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Mysterious ways

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Oh, these guys.

I said yesterday that Victorians never met a sentence they couldn't make more convoluted, and here's another that took a second read to make out. Why didn't anyone teach them to cool it with the commas and semi-colons?

Missed connections, however entertaining, can be remarkably the same, as I've said before (some contemporary critics even went so far as to argue that they were so similar they must have been written by the same people). But sometimes you run across ones that are better than most. Here's the text of this one:

If the young lady in a black silk dress, steel [?] cloak, with hood, who, in company with another lady, passed up Fourteenth street on Thursday afternoon about 4 o'clock, is willing to form the acquaintance of the gentleman she saw leaning against a tree at the corner of University place, and whom, when alone, she met an hour afterwards in front of the St. Nicholas Hotel, she can address Memphis, Broadway Post Office, stating when and where an interview may be had, or to what address a letter may be sent, with a view to a better acquaintance. Communications cordially welcomed and held sacredly confidential. MEMPHIS.

My, my, my. Where to begin? So much here of interest. How did this happen? A woman is walking down the street and sees some guy leaning against a tree. An hour later, she somehow knows to meet him at the St. Nicholas Hotel? How did they arrange that? (I couldn't find the exact location of this establishment, but it was somewhere on Broadway, and as it was built in 1853 would have certainly been in the general vicinity of where they first saw each other.) The hotel was quite a fancy place, so no way were they meeting for some tawdry rendezvous. Therefore, let's assume that she, at least, really is a lady. "Memphis," on the other hand - well, somehow I wonder about anyone leaning idly against a tree eying every woman who walks by - but let's give him the benefit of the doubt too.

So, they've met in front of the hotel by some mysterious pre-arranged signal. Did he hold up a big sign when she walked by: "Meet me at the St. Nicholas Hotel in an hour"? Really this baffles me, but moving on, somehow they met. And...he doesn't get her name? When he says "met," does he really mean: "I followed you and 'coincidentally' we ran into each other again as soon as your friend left, but didn't actually talk?" Because otherwise I can't think of how you "met" and not only didn't get an address but also didn't even get a name!

Maybe he was all flirtatious and they had a little chat, but to spice up the fun he told her to check out the personals column tomorrow and there'd be one addressed to her. Maybe she'd get a little thrill out of some cute guy putting an ad in the paper about her. And he certainly spared no expense - he must have money to pay for such a lengthy ad; it's much longer than the average.

I guess we'll never know - but I'll never stop wondering!

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2009 Pam Epstein

5 comments:

Bianca August 25, 2009 at 10:37 PM  

Well, she must have been attending high tea at the hotel at 4pm. Maybe he just followed her and "met" her again. Creepy.

Anonymous August 28, 2009 at 7:08 PM  

The missing word looks like 'mixed' to me - and what's more, Google pulls up another reference to a "steel mixed cloak", lost in Delaware in September 1858.

Do you think the meeting outside the hotel could have been a purely serendipitous one? I'd like to think so, but I am somewhat of a romantic at heart.

Anonymous August 28, 2009 at 7:20 PM  

Oh, and just below the notice about the lost cloak was this little nugget:

"Notice:
Whereas my wife, Anna Brandow, of the town of Prattsville, has left my bed and board without just cause of provocation, and refuses to return thereto, this is to forbid all persons harbouring or trusting her on my account, as I shall pay no debts of her contracting.
John Brandow
Pratsville, Sept. 27th, 1858"

Makes you wonder what story was behind that one, and whether to be sorry for her or for him.

Pam August 29, 2009 at 8:27 AM  

"Steel mixed coat" - I wonder what that is? But sure, I'll bite. As for the second ad, yeah, those were not uncommon. Women in smaller towns especially could just go to a store and buy on their husbands' credit, so this way he can say that he gave fair warning to all those merchants, etc, that he wouldn't pay. They are kind of odd though, aren't they?

Melinda September 8, 2009 at 8:35 PM  

To me it sounds like this guy has a little too much time on his hands. I'd like to think that he's a man of some means who too notice of a girl who was passing by. Then it turns out that they were staying at the same hotel. And because they seem to have taken marked interested in one another once, they were twice as likely to notice each other again in passing. That's what my romantic side tells me.

My skeptical side says that he's a gigalo on the make.

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