When I applied for an admission ticket at a window by the gate I told the agent that I had something to exhibit.
"What is it?" he inquired.
"Well, here it is. Look at it."
When he craned his neck through the window and got a glimpse of my bundle, he cried excitedly, "Oh! you don't need a ticket--come right in."
When I inquired of the agent where things as mine should be exhibited, he said "You see that building up on the hill with a big flag on it? That's the Fine Arts Hall, and it's just the place for your wonderful invention."
So I went up to the Fine Arts Hall and looked in, wondering if they would allow wooden things in so fine a place.
I was met at the door by a dignified gentleman, who greeted me kindly and said, "Young man, what have we got here?"
"Two clocks and a thermometer," I replied.
"Did you make these? They look wonderfully beautiful and novel and must, I think, prove the most interesting feature of the fair."
"Where shall I place them?" I inquired.
"Just look around, young man, and choose the place you like best, whether it is occupied or not. You can have your pick of all the building, and a carpenter to make the necessary shelving and assist you every way possible!"
So I quickly had a shelf made large enough for all of them, went out on the hill and picked up some glacial boulders of the right size for weights, and in fifteen or twenty minutes the clocks were running. They seemed to attract more attention than anything else in the hall. I got lots of praise from the crowd and the newspaper reporters. The local press reports were copied into the Eastern papers. It was considered wonderful that a boy on a farm had been able to invent and make such things, and almost every spectator foretold good fortune. But I had been so lectured by my father above all things to avoid praise that I was afraid to read those kind newspaper notices, and never clipped out or preserved any of them, just glanced at them and turned away my eyes from beholding vanity. They gave me a prize of ten or fifteen dollars and a diploma for wonderful things not down in the list of exhibits.
Many years later, after I had written articles and books, I received a letter from the gentleman who had charge of the Fine Arts Hall. He proved to be the Professor of English Literature in the University of Wisconsin at this Fair time, and long afterward he sent me clippings of reports of his lectures. He had a lecture on me, discussing style, etcetera, and telling how well he remembered my arrival at the Hall in my shirt-sleeves with those mechanical wonders on my shoulder, and so forth, and so forth. These inventions, though of little importance, opened all doors for me and made marks that have lasted many years, simply, I suppose, because they were original and promising.