Date Posted: November 2011
It said something about how far the United States had come – or how far it had fallen – in its first century: In April and May 1889, American newspapers exultantly reported that when President Benjamin Harrison traveled from Washington, DC to New York City for a centennial celebration of George Washington’s presidency, he rode in “the most gorgeous and best appointed train ever run in America, or in the world.” (That is the subject of the booklet reproduced below on pages 74-100.) The President’s train was “fitted up with every appliance that luxury could desire,” gushed the Los Angeles Times. The Chicago Railway Age declared, “royalty in Europe has never traveled with such completeness of luxurious appointments in a railway train as were afforded the President of the United States and his party.” The party included members of Harrison’s Cabinet, Chief Justice Melville Fuller and Justices Samuel Blatchford, Stephen J. Field, and William Strong (retired) of the Supreme Court, and several friends and relatives. There was a time – back in the Founding Era, around the turning of the 18th century to the 19th – when comparing the conditions under which American government leaders lived and worked to the decadent luxuriance of European nobility was the among the harshest of journalistic insults. But by the time of the Gilded Age – around the turning of the 19th century to the 20th – it could be high praise. And now, today – in the not-yet-named-Era-or-Age around the turning of the 20th century to the 21st – reporting on the travel luxuries of high government officials is a mixed bag, which might be taken to be a sign of more change, or that the more things change the more they stay the same, or that something ought to change.