The City's Noise
Now loud, now low, now sounding in musical, humming rhythm, now clanging in sharp staccato or rising in plangent, shrieking chords, the song of the city comes to the listening ear. The low, beating throb of the midnight hours, broken by the abrupt sounds of early morning, changes, as morning turns to afternoon, through the various measures of a full-throated chorus whose instruments are those of trade: the whistle, the rushing car, the noise of commerce. The theme passes, with the fall of night, into the hurrying allegro of returning thousands, threads to its web through the clatter of the evening hours, and returns at last to the low throb of twenty-four hours before. Never does it cease.
Stimulus to the morning toiler entering the city gates, the city’s noise may be. To the strong, it seems the call of battletrumpets summoning to the rush and hurry of the busy morning. As the long day wears on, inevitable reaction sets in, the wearing grind of city-labor bears heavily on hand and brain; and the noise, growing more and more an irritant, beats at last on the wearied ear with whips of strident steel. Another factor has been added to increase the nerve-exhaustion which is drawing so heavily on the forces of the city. A constant, if unperceived, drain upon the strong, the noise of the city may be an almost intolerable torture to the weak.
Quixotic tilting against windmills will do little more in a noise crusade than it will elsewhere. No city can be carried on without a very considerable amount of necessary noise. A really silent city is impossible. But the unnecessary noise of recent years, the escapable noise, so to speak, has increased to a point beyond all reasonable tolerance. It is just this part of the whole that we wish to stop. Muirhead once said, “ Among the most searching tests of the state of civilization reached by any country are the character of its roads, its minimizing of noise, and the position of its women. If the United States does not stand very high on the application of the first two tests, its name assuredly leads all the rest in the third.” It is well worth our while to see what we can do toward obtaining a higher percentage on the second test.
Of all the manifestations of the world about us, which our senses can perceive, sound alone cannot be escaped. The eyelids shut out light from the eyes, the lips keep taste from the tongue, the hand may be voluntarily withheld from touching, the nose may cease to smell. The ear alone remains open day and night to receive whatever impressions, be they pleasant or unpleasant, the outer world may send to it. Where Mother Nature has failed to protect her children, man must step in to aid.
In his consideration of the physiological effects of noise, Dr. Richard Olding Beard once made the statement that “ Noise is fast becoming a neurotic habit with the American people.” Speaking of the separation of sound-waves into two great classes, “ noises and musical sounds, the one class characterized by the absence, the other by the presence, of the quality of rhythm,” he went on to explain that the one is an irritant, the other a solace to the normal ear; and remarked that these different types of vibration not only act differently upon the ear, but actually act upon different parts of the ear’s mechanism. Noise, acting upon the nervous system of the nervously-worn city-dweller, produces so real and constant an irritation that quiet becomes an abnormal state to which exhausted nerves find great difficulty in responding.
A personal experience first showed the writer the possibility of a state of affairs, where the habit of noise could become as fixed as the habit of a drug. Waking one night in the quiet of a country-house far from other habitations, I suddenly heard the starting of the hot-air engine which pumped the water, chug-chug-chug-chug. I lay listening to its monotonous vibrations, and wondering at the unusual hour for pumping, until I fell asleep. The next night the sound was repeated. On mentioning the matter to my host, he confessed that he could not sleep in the quiet of the country, that the sudden change from the roar of a great city to the silence of the woods was so great as to cause him real suffering. As his only way to rest, he would leave the house in the middle of the night, start up the pump, and, lying down in a nearby hammock, find sleep brought him by the lullaby of the hot-air engine. That man recognized that he had the noise habit, and finally conquered it. How about the many who are never far enough away from the incessant tumult to know that the habit has formed ? The incessant din of hammer upon iron in the boiler-shop creates a disease of the ear among the workers, known as “ boilermaker’s ear.” Little by little their finely attuned sensory nerves become dull and indifferent to all sound. Far more continuous than the clamor of the boilershop, the noise of the city is, at times, almost as deafening. The boiler-maker commonly resides far from his scene of labor, and may have thirteen or fourteen hours of rest from the sounds of his vocation. The city-dweller is never free from the surrounding din. The passage to his ear is open, sleeping and waking. More than one expert believes that a dulling of the ear to the finer gradations of sound must result in time from life spent in the midst of such surroundings. The aggregate of city noise has increased so greatly in recent years that we have hardly, as yet, sufficient data to prove this theorem. It is, at least, extremely probable.
