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Looking Backward by David MacClement Rowe
Part 1: 1868-1873 Dayton & Evansville

Looking Backward


David MacClement Rowe


transcribed from the original handwritten text

and submitted to Dayton History Books Online


by Linda Lee Tope Trent


In a tenth story room of one of the office buildings overlooking Main street sat some twenty five men ranging in age from about forty to fifty-five years.  They were members of an exclusive Greek letter order known as the "Kappa Alpha Nu."  Which in English would be C.A.N.1  Men who had formerly been prominent members of a world famous industrial concern but had individually at one time or another been rewarded for their loyal and meritorious support of that institution by being presented with a few yards of ribbon one end of which was neatly tied to the button hole of their coat lapel by the president or some delegated official, the other end being attached to a can.  This very solemn ceremony was known as having the can tied to you.  During the ceremony it was not yours to reason Why yours but to say good bye and pack your little old kit bag and hit the trail in other words hike.

Most of these men had been more or less successful after leaving the said industrial concern.  Some had attached numbers to others going [illeg] in some responsible capacity.  Others had set up for theirselves by buying out or starting some manufacturing concern, or laundry business; or taking up the insurance or real estate business.  But there was one common tie which bound [them all together] 2   That was they had [all been] 3  tied to the can.  And so as they sat around the chapter room they all looked at the emblem of the order  which bore a prominent place on the  rostrum in front of the presiding officer.  It was a large tomatoe 4 can with a cord connected to it and hanging gracefully over the edge of the desk.  The officers being namely Chief canner who always presided at the meetings; canner in ordinary who presides in the absence of the chief; can-pusher who looked after the friends; and keeper of the cord who does the secretarial work.

After the regular business is dispersed of it is the rule to have some member give a history of his life.  In this manner the members become thoroughly acquainted with each other.

According to the rotation established it was now the turn of one of the members known as the Deacon to step forward and start his story. Not over a half hour was allowed for this purpose each evening and the member could continue from time to time until he had finished.

        The Deacon began


I am free to confess that I copped my title from Edward Bellamy but I notice that Waterson has done the same in a recent publication so I suppose it is legitimate.  At any rate this story is to be an autobiography, and an autobiography must necessarily look backward.

I trust that my readers will not think that I am conceited in thus putting down the important incidents in my eventful career.  Seeing as they will what an important influence I have  had in the history of the various communities with which I have been associated.  It is because this influence has not hitherto been realized by the general public, that I am now for the first time about to set them forth for the benefit of future generations. 

To begin.--It was on a day in January, 1868, that a stork made a nose-dive or tail-spin and landed me beside my mother in an upper chamber in a frame residence on Perry street, the home of my maternal grandfather.    I weighed all  of fourteen pounds, as might have been attested by the scale of weights and measures had there been one in those days  As soon as I landed I gave one mighty  yap  and the doctor said  He's all there.  This pleased my mother and she looked at me and smiled.

During the early months of my life I was only served soft drinks, Light wine and beer being strictly verboten.  The fact that I thrived  is a great recommendation for prohibition and should be an incentive for all young boys to stick stricter to the milk-wagon.

When I was [about three] 6  years old my parents 7  moved to Evansville, Ind., where my father engaged in a very lucrative business, having exclusive rights to a large territory for the Howe, and Wheeler & Wilson sewing machines.  The latter having no connection with Woodrow Wilson, altho my father did become a leading politician in the Democratic party and did all in his power to help make Indiana safe for Democracy.  I remember distinctly his activity during the campaign of Horace Greeley.  He ran a torch lighter procession and furnished a lot of fireworks and [illeg-fire] but not enough votes.

And after reaching Evansville  My father purchased quite an attractive residence on one of the desirable residential streets, and it was there I continued to grow both in stature and favor with the neighbors.

While I was still wearing hobble skirts I call them hobble because I was not able to walk my father one day bought an imported English gig for the purpose of getting me into the air and sunshine. This gig was quite an affair having a body of graceful curves with a leather top somewhat after the manner of a Victoria.  There were two large wheels  one on each side  a long tongue or handle extended to the front For use of who ever furnished the motor power.  This with two oval springs completed the equipage.  My father was evidently very proud of this acquisition for he decided he would be the first to try it out.

Most of the sidewalks consisted of long planks laid end to end parallel with the curb.  There were expansion space between each plank ranging from a half inch to an inch wide.  The planks were of varying widths. 

My father started out with me in the gig.  He had not gone far before one wheel went down into an expansion crack and he had to jerk it out.  He started again then the other wheel went down and he had to jerk that out.  This kept up until he had gone about a block.  Then he began to recite and that was the first time I ever heard the Sermon on the Mount repeated backward.  Finally he became so disgusted and exhausted with jacking out the wheels and talking to himself that he headed the gig for the middle of the street and started back for home where he parked the gig in the front yard, carried me into the house and  swore he'd never again play Henry Ford.  The next day he ordered a brick walk laid in front of our place, I believe it was the first brick walk laid in that vicinity.  But later some of the neighbors followed suit.

My next experience in the gig was on a pleasant Sunday afternoon when my uncle Bill 8  who was stopping with us, decided he would take me out.  I recall that my mother dressed me up in a nicely starched ruffled and tucked outfit with lace and a large blue silk sash I was some candy kid.  Then I was placed carefully in the gig and my uncle started out.  He managed to get me to the first cross street in which the sidewalks were mostly gravel -- he was wise.  This street led through a grove some distance beyond our home. Then the walk met up with a sort of cowpath that ran along the top of a ditch.  We had reached the cow path when there chanced to pass from the opposite direction a maiden fair and well dressed  my uncle being then a rather youngish man, he is not to be censored for turning around to watch the young maiden, who must have started a thrill in his heart.  Now if he had only stopped while looking backward the disaster would not have happened  But he continued to push the gig and his mind being  more on the direction of what was going to the rear than on what was going afront  he did not realize his mistake until he was suddenly awakened from his dream by the gig overturning and landing me in the mud of the ditch.  This immediately aroused my temper and I put on a loud needle and turned my Victrola loose.  I never came so near being a Caruso.  My uncle of course jumped to my rescue and after righting the gig replaced me and started for home.  All the way back I kept expressing my feelings Say a community chorus singing Onward Christian Soldiers would have been no competition for me.  When we reached home and my mother saw my sorry plight she joined me in giving my uncle what was coming to him and all he could do was to be the audience.

        After that my mother took the management of the gig into her own hands.

As I grew older I became independent of the gig.  Then when I was able to articulate the English language my father delighted in teaching me many smart little speeches Such as Horatio on the bridge [illeg] and others.  I became quite an object of interest at family parties both at home and at the neighbors..  Many bribes was I offered for a speech.  This made me quite mercenary and I got to demanding my fee in advance.  Tom Sawyer had nothing on me for that.

I recall that among other things my father had a number of horses.  There was a sorrel, a roan, a black and so on.  Some were biters, others kickers and the like.  Each had a stunt of his own.  Except a pony which had several stunts  all different.  This pony was not one of those good-for-nothing Shetlands.  He was really intended for a horse but was stunted in growth.  He was a slim, wiry fellow with slender legs and shinny eyes.  Full of mischief. Most of his stunts were in his legs as I shall relate we called him Nick because that is what he was full of besides hay and oats.  We used him mostly for country driving when he could have the field to himself.  City traffic rules never phased  him.  He just snorted at them.

Early one summer evening my Uncle George 9 he was another uncle who was still stopping with us  -- probably because it was cheaper to stop with us than with strangers.  My uncle George I say hitched Nick to a light buggy and decided to take me for a short country ride.  We started off in low and gradually got into intermediate.  By the time we hit the country we were in high.  Had there been a speedometer in that buggy it would have gone clean around till it hit zero again. 

The rate we were going reminds me of the Irishman's story.  An American visiting in Ireland was telling how fast we do things in America  He illustrated by saying that the 20th century limited from Chicago to New York is so fast that the telegraph poles look like a picket fence.  An Irishman spoke up and said "Shur that's gwine some it ramoinds me of the time Oi took the limited from Dublin to Belfast first  we passed a cabbage patch  then a potato patch, an onion patch, and a carrot patch and finally came to a lake. Believe me or not we passed those patches so fast that when we reached the lake looked like vegetable soup."  Well, that was about the same with us.  It was all I could do to hold to the seat to keep in.  My Uncle sawed  at the bit but to no purpose.  Finally he said "Go then you.  son-of-a-gun the whole road's before you. And he let old Nick go to his heart's content.  When Nick saw he was having his own way  like most folks he decided he didn't want it.  So he slowed down and came to a stand   It bid fair to be an all night stand.  He decided he would take plenty of time to rest up.  My Uncle tried all his persuasive powers to get Nick on the move  but Nick would not move.  My Uncle got out and whispered the Golden Text into Nick's ears.  I guess it was the Golden Text because he said a number of Bible words.  But Nick was no Sunday school lad and did not understand .  At last my uncle got back in the buggy  took out a cigar parked his feet on the dash and began to smoke while watchful waiting.  After a while Nick turned his head and when he saw how comfortable my uncle was he started a Highland Fling with his hind legs.  This frightened me as I expected him to go over the top any minute.  Then it seems Nick's curiosity was aroused.  He wanted to know if they were still keeping the home fires burning so he turned around and headed for home.  He was quite docile the rest of the way, and we arrived without further incident.  Right then the chief-canner interrupted and ordered the story continued at the next meeting.  [scratched out is the following] I could tell you more about my life in Evansville but I want to relate my farm experience which I shall do the next time.




1.  Get it?  C.A.N. as in to be "canned" to be fired or laid off.  This is a group of older men who have all had the same experience of being fired or laid off by a 'world famous industrial concern.'  D.M. and probably several of the others worked for N.C.R.

2.  Page fragile, portion missing, thanks to my husband Hank, the squiggles remaining were formed into words.

3.  Ditto

4.  Yes, that's how he spelled tomato.

5.  Thomas MacClement, b. November 03, 1811 Ireland d. January 21, 1883 Dayton, Montgomery County, Ohio

6.  Original page is very delicate.  The age is missing and has been filled in based on 1880 U.S. Census report showing Benjamin R.[should read N] ROWE and children David b. 1868 Norris E. b. 1870 both in Dayton, and sister Mabel b. 1871 in Indiana.  Thus David would have been 'about three' when they moved to Evansville.

7.  Benjamin Norris Rowe b. June 25, 1844 Cincinnati, Ohio d. January 12, 1923 Dayton, Ohio and Caroline Mary MacClement b. August 16, 1849 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania d. April 19, 1924 Dayton, Ohio.  Benjamin and Caroline were married April 18, 1867 in Dayton, Ohio.

8.  Either William Gamble Rowe b. Abt. 1851 Maryland d. September 12, 1926 or William Henry MacClement b. May 09, 1851

9.  George Lowery MacClement b. March 30, 1854 in Pennsylvania.


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