By Major J.B. Pond, excerpted from “Eccentricities of Genius” (New York: G.W. Dillingham Company, 1900)
Above, “Samuel Clemens, half-length portrait, standing at end of pool table,” courtesy of the Library of Congress.
It was an enjoyable ride to Spokane, where we arrived at 11:30, and put up at the Spokane House, the largest hotel I ever saw. It was a large commercial building, covering an entire block, revamped into a hotel. A whole store was diverted into one bedroom, and nicely furnished, too. Reporters were in waiting to interview the distinguished guest. “Mark” [Samuel Clemens, more famously known as “Mark Twain”] is gaining strength and is enjoying everything, so the interviewers had a good time.
We spent all day, August 8th , in Spokane. The hotel was full. The new receiver and his gay party are also spending the day here, but all leave just before the time set for the lecture.
In the forenoon “Mark” and I walked about this remarkable city, with its asphalt streets, electric lights, nine-story telegraph poles, and commercial blocks that would do credit to any Eastern city. There were buildings ten stories high, with the nine top stories empty, and there were many fine stores with great plate-glass fronts, marked “To Rent.” In the afternoon our entire party drove about the city in an open carriage. Our driver pointed out some beautiful suburban residences and told us who occupied them.
“That house,” he said, as we drove by a palatial establishment, “is where Mr. Brown lives. He is receiver for the Spokane Bank, which failed last year for over $2,000,000. You all know about that big failure, of course. The receiver lives there.”
Pointing out another house, he said: “That man living up in that big house is receiver for the Great Falls Company. It failed for nearly a million. The president and directors of that company are most all in the State prison. And this yere house that we are coming to now is where the receiver of the Washington Gas and Water Company lives,” etc.
“Mark” said to the ladies: “If I had a son to send West, I would educate him for a receiver. It seems to be about the only thriving industry.”
We found here a magnificent new theatre — the Opera House [The Auditorium, formerly at the corner of Post and Main]. It has cost over $200,000 and was never yet a quarter filled. The manager was greatly disappointed at the receipts for the lecture; he had counted on a full house. Where he expected the people to come from I don’t know. The receipts were not much better than in Missoula. “Mark” didn’t enjoy it, and manifested no delicacy in so expressing himself.
As we have a day here, the ladies have overhauled and repacked their trunks. I think there is no occupation that has the fascination for women when travelling as the unpacking and overhauling of large travelling trunks. They go at it early, miss their luncheon, and are late to dinner, and yet show no signs of fatigue.
There was another incident here. Our ladies dressed their best for dinner, and outshone the receiver’s excursionists, who occupied most of the great dining hall. “Mark” didn’t see it, as he never comes down to dinner. I know I saw it, and enjoyed a feeling of pride. I just felt and knew I was envied by the men at the other tables. Clara Clemens is a beautiful girl. As we passed out of the dining room into the great parlor, she sat down to the Chickering grand piano and began playing a Chopin nocturne. It was in the gloaming. Stealthily, guests came in from dinner and sat breathlessly in remote parts of the boundless room listening to a performance that would have done credit to any great pianist. Never have I witnessed a more beautiful sight than this sweet brunette unconsciously holding a large audience of charmed listeners. If it was not one of the supreme moments of her mother’s life, who saw and heard her, then I have guessed wrong. It was an incident forever fixed in my memory.
That night at 11:30 we went aboard the sleeper on the Great Northern Road. Everything was in readiness for us. The next day was one full of interest as we rode over the Rockies on the zigzag road, travelling over thirty miles to make seven. “Mark” rode on the engine, greatly to the delight of the engineer.