When we come to consider the effect of noise in the sick-room, the records of the doctors appear in screed after screed, testimonial after testimonial. Officers of hospitals for the insane consider the increasing noise of the city a potent factor in the recent increase of insanity, citing case after case where their attempts to cure these unfortunates have been hampered or nullified by sudden or continued noises. Dr. Hyslop of London says, in his monograph on Noise in its Sanitary Aspect, “ There is in city life no factor more apt to produce brain unrest, and its sequel of neurotism, than the incessant stimulation of the brain through the auditory organs.”
From an article in Le Figaro on the same general subject, I clip and translate the following: “Noise has a daughter whose ravages extend in all directions : neurasthenia. I have seen in a little village a strong peasant girl lying on her poor couch and suffering from a sickness from which her forces were slowly ebbing. The doctors all agreed in declaring that she had neurasthenia. She was absolutely illiterate, knew neither how to read nor how to write. It was not books, nor meditation, nor sensibility of soul, which had brought her to that diseased state. No; leaving her country home, she had worked in a great city whose noise had constantly alarmed her. At last, she returned to the fields; she came back too late.”
Dr. Gregory of Bellevue Hospital, in a statement made at the time of the first struggle in New York to suppress unnecessary steam-whistling on the rivers, wrote in part, “ Many patients suffering from typhoid, meningitis, and other serious illness, will become annoyed by the least noise or disturbance. To these, restful sleep is of paramount importance, and frequently such disturbances may cause a relapse or turn the scale against them. In many delirious patients an hour’s rest or sleep may mean life. You can readily imagine the disappointment of the doctor and nurse, who have struggled to bring about the much-desired quiet and sleep, when suddenly all their efforts are frustrated as a result of the disturbing whistles.”
In the quotation just cited, Dr. Gregory spoke especially of the steam-whistle. In any catalogue of the causes of noise, that type must stand preëminent. Sudden, discordant, terrific in its intensity, few are the ears that can bear its sudden attack unmoved. As used in cities, it is an outworn relic of a former time, of the day when every crossing bore upon its pointing finger the inscription, “Look out tor the engine when the bell rings; ” when watches and clocks were high in price or low in accuracy; when such modern substitutes for the voice as the electric bell were generally quite unknown. Of the whistle of the steamboats we shall have occasion to speak later, in our discussion of conditions in New York. It is sufficient here to bring up those twin banes of the city, the factory and the train whistle, specialized forms of noise which have been fought valiantly for years by Professor Edward S. Morse of Salem. No statement of this subject would be complete without reference to his labors.
A few decades ago, the locomotive whistle had its undoubted use in signaling, and in the warning of travelers on roads crossed at grade. To-day on country roads it may still serve a purpose. Its city use is ended. Compulsory gates are now placed at important city-crossings. The tendency toward compelling crossings to be above or below grade is growing rapidly. Block-systems of control and automatic methods of signaling have come into being. Every city crossing is guarded. But the whistling continues, the strength of the noise has increased as engines have grown more modern in other ways, and the delight of employees in the use of the whistle seldom fails. Here and there, cities and towns have passed ordinances aimed at this annoyance. Some have been successful in carrying them through. In the majority of places, however, through lack of concerted action, the trains passing gated crossings at midnight wake every light sleeper, and every sick and weary soul, for long distances around, by their long-continued blasts.
The use of the locomotive whistle in signaling train-crews, in switching and shunting, makes life in the vicinity of a station-yard a twenty-four-hour nightmare, three hundred and sixty-five days in the year. I shall not soon forget my first sight of a European freight-yard, where all the signals were given by bugle calls, whose clear musical notes governed the easily-moving trains and minimized the attendant noise. If the American railroad man scorns the use of a bugle, there is still the megaphone and the boatswain’s whistle. Much could be done by signals read by the eye. If the engineer can back his engine to the required point on the signal of the brakeman’s waving arm or lantern, is there any reason why he should not respond in turn by arm or light instead of by use of the whistle ? While railroad men with whom I have talked are not all agreed on this point, no small number believe that the continual whistling of the yards confuses the men at work, renders their labors more difficult, and increases the awful yearly total of maimed and injured railroad employees.
