Little Tip McClosky

“You remember little, old Tip McClosky? He passed through here yesterday en route to Mexico. He has grown old since I saw him before, and they tell me he is a ‘little off’ on his working, and that the nice copy he used to put up has got to be a trifle rocky. Whisky has been playing fast and loose with his nerves, I fancy, and his palmiest days, telegraphically speaking; are over.”

I extract the above from a private letter bearing date of New Orleans, March 6th, 1874. So little Tip has come to the surface again, after all these months in which his friends have been wondering if he was alive! Of course, I remember him. Everbody remembers him. Ten years ago it was no small affront to the telegraphic profession in general not to know Tip McClosky. Long before I had carried my last message and been promoted to the position of operator in a way office, I had learned the history of his achievements by heart. I should be almost ashamed to-day to tell you how much I revered that man long before I ever saw him. No rapt listener to the enchanting stories of “Sinbad,” “Aladdin,” or any of the others with which Scherezade beguiled the Arabic ruler and his attendants through the fleeting hours of those one thousand and one nights, ever paid more faithful attention to the clever wife than I to those who made little Tip’s exploits the burden of their song. I installed him in my boyish heart as a man fit to rank with Aramis or Athos, with Porthos or D’Artagan, and the genius of Dumas has not clothed the “Three Guardsmen” and their Gascon mate with braver laurels than those with which I crowned my hero, or attributed to them greater or more numerous virtues than those with which I formed a halo to crown Tip’s curly head.

The worthy Mr. Tip was generally known as a man who never “broke,” and he traveled, got trusted, borrowed money, and obtained new situations in spite of frequent dismissals, on this reputation. It was he who received Buchanan’s message at Worcester, Mass. It came through a button repeater at Providence. Tip afterward made his boast that he was the only man in the New England States who took the whole message without a “break,” and I think he was. The auburn haired operator who copied the message at Providence said that Worcester was accidentally cut off in the middle of that official document for fifteen minutes, and if Tip got the whole message he of the carroty sconce was a clam, that’s all. I will not discuss the merit of this difference of opinion; it is a trivial matter.

In Atlanta, Ga., Tip made a wager that he could walk from his instrument to the outside door, where he was to be met by a boy from a neighboring restaurant with a gin sour on a waiter, drink the “medicine,” and resume his work without interrupting the sender—and he did it. The Atlanta paper said, in an editorial paragraph, two days later: “Our article of yesterday on the indiscretions of J. C. Lamont would have been characterized by less spirit had we known him to be a relative of the late Henry Clay. The Associated Press dispatch, on which our article was based, stated distinctly that Lamont was a nephew of old Dan Webster, of Massachusetts.” The other papers in that locality, whose “press” was taken on the same wire, had it Henry Clay, but Tip’s reputation saved him. There is no doubt in my mind that the rest of the men on that wire were a set of unmitigated plugs and guessers.

Tip worked the old National wire at New York in 1863. This was a great circuit in its day, and the amount of business sent via Pittsburg was enormous. Owing to an inordinate appetite for dramatic performances, he whiled the most of his evenings away at the Bowery Theater, and because of this, and a habit of indulging in “revelry by night,” after the entertainment, it was usually late before he sought his couch. As sleepiness is a natural sequence of unrest, and as ten or fifteen “horns” of beer a day do not conduce to wakefulness under these circumstances, Tip was generally drowsy; and whenever he was “clear” he laid his head on the table and went to sleep. The office boys, by whom he was regarded as a sort of demigod, manifested their interest in his welfare by always being on the alert for calls. When they heard Pittsburg calling they aroused Tip from his slumber. He would open the key, stare about sleepily for a moment, and then command his friend at “G” to “let’ em come and cut ’em all to bits.” Then, to the admiration of all about, he would sit and copy message after message in a beautifully flowing chirography, oftentimes carrying on a lively conversation with his companions. And he didn’t “break” in seventeen months. But there were bigoted citizens of New York who conspired against him. One illustration will suffice:

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