is now the Hotel Buckminster, to be escorted with ceremonies into the city.

Saw Back Bay Filled In

Mr Nagle was born in Cardiff, Wales, Sept 13, 1853, and was brought here at the age of three years. HE was named after three of the English Kings, Richard III, Henry VIII, and John I.

He spent part of his boyhood in Charlestown, and he recalls the long walk to the site of the present main Postoffice on Devonshire st to purchase brown sugar for the table; white sugar was then unknown. Milk was 3 1/2 cents per quart.

He tried to enlist as a drummer boy in the Civil War, but was prevented by the watchfulness of his parents. A little later he enlisted in the Regular Army as a fife player and was detailed to recruiting duty at Governors Island. Shortly after his discharge from the service his detail joined Gen Custer, and all perished in the massacre.

The change in Boston that has interested him the most was the filling of the Back Bay. He lived on the Mill Dam where the Fenway Theatre now stands. Water was carried from the Old Tavern at what is now Charlesgate East. It was piped in from Jamaica Pond in a two-inch log pipe. The method of carrying the water was to attach two buckets to a wooden hoop taken from a molasses barrel, supporting the hoop in each hand as he walked in the center of the hoop.

He walked down Beacon street to the Phillips School. School met every day, including Saturday morning.

Boating, fishing, clamming and catching muskrats were his favorite pastimes in the area between Tremont st and Beacon. It was nothing unusual to see 20,000 persons skating in the Back Bay, he declared.

Simple Business in Those Days

The business methods in those days were very simple as compared to the present. The shutters were removed from the windows at 7 a m and put back at 8 p m. No credit was extended to the customer; cash was paid and the goods either carried or teamed away by the purchaser. In ordering from the Boston wholesale houses the mail was used, but if the need was urgent the horsecars were taken downtown.

Mr Nagle claims the children were given more coasting privileges in those days, and that the slide across the Common, from the State House to Tremont st was a popular one.

He began to learn his trade of upholsterer in 1872 and has been in business for himself since 1879.

Reading has been his favorite pastime. He has a library of 500 books, especially of general history.

He has never been sick a week at a time and never had a family doctor. He still attends to business and is quite active.

Sept. 13, 1927, he made an air trip from the East Boston Airport over the city, which gave him a clear idea of Boston's development since the days of 1968, when it was a city of 192,000 inhabitants.

*spangle: n One of the small metal clasps used in fastening the tapes and wires of a hoop-skirt.

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