Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Century Man 1901

[From 2005, the beginning of an aborted effort to write the biography of the 20th century's Century Man as a novel in chronological order. This version of the character is no longer compatible with the current "canon" for the Century Men.]

January 1901

In the last remaining seconds of the year 1900 and the 19th century, a bugler from the First Illinois Infantry played "Taps" at the corner of Madison and Dearborn Streets. Horns blared and revolvers were fired recklessly into the air as the clock bells tolled the changing of the century. After the last stroke tolled from the bells, the bugler played "Reveille." Those who stayed up to celebrate the New Year despite the bitter cold either went back to their parties or went back to bed and the comfort of warm blankets. The latter is what I did.

My life both before and after the start of 1901 was so different that I will not bother you with many details of the former. I was a happily married man, a father, and -- due to the hard work and discipline of my father -- enjoyed a life of privilege. Indeed, though I was president of several companies and organizations, I had never worked hard in my life until I began to take on more company duties of my father’s these past two years since his health began to decline. It wasn’t the physical demands of the job, though, that made it so bad. It was visiting the stockyards. There was the horrible sound. There was the smell. The stench of death was as bad or worse. Oh, flocks of tourists always came and watched out of morbid curiosity, but to endure the sound and the smell day after day took stamina and willpower.

My father always had, besides riches, stamina and willpower to spare. I had always meant to tell him how I admired those characteristics. I believe I had made a long list of such things in my head the morning I received the phone call from his doctor. His myocarditis was worsening, they told me, complicated by pneumonia. I had taken the call while visiting the stockyards office. I recall how difficult it was to hear the words over the squealing of the pigs in the yards.

No comments: