Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ypsilanti Poet-Farmer William Lambie Hated the Smoking Car

Dusty D has been reading William Lambie's poetry of late and got curious as to where his farm is. A check of old plat maps reveals that it was 80 acres just north of Highland Cemetery. Amazingly, if you look on Google Maps, you can still see the faint outline of his and his wife Mary's farm.

Lambie immigrated here from Scotland at age 18 with his father and mother. He married Mary Campbell and they had 6 children. Lambie kept a diary and wrote prose snippets and poetry. He was known as a poet in his day, and wrote several poems celebrating silver and gold wedding anniversaries of neighbors in the community.

One thing he didn't celebrate was the railroad smoking-car. After failing to find a seat on the train one day, perhaps on a trip from our Depot to Detroit to get something, he resigned himself to sitting in the smoking-car.

William soon regretted this decision, and made no bones about it in his poem "The Smoking-Car." Note the Poe reference at the end.


The passengers told me, in their glee,
They could not find a seat for me,
But all the standing room was free.

And forward stood a door ajar,
Where one was lighting a cigar ;
So I went in the smoking-car.

Right in the strong tobacco fumes,
Where men were smoking in platoons,
Puffing and talking 'round spittoons.

In they came to get a big feed—
What good, clean men do never need—
Their "bill of fare" a filthy weed.

All in a car, like Juggernaut,
Worshipers of the weed are caught,
To give their wealth away for naught.

The pipes were lighted o'er and o'er,
Ever dirtier grew the floor—
'Twas smoke and smell, and nothing more.

I grew sick of smoke and spitting,
In the tobacco temple sitting,
With the foul air around me flitting.

Some were chewing their "Honey Dew,"
Others their "Solid Comfort" blew ;
So I bade the smoky den adieu.

Unlike the solemn bird of yore,
I flitted out the foulsome door,
And left the dirt upon the floor,
And the smoking-car for evermore.
---William Lambie, c. 1883

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