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(skates icon)1894

JANUARY 2nd, 1895.

In settling down to complete the telling of this story, I am conscious of a distinct sense of humility. To say that our day was a success is merely to state a fact, without giving an idea of the enthusiasm which prevailed during the entire trip and which to-day, in spite of still joints and weary muscles has not abated. ... All were prompt at the rendez vous, with one exception, and in waiting for Svengali, we probably missed the farewells of our chief, who had promised to see us off at North Street bridge at about ten o'clock, though he could not be induced to accompany us.

Finally leaving a note for the delinquent to follow us, we set out, and during our progress through the city were much gazed at on account of our unusual dress--knickerbockers, "sweaters" and many varieties of head gear. Being in force however we did not mind, but rather enjoyed the novelty of being thus observed. ...

Dinner had been ordered for ten (people) as it was our purpose to have too much rather than not enough. This was fortunate, for we had not gone many strides upon our way, before we picked up recruits enough from friends we met upon the ice, to supply a diner for every cover that was laid.

But the skating! such skating as it was! such ice and such a winter's day as one might wait an entire season for to see--not a stirring of the air, save that we made ourselves as we rushed along the smooth black surface--past the summer residences that border the stream for several miles out of the city, under bridges, and around little bayous or returning branches of the river, where the big elms almost touched their ultimate side branches over head. Many skaters were upon the ice for the first few miles north, but we had only to climb over the first weir of frozen water falls, where the dull roar of the under cateract sounded solemn and uncanny, to leave behind all these ephemeral merrymakers and the last view of the city. It was perhaps at six miles out that questions began to be propounded concerning the distance to be traveled. I think most of us had got our second wind by this time and the first muscular pains caused by the unwonted exercise had begun to pass out of our legs and fetlock joints; but the speed was having its natural effect upon our body temperatures, jackets were swinging wide, and we began to realize it was to be warm work. "How many miles did you say it was Frank?"--first one and then another would ask the original suggester of the plan. I don't believe there was a quailing heart or a tottering purpose in the crowd, but most of us were on skates for the first or second time in several years and had not yet quite arrived at that confidence which is born of experience. ...

... In the shallow parts of the mid stream we could see the fishes through ice clear as window glass, basking in the reflected sun light at the bottom, and entirely unaffrighted at our presence, as though fully aware of the protection the ice afforded them.

And now we approached the first of the big flouring mills which at intervals find their motive power in the stream, and where it was thought we should have to remove our skates for a portage. Here befell our first mishap. Our man of muscle who was acting as pilot, and who had set us an heroic example in climbing the frozen steps of a weir with skates on at a dying scramble (which nobody had the nerve to follow), was still in the lead, when we were confronted with what looked like an impassable place, mostly open water with the ice surface slanting toward it from the edges--a ticklish spot. To make a short story, as short as possible, Frank missed his calculations and got into the ice cold water up to his waist. We were sorry, but of course we smiled when he wasn't looking, at the same time exhorting the poor chap to dry out at the miller's house. This he would not hear of doing however, and rendered reckless by his soaked condition, he pushed his way around the edges of the treacherous ice, we following at a respectful distance underneath the over-hanging branches, until once more he lost his footing and slipped into the water--this time wetting his jacket as well as his nether garments. ... However Frank was soon as merry as ever, his ardor undamped with the cold wetting he had received, and he was telling me how exactly in line with his usual luck the late occurance had been. I admitted it was strange how ill luck seemed to follow some people, but suggested that it was largely a matter of carelessness. I confided to him sotto voce (recollecting how "Pride goeth before a fall"), that it had been so at one time with me, adding with thoughtless haste, that of late years my luck had changed, that probably as the years settled down upon my devoted head, I grew more careful and crafty. Now, would that somebody had hit me with a club, ere ever I had said that thing, for not over a half mile further on and while I was giving rather close attention to that grace of movement, which some fool once told me was all mine, upon skates, I ran right into a two-inch layer of slush water spread over a surface of sunken ice, my skates were blocked and I slid for about ten feet on my stomach, with arms spread out before me. I got up gasping and too surprised even to use bad language (immediately), squeezing the water out of my woolen gloves as from wet sponges.

It was now decided that as some of our party were willing to own the pace too rapid for them and as two of us were pretty well soaked and would require constant motion to stave off possible pneumonia, we two should separate from the rest and cover the remaining miles, whatever they were to Thiensville, with what speed we would, while the others should come on at a more leisurely rate; we the forerunners of the party to have the hot water and the Tom and Jerry batter ready for use on the arrival of the others. With this permission we let no ice thaw under our feet, to vary the old saying, and were considerably surprised, I think, to hear ere long from a farmer who was cutting a water hole for his cattle, that Thiensville was only about a mile farther on. Along here somewhere we met a fellow with a paper bag of lunch, standing over and contemplating as he ate, the dead body of a large muskrat, which he said he had killed with his skate. ... By the time the rest came past this spot, the little body of soft brown fur had been removed and our fellows were considerably alarmed on our behalf, not knowing what the pool of red blood upon the ice might possibly betoken. But I find I am stringing out a simple narrative of just the most ordinary occurences into such an unconscionable length that I must hurry on and perhaps curtail the account of what was probably the most satisfying part of our day's outing, the royal good dinner had in the cosey dining room of "Memmler's Hotel" at Thiensville, after our jaded bodies had been warmed and rejuvenated by that aforesaid Thomas and Jeremiah, In the opinion of those of our party "who occasionally imbibe" and of the paunchy little publican, our jolly landlord himself, who ought to know, the batter was a great success, at least they all did ample justice to it. Frank and I with Herbert Allan, one of our recruits, arrived at two o'clock (having been just three hours and forty minutes on the way). Memmler was at the brink to meet us and said in answer to our enquiry on the subject, that we had come a distance of just 21 miles, a figure he had wisely forborne to mention, previous to our ordering preparations at his tavern...