Whatever excuse the locomotive whistle may yet have for a curtailed existence, the right of the factory whistle to continue has ceased. In the old days when workmen of city factories lived grouped around their individual places of employment, it may have been necessary to summon workmen by a whistle. To-day, with the multiplication of timepieces of all sorts, with the nightly departure of the city workman to his home far from the factory section, that need has disappeared. The land about city factories is too valuable for workmen’s houses. The modern corporation has no use for the man who cannot get to his work on time. The sixo’clock whistle can no longer rouse its workmen, for they, as a mass, no longer live within its call; and the workman who is at the factory on time will enter no more rapidly on the cull of a seven-o’clock whistle than he will on that of an electric gong. As a matter of fact, the moment of starting work is determined by the starting of the machinery in the vast majority of factories, those which run only in the day. Since tens and hundreds of thousands of the workmen’s children reach school on the stroke of nine on every school-day in the year, since they are able to enter on the call of an electric gong and pass from room to room on the pulsation of electric bells, is there any reason why the father should be unable to do as much as the children ? Factory after factory has abolished its whistle with complete success, yet custom holds good with thousands of others whose shrill cry brings torment to the innocent victims around.
The whole problem of whistling has been dealt with in a systematic manner by the city of Cleveland. So brief and simple arc the provisions of its law, made some years ago and still in force, that I venture to quote them : —
“ Ordinance of the City of Cleveland. Sub-Division, N. 1.
“ Section 841. Engine Whistle. No whistles connected with any railway engine shall be sounded within the limits of the city of Cleveland except as a signal to apply the brakes in case of immediate or impending danger.
“ Section 842. Vessel Whistles. No person shall blow or cause to be blown the steam whistle of any vessel propelled by steam, while lying at any wharf in the city of Cleveland, or when approaching or leaving such wharf or navigating the Cuyahoga River in said city, except when absolutely necessary as a signal of danger, or in cases and under the circumstances prescribed by the rules of navigation or the laws and regulations of the United States requiring the use of such whistles.
” Section 843. Stationary Engines. No person shall blow or cause to be blown within the limits of the city of Cleveland the steam whistle of any stationary engine as a signal for commencing, or suspending work, or for any other purpose except as specified in the following section.
“ Section 844. Nothing in this subdivision contained shall be construed as forbidding the use of steam whistles as alarm signals in case of fire or collision, or other imminent danger, nor for the necessary signals by the steam engines of the fire department of the city.
“ Section 845. Any person violating or failing to comply with any of the provisions of the sub-division shall be fined not less than ten dollars, nor more than fifty dollars.”
A section also prescribes the signals that shall be sounded for steam-tugs.
The construction of the pavements of a city, important from the side of the cleanliness of the air, needs serious consideration from the standpoint of noise. Stop in Times Square, New York, some evening when the rush of theatre traffic is crossing the pavement, and listen to the sound. The asphalt gives back comparatively little reverberation from the rolling wheels, whose sound is continuous, regular, and rhythmical. Separate out the sound of horses’ hoofs from the general clatter. First in steady clicks like clock-beats, now it slows, now hastens, now stops, now quickens. Ever changing, the broken series of sounds comes at irregular intervals and produces a particularly trying type of sound-injury. The reason for such differences in speed becomes evident as we turn and walk down Broadway. On a clear space of sidewalk our pace becomes regular, moving with precision; when a crowd blocks the way, our movement is checked; if a crossing intervenes, it stops. Corners, car-tracks, and blockades are constantly changing the speed of even a single horse crossing the city pavements, thereby producing noise instead of regularity of sound. Add to the noise of a single horse, passing on the asphalt, the many sounds of different horses passing at various speeds, and you have a tumult. Stoneblock pavements, with their irregular junctions and broken edges, are much worse than asphalt. Macadam is comparatively quiet. Wooden blocks, such as are found on the London streets, are the best from a standpoint of noiseless ness. Cobble-stones are the worst of all.
