Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Boating on Stony Brook - An Adventure

Here's an interesting feature article - they just don't write like this any more. Please note the literary references. Taken at his word, the author banters with the sewer superintendent with quotes from Tennyson. At the least, the reader is assumed to get the references. The equivelent today? Maybe Jay Leno making the night's required Britney Spears and Paris Hilton jokes for week after week? So much for progress.

Boston Globe March 14, 1893

Through Stony Brook Conduit
Perilous Trip of an Inquisitive Stranger in Dark
Depths of the Water of the Waterway
An individual whose name will not go thundering
down the ages as a synonym for wisdom, last week
sauntered into the gatehouse of the Stony brook
While the courteous official in charge was showing
him the interesting sights of the works, he noticed
an iron ring to which was attached a rope, and,
being more inquisitive than wise he asked what it
was for.
The information was vouchsafed him that the rope
was attached to a shaft, back of which was a boat,
so that if one of the men or any other unfortunate
individual should fall into the water he might land
on the raft, and so make his was back to safety,
through the conduit and the Back Bay Fens, and thus
return to the bosom of his family.
The unwise one said that such a trip was a
desirable one, to which the official replied that
it was so.
The unwise one further said that he would like to
take the trip.
The official courteously remarked that the only
thing needful was permission of the inspector of
the department, Mr. Edward McLaughlin.
In a moment the two were on a jaunt to the house of
Mr McLaughlin. He was found laid up with a
combination of sciatica, lumbago and rheumatism.
He readily gave his permission, and incidentally
remarked that after reading a big book on "Every
Man His Own Physician," he had come to the
conclusion that he had a broken leg.
Back to the gatehouse went the pair.
The official was too proud to back out, and the
unwise one didn't know enough to.
Rubber coats and hats were speedily appropriated,
and, after some trouble with the boots, the unwise
one was ready.
The five huge openings were pouring a cascade of
muddy water into the tiny basin, and the space
beneath the gatehouse was covered with foaming,
boiling rapids.
A bad quarter of an hour was spent by Capt Bill
Daly, father of the sporting man of the same name,
St Johnnie Hogan and Frank Leslie, in preparing the
boat, the "Stony Brook," for service.
At last all was ready. The unwise one, Capt Daly,
and Sub-Inspector James F. Granlee scaled
down the ladder, and, after some few frantic
efforts, the lines were cast off, and, like a rifle
bullet, the little boat and its occupants shot into
the cavernous opening.
Grantee shouted like a stentor: "We're off," and
the cruise of the "Stony Brook" had begun.
With a whirr, in a shrill treble, the boat shot
into the mouth of the conduit, and all was as dark
as midnight is supposed to be.
No one dared to look behind, for all the faculties
of the crew were necessary to keep the craft in the
middle of the stream.
Capt Daly would not trust the safety of precious
lives to any other than his own skillful hand, and
so he sat at the stern, with a deftly handled
The center seat was occupied by Mr. Granlee,and the
foolish one crouched in the bow a helpless and
worthless burden.
A second and the goodbye shouts of those left
behind were drowned in the roar of the great falls,
and the crew of the little boat were left to their
own strength and skill.
In a few seconds all but the deep and steady roar
of the falls was hushed, and even a whisper could
be heard with almost painful distinctness.
The boat was supplied with a locomotive headlight
in the bow and a pair of lanterns on the side.
Once beyond the foam of the rapids all was as still
as the grave.
The place was like a refrigerator.
If one shut his eyes for a moment he felt himself
suspended between earth and sky.
The strong, sullen current went along, mighty as
death, and, if possible, more silent.
The walls of the conduit seemed but a blur of
bricks and mortar, and when an opening was passed
the roar of an overhead wagon or horse car sounded
like the deep boom of a thunderstorm in midsummer.
So still was it that the unwise one was prompted to
ask questions befitting his uninformed state.
Where are straight upward hole in the arch was
passed he ventured to assert that they were ladders
for unfortunates to cling to.
"No sir." said Capt. Sir Henry Curtis Granlee "They
are manholes for men to come down".
The unwise was thankful for the information, and
kept quiet until the outlet holes for some small
sewers were passed. He suggested that there were
some sewers, small ones. "Yes, they are
A minute later one was passed filled with mortar.
