Thursday, December 30, 2010

Parlor Car Patrons - a Forgotten Social Strata of Society

(From the New York Herald, July, 1893)
    "It is a rather tiresome," said a Wagner parlor car conductor, "the airs people put on in a parlor car. The moment they get seated they begin to behave like kings and queens and to order people around as if they had been used to having servants at their beck and call all their lives.
     "If you want to see a rapid change from a plain American citizen to a haughty aristocrat just watch the passengers troop out of the waiting rooms to the trains. You can tell a mile off which of them have seat in the parlor car. Their  noses hang high in the air, and they get around with a sort of supercilious strut. 
     "The ordinary day coach passengers as they go alongside of a Wagner car from the windows of which  the haughty faces are peering, assume a sort of hang-dog look, as if they belonged to an inferior race. They sneak into their humble coaches and make themselves feel as small as possible.
     "Meanwhile the parlor people, bulging out with their self-importance, have hung their silk hats up in the cars and donned their little skull caps. Then they promenade up and down the platform, talking in a loud tone of voice to each other in a way never adopted by the plain passenger, and glaring fiercely at everyone who hasn't a place in the parlor car. When the car starts they swing themselves aboard with an air that makes folks who don't know them think they own the road.
     "When a parlor car passenger sees a friend in an ordinary coach he pretends not to. If the ordinary coach man foists his presence on him he gets himself superciliously treated. The relations of those two men are never the same again. The sense of equality has been lost, and the parlor car man regard the other forever afterward s a lower class citizen.
    "It's the most profound case of the caste feeling. Parlor cars divide the people into nobility and plebeians just as much as titles of nobility - in the minds of the occupants of parlor cars." 

New York Central "Atlantic" No. 3000