Horse-transportation is but one factor in the total passing of the city. Cable and trolley-cars, rattling from side to side, motors with their fiendish variety of whistles, thread their way in and out; while the overhead trolley-wires, like the strings of some huge, discordant violin, never cease their vibrations. Thoreau speaks of the sounding of the telegraph wires, “ that winter harmony of the open road and snow-clad field.” Grateful as that song may be in the quiet of the country, in the city the noise of the racked trolley-wire above adds a peculiarly trying factor to the pounding from the rocking cars below. When corporate officials desire to economize on traction lines, they not uncommonly equip the service with poor rails and wheels. The rails soon wear away. The wheels assume the shape of polygons instead of circles, and, as they turn, strike flattened angles against the irregularities of the iron rail. This is a particularly effective method of adding to the total noise. Fortunately, there is one way of relief in sight. Few devices in transportation have done more for the quiet of the city than has the increasing use of subways. Though the reverberation within the subway proper may be greatly increased, the relief on the street is marked. Only in our greater cities and along main trunk-lines, however, does the subway yet exist. The elevated, so far as noise is concerned, gives practically little advantage over the surface-car, save for the intermittence of stopping and starting, and the absence of the sound of the bell.
Pleasant as is the mental picture of chiming bells pealing from out the spire of quiet, white-walled church or Gothic tower, many of our church bells are quite out of place in the crowded concourse of men. No longer limiting its service to the brief call to prayers on the quietest day of the week, the resonant metal sends forth its summons each day and night throughout the year. Chimes tell the quarter, long peals mark each passing hour; periods of tolling ring the requiem, not only of the dead of the individual church, but of each notable man who passes away. The last necessity of the clock’s telling the time audibly, disappeared with the coming of the illuminated dial. The tolling of one bell among the many in a great city ceases to have significance in its honor of the dead. Yet with the multiplication of church bells, each hour brings a dozen chimes mingling, prolonging, clashing as they send forth their voices from their lofty spires. Intended as messengers of the doctrine of mercy, they are merciless indeed to the weak and sick within sound of their voices.
The sounding of a general fire-alarm by the use of whistles or bells serves as another reminder of a tradition quite outworn. The wild clang of the village bell, which summons every able-bodied man within reach to fight the flames, is still a necessity of the country. City fires, on the other hand, are fought by highly trained specialists who have no use for amateur help. The silent electric firealarm answers every purpose of the firefighters. The telephone can notify the individuals especially interested. A general alarm from bells and whistles, which calls a horde of curious gazers, is a decidedly mixed blessing as regards the fire. It is an unmixed evil in its increase of the general noise.
The barking of stray dogs, and the howling of wandering cats, furnishes another proof of the finding of good things in the wrong place. No real lover of animals can feel anything but pity for most of the ranging dogs and eats of the city alleys and back-yards, starved, pitiable spectacles as they are. A false humanity has kept these companions of man in an environment wholly unsuited to their nature, and the wrong which men have done in prisoning these creatures of the open in the brick-walled city has produced its appropriate punishment to mankind in the resulting annoyance from their cries.
For real malignant power, none of the individual offenders against repose surpass the milkman. Others raise their voices in the midst of an awakened city. He assumes the rôle of the wakener of the early morning. There can surely be few of us who have not been aroused by the rumbling of the milk-wagon, the running feet of the milkman, the peculiarly sharp clatter of the exchange of empty bottles for the full quarts, the lengthy and animated discussions of drivers meeting in the early morning. Some of the largest milk companies in New York have taken up this problem with gratifying results. Rubber tires and rubber-shod horses, instructions to drivers to avoid unnecessary disturbance, and inspection to see that these instructions are carried out, has been more than a public-spirited move. It has been a commercial success. The average citizen much prefers his own milk delivered by a noiseless milkman, other things being equal.
It is hard indeed utterly to condemn the music of hurdy-gurdy and barrel organ, of street-band and of itinerant musician. The little dancing feet of the children of the poor are too seldom stirred by melody to shut this solace wholly from their lives. Stop for a space and follow the music up the crowded slum street, and you will see an eagerness of appreciation such as symphonies do not receive. There are some quarters of the city where the organ-grinder is welcome. There are others where his coming spells torture to every musical ear. He is certainly out of place near hospitals, or schools. A limitation of street music to certain definite areas has proved possible. It would seem as if even more than this might be done. There are music commissioners in many cities. Why not turn the licensing of street music over to them, with the requirement that with the license shall go some inspection of the quality of the music. It is said, though of this I have no definite proof, that the experiment has already been tried under the direction of a city department of police. If this elevation of the police to a censorship of the Muses continues, we may yet achieve marvels of harmony. On the whole, however, I cannot but flunk the music commission might prove more satisfactory.
