Hudson River Sights by Walt Whitman

A short prose piece by Walt Whitman from his 1882 collection Specimen Days & Collect.

Hudson River Railroad tracks running through Sing Sing Prison. Stereoview by G. W. Patch.

Hudson River Railroad tracks running through Sing Sing Prison. Stereoview by G. W. Patch.

It was a happy thought to build the Hudson river railroad right along the shore. The grade is already made by nature; you are sure of ventilation one side—and you are in nobody’s way. I see, hear, the locomotives and cars, rumbling, roaring, flaming, smoking, constantly, away off there, night and day—less than a mile distant, and in full view by day. I like both sight and sound. Express trains thunder and lighten along; of freight trains, most of them very long, there cannot be less than a hundred a day. At night far down you see the headlight approaching, coming steadily on like a meteor. The river at night has its special character-beauties.

Shad fishermen starting out with their net. Photo by Clifton Johnson from his book The Picturesque Hudson, 1909.

Shad fishermen starting out with their net. Photo by Clifton Johnson from his book The Picturesque Hudson.

The shad fishermen go forth in their boats and pay out their nets—one sitting forward, rowing, and one standing up aft dropping it properly—marking the line with little floats bearing candles, conveying, as they glide over the water, an indescribable sentiment and doubled brightness. I like to watch the tows at night, too, with their twinkling lamps, and hear the husky panting of the steamers; or catch the sloops’ and schooners’ shadowy forms, like phantoms, white, silent, indefinite, out there. Then the Hudson of a clear moonlight night.

View from the Tunnel near Garrisons. Hudson River. From the stereoview published by E. & H. T. Anthony & Co.

View from the Tunnel near Garrisons. Hudson River. From the stereoview published by E. & H. T. Anthony & Co.

But there is one sight the very grandest. Sometimes in the fiercest driving storm of wind, rain, hail or snow, a great eagle will appear over the river, now soaring with steady and now overhended wings—always confronting the gale, or perhaps cleaving into, or at times literally sitting upon it. It is like reading some first-class natural tragedy or epic, or hearing martial trumpets. The splendid bird enjoys the hubbub—is adjusted and equal to it—finishes it so artistically. His pinions just oscillating—the position of his head and neck—his resistless, occasionally varied flight—now a swirl, now an upward movement—the black clouds driving—the angry wash below—the hiss of rain, the wind’s piping (perhaps the ice colliding, grunting)—he tacking or jibing—now, as it were, for a change, abandoning himself to the gale, moving with it with such velocity—and now, resuming control, he comes up against it, lord of the situation and the storm—lord, amid it, of power and savage joy.

Breakneck from the South. From the stereoview published by E. & H. T. Anthony & Co.

Breakneck from the South. From the stereoview published by E. & H. T. Anthony & Co.

Sometimes (as at present writing,) middle of sunny afternoon, the old “Vanderbilt” steamer stalking ahead—I plainly hear her rhythmic, slushing paddles—drawing by long hawsers an immense and varied following string, (“an old sow and pigs,” the river folks call it.) First comes a big barge, with a house built on it, and spars towering over the roof; then canal boats, a lengthen’d, clustering train, fasten’d and link’d together-the one in the middle, with high staff, flaunting a broad and gaudy flag—others with the almost invariable lines of new-wash’d clothes, drying; two sloops and a schooner aside the tow—little wind, and that adverse—with three long, dark, empty barges bringing up the rear. People are on the boats: men lounging, women in sun-bonnets, children, stovepipes with streaming smoke.

From Specimen Days & Collect by Walt Whitman. Rees Welch & Co., Philadelphia, 1882.

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The Greatest Jubilee That New York . . . Has Ever Boasted

The front page of the Dollar Weekly, October 22, 1842. Click image to enlarge.

The front page of the Dollar Weekly, October 22, 1842. Click image to enlarge.

This month is the 171st anniversary of the “greatest jubilee that New York or America has ever boasted—a jubilee in commemoration of the greatest blessing that a city like New York could receive—the introduction of an abundant supply of pure and wholesome water.” 1

The jubilee took place on October 14, 1842 and the quote is from the coverage a week later in the October 22 issue of the Dollar Weekly, a short-lived newspaper that the publishers, Herrick & Ropes, modestly proclaimed was “The cheapest paper ever published! The miracle of the age! One dollar a year, with two hundred original engravings!”

In a way they were right to call their paper “the miracle of the age” because they published the kind of engravings that made Harper’s Weekly famous when it was started fifteen year later. The highlight of this issue is the 16-inch wide engraving across the front page that illustrates the “great procession celebrating the introduction of the Croton water into the city of New York.” Photography was not in widespread use in 1842 so there are very few images depicting the jubilee parade and none of them are quite like this wonderful panorama.

If they left us nothing else, we could remember Herrick & Ropes as innovative publishers who paved the way for the great illustrated weekly newspapers. But at the same time they were publishing two other papers—another weekly, The Atlas, and a daily paper, The Aurora. On March 28, 1842 Herrick & Ropes announced in the Aurora that they had “secured the services” of a “bold, energetic and original writer as their leading editor” who would “carry out their original design of establishing a sound, fearless and independent daily paper.” His name was Walter Whitman, but we know him today as the poet, Walt Whitman. 2

Click the images below to see all the Aqueduct-related images published in the October 22 issue.


  1. Dollar Weekly, October 22, 1842.
  2. Whitman’s relationship with the publishers did not end well. By May 1842 he was no longer associated with the paper, which referred to him as “the laziest fellow who ever undertook to edit a city paper.” That summer Whitman used his new position at a different newspaper to exact revenge. “There is in this city,” he wrote, “a trashy, scurrilous, and obscene daily paper, under the charge of two dirty fellows, as ever were able by the force of brass, ignorance of their own ignorance, and a coarse manner of familiarity, to push themselves among gentlemen.” For more see Walt Whitman’s America by David S. Reynolds.