Odds & Ends


A Newsletter of Eagles Byte Historical Research

October 1995, No. 1

FRANK NORRIS WORKS ON THE RAILROAD


Novelist and Boer War correspondent Benjamin Franklin Norris, returned from reporting a military campaign in Cuba and settled into a cottage at Roselle, New Jersey, with his wife of 18 months, to work on a new novel. Fresh from his first success - McTeague, a pioneering novel in the American Naturalism movement - he once again returned to the American West for new inspiration.

On May 11, 1880, when Norris was only ten, law officers representing railroad and government interests attempted to evict wheat farmers from the land they had successfully cultivated in California's San Joaquin Valley. Gunfire broke out and when it ended seven men lay dead at Mussel Slough.

Norris researched the incident and planned it as the first novel in his fictional trilogy The Epic of the Wheat. It was published in April of 1901, as The Octopus (referring to the Railroad). Norris, meanwhile had moved on to Chicago for further research, resulting in The Pit, a novel of commodity trading, published as a serial in The Saturday Evening Post and as a book in 1903. But Norris didn't live to see its publication (or its production as a well-received Broadway play in 1904), or to write the third novel, set in Europe, that was to tell the story of the wheat's consumption.

In October 1902 he ignored an attack of appendicitis until it was too late, and died of peritonitis on the 25th, at the age of 32.

While Norris won recognition for his fiction in his lifetime, he was never to see adoptions of his work in other forms. McTeague, recently produced as an opera, was filmed in 1924 by Erich von Stroheim as Greed.. Considered to be a classic of the silent cinema, it is remembered today only by a screenplay and some production stills. The film itself has disappeared. The Octopus and The Pit have never been filmed. (I'm convinced the former could still be done successfully).


EB CHRONOLOGY

A search of Eagles Byte chronologies on the words "train" and "rail" turns up the following events for the years 1900-1902:

1900
Apr 3
The Vanderbilt railroad interests take over the Reading, Lehigh and Erie Railroads.

Apr 25
U. S. financiers form the Cuba Company, to develop Cuban railways.

Apr 30
Railroad engineer Casey Jones is killed while trying to bring a runaway train under control, in Vaughan, Mississippi.

May 28
Boxer rebels attack Belgian diplomats at China's Fengtai Railroad Station.

Jun 7
Boxers cut the rail line between Peking and Tienstin.

Jul 29
The White Pass and Yukon Railroad, linking Skagway, Alaska, and Whitehorse,
Yukon Territory, is completed.

Jul 30
Britain creates a railway safety act.

Aug 14
U. S. railroad tycoon Collis P. Huntington, 78, dies of heart disease, leaving the bulk of his
estate to his nephew Henry Edwards Huntington.

1901
May 9
A Wall Street panic is caused by the battle between J. J. Hill and Edward Henry
Harriman over control of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad.

May 18
The New York State militia forces striking Albany railroad workers back to work.

Apr 26
Train robber-murderer Black Jack Ketchum is hanged in New Mexico.

Jul 1
Paris's electric railway goes into service.

Jul 22
Britain's House of Lords hands down its ruling in the Taff Vale Railway case, permitting
lawsuits against unions for their members' actions.

Aug 7
The U. S. warship Machias is sent out of Boston to Panama to keep rail lines open during
the revolution.

Aug 22
Construction begins on Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Railroad.

Nov 13
The Northern Securities Company is organized by Hill, Harriman and John Pierpont Morgan,
to consolidate the Northern Pacific, Great Northern and Chicago, and the Burlington and
Quincy Railroads.

Nov 27 A train wreck-fire in Michigan kills 100 people.

California - The Southern Pacific Railroad distributes the pamphlet California Prune
Primer
to elementary school children. It proves to be so popular that other primers
follow. ** Los Angeles and San Francisco are linked by rail.

1902
Jan 8
A train collision beneath New York City's Grand Central Station, caused by poor
visibility due to steam in the tunnels, results in a ban on steam engines on Manhattan
commuter trains.

Jun 16
Two super trains begin New York-to-Chicago service- the Pennsylvania Railroad's
Pennsylvania Special and the New York Central's Broadway Limited.

Jul 12
The Twentieth Century Limited sets the rail speed record on a run between New York City
and Chicago.

Sep 17
U. S. troops are sent to Panama to keep train lines open during a struggle for
independence from Colombia.

Sep 20
Reports are circulated that George J. Gould and Rockefeller interests are planning a huge
rail merger.

Oct 22
Texas lawman Pink Taylor kills train robber O. C. "Camilla" Hanks, a member of the Wild
Bunch, in a shootout.


PEARL OF AN URL

Continuing with this month's theme, our featured URL belongs to California's Santa Clara River Valley Railroad Society

They have a number of goodies there: a history of the railroad; Observation Platform - photographs of the line, including winter storm damage; and the society's quarterly Newsletter (they're currently trying to obtain a 90-ft turntable from Missouri).


TRIVIA

Name the poets who wrote the following:

Great Central Railway, Sheffield Victoria to Banbury
North Philadelphia, Trenton and New York
Western Town



EB SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY (more detailed versions available)

HISTORY NEWS

Oct 8
Western New York newspaperman and historian Henry Clune (The Genesee) dies at the age
of 105.

Oct 9
Carnegie and du Ponts biographer Joseph Frazier Wall dies of a heart attack at the age of 75.

Oct 10
Bill Gates' purchase of the Bettmann Archives is announced.

* * *


I hope you've enjoyed this first issue. Future issues will focus on other facets of U. S. and world history. Detailed chronologies and bibliographies, as well as individual research help is available. If you'd like further information and/or fees, feel free to e-mail me.

David Minor
Eagles Byte Historic Research
eaglesbyte@aol.com
david_minor@mlsonlie.com

Go to INDEX