Sewing Machines and Eccentricity

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From: The Sewing Machine Gazette and Journal of Domestic Appliances December 1st 1877


Is there any connection between sewing machines and eccentricity?

We ask the question because it is an indubitable fact that the persons chiefly concerned in the invention and improvement of the sewing machine have been remarkable for their eccentricity. Poor Elias Howe was an eccentric genius, though his was the rare kind of eccentricity nowadays, which keeps a man poor.

Isaac Singer was eccentric, as every one who has visited Torquay knows well enough. For is not his magnificent palace at Paignton, still standing, with the colossal nude statue of himself in Carrara marble, with his carriage drawn by nine horses, and holding forty persons, constructed at a cost of 3000 pounds, and a host of other relics of his mad freaks, and his startling defiances of conventionalism?

And now there reach reach us rumours of the eccentricity of another sewing machine king - Mr. Asa Baker, head of the "Grover and Baker Company". Mr. Baker appears to aim at out-shining all his rivals. There is no limit to his fantastic whims. His house displays a positive exuberance of frisky invention. It is magnificent mansion, about a dozen miles from Boston, Massachusetts, standing in in the centre of eight hundred acres of ground. The immense lawn in front of the house is ornamented by what Mr. Baker terms a "Union Monument" - a nondescript erection, intended to commemorate the ultimate fusion of North and South after the Civil War.

The top of this remarkable monument bristles with bayonets picked up on the various battlefields of the war, and above these is the gigantic figure of a dove bearing an olive branch.

Adjoining the house is a chapel, decorated in most costly style, and dedicated to Buddha, a bronze statue of that deity being the principal feature of the "fixings". Then there is another striking monument in the shape of a gigantic champagne bottle, and composed entirely of actual champagne bottles.

There is a piggery, which Mr. Baker flatters himself the finest in the world, as, indeed, he may well do, for it is neither more nor less than a sumptuously-fitted palace. Mr. Baker pays as much honour to his pigs as Caligula did to his horse. The most favoured boars and sows, when they die, are accorded a magnificent funeral, and stately mausoleums mark their resting places.

A less pleasing form of his eccentricity, however, is his delight, in playing practical jokes upon his guests. There are innocent-looking chairs and couches which invite you to sit down upon them; and, no sooner have you "squatted", than a treacherous spring gives way and you find yourself doubled up in an ignominious heap on the floor.

There are galvanised door-handles and bell-knobs, which, when you touch them, give you an electric shock that sends you sprawling. These are drawbacks to the full enjoyment of Mr. Baker's hospitality; and guests, as a rule, have a disagreeable suspicion that they have been invited to minister to their host's insatiable appetite for practical jokes.

Mr. Baker's latest freak, however, has more semblance of sanity about it than the majority of his recent acts. He has begun to build a school of cookery, which he intends to endow liberally, and which would be really a useful legacy to the country, if one could be sure that it would not be spoiled by being pledged to the execution of some preposterous culinary whim of the founder's.

Americans speak very gently of Asa Baker's eccentricities, and regard them with a kind of complacent amusement, as one regards the antics of a clown in a pantomime. The fact that he was a smart enough business man to amass all that fortune, in their eyes atones for any folly he may display in squandering it.