The Tranquility of Days Gone By

Published by: David Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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Sometimes, in the hustle and bustle ofthe twenty-first century, it’s easy to pine away, wishing for the easier, morepeaceful days of old.  There’s just oneproblem with that image...  nothing isthat simple.  From the dawn of time,every generation has had its own producers of stress, anxiety, and reasons tolook for an escape.  Wheeled traffic, itseems, has been a source of irritation for ages.  For instance, anyone living near or drivingin a congested area knows the challenges and annoyances of road racket.  It’s so troubling in some towns thatordinances have been put in place against excessive vehicle noise.  At a minimum, it’s an experience that takessome getting used to and not everyone is comfortable with the learningcurve. 

With that in mind, I thought it might beinteresting to show how some things have remained fairly similar between thenineteenth and twenty-first centuries. The following article was taken from the June 1880 issue of “The Hub,”an early trade publication for those involved in the carriage and wagonindustry.  After reading this137-year-old account, it’s clear that traffic-related nuisances are far frombeing a new problem...

“An English gentleman, who recently visited this city for the first time, gives thefollowing entertaining description of the vehicles and noise of the New-Yorkstreets:

There is one thing in New-York that I confess I do not enjoy, and that is the noise.  It is the noisiest place I was ever in.  I don’t believe there is a quiet street in itand, as the heat during the summer necessitates keeping all the windows open,the houses and even the churches are nearly as noisy as the streets.  Our New-York friends had laid down spent tanin front of their church, which greatly mitigated the nuisance.  It softened the horrible noise made byunceasing carts rushing at full speed over the great, coarse, uneven pavingstones, but not the voices of the costermongers who pervade the city withincessant yells, or the clanging bells, screaming of engines, and clashing ofpieces of old iron used by the ragmen to advertise their precious presence inyour neighborhood.

At 4 o’clock inthe morning it begins; the milk-carts drive with horrid roar right past youropen bedroom window; away they go, full gallop, one making as much noise asseveral of our carts would.  The firstnight I spent in New-York I was awakened by this diabolical performance, andbouncing out of bed, ran to the window in full expectation of seeing a halfdozen fire engines galloping to the scene of their labors, but lo! and beholdit was nothing but peaceful milk!

Then come theice-wagons, – great, white, four-wheeled, clumsy vehicles with round topscovering their crystal but ponderous loads, and they must needs galloptoo.  So must everything else.  If you are not run over six times a day inNew-York, thank your stars and not the drivers. But, you are run over, if not by carts and carriages, by railway trains;for there are elevated railroads over your head, and these, to my thinking, arethe greatest wonder I have yet seen in America.

I have noticedalso that the noises in America are worse to bear than in our sedate oldcountry.  The atmosphere is so clear andthe nerves are so highly strung, that every sound penetrates very deeply intothe inside of the head, and after a little while a continuous succession ofnoises sets up a disturbance there that half stuns and half maddens you.  I have been most devoutly thankful to get outof the great transatlantic Babel."   

When I first came across this shortarticle, I laughed to myself.  It seemsthat people are still people, no matter what century they’re born in.  In spite of the technologies and conveniences(or lack thereof) we all have the same basic desires for harmony.  We yearn for the leisure of a weekend or daysoff so we can focus on things that rejuvenate our souls.  Oftentimes, the things that revive our spiritcan be something as basic as a quiet day at home, mornings sitting in a frontporch rocker with coffee in hand, or even the opportunity to catch up on apersonally fulfilling project.   

Over and again, we’re reminded that therush and flurry to push forward has always been there.  I’m fortunate to live in a part of our state thatbenefits from vacation-seekers looking for an escape to the serenity of theoutdoors; folks looking for opportunities to create special memories and putaside the tensions of traffic, jobs, deadlines, or other pressures.  Anyone accustomed to the tranquility found inquiet, picturesque settings can fully appreciate the basic human need forserenity.  Shot nerves, quick tempers,shouts from vehicles, and inconsiderate drivers can make all of us look forgreener pastures.  Clearly, noisepollution and courtesy failures are far from being an exclusively modernproblem.  Like others reading this blog, I’veread similar firsthand accounts from witnesses to the great western landrushes.  Yelling, bumping, wheel-grindingraces to the best real estate sites were not uncommon.  It seems that no matter how much time passes,the strains of life are always there, ready and waiting to wreak their ownhavoc. 

So, this week, if you happen to findyourself sitting in bumper-to-bumper, honk-happy traffic or maybe you’ve been therecipient of a less-than-friendly wave from another vehicle, it’s probably goodto remember that this too will pass.  Youmay not be able to completely escape but, then again, unlike the writer in the1880 story above, you probably won’t have to hop on a steamship and re-crossthe Atlantic to regain your sanity.

Have a great week!  

Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives, LLC
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