"Ah, there's on plugged up," said the unwise one.
"Yes, it's cut off." said Capt. Granlee.
Feeling that he was unable to keep up with the
technical terms of his captain, the man lacking
wisdom did a wise thing - he shut up.
So far all had been quiet as a ladies' parlor, but
on a sudden the captain called out "Gurney and
Parker sts."
The unwise one felt at home at once, and began
searching in his pockets for the customary nickel,
and it was not until a sharp "Look out there!" from
Capt. Granlee that he recovered his presence of
The wayfarers were at the point where the immense
single arch is separated into two, each scarcely
smaller than the main arch.
The captain shouted "Right!" to Capt. Daly, and the
unwise one murmured "Left" at the same time.
The result was that the boat was landed square
against the central pier.
The mighty, though silent current held them there a
Slowly the straining boat was edged over the
dangerous point, and once more she was headed for
the far distant outlet. The brickwork on the side
seemed but a strip of dull dark drab in the ghostly
glare of the lanterns and the steady shine of the
headlight. When a word was spoken it sounded like a
clang of an iron drumstick on a gong, and the
echoes carried it along and back until it died out
in a sharp rattle, like the platoon firing (?) of
Still farther on, and a small glint of light
appeared. The unwise one began to dream of the
underground voyage of Peter Wilkins and the trip of
Jan Kidd. But strongest of his overburdened
imagination was the experience of Allan Quartermain
and Umslopogass.
Here indeed was the light bursting into splendor
and heat, here were the dark, dark walls, here was
the steady, silent current, so mild when of the
same mind as it, so mighty and cruel when trying to
stem it.
Long and anxiously were the eyes strained to see
the flaming gas of Haggard's wonderful tale, but
Matter-of Fact Granlee crushed all these phantasies
in the iron pestle of common sense by answering the
unwise one's query as to the distance by saying:
"that light is the outlet of the conduit at Back
Bay fens, and is over a quarter of a mile away."
Again the unwise on subsided, and he began to feel
more and more useless and more and more of a burden
to those in whose charge he was.
As the boat shot out into the pool ahead of the
bridge the time was taken, and the trip, which
seemed to have been made at much length, was found
to have occupied but seven minutes.
As the distance was a mile, less a few feet, the
time made was not so bad.
The men back at the gatehouse had been instructed
to put in the gates after 10 minutes, so as to make
the journey back comparatively easy.
A wait about five minutes and the boat was headed
for the right opening.
Here at once came into play the strength and skill
of Capt Daly, 76 years old, but with a frame of oak
and muscles and finely tempered steel. He scullied
and steered the boat, while Inspector Granlee aided
as much as possible with one oar.
The opening was not wide enough to admit of a pair
of oars being used, so the old man kept the boat to
one side of the arch, and the oar was skilfully
brought to bear on the forward movement.
The arch was no sooner entered that the current was
found to be swift and strong. Granlee and Daly
wondered if the men at the gate house had obeyed
and turned the water into the old conduit, but
their wondering amounted to no more than the unwise
ones' trepidation.
When looking at the current it seemed as if the
boat was shooting along with wonderful quickness,
but on raising the eyes to the brick walls of the
conduit it was found that progress was extremely
slow. The water was deep, and while not a ripple or
check of any kind on its surface indicated that
there was anything but black water, the force
against the boat was something wonderful.
Slowly and steadily the aged captain worked at the
straining oar, and foot by foot the boat crept back
to the rapids at the gatehouse.

There was ample time for the seeker after
information to find out all abut the monster
culvert and its building, and as was to be
expected, while he had no breath to help the boat
along, he had plenty to ask impertinent questions.
Between the beats of the oars in the rowlocks he
found out that the culvert was built from a design
of Supt. Carter, that it cost over $2,500,000; that
it was under construction for two years, and that
it would last for a century. The latter was easily
seen, for not a break or imperfection was visible.
This could not be owing to the fear of the public
eye, for, save Inspector Edward McLaughlin, not a
human being has ever cast his eyes on the works
since finished.
Save a few tiny stalactites, nothing like a leak is
to be seen in the long stretch of brick work making
up the immense specimen of engineering skill. Where
the water has reached high up on the wall a few
whitening germs of moss are to be seen, and beyond
that all is a stretch of perfect masonry.