Last, but not least, in our catalogue of noises comes the call of the street peddler. “ Street cries.” That phrase, like certain chords of music, certain fragrances of flowers, brings up a medley of delightful reminiscences. Early morning in the Quartier,” where one listened drowsily to the ancient calls of charcoal-seller and baker, of venders of merchandise who cried their wares with the very intonation of their ancestors of decades, even of centuries, ago. Afternoons in dingy London streets, hunting down the rare prints of the brilliantly colored “ Street Cries of London.” The roaring tide of Whitechapel, and an old church with its vivid oasis of green where we turned to the quiet of the Thames. Always the pleasant memories are of foreign lands; never of America. In their attempt to overcome the general din our own itinerant merchants have taken to every possible means of making their presence known. Bugle-calls, rattles, bells, and horns; even, in the case of one ingenious soul, the mounting upon his cart of a monster phonograph which declared in doggerel the virtues of his wares. Each strives to outdo the other, producing a general level of sound, in whose presence, as in the presence of a shouting mob, no individual voice can be perceived. In the interest of the huckster, as well as of the community, a reform already suggested should be gladly received. It has been proposed that the principle of the common ice placard be greatly extended. The ice-man comes at the call of the card. There is no reason why all other sellers of the street should not be called by the same sign. Differently colored cards are proposed for every trade, and the housewife, should her community establish such an ordinance, may call her butcher, baker, and candlestickmaker by the use of signal cards which represent an extension of one of the underlying principles of noise-reform, the use of the eye instead of the ear.
Arverne-by-the-Sea has put into execution a successful plan for doing away with the extraneous noise of hucksters. In this case, an ordinance was passed which charged junkmen a license fee of five dollars unless the licensee cry, shout, or employ one or more bells or other noisy devices. If such devices are employed, the fee is fifty dollars. Five dollars each is charged other types of wagon, two dollars each to pack, handcart, or basket-peddler, if they are quiet. If they shout or use noisy devices, the fee is trebled. If you enter Arverne by any route you may pass hucksters beside the road, busily engaged in removing the bells from their carts. The appeal to the pocket-book has been successful.
Newark attacked the problem by means of a direct law which forbade the use of bells, gongs, horns, whistles, or similar noise-makers, and went on to regulate the phonograph, a source of noise which few municipalities have been so hardy as to assail. This section of the ordinance follows: —
“ Section 3. It shall be unlawful for any person, persons, company, corporation or other body of individuals, to permit or cause any sound such as that emitted by phonographs and other similar soundproducing instruments to be directed through open doors or windows into the streets or other public places within the corporate limits of the city of Newark, or permit or cause such sounds to be produced so as to be diffused in public places, within the corporate limits of the city.”
Many as were the sources of noise, the general movement against the evil was slow in starting. Recognition of the necessity of general cleanliness in the city, of control of food-supplies and water-supply, began much earlier and progressed more rapidly. Citizens could recognize that deaths resulted from lack of cleanliness. They were far slower in realizing that constant drains upon the city’s forces caused by unnecessary noise might prove a serious handicap to the total efficiency of a community. Many men, hardened to noise, scornfully repudiated the conception that it could be in any way harmful, considered objectors weak sentimentalists, refused to believe that noise could be in any way harmful to the sick, and even gloried in the increasing tumult of the city as a sign of material growth. Here and there a scattered sufferer complained. Now and then some man, wiser than his generation, protested publicly. In recent years several men, Hyslop, Kempster, Lederle, Girdner, and Morse, among others, published papers and did valiant work. The American’s habit of inertia in the presence of an evil suffered by all his neighbors equally with himself, hindered concerted action. Only in the last few years has the movement, which originated in New York, risen to large proportions.
Hemmed in by the North and East rivers, the long narrow strip of land which holds the crowded buildings of New York long suffered from the continual torment of resounding whistles which came from tugs and steam craft of every type. If you were a riparian New Yorker, it mattered little whether you lived in a palatial residence on Riverside Drive or in a crowded tenement on the East Side; in either case, you were haunted day and night by the continual shrieking. So confusing was the din that it was difficult for boats to make proper use of signals for meeting and passing. Tugs coming to wharves to take scows up or down the river would begin whistling two miles and more away, in order to waken sleepy watchmen on the docks. Boats sounded their screaming call for half hours to call their crews from river-bank saloons. Pilots on river-steamers exchanged greetings with their friends on other boats by means of the whistle’s cord, or gave salutes in honor of the servant girls in apartment houses that front the Drive. It was a saturnalia of sound.
