Arthur and Carrie Pierce were my maternal grandparents. They had met at the Musergia music club when Arthur was an architectural draftsman at the Southern Railway and Carrie was selling stationery in a prestigious Washington stationers, W.F. Roberts. She had quite an interesting collection of picture post cards from her single days, and studied the violin for a time.
|Arthur had been the youngest of a large family who lived in a three story row house. He probably was too young to be great buddies with his older brother, but must have been a regular kid. There is a wonderful picture of him and four rather tougher looking cronies with their bicycles in a park with enormous trees behind. He was wearing a most elegant cravat and collar for the occasion, and was not wearing glasses. He said that he got his first pair of glasses when he was eight. That evening no one could find him at bedtime, and they finally located him outside where he was gazing at the stars--he had never seen them before.|
Arthur's father, Daniel T., died he was thirteen, and when his older brother Dan left Columbian Law School to join the magazine "Public Opinion" in New York, Arthur, although the youngest sibling, became the only man in the family. As such, he figured he was now to be the breadwinner. Instead of going off to school the next day, he went down to the grocery store and asked to clerk. The grocer walked him home to see if his mother she was aware of this, and, she assured him that he needn't leave school to work on their account. This desire resulted in his sleepwalking downstairs with with a pillow where he was found, still asleep, wrapping it with string, intent on doing something useful for the family.
The large house and busy Washington scene enabled Annie Matilda to let rooms or floors to boarders without crowding the family.
Completing public school about 1898, Arthur was able to use his artistic and technical talent as a draftsman. He entered the employ of a patent drafting firm--Washington was full of patent attorneys--starting as an apprentice. The wages were a fraction of what he would be able to earn as an experienced draftsman, but then he had not yet demonstrated his abilities.
Patent drafting was a particular specialty in that often complex concepts had to be presented in a peculiar formal style and carefully follow the description supplied. One afternoon Arthur overheard his boss talking with a man who was a patent lawyer and a customer for the drafting work. The visitor was considering hiring his own draftsmen and wondered what the going rate was that the boss was paying. The boss candidly allowed that, after all, he was not paying the going rate at all, but only hired apprentices. After all, they worked so cheaply you could discard half their work and still make out. "See that young fellow out there with the curly black hair," pointing to Arthur, "he outperforms any seasoned patent draftsman I could hire, and I'm paying him practically nothing!" After that Arthur realized he would have to look elsewhere for a real job.
Drawings were laid out in pencil then inked in with ruling pens and
ruling compasses. To set up the ruling pens and keep them fresh after filling
and adjusting, a draftsman will make little trial marks and lines off the
edge of the sheet. Arthur had made a lifelike illustration of a housefly
on the corner of the drawing while testing his pens. He was inking a final
drawing and the boss came by to look over his shoulder. The boss commented
on some detail of the drawing, pointing at the sheet, and absently shooed
the fly. He shooed the fly again. When it clearly was not going to move,
he looked at it closely. "Well, if that's what I'm paying you for, Pierce,
you can draw flies for someone else!" A memorable sendoff!
|Arthur was becoming a promising illustrator as well as a technical draftsman. One drawing is a portrait of Lincoln, and another a curly haired bull with a peculiar expression of mixed intentions.He drew a remarkable portrait of Franz Liszt based on a photograph. The result not only treated the gaunt features of Liszt kindly, but Arthur interwove airy anatomical figures into the facial features which would have made illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, creator of the Gibson Girl, quite proud. This drawing was completed in 1908 and published by the gravure process. The original is in the hands of grandson Michael Towers.|
The story was that Arthur and Carrie met at a music club where they
both sang, the Musergia
Club, and I thought it was said that Herndon Morsell was the musical
director of the club. Morsell does not seem to show up in any of the club
notices, but he figures in later as a Limited Member of the Gridiron Club.
|Arthur and Carrie were married in 1909. They were photographed with their best man, C. Arthur Slater and maid of honor Arthur's cousin Helen Pierce, in a pleasant summer reception in the Smith's back yard.|
Both Arthur and Carrie would tell a story, although with slightly different emphasis. One night, shortly after they were married, they thought an intruder was inside. Carrie lighted a candle and Arthur found a dress sword nearby, and they crept down the steps, she in front withthe lighted candle, and he behind with the sword! Fortunately there was no intruder.
