Editor's note: The following text is an except from "Fifteen Minutes around New York" by George G. Foster, published by DeWitt & Davenport, New York circa 1854, pages 52-54. Thank you to Contributing Scholar George A. Thompson for finding, cataloging and transcribing this article. The language, spelling and grammar of the article reflects the time period when it was written.
It was very warm -- a sort of sultry, sticky day, which makes you feel as if you had washed yourself in molasses and water, and had found that the chambermaid had forgotten to give you a towel. The very rust on the hinges of the Park gate has melted and run down into the sockets, making them creak with a sort of ferruginous lubricity, as you feebly push them open. The hands on the City Hall clock droop, and look as if they would knock off work if they only had sufficient energy to get up a strike. The omnibus horses creep languidly along, and yet can't stand still when they are pulled up to take in or let out passengers -- the flies are so persevering, so bitter, so hungry.
Let us go over to Hoboken, and get a mouthful of fresh air, a drink of cool water from the Sybil's spring, a good roll on the green grass of the Elysian Fields. Down we drop, through the hot, dusty, perspiring, choking streets -- pass the rancid "family groceries," which infect all this part of the city, and are nuisances of the first water -- and, after stumbling our way through a basket store, "piled mountains high," we at length find ourselves fairly on board the ferry boat, and panting with the freshness of the sea breeze, which even here in the slip, steals deliciously up from the bay, which, even here in the slip, steals deliciously up from the bay, tripping with white over the night-capped and lace-filled waves. Ding-dong! Now we are off! Hurry out to this further end of the boat, where you see everybody is crowding and rushing. Why? Why? Why, because you will be in Hoboken fully three seconds sooner than those unfortunate devils at the other end. Isn't that an object? Certainly. Push, therefore, elbow, tramp, and scramble! If you have corns, so, most likely, has your neighbor. At any rate, you can but try. No matter if your hat gets smashed, or one of the tails is torn off your coat. You get ahead. That's the idea -- that's the only thing worth living for. What's the use of going to Hoboken, unless you can get there sooner than anyone else? Hoboken wouldn't be Hoboken, if somebody else should arrive before you.
Now -- jump! -- climb over the chain, and jump ashore. You are not more than ten feet from the wharf. You may not be able to make it -- but then again, you may; and it is at least worth the trial. Should you succeed, you will gain almost another whole second! and, if you fail, why, it is only a ducking -- doubtless they will fish you out. Certainly they don't allow people to get drowned. The Common Council, base as it is, would never permit that!
Well! here we are at last, safe on the sands of a foreign shore. New Jersey extends her dry and arid bosom to receive us. What a long, disagreeable walk from the ferry, before you get anywhere. What an ugly expense of gullies and mud, by lumber yards and vacant lots, before we begin to enjoy the beauties of this lovely and charming Hoboken! One would almost think that these disagreeable objects were placed there on purpose to enhance the beauties to which they lead.
At last we are in the shady walk -- cool and sequestered, notwithstanding that it is full of people. The venerable trees -- the very same beneath whose branches passed Hamilton and Burr to their fatal rendezvous -- the same that have listened to the whispering love-tales of so many generations of the young Dutch burghers and their frauleins -- cast a deep and almost solemn shade along this walk. We have passed so quickly from the city and its hubbub, that the charm of this delicious contrast is absolutely magical.
What a motley crowd! Old and young, men women and children, those ever-recurring elements of life and movement. Well-dressed and badly-dressed, and scarcely dressed at all -- Germans, French, Italians, Americans, with here and there a mincing Londoner, with his cockney gait and trim whiskers. This walk in Hoboken is one of the most absolutely democratic places in the world -- the boulevards of social equality, where every rank, state, condition, existing in our country -- except, of course, the tip-top exclusives -- meet mingle, push and elbow their way along with sparse courtesy or civility.
Now, we are on the smooth graveled walk -- the beautiful magnificent water terrace, whose rival does not exist in all the world. Here, for a mile and a half, the walk lies directly upon the river, winding in and out with its yielding outline, and around the base of precipitous rocky cliffs, crowned with lofty trees. From the Bay, and afar off through the Narrows, the fresh sea breeze comes rushing up from the Atlantic, strengthened and made more joyous, more elastic by its race of three thousand miles -- as youth grows stronger by activity. Before us, fading into a greyish distance, lies the city, low and murky, like a huge monster -- its domes and spires seeming but the scales and protuberances upon his body. One fancies that he can still hear the faint murmur of his perpetual roar. No -- 'tis but the voice of the pleasant waves, dashing themselves to pieces in silver spray, against the rocky shore. The retreating tide calls in whispers, its army of waves to flow to their home in the sea.
