To mark the 180th anniversary of its founding, The Inquirer is reprinting an article from its archives every Monday for 18 weeks. Today's offering, the seventh in our series, was published on July 23, 1881, and describes an Inquirer interview with Mayor Samuel George King. Three months into his term, King offers an inside look at what the mayor's job was like near the end of the 19th century.
"I have read the article your paper contained today on the fortune tellers," said Mayor King yesterday to an Inquirer reporter, "and I agree with the opinion there expressed that great harm is done by that class in the community. I shall take the earliest opportunity of looking into the matter and putting in execution measures that may seem to me to be best, probably beginning by having my officers warn those who carry on the business openly that they are violating the law. Many persons, not really bad or viciously disposed, go into such occupations in ignorance of the law. Now ignorance of the law does not excuse any one, it is true; but I always like to begin by giving offenders in such cases a reasonable chance to prove that they are unwittingly offending. If, after being notified, they persist in the law-breaking, I will take more effective measures. I will have no time this week, but will try and make time early next week to look into the matter."
"Your time," remarked the reporter, "appears to be pretty well filled in."
Mayor King, smilingly, replied that there was generally plenty to do. "It is not the duties that are strictly within the line of the Mayor's province," he added, "that take up most of my time." Picking up a handful of letters from the morning mail, he, by way of illustration, continued, "Now look here. Here is a young man who incloses a dollar to me for the purpose of having his naturalization papers, which he has lost, renewed and sent on to the military post out on the border, from which he writes."
Reporter: Well, will you consider that part of your duty as Mayor?
Mayor King: Oh, I know it is not; but then, the poor fellow probably had no one else here to consult about it. Here is a seeker after information of another kind. This correspondent wants to know whether the firm of - is a good one, or how it stands financially and commercially here.
Reporter: You surely do not undertake to act as a commercial agency?
Mayor (laughingly): No; I think that kind of information should be obtained from already established and well known sources. Here is another. This is from a young man in the South wanting to know who is the best physician here for the treatment of consumption.
Reporter: That's a delicate case.
Mayor: Yes; but I have directed that the names of not one, but several physicians of this city who have gained high distinction in the treating of such diseases shall be inclosed to him. The writer of this letter, you see, is on the same errand. She wants to know whether we have in this city a good institution for the treatment of diseases of the eye. In the morning she will receive a reply assuring her that we have an institution of that character not excelled by any in the world.
Turning to another pile, the Mayor remarked: "These are from nearer home. Here is one citizen who complains that, although he has notified the Board of Health about the filthy condition of the street in front of his house, no relief has been afforded him, and he wants to know if I can't get him some redress or relief." Several other letters were of similar purport, except that some bore on nuisances of one kind or another.
"The least pleasant epistles," continued the Mayor, "are those that are written by people with notions." A number of specimens of this class of letters were exhibited, but the Mayor requested, in consideration for the feelings of the writers, that their names nor subjects should be mentioned. It will suffice to observe that they ranged over as many subjects as there were letters, and, as a rule, the subjects were those with which the Mayor has about as much to do, either personally or officially, as he has to do with the Government of Timbuctoo.
After a few minutes' pleasant conversation on this topic, the reporter asked:
"Are you going to call a special meeting of the Councils to consider the street cleaning muddle?"
"I am going to call a meeting for general business," was the reply, "provided the Finance Committee request me to do so. It is hardly likely that the meeting will be limited to action on one subject when it may be desired to act on several." The announcement of a gentleman who had important business with the Mayor, at this juncture, cut short any further conversation, and the reporter took his departure, musing upon the last words of the Mayor. If a special meeting of Councils is called for the transaction of general business, what general business is there to come before it?