I am not sure who introduced Arthur to the Southern Railway architectural
department, but he started there in 1902 as an architectural draftsman.
Within a few years he had been promoted and recognized for his abilities
and was assigned to Water Supply and was given the duties of civil engineer.
This was unusual since he had no engineering degree. It was even more unusual
when he was made Director of the department in 1917, a position he held for the next 35 years. He remarked that he had many degreed engineers working for him, and was responsible for all the field work and development of water supply for a railroad which covered the South.
|Finding and maintaining suitable sources, developing pumping and storage facilities, and assuring that there were no outages was rather tricky as water supplies come and go with weather and demand. The steam locomotives which were used almost exclusively until the early fifties demanded about 15 times the weight in water as they did fuel, so it couldn't be hauled along with the train in any great quantity. Watering stops and systems were critical to the health of the company.|
After Arthur's retirement, the Southern house magazine, Signals, gave him a multi-page tribute which mainly focused on his Gridiron Club career. There were also a number of presentations with many signatures of his co-workers.
A number of the presidents and board chairmen of the Southern attended Gridiron Club dinners as Arthur's guest. Chairman Brosnan and I were Arthur's guests at Arthur's last Gridiron dinner in 1966. Mr. Brosnan sent his personal limousine and driver to take us to the dinner. My father had been Arthur's Gridiron guest at least twice before. Within the year, Arthur gave up his Washington appartment and went to live with my parents. Not being able to attend the 1967 dinner, he sent them in his place. It was the first annual dinner which was held out of Washington at Williamsburg, and the first where women were invited to the actual dinner.
When I had spent a year studying the engineering and architectural curriculum at college, Arthur told me a story of one of his experiences. A pumping station had been designed and constructed at a location perhaps in South Carolina--far enough away that you couldn't just pop over to check it out. The design was not anything especially unusual, just some centrifugal pumps at the end of a raceway along a waterway which would discharge into a higher reservoir to feed the needs of the engines. During startup tests, the pumps had not lifted the water and, running without water flow, the bearings had seized. There was an urgent program to refit the bearings and test the pumps again. Everything was checked out. The motors were started. Again the bearings seized. Arthur had to catch the next train south to survey the problem and come up with some miracle cure. When he arrived, he looked at the motors, looked at the reservoirs, looked at the channels and looked at the pumps. It was odd that the pump bodies and blades were completely dry. The channel leading water to the pumps was above the level of the water in the reservoir, allowing the pumps to start and run dry! He could not believe no one had noticed this obvious shortcoming.
The Southern Railway went through good and hard times during the decades Arthur worked there. During several strikes, when the trains had to be kept running but the engineers and others were on the picket lines, Arthur donned overalls and spent long days oiling locomotives. Once this went on for three weeks of twelve hour shifts, and when he came home he could just eat and sleep, totally fatigued by the long hours and hot work and loss of weight.
He golfed occasionally, most probably with his business or Gridiron Club pals, in an era when the golf clubs had wooden shafts and the balls were easily cut and flattened by a misdirected club. One knee occasionally bothered him, perhaps aggravated by this sport. Well into his seventies, he treated me to a demonstration of several deep knee bends. I was not especially impressed, until he pointed out that while perhaps I had always been able to do them, he had just redeveloped the ability after many years, and that it was quite an accomplishment for a man of his years. Quite right.
The Gridiron Club experience undoubtedly gave Arthur a greater sense of accomplishment and completeness than even his profession. He was asked to join as a Limited Member, one who put on the satirical programs at the dinners. Many members must have known of his interest and abilities in music and showmanship. Two were Herndon Morsell, the director of the Musergia music club where he and Carrie had met and sang, and Herndon's son Tudor, also a limited member. The club was formed by Washington press corps newspapermen, the "regular" members. The dinners are attended by the top governmental and foreign service officials including the President, Vice President, cabinet, Supreme Court, heads of the armed services, US and foreign ambassadors, and major political figures. A half dozen skits are performed teasing and lampooning the guests, supposedly always in a warm manner, but there have occasionally been hard feelings.
