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Leave, You Rah-Rahs

Joe Holley

Those of us who write obits for The Washington Post are proud of our "Local Life" feature, where we spotlight a person in our area who lived a remarkable life, albeit outside the spotlight. Tracking down some historical tidbit the other day for an obit I was writing, I happened upon a Post feature from the year 1908 called, not "Local Life," but "Little Stories of the Daily Life of Well-Known People."

From the Aug. 13, 1908, issue of "Little Stories," I learned that guests at the Hotel Elmore on Long Island had come down to breakfast a few days earlier to find "the prettiest girls and most dignified matrons of the hostelry opening the napkins, passing the cereals, and announcing, 'We have bluefish, weakfish, steaks, chops and eggs.'

"'What, ho! landlord?' demanded the latecomers of J. Davis Secor, the proprietor.

"'I'll tell you what ho," Secor replied. 'I've fired that rah-rah bunch of waiters. I'm done with all university students. I'll assist no more young men to work their way through college. Any man that wears an apron in this exclusive pension after this must say 'ain't' and smoke a clay pipe and be unable to tell a mandolin from a garden rake.'"

What provoked the proprietor was the inability, or unwillingness, of his 15 collegiate waiters to remember that they were employees, not hotel guests.

"Each night, they donned their white ducks, fraternity pins and vivid hosiery and, marching en masse to the parlor, assailed the piano with the strains of 'I've Been Workin' on the Railroad!' and 'Bingo Was His Name' and 'Dear Old Alma Mater.'

"Following this performance, they seized upon the fairest misses in the house and carried them far away from their chaperons. They also confiscated the dimmest corners of the lawns and prettiest sections of the water front.

"In the afternoon, it is said, they flirted with the girls of the countryside, and when they couldn't get to them spent half hours in monopolizing the hotel phone for the transmission of fond messages."

The final straw, the proprietor grumbled, was when the college swells took it upon themselves to correct the grammar and pronunciation of the German chef, who threatened to quit.

"'Now you rah-rahs,' Secor said, when he assembled them, 'pack up your guitars and golf sticks and bundles of knitting, and blow while the wind's good.'"

And so they blew, leaving the women to wait tables.

The Post's little story from a century ago is a reminder, of course, that generations come and generations go -- as obit writers well know -- but human nature stays pretty much the same. I'm curious, though: What's with East Coast college guys and knitting in the early 1900s?

By Joe Holley  |  March 22, 2009; 4:30 PM ET
Categories:  Joe Holley  
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