Revolutions and conspiracies have a habit of springing up and flourishing where tyranny is most extreme. Russia is still a hot-bed of conspiracy; the Turkish provinces are still the stamping-ground of revolution. The tyranny of noise on the New York rivers made Riverside Drive a natural place for the beginnings of the league against noise. To one who suffered from that frenzied tumult it was a natural step to think of other sufferers, especially of the long lines of sick in hospital, helpless before its fury. From those conditions arose a leader whose singleminded devotion to the cause and singular ability of organization have produced far-reaching results. That leader is Mrs. Isaac L. Rice.
Mrs. Rice began her campaign four years ago, with an investigation of the relation between health and noise, as exemplified by the conditions in the New York hospitals. From preliminary queries sent to the officials of those institutions, the almost universal response came back that noise was injurious to patients suffering with many different types of disease. Her data once obtained, Mrs. Rice started a systematic campaign through bureau and commission, council and legislature, aimed at the abolition of the evil of unnecessary noise.
From the Department of Health to the Dock Commissioners, from the Wardens of the Port to the United States Local Steamboat Inspectors, from the Collectors’ office to the Law Division, from the Police Department back to the Department of Health again, through all the mazes of the Municipal Circumlocution Office, Mrs. Rice traveled over and over again. Each and all, like their famous protemporaries, finally “ gave it up,” deciding that the reason why they did so was because the Hudson was a Federal waterway. Its noise could not be controlled by the municipality.
If genius is the capacity for “ eternally pegging away at a thing,” genius was surely shown in this case. Undaunted by her experiences, Mrs. Rice took her case to the Federal government : first to the Department of the Treasury, thence to the Department of Commerce and Labor, thence to the Board of Supervising Inspectors of Steam Vessels. The workings of the Federal Circumlocution Office seemed as devious as those of the municipal one. One by one, those officials “ gave it up.” They decided that there was no law under which the Federal government could act. Fortunately, however, even if circumlocution offices were labyrinths which ended where they began, multitudes in the world outside were becoming interested in the success of the cause. Unable though Mrs. Rice had been to secure the cessation of the noise by governmental action, private individuals by the hundreds, a great body of the press, the owners of steamboat lines, the American Association of Masters, Mates, and Pilots, had expressed their sympathy with the work and offered their aid. Influenced to some degree by this exhibition of public sentiment, the whistling stopped in part. It was but a temporary cessation. Soon it was on the increase once more.
Here, as elsewhere, legislation proved the only permanent safeguard. There was no law which governed steamboat whistling, and the only way to reach it was by a congressional bill. Congressman William S. Bennett of New York brought forward and seemed the passage of a bill giving to the supervising inspectors of steamboats the right to regulate the whistling done by boats on water under their jurisdiction. This was the first bill ever passed by Congress having for its ultimate object the suppression of noise. The bill once passed, interpretation was secured, and eighty-five per cent of the unnecessary noise due to this cause was eliminated.
The passage of the Bennett bill marked a decisive victory. Partial legislation had been secured, and the way was open to a continuance. But there was an everpresent necessity that enforcement follow legislation, and that a strong public sentiment back up enforcement, if the statutes against noise were to become effective, and not a part of the dead, useless lumber that crowds our statute-books. Legislation, enforcement, public opinion, these are three links of a chain that breaks if any one of the three be severed. To sustain all three, “ to awaken public sentiment in favor of our cause, and to aid our hospitals by diminishing unnecessary noises in their immediate vicinity,” the “ Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise ” was formed. Mrs. Rice was made president, and many distinguished Americans offered their services to the advisory board. Most important of all, fifty-nine hospitals, representing eighteen thousand and eighteen beds, had representatives on the directorate. The work of this society on the “ Quiet Zone ” ordinance and the “ Children’s Hospital Branch ” deserves the imitation of other cities.
