The developers of Yellowstone Park located their grand hotels at major sights a day’s drive apart by horse and buggy. That necessitated construction of lunch stations about halfway between the hotels to provide mid-day meals.
The manager of the Norris Lunch Station, Larry Mathews, was a colorful character who found a place in many traveler’s journals. An Irish immigrant with a broad accent, Mathews was famous for his jocular manners and his ability to entertain customers as he rushed them through their sparse meals.
The famous writer and lecturer, John L. Stoddard, met Larry at the Norris Lunch Station in 1896. Here’s how Stoddard described the encounter in Volume 10 of his famous set of travelogues, Stoddard’s Lectures.
For half an hour we had been hearing, more and more distinctly, a dull, persistent roar, like the escape of steam from a transatlantic liner. At last we reached the cause. It is a mass of steam which rushes from an opening in the ground, summer and winter, year by year, in one unbroken volume. The rock around it is as black as jet; hence it is called the Black Growler. Think of the awful power confined beneath surface here, when this one angry voice can be distinctly heard four miles away. Choke up that aperture, and what a terrible convulsion would ensue, as the accumulated steam burst its prison walls! It is a sight which makes one long to lift the cover from this monstrous caldron, learn the cause of its stupendous heat, and trace the complicated and mysterious aqueducts through which the steam and water make their way.
Returning from the Black Growler, we halted at a lunch station, the manager of which is Larry. All visitors to the Park remember Larry. He has a different welcome for each guest: “Good. day, Professor. Come in, my Lord. The top of the morning to you, Doctor.” These phrases flow as lightly from his tongue as water from a geyser. His station is a mere tent; but he will say, with most amusing seriousness: “Gintlemen, walk one flight up and turn to the right. Ladies, come his way and take the elevator. Now thin, luncheon is ready. Each guest take one seat, and as much food as he can get.”
“Where did you come from, Larry?” I asked.
“From Brooklyn, Sor,” was his reply, “but I’ll niver go back there, for all my friends have been killed by the trolley cars.”
Larry is very democratic. The other day a guest, on sitting down to lunch, took too much room upon the bench.
“Plaze move along, Sor,” said Larry. The stranger glared at him. “I am a Count,” he remarked at last.
“Well, Sor,” said Larry, “here you only count wun!” “Hush!” exclaimed a member of the gentleman’s suite, “that is Count Schouvaloff.”
“I’ll forgive him that,” said Larry, “if he won’t shuffle off this seat.” Pointing to my companion, Larry asked me: “What is that that gentleman’s business?”
“He is a teacher of singing,” I answered.
“Faith,” said Larry, “I’d like to have him try my voice. There is something very strange about my vocal chords. Whenever I sing, the Black Growler stops. One tourist told me it was a case of professional jealousy, and said the Black Growler was envious of my forte tones. ‘I have not forty tones,’ I said, ‘I’ve only one tone.’ ‘Well,’ says he, ‘make a note of it!'”
Only once in his life has Larry been put to silence. Two years ago, a gentleman remarked to him: “Well, Larry, good. by; come and visit me next winter in the East. In my house you shall have a nice room, and, if you are ill, shall enjoy a doctor’s services free of all expense.”
“Thank you,” said Larry, “plaze give me your card.”
The tourist handed it to him; and Larry, with astonishment and horror, read beneath the gentleman’s name these words: “Superintendent of the Insane Asylum, Utica, New York.”
— From “Yellowstone Park,” pages 207-304 in Volume 10 of Stoddard’s Lectures, Chicago: John L. Schuman & Co., 1898,
— Lunch station photo from Stoddard’s Lectures. Stoddard photo from Wikipedia Commons.
— You might also enjoy Stoddard’s description of Fountain Geyser.
One thought on “A Tale: Encountering Irish Wit at a Lunch Station — John L. Stoddard, 1896”
Another good One!