|A Trip on the Fall River Boat||Print Article|
Esther Fisher Benson|
At the end of August every summer the five little Smiths left the hospitality of one grandmother on the hot sandy New Jersey shore, to spend two weeks with the other grandmother in the old Robinson house on Washington Street. This was a real journey, with two long train rides and a ferry trip across the Hudson River to New York City.
Mr. Smith never know quite how she managed the whole thing although Mr. Smith, a calm collected man, joined them in Philadelphia. Each child had a particular bag to look out for, and the older girls held onto a younger child. By the time they walked along Fulton Street toward the wharf, they were tired from six hours of travel.
What a street this was, full of wagons, horses, carts, and vans going in every direction. The children were herded into a vast barn-like warehouse, through heaps of freight until suddenly an opening showed them the BOAT.
It was the Sound Steamer, perhaps the Commonwealth or the Priscilla. They walked up a short gangplank in to the lobby where Mr. Smith got the handsome brass stateroom keys from the purser. Next they followed a cheerful porter up the wide stairway, where white and gold paint, and rich carving told them it was the Priscilla. Up another red-carpeted stair they went and to a narrow dark many-doored alley.
The porter unlocked three doors, and the little Smiths rushed into their cabins. Each girl tried to snatch the tiny cake of soap, or the little box of powder, while the only Smith boy climbed into an upper berth with gusto. After a certain amount of squabbling, everyone was assigned his or her stateroom, with the right luggage and the most suitable roommate. Upper berths were preferred, although the view was better out the window in the lower.
Finally the whole family trooped out on the fore-deck to see the casting off. The girls cowered, covering their ears as the Prisilla's stupendous whistle sounded the call of departure. Then a sheltered spot was chose, with much fussing over chairs. The seats of these chairs were made of various bright pieces of crpeting, and each child seemed to want what another one had. From somewhaer a basket of sandwiches appeared, with hard-boiled eggs and milk. Mr. Smith always managed to find delicious fruits on the wharf, red bananas, large plums, and juicy pears. The long hot hurs in the trains were forgottencas the cool breeze blew away soot and weariness.
When the Hell Gate approached, they went forward to watch the sailors prepare for any possible emergency as the ship went through this treacherous water. The children gazed with unbelieving stare as the Priscilla's mast actually did pass under Hell Gate bridge. It seemed as if it must hit the girders.
By the time smoky Riker's Island was passed, the little ones were tucked away in their berths. mr. Smith now took the privileged older girls down into the engine room. Quivering with the effort of self control, and holding tightly to their father's hands, they watched a huge scarlet crank swing toward them and away. So very fast, and yet so immensely slow. It seemed like a great heart beating with the ship. But they knew it turned the paddle wheels which splashed so securely and steadily through the waters of the Sound.
The dreamless slumber into which the children fell, was rudely interrupted next morning at three A.M. when the porter's knock awoke them; 'Newport, Newport'. Hurrying into clothes, pushing everything hastily into suitcases, they sped out to the cold deckwhere starry sky and gray moving water surrounded them. Their father showed them Point Judith, already well behind, and Beaver Tail and the Light ship on either side. But time was short, and for the last time they lined themselves up, each with bag for the procecession down the magnificent stairway into the lobby. This part of the trip was like a dream between two deep sleeps.
The ship docked, the Smith family walked up the gangway to find a large carriage waaiting. The carriage drove them from the wharf up to 64 Washington Street. It seemed like a long, long drive. The Smith grandmother stood in the doorway with a lighted candlestick in her hand, greeting them warmly, Milk and gingerbread were on the dining room table. But the children wrer too sleepy. They rolled upstairs, and fell unconscious into their beds.
Next morning they awoke fresh as if no such journey had taken place. They stole to the window, looked out on the Bay. There it was, so blue, so familiar, the clouds so white and billowy, the cat boats cancing at their morings, Grandmother's lawn green-running to the sea wall, and the lighthouse gleaming brightly form the breakwater.
Esther Fisher Benson
This article was written by Esther Fisher Benson. It was printed in the Newport Point Associations publication, The Green Light in January of 1962. Mrs. Benson passed in 1999.
Copies of these publications, and all other issues of 'The Green Light' are on file at