To Blaze in Glory

To Blaze in Glory

News clipping
(Providence Journal, November 17, 1898).

Internal Revenue Office Interior Will Match Water Cooler

They are painting the Internal Revenue offices in the United States building on South Main street, and all the neighbors wonder. It's a great event. No one can remember when they have been painted before, and as for the paper, it was made at the time Jackson was having his fight with the State Banks under the advice of his kitchen cabinet. So you see the renovation is not such a small thing as might be imagined.

It all came from the water cooler. Last summer the Treasury Department with a recklessness unparalleled, placed a new water cooler in the office. To be sure, the requisitions for it had been in about three years, the request being renewed each summer, but then no one had expected any greater success this year than had attended the other efforts. The old cooler was very useful as an example of ancient architecture and could be used for several other things than holding water. Ice melted in that as well as anywhere else, and the deputies had a new pastime, of speculating on their chances of finding water in it before they went to drink. But at last they got a new cooler.

That was the beginning of a riotous career of extravagance and renovation. The glories of that cooler, with its red and blue and no one knows what other color paint, and its picture of the Maine on the front, shone forth resplendent against a dingy background. The carpet looked shabby after that, although the deputies, with jealous care, hid the cooler in a closet where none might see it and be stricken with its charms.

The carpet had to go, and a new one came in its place. That made the walls look dirty, and another requisition for 10 cents worth of paint and some rolls of wall paper, with a man to put them up, was made. An inspector came, looked at the walls, looked at the carpet and was then taken in the closet and given a drink from the cooler. That settled it. The observation through the bottom of the glass of ice water turned the scale, and the recommendation was favorable.

Tuesday the painters came and touched up the ceiling. Then they began on the woodwork and now all is linseed oil in the office, smothering the smell of the cigars brought in by customers who have fell designs on the welfare of the deputies. Some new and handsome wall paper is going up, and the deputes are fleeing from the place and working anywhere, writing letters against the wall and finding every minute of the day that their most important letters and papers are still in the desks over which the painters and the paper hangers are working.

But it cannot last forever, and then the joy of it when it is done! The deputies expect to have a coming-out party at that festive period. Meanwhile, they are casting glances of scorn at the rooms downstairs. These are being whitewashed or something, but they are not to be compared with the scene of splendor in the upper story. Nothing can be compared with that. It is like the whiskers of a Populist. Incomparable.

Editor's Notes: Alert reader Nick P. identified the "United States building" as the Custom House formerly located at 129-131-133 South Main Street, the west corner of the intersection with Customs Avenue (which no longer exists). The Custom House was built around 1817, and the Internal Revenue Service occupied the second floor in 1887. The site is now occupied by the eleven-story building that houses Hemenway's Restaurant and the Brown University School of Public Health.

Customs House, c1901
The old Custom House. (A History of Public Buildings Under the Control of the Treasury Department, 1901).

"whiskers of a Populist" may refer specifically to the impressive facial shrubbery of William A. Peffer, a Populist politician from Kansas who served in the U.S. Senate from 1891-'97.

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