Take care -- don't tumble off these high and unbalustraded steps, -- or will you choose rather to go through the turn-stile at the foot of the bluff? It is very lean, madam -- which you are not -- and we doubt if you can manage your way through. We thought so! Allow me to help you over the steps. They are placed here, we verily believe, as a practical illustration of life -- up one side of the hill, and down the other -- for there is no material, physical, or topographical reason, that we can discover, for their existence.
Here is a family group, seated on the little wooden bench, placed under this jutting rock. The mother's attention is painfully divided equally between the two large boys, the toddling little girl of six, who laughs and claps her hand with glee at discovering that she can't throw a pebble into the water, like her brothers -- and the baby, who spreads out his hands and legs to their utmost stretch, like the sails of a little boat which tries to catch as much of the breeze as it can, and who crows like a little chanticleer, in the very exuberance of his baby existence. Two half nibbled cakes, neglected in the happiness of breathing this pure, keen air -- which, by the way, will give them a tremendous appetite, by-and-by -- are lying among the pebbles, and ever the baby has forgotten to suck its fat little thumb.
Sybil’s Cave is the oldest manmade structure in Hoboken, created in 1832 by the Stevens Family as a folly on their property that contained a natural spring. By the mid-19th century the cave was a recreational destination within walking distance from downtown Hoboken. A restaurant offered outdoor refreshments beside the cave. https://www.hobokenmuseum.org/explore-hoboken/historic-highlights/sybils-cave/sybils-cave-today-and-yesterday/
The Sybil's Cave, with its cool fountain bubbling and sparkling forever in the subterranean darkness, now tempts us to another pause. The little refreshment shop under the trees looks like an ice-cream plaster stuck against the rocks. Nobody wants "refreshments," my dear girl, while the pure cool water of the Sybil's fountain can be had for nothing. What? Yes they do. The insane idea that to buy something away from home -- to eat or drink -- is at work even here. A little man, with thin bandy legs, whose bouncing wife and children are a practical illustration of the one-sided effects of matrimony, has bought "something to take" for the whole family. Pop goes the weasel! What is it? Sarsaparilla -- pooh!
Now let us go on round this sharp curve, (what a splendid spot for a railroad accident!) and then along the widened terrace path, until it loses itself in a green and spacious lawn, lovingly rising to meet the stooping branches of the trees. This is the entrance to the far-famed Elysian Fields. Along the banks of the winding gravel paths, children are playing, with their floating locks streaming in the wind -- while prone on the green grass recline weary people, escaped from the week's ceaseless toil, and subsiding joyfully into an hour of rest -- to them the highest happiness. The centre of the lawn has been marked out into a magnificent ball ground, and two parties of rollicking, joyous young men are engaged in that excellent and health-imparting sport, base ball. They are without hats, coats or waistcoats, and their well-knit forms, and elastic movements, as they bound after the bounding ball, ....
Yonder in the corner by that thick clump of trees, is the merry go-round, with its cargo of half-laughing, half-shrieking juvenile humanity, swinging up and down like a vessel riding at anchor. Happy, thoughtless voyagers! Although your baby bark moves up and down, and round and round, yet you fell the exhilarating motion, and you think you advance. After all, perhaps it would be a blessed thing if your bright and happy lives could stop here. Never again will you bee so happy as now; and often, in the hard and bitter journey of life, you will look back to these infantile hours, wondering if the evening of life shall be as peaceful as its morning.
But the sun has swung down behind the Weehawken Heights, and the trees cast their long shadows over lawn and river, pointing with waving fingers our way home. The heart is calmer, the head clearer, the blood cooler, for this delicious respite. We thank thee, oh grand Hoboken, for thy shade, and fresh foliage, and tender grass, and the murmuring of the glad and breezy waters -- and especially for having furnished us with a subject for this chapter.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to support more history blog content, please make a donation to the Hudson River Maritime Museum or become a member today!
This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
Hudson River Maritime Museum
50 Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401
The Hudson River Maritime Museum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the maritime history of the Hudson River, its tributaries, and related industries.
Become a member and receive benefits like unlimited free museum admission, discounts on classes, programs, and in the museum store, plus invitations to members-only events.
The Hudson River Maritime Museum receives no federal, state, or municipal funding except through competitive, project-based grants. Your donation helps support our mission of education and preservation.