I wouldn't be sure, in fact I had a little rather leave it in doubt, but I don't believe there was a man in that hungry crowd who had time to wash his hands or dry his wet clothes before getting his legs underneath that steaming smoking board which the women folk had ready spread for us as the rear guard flocked into the bar. We did not stand on the order of our sitting down, but dropped into the most vacant chair, and I am afraid the smiling folk, who gazed at us through the sliding panel from the kitchen, must have wondered if we had ever had a square meal before in our lives. Somebody with his mouth full, quoted Shakespere, concerning good digestion waiting upon appetite, but got no further. "And with thy spirit" irreverently came from somebody else, and then no more was heard. However it isn't every day that one has an appetite such as we had for that dinner. There are those who would give hundreds for the like of it. I know now how wisely the landlord's good Frau had calculated in providing a roast goose well as a roast turk, and roast apples as well as cranberry sauce, together with a proportionate array of vegetable comestibles, which pleased our dietaries, for we have dietaries in our office. It was perhaps ten minutes before anybody spoke, except to demand food, and in half an hour the table looked as if a young symoon had struck it amidships. ...

Memmler, the younger, sat him down with us at our invitation, while Memmler, the elder, attended the public in the next room; but after dinner, as we sat smoking Missouri meershaums around the big stove, the old fellow with his bar apron still tied around him and at ease in his shirt sleeves, was relieved by his son, and for a time unbent himself to the amusements of our party. He showed himself quite a performer on the piano, as one of our fellows had it "he could certainly thump the box". He gave us Die Wacht am Rhein with much spirit, and we all joined in the song as best we might, making much noise if little harmony and having a very jolly time indeed. In this wise the time passed so merily, that we who intended returning to the city on skates, were suddenly confronted with the fact, that if we wished to get below the rapids before darkness set in, we would most certainly have to set out at once. Frank and I were still very moist, steaming in fact around the great stove, but the erstwhile contents of the bowl had not yet ceased to warm our inner men, so to speak, to the exclusion of all exterior sensations of discomfort. ...

... Truly it was entrancing, that return trip, and romantically beautiful--by far the most conspicuous recollection that remains to me of the entire outing.

That strange stillness of evening that settles down over the open country as darkness falls, lay upon the river; and as the sharper air of oncoming night began to steal into the atmosphere, our vigorous bearing upon the ice occasionally sent loud and ominous boomings across its surface, reverberating to the farther shore and reminding one of summer thunder.

On we sped at an ever increasing pace, until we had reached the limit for safety, and only tempering our speed when crackling surface ice and an opaque appearance of the river ahead, warned us of the vicinity of rapids underneath and ticklish skating above. I have often noticed with what greater freedom a horse travels at night, pricking his ears first to one side, then to another, ever on the alert for something to avoid or to shy at, and so forgetting in his excitement that there is any exertion in movement. And so it was with us. We were too busy keeping a sharp lookout ahead, in the "queer" places, and too dazzled with the beauty and splendor of the night and with the moonlighted surface of the glassy ice in the fine stretches, to think of calculating on the distance traversed or yet to cover. ... On the straight southern courses of the stream, a single large bright star (which I am not astronomer enough to name), was our constant companion, piercing the darkness immediately ahead of us and as it seemed, almost near enough to hail. Had we known her name we could not have enjoyed her presence more. Now and then a bend in the river would appear before us, all darkened by a high timbered bluff shutting out the moon light, and in such places the pale glow of the stars took on an added lustre.

However all things must come sooner or later to an end, the pleasant things of life generally sooner, and this day was no exception to the rule. It was like leaving a beautiful introspective reverie for the common place of ordinary conversation, to find ourselves gradually nearing the outskirts of the city, where, upon that portion of the river included in alderman Doelger's resolution, as a skating preserve, we began to meet and pass increasingly large numbers of skaters--for the hour was still an early one. And I think with the recollection of that quiet pastoral panorama, (in which the very loneliness of the situation was its cheafest charm,) still fresh in our minds, that this is as good a place as any in which to bring to a close this already too lengthy narrative of one day's sport. I remember that as we landed at North Street bridge, at just the stroke of eight o'clock, with our clothing frozen hard and clanking like steel armour, I for one heartily wished that I might dispense with the long street car ride before me and step at once into the pressence of a warm bath and a warm supper, and so end abruptly, in the zenith of its pleasures, a day that had begun, continued and ended so altogether delightfully as had this New Year's day.


Bell, Joseph McClellan. A Little Journey on Skates. 189-?
From the State Historical Society of Wisconsin: Pam 57-2140