At the opening of each dinner the house lights are dimmed and the gridiron symbol on the wall is illuminated. The President (of the club, who is the only person referred to by rank) intones that the Gridiron singes but never burns, and that ladies are always present, and reporters are never present. This indicates that decorum is kept and that all remarks made at the dinner are off the record to the press.
Arthur attended the private and public dinners of the club from the
administration of Harding in1920 until that of Lyndon Johnson in 1966.
At each public dinner he appeared in several skits until the later years
when he led the members in Auld Lang Syne. Several kind cards and testimonials
were displayed in the basement and the sunroom, especially drawings and
prints by Cliff Berryman, the noted political cartoonist. One had the Berryman
bear waving a pennant marked ARTIE, and said, "I wonder if Artie knows
how much old Cliff thinks of him." Whenever I see a Gridiron picture or
reference, I think of him as Artie rather than Arthur as Carrie called
|The "Teddy" bear was the result of a cartoon Cliff Berryman drew of a bear cub which had been set up as wild game for Teddy Roosevelt to shoot. Roosevelt balked, the cartoon showed the event, and the little bear became an alter-ego of Berryman even longer and more consistently than it was associated with Roosevelt. Many Gridiron skit and "bunk" books were illustrated by this renown cartoonist.|
The book on the club by Alfred Braymann, a member, detailed many of the Gridiron programs and Arthur's skits. Obviously the club rule of reporters never being present was slightly bent in this book, but even through my limited experience, I could see things which could have been reported on to the embarrassment of the participants which were kindly avoided. For the 1966 dinner, a skit "Doves For Sale" to the tune of Love For Sale was taken very hard by Senator William Fulbright who never forgave the club nor attended another meeting. Another skit had asked the Ambassador from South Vietnam and the Secretary of State to stand while "Who Knows Where or When" was paraphrased to remind these participants that wars have ended before. This skit was given a standing ovation by the dinner guests, the first of its kind in eighty years! Clearly LBJ's personal after-dinner wheedling of the need to continue the war in Southeast Asia was not appreciated, but that the concept of ending the war was applauded. Another unreported twist was that the dinner remarks of Mayor John Lindsay totally violated the admonishment that ladies were always present, as Lindsay apparently read his stock stag party script. Nothing was said by President Wiggins at the dinner, but this political golden boy whose star was rapidly rising as a Republican presidential hopeful virtually disappeared from the national press overnight. He was not even reelected as Mayor of New York.
At the close of this dinner, Artie was introduced to lead the group in Auld Lang Syne. He was most impressed and very moved to note that he had not been introduced as the club's senior Limited Member, but as the club's Senior Member, quite a distinction and honor after decades of dedication and camaraderie.
These performances were traditionally repeated the following afternoon for the wives and families of the members, since the guest list, while quite large, could not include them all. Women were not included as members or admitted to the dinners themselves at that time through long tradition until 1967.
On a visit of mine about 1961 to Washington, I found that Arthur was asked to do a re-performance of an old skit song for a members' Gridiron Club dinner and sing "Waiting For My Train To Come In" with words to fit Harold Stassen's perennial but unsuccessful attempts to win the Republican presidential nomination. I picked out the tune on the piano and practiced with him. A few lines come back....
"Waitin' for my train to come in,
Waitin' for to find me some friends,
I come from Minnesota on the railroad track,
But now I think that choo choo train will take me back.
They seem to go with Dewey and Taft.
Bricker seems to have quite a raft....
Waitin' for my boom to begin,
Waitin' for my train to come in. "
Artie's specialty was comic devices and black dialect and demeanor, and when seeing Bert Williams film clips years later, the inspiration for his characterizations became clear. One skit in which he played a Pullman porter was so successful that he was asked to recreate it several times in different venuesaround Washington. A rare photo taken of a skit dress-rehearsal shows Arthur dressed as Adolf Hitler among a bevy of historical despots including Mussolini and Genghis Khan.
Further newspaper clippings after the few above are limited to only a few years and just from the Washington Post. They indicate that Artie (and Carrie often) contributed quite frequently to musical programmes and their own Musergia Musical Club. Many more articles giving the entire Gridiron Club guest list for dinners also list Arthur, but are not shown here.
The Oceana Roll 2345
Also see the Carrie Spencer Smith page.