The trip back to the entrance on the immense
conduit was as slow as the trip down was fast. But
so steadily, if so slowly, was the scull worked by
the aged son of the sea that the foolish one could
not help murmuring
And the dead, oared by the dumb,
Passed upward with the tide
He was no sooner void of the lines than he was
surprised and overwhelmed by the captain with,
"You ain't so pretty as the lily maid Elaine,'but
your feet are a d--d sight bigger, and I'm d--d if
I'm dumb And perhaps you wold be less trouble if
you were dead."
The reminiscent poet didn't feel hurt at anything
but the allusion to the feet, and it did gall him
to reflect that he had taken a full half hour to
get into the largest pair of rubber boots in the
sewer department, and even then they pinched, and
they were not half on.
He kept quiet for a few minutes, but, never knowing
when he was well off, he soon forgot tight boots
and everything else.
Passing by some cabalistic figures on the culvert
walls, he asked what they meant. A murmur, which to
a suspicious man might have sounded like "To make
fools ask questions." was his answer.
A "What's that?" as if he were slightly deaf,
brought the further answer that they meant the
changes in the grade, the beginnings of turns in
the course and depth of the foundations.
One was passed which indicated that the foundations
were 41 feet below the normal surface of the water.
The captain told his inquisitive passenger that the
surmise was correct.
It was further explained that the greater part of
the huge arch was based on a ledge which underlies
all that part of the Highland district, and that it
had been utilized by Supt Carter as a foundation
for the greater length of the conduit.
By this time it seemed that the greater part of the
course had been gone over, and when the unwise one
wondered how much further it was to the gate house
he was bluntly told that barely a tenth of the way
had been covered.
In making a turn to the right in the current, which
seems to have an insane desire to go in a straight
direction, piled up a quartet of arches on the
Before they knew it the boat was beating in the
teeth of the turned-aside water and was for a
moment stationary.
"Look out there." cried Sir Henry, and the
passenger hurriedly tried to compress his 220
pounds of too, too solid flesh into the smallest
space possible.
An anxious query was sent back, was anything wrong?
Nothing was wrong, only the passerger had come near
swamping the boat.
A few moments more and the centre of the arch was
reached and the slow and steady progress of the
craft was resumed. Still another curve and the boat
went pounding against the brickwork.
Thinking to help thigs along, the passenger thrust
out his hand, dug his fingernails into the bricks,
and got a handful of something. It may have been a
snake, or a lizard, or a bat, or some unclean
creature or, perhaps, a bit of moss. But if it had
been a million dollars in gold, and each dollar red
hot, it could not have been dropped quicker.
By the time a full half hour had passed, and a
glance backward showed that the cruisers were still
in sight of the light which shone into the mouth fo
the culvert.
The old man was still shooting the boat along with
mighty sweeps, and the current was fighting him and
his assistant with a grim, unrelenting
perserverance which would have been enough to
discourage any ordinary man.
The aged son of Nepture was no ordinary man, for he
had no time or breath to waste on the passenger,
only a quick "Shut up!" being the answer to various
interesting queries a to the progress and
difficulties of the voyage.
But in spite of the old man's iron muscles and the
help given by the side oar, he breathed more
heavily as each rood of the course was (?) bed.
Capt. Greenlee offered half a dozen times to take
the scull, but Capt. Daly was either too knowing or
too strong, and he steadfastly refused.
At last a manhole was sighted and the party
laboriously urged the boat toward it. The iron
steps once reached were gripped with the energy of
exhausted men, and all took a long breath.
The passenger, who had none of the hard work, was
the last to relinquish his hold on the support, and
longingly and regretfully parted with the brick
imbedded iron.
Slowly, foot by foot, painfully with the labored
breathing of the oarsmen and the steady thump of
the wooden blades in the iron rowlocks, the course
was passed over.
Another manhole was reached and another breath was
taken. Then a fresh start and it again dawned on
the obtuse mind of the passenger that he was really
a worthless individual. He felt as helpless as a
woman at a prize fight, anious to distinguish
himself, but nothing came his way.
Another and another manhole was passed, and at last
another faint gilmmer of light was seen far ahead.
Rest was again taken, and Capt Daly remarked that
it was a nasty current, and the water was rising.