The “ Quiet Zone ” law in particular marked a great advance. For years an old law of New York had forbidden organgrinders to ply their trade or hucksters to cry their wares within one block of church, hospital, or school, between the hours of nine and four. That law had been a dead letter almost from the day of its passage. It failed lamentably at three points. It was effective only in school and church hours, leaving the hospitals during the many other hours of the day at the mercy of the passers-by. It gave no public definition of the space which was to represent the vicinity, thereby making enforcement at any time extremely difficult. It did not include the manifold unnecessary noises of transportation. The new “ Quiet Zone ” ordinance, passed last year by the Board of Aldermen, includes all noises caused by transportation, whether from horse-drawn or motor vehicles (this latter a most important point), requires the placing of conspicuous signs of “ Hospital Zone,” or “ Hospital Street,” one block away from the hospitals on all approaching streets, and enables the police to arrest any persons making unnecessary noise near a hospital.
If there is one quality of which most of us who are striving for the city’s welfare need to be long, and of which we are likely to be short, it is never-failing tact. IIow many of us have no occasion to cry mea culpa ! when charged with its lack ? There seems to be so much to be done, so little time in which to do it. It is all the more refreshing on that account to relate the singularly happy manner in which the difficult problem of the noise of playing children about the hospitals — a serious evil because of the unfortunate fascination which ambulance cases have for the city child — was attacked. Watch the craning of necks and scampering of feet among the children as the ambulance hurries by, and you will understand that hospitals readily become gathering-places for all the children within reach. Arrest, imprisonment, or fine, even restriction of their brief rights in the playground of the streets, is a crime against the city child’s starved nature, save in cases of real extremity. Recognizing this, and recognizing at the same time the need of the sick, Mrs. Rice, with the help of Mark Twain and the New York Board of Education, started the Children’s Hospital Branch in the schools of New York.
From room to room, from building to building, Mrs. Rice pursued her quest, asking the children not only to be quiet themselves near the hospitals, but to use their influence to keep others quiet. In thousands they responded. I quote from Mrs. Rice’s own story of the founding of the Branch, a few of the children’s pledges, each written in the child’s own words: —
“ I offer up this sacrifice, so as to comfort the sick near hospital and any place I know where sick persons are, and to prevent all sorts of noises that are not necessary.”
“ I promise just the way a president promises to be true to his country, to stop other people from making a noise, and I also will not make a noise in front of a hospital.”
“ My dear Miss Rice, I promise that I will never make a noise near a hospital. Positively know.”
“ I promise not to play near or around any hospital. When I Do pass I will keep my mouth shut tight, because there are many invalids there. Nor will I make myself a perfect NUISANCE.”
Just what you advised us to do,
I am willing to obey your plan,
To make the least noise as I can,
Before a hospital.”
It would be hardly right to close this article without at least a word concerning the day which marks the culmination of the year’s burden of noise. The Fourth of July, like the more local festivals similarly celebrated, has stood declared in recent years as a Moloch which claims its yearly toll of maimed and dying human sacrifice. Its sins lie open and declared. It has been shown again and again that the change from the red cracker of the day before to the smoke and noise of the Fourth itself, produces lists of killed and wounded greater than those of many battles. Those sorrowful lists tell but a part of the story. If we could estimate the death and suffering from the noise of that day, who doubts that they would stretch to appalling proportions. Three hundred and sixty-odd days in the year we shield our population from the use of dangerous weapons by rigorous law and ordinance. On two or three days we allow, not only men and women, but even little children, to buy explosives of known and deadly violence without let or hindrance. The critics who call the United States “ the land of inconsistencies ” can scarcely point to a more notable example than this.
It is written that among the various schools of Grecian philosophy existed one known as “ The Academy of Silence,” composed of one hundred men, each member pledged to the purpose of the school. To them came one seeking admission. Their list of membership was closed, and their head, calling the wouldbe neophyte before the assembled audience, showed him without a word an urn so filled with water that not a single drop could be added. The neophyte, reading the message, bowed silently, started to withdraw, but hesitated and returned. Picking a petal from a flower, he dropped it on the brimming bowl so dexterously that it floated without dislodging the slightest particle of the liquid. The membership of the Academy of Silence became one hundred and one.
Like that ancient member of the Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise, we, who wish to give quiet and rest to the sick in crowded ward and sickroom, to little children and wearied workers, must work tactfully, steadily effectively. Then will quiet come.