By Greg Clark, April 2, 1927
Mr. Jim Frise, of The Star Weekly staff, cartoonist of Birdseye Corners, attended the banquet of cartoonists and comic strip artists from all over America that was held in New York last week.
It was Jim’s first visit to New York, and that explains the weird and unhallowed adventure which befell him. The banquet was a great success. George McManus, Bud Fisher, Briggs, all the humorists known to The Star Weekly were there, including hundreds of others. But it was what befell Jimmie before he got to the banquet that makes this story.
The banquet was in the Astor Hotel, but Jim reserved his room at the Pennsylvania. The first thing that went wrong was when he arrived at the Pennsylvania station, and took a taxi and drove sixty feet across the street to the Pennsylvania Hotel.
“An expensive way,” says Jimmie, “of crossing the street, even in New York.”
He got into the huge hotel, with its umpteen storeys, and found an awful mob of people milling about the rotunda, and a line-up nearly a block long at the room clerk’s wicket. So Jim decided he would check his handbag at the check-room and not spend half the day in a line-up. He had reserved his room. He would get it later, after seeing New York. He checked the bag and got a small brass check with the initials “P.H., 197.”
So he went forth into the great city.
Of the topless towers of Ilium, of those vast, cream-colored temples that lean backward into the infinite sky, of the storms and tempests of traffic hurling by, of the ant-armies of inhuman humanity crawling, colliding, hurrying by, Jimmie can tell with the inimitable feeling of Birdseye Corners.
It was a fine day. He rode buses for miles one way; he rode the elevated for miles the other, averting his face, embarrassed, as the elevated tore amidst domestic scenes upstairs; he rode on the underground and guessed where he would come out — wrong each time. He deliberately lost himself and found himself again by some lofty landmark reaching like a mountain top into the sky.
He walked down by-streets, through great stores, looked in the strange windows of little hidden shops, ate in a restaurant where nobody smiled, stood and watched traffic cops, old ladies lost in the maelstrom, little boys dancing amid the fury.
He does not know where he wandered, but he didn’t see anybody from Birdseye Corners all that day, although he saw a million and fifty-six people.
The shadows began to lengthen and then Jimmie thought of the banquet at the Astor, and he decided to go back to his hotel and dress.
The Hotel That Vanished
So he began to pick a friendly face to ask directions. The mob flowed ceaselessly by, their strange averted gaze, their hard, aloof faces, set straight ahead. Jimmie looked at thousand and one faces before he saw one that had a little humanity in it. In his nicest manner Jimmie said:
“Could you direct me to the Philadelphia Hotel?”
“Philadelphia Hotel?” said the New Yorker. “Never heard of it.”
And passed on.
Jimmie was rather astonished. The Philadelphia Hotel, he said to himself, is umpty-three storeys tall, there were thousands of people milling about in it only this morning; it seemed to be in a central location. But Now York, he reflected, is a big place, and even a great hotel might easily be overlooked in all this marching army of temples and obelisks in the sky.
So he hailed a taxicab, remembering his discomfiture of the morning, and saying to himself, probably the Philadelphia Hotel is only around the corner.
“Philadelphia Hotel,” said Jimmie, stepping into the taxi.
“Where it at?” asked the gunman at the wheel.
“Well, I don’t just know. Somewhere hereabouts,” said Jimmie. The Philadelphia Hotel.”
“Don’t know it,” said the taxi man. “Better look it up.”
And he slammed the door against Jimmie and drove hurriedly on.
So Jimmie walked on down this great street he was in, the hall-past-five crowds jamming and jumbling up and down it, and he decided to look up the phone books in United Cigar store.
There were three ‘phone books in the pay-station, a red one, a gray one and a blue one. Jimmie searched all through all of them, and he found the Philadelphia Fruit Store, the Philadelphia Boot and Shoe Emporium, the Philadelphia Public Ledger New York Office, but no Philadelphia Hotel.
It was about this time that a sense that something was seriously wrong began to creep over Jim. A feeling of mild horror, like the reading of one of Dunsany’s stories inspires. Here was a huge hotel — and a hand-bag — suddenly dissipated into air, thin air. He had heard of flim-flam in New York, of gold bricks and of selling the City Hall and the Woolworth Building. But that a hotel, the name of which was as familiar as Madison Square Garden, should all of a sudden elude him, disappear, vanish.
He spoke of the matter to the clerks in the cigar store. They listened suspiciously, in between waiting on silent, hasting customers. They offered him no help. Shook their heads and made sympathetic faces, silently.
Then Jimmie went forth into the street again.
It must have been six o’clock. The banquet was for eight. In the canyon of that street, in that valley amidst the cream-colored mountain ranges, the light was fading. The crowds had dwindled. But those who remained were hurrying more than ever, with small steps and that straight, averted gaze.
Jim went on. He tried to recall if he had been in this neighborhood before. But not a thing was familiar. Not a thing near, not thing afar, nor one remote topmost temple.
A sense of being lost, forsaken, not only in a strange city but in a strange world smote Jimmie.
Finding a Human New Yorker
Standing with his hands behind him, gazing with large leisure at nothing whatever, stood an elderly gentleman who appeared to Jimmie to have stopped right out of the pages of Birdseye Corners.
“Excuse me, sir,” said Jimmie, “but I’ve got a strange story to tell you, and I wonder if you’d listen.”
“Sure thing,” said the stranger, affably.
So Jimmie outlined the beginnings of the story, telling how he had checked his bag at the Philadelphia Hotel, describing the hotel faithfully, and going into detail on this day spent wandering, emphasizing the fact that not a week and not a year had elapsed, but that it was only the one day. And then he told of the hotel simply disappearing and leaving not trace behind.
“What hotel did you say It was?” asked the stranger.
“Well, sir,” said the stranger. “I was born and raised in Noo York. I have lived here, man and boy, sixty-five years. I know it and I know all its tricks. I never even heard of the Philadelphia Hotel. But stranger things have happened than this thing that’s happened to you.”
“All for hand-bag,” said Jimmie. “Just a hand-bag. They faked a great big hotel just to swipe my hand-bag.”
“Lemme see that bag check you got,” sad the stranger.
Jimmie produced the little brass check, with the “P.H., 197,” on it. The stranger studied it.
“Why,” says he, “it isn’t the Philadelphia Hotel, it’s the Pennsylvania.”
“Pennsylvania!” shouted Jimmie. “Pennsylvania!”
And wringing the stranger’s hand, he leaped to the curb, hailed a taxi and shouted “Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania” at the amazed driver.
He kept repeating Pennsylvania all the way to the hotel, all the time he was dressing, he wrote it on his shirt front and made memos on all the pieces of paper an artist carries about his person. He kept repeating it as he washed and tied his dress tie, rapping on the solid walls of the hotel, leaning firmly and substantially on the elevator walls as he went down to the rotunda, and it took him all of a minute to remember the name of the Astor as he got into the taxi to go to the banquet.
This is the kind of adventure that befalls artists. You see, despite the fact that Jimmie knows his London and his Paris, where he knocked around his leaves in artillery spurs and britches, Jim really lives in Birdseye Corners.
That’s why Birdseye Corners is so good.
Editor’s Notes: This story was published during the brief period of time that Birdseye Center was referred to as Birdseye Corners. It also played up the notion that Jim Frise was still just a country boy.
The caricature was created by Ken Browne. He was not that far off with Jim and his pipe as this photo illustrates.