The discovery seemed to make the two who knew
something earnest, and no replies were vouchsafed
to the passenger's clumsy attempts to be poetic.
Even the choicest lines of Martin Farquhar Tupper
passed unnoticed, and a passage from Mrs Homans
was unceremoniously broken into by a warning "Look
out, there."
At last the point where the two arches became one
was reached. Every one felt that the course was
half over, and that the broad stream would make it
easier sculling.
But every one was doomed to disappointment. The
huge fall of water came down in nearly a straight
line, without a ripple, black and threatening. It
was like the force of darkness pushing the sunlight
off the face of the earth.
The atmosphere was like a refrigerator, only much
more damp. The passenger actually forgot to say
anything, and felt that at last he had really found
a time to keep still.
Cold as it was the rowers were reeking with sweat,
and their hot breaths seemed as it left their
nostrils, dense enough to fall and strike the water
with a thud.
At last the weary trio came in sight of the
gatehouse rapids. No sooner were they there than
they say that the two openings through which the
water had been pouring had been increased to five,
the full extent.
The pool into which they all poured was a singing
boiling mass of foam.
The foolish passenger felt still more uncomfortable
as the boat reaches the raft and everybody clung to
something and took a long breath previous to
working back in the ladder which streched so
invitingly down, barely 10 feet away.
A loud "halloa" was sent down from the watchers on
the frail flooring of the passageway, and a few
moments more and the occupants of the boat could
see John Graham, he of F(?) fame, handsome Johnny
Hogan, and Frank Leslie, the only one who did not
look anxious.
As soon as the boat hove in sight preparations were
made to heave a rope.
The boat worked up through the narrow and foaming
channel to the head of the raft and swung against
its immense timbers. It careened partly and was
with difficulty put on an even keel.
Mr Graham at last managed to cast a line with a big
bar of wood attached to it, so near that the
passenger got it in his hands.
He might as well have tried to hold a glacier . It
was twisted out of his hands quicker than it was
got into them, and again the boat whent up against
to raft. The line was lengthened, the stick was
thrown and caught in the thwarts and again the
travellers essayed to reach the ladders.
The boat's head was put right up to it, the
passenger made a frantic strike for the lower
round, missed it by feet, and in another second the
bubbling, foaming, treacherous surge had cast them
so near the fifth waterfall that, with a flash a
couple of tons of water were thrown into the boat
and half filled, it jumped back to its old starting
place above the raft.
With grave faces the two men who know something
bailed her out, while all of them held on to the
raft's painter, all but the useless passenger with
one hand, and he gripped the rope with a grasp
which a giant could hardly have loosed.
This time Granlee caught the club, and while he
made it fast, under the thwarts and gunwale the
white-faced and anxious watchers on the passageway
above farily lifted the craft and its occupants to
the foot of the ladder.
Again a hand was streched out to catch a rung, but
with a jump the boat was carried to one side, and
was quick as lightning another ton of water was
poured into the boat.
Again a death grip of the raft's painter, again an
anxious and hurried bailing, and the craft was
once more started on its 10 foot cruise to the foot
of the ladder. This time the fickle and feminine
goddess was with the cruisers, for a hitch was
made, two ropes were made fast to the boat, and the
passenger, as the most bulky and most useless
member of the party, was clutched and pulled up the
Full 10 minutes more were necessary before Granlee
came up, and the old captain was safe in about five
more. He had had the least to say, had done the
most work, and was the only one who really seemed
to be aware that the three men were for 20 minutes
in real danger of drowning.
The time consumed in the return trip was two hours and 11 minutes.
All were drenched to the skin, all were cold and numb, and all were glad that the trip was over.
As to the unwise and inquisitive individual, he gained wisdom to a slight extent, and he found out by his questions that Bostonians in the Stony brook watershed need have no further fear of a freshet, for the culvert can take care of four Stony brooks at once, and then there will be ample room for a boat, without the one lacking wisdom, to go down to the mouth of the arches.
The little watercourse which has troubled the inhabitants of Roxbury since Washington's soldiers first slaked their thirst in its pellucid and trecherous eddies, is now chained and held in hand by forces of engineering science let loose by Supt Carger and tended by Inspector McLaughlin and a corps of courteous and trained assistants.

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