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Salomon de Rothschild Tours America (1861)

Acrobats of Platform and Tightrope

New York, September 15, '60.

I'm back in New York. The city, although filled with foreigners, is sad and is like Paris in the month of August (minus Paris). I intend to go to Massachusetts to the heart of the mountain country, which I am told is magnificent, for New York is too full of excitement with the presidential campaign. All the streets are crossed with immense canvases that serve as advertisements for the different parties. Every day or every night there is some form of demonstration.

Wednesday, a monster meeting was called at Joneswood [Jones Wood] in honor of Douglas. Twenty or thirty thousand Democrats were assembled. Since it was cold and there was fear there wouldn't be enough enthusiasm, they got up the idea of giving the crowd a banquet. They roasted a whole ox, a sheep, a calf, and a pig, so that there would be something for everyone's taste. Five hundred barrels of beer were prepared to wash down this huge mass of victuals. The kitchen facilities were of the most primitive type: a deep hole dug in the earth and two stakes holding a colossal roasting spit. Such was the sight, more picturesque than inviting, that this part of the celebration offered.

The political side of the celebration consisted of four platforms that had been prepared for the orators. The meeting was opened, not by a banquet, not even by a repast, but by a real animal-like feed upon which the famished crowd threw itself like a pack of hounds. Once the feed was finished, they then grouped themselves around the platforms. I shall spare you the political part, and shall tell you only that Belmont, Douglas' friend, was acclaimed president of the meeting and addressed the crowd in a well-presented, though improvised, speech.

The next day, Thursday, was the Republicans' turn. From eight o'clock in the morning on, traffic was stopped by a huge demonstration; from all parts of the city, the bands headed for Cooper Institute [Cooper Union], where the meeting took place. When the speeches were over, the audience, mostly dressed in red, formed into companies, each person bearing a torch. They went through the most populated sections, keeping perfect order, but making the most infernal noises. I can't describe to you the impression made upon me by that scene, which was worthy of Dante. It reminded me of the sad days of [the revolution of] '48; it made me think of the perils which are ever dangling over our heads, and made me forsee for this country an era of revolutions and civil wars.

Several hours after the Joneswood political meeting, Douglas was replaced by [Charles] Blondin, an acrobat of a different kind. The famous clown performed his stunts on a rope 2,000 feet long and at a height of 200 feet, with a strong wind blowing. Some of those who attended this performance compared the sensation they experienced to the one you get when you see a man hanged. Blondin, who knows the value of time, left immediately for Niagara, where he was to work before the Prince of Wales. Despite the reiterated refusal of the Prince, Blondin carried his agent on his back along the entire length of the rope. Then he immediately made the dangerous crossing on stilts, to the great horror of the young man, who became sick from it. Still, several pure-blooded Yankees were very much dissatisfied and wanted their money back; some bad joker had started a rumor in the crowd that it was the Prince of Wales whom Blondin was to carry. Those naive spectators found themselves robbed...