Some Wonders from the West: The Burgess Twins; The Making of Pictures in Wood; Coasting (October 1901)

This month’s selection of ‘wonders’ from America includes an article about two identical twins, some pictures made from wood which don’t (to my mind) look quite as impressive as their descriptions, and (my favourite section) a brief section on ‘coasting’. My favourite because I always like seeing pictures of Victorians/Edwardians enjoying themselves.



Auburn, New York, U.S.A., is the home of the most remarkable twins in the country, if not in the world. They are respectively Ray and Roy Burgess, and so exactly do they resemble each other that even their own mother finds it difficult at times to tell which is which.

These young men are now seventeen years of age, and as the years pass the similarity of the boys becomes more pronounced, if that is possible. A short time ago the twins were measured according to the Bertillon system, but they proved too much even for this means of revealing identity until a few tell-tale scars were discovered.

The main characteristics of feature and form to which the great majority of people owe their individuality in appearance are exactly similar in the Burgess twins. Both have dark brown hair, grey eyes, slightly flattened noses, moderately thick lips, long ears, and rounded chins. In weight Roy has had the advantage at several different times, although at present both weigh exactly 144lb. Both are 5ft. 9in. in height.

While children the twins enjoyed their wonderful similarity and played all sorts of pranks on their parents, teachers, and playmates. Having put behind them their childhood and entered the practical business world they have found their lack of individuality a great drawback and the source of many serious annoyances.

Roy found himself constantly called to account for some act of his brother’s, while Ray frequently was obliged to settle Roy’s account with some irate creditor, simply because he could not prove that he was himself and not his other half.

In consequence of these frequently occurring mishaps the twins decided to separate, and a few days ago Roy went to the town of Keene, New Hampshire, where he expects in his work as agent for some standard piano to enjoy the novel experience of having an identity of his own.


Ray is still in Auburn, employed as printer on a local paper, but he has also planned to go where he will be a separate and distinct person, where he will have the use of his own individuality and not always be known as one of the Burgess twins. By staying in Auburn he is still mistaken for his brother by his brother’s friends, who believe that the latter may have returned on a visit.

It was while still attending school that the twins enjoyed to the fullest their likeness to each other. The teachers despaired of ever distinguishing one from the other; both boys dressed exactly alike, and both were in the same class at school. The principal tried to induce them to wear different coloured neck-ties, but their mother insisted that both should be clothed exactly alike.


Finally one teacher suggested that one boy should wear a small piece of blue ribbon on of his coat and the other a red. This was tried, but the teachers failed to remember whether Ray or Roy wore the blue, and when this question was settled the boys changed bows and “confusion worse confounded” reigned, so this plan had to be abandoned.

One boy was an excellent mathematician, the other excelled in drawing; one read beautifully, the other could not be tripped in spelling. But whether it was Ray or Roy who deserved the honour of being a lightning calculator or which boy should be termed the artist of the class could never be determined by the bewildered teachers.

Both boys write exactly alike, their penmanship bears as remarkable a resemblance as do they to each other, and at examination times their instructors always felt sure that the one who had the gift for solving problems did both his and his brother’s tests, while the one who could draw anything, from a block of wood to the most intricate floral design, handed in two examination papers, one headed Roy and the other Ray.

When the reading class was called there was a suspicion prevalent among scholars and teachers that the brothers played “checkers” with the class, and that the one who had in him the making of an elocutionist read twice, once for himself and once for his brother who lacked this talent.

Roy is the leader, being full of mischief and ready to dare anything, but he keeps this characteristic carefully hidden; his grey eyes express just the same innocence and reticence as do those of his more retiring brother. At school, if one got into trouble, the teachers being unable to decide which was the culprit, and deeming it unwise to allow the guilty as well as the innocent to escape justice, usually impartially punished both boys–not such a very bad scheme either–for if Roy was generally the one to set the ball rolling, Ray never hesitated to give it a helpful push.


While at school the twins were debarred from participating in such games as hide and seek, hunt the hounds, etc., because it was always impossible to tell which had been captured; and as each would vow it was the other hot dispute would ensue, in which Roy frequently received two black eyes, while Ray escaped scot free, or Ray was obliged to show his mettle twice, once for himself and once for his twin, who would declare he had already whipped the bully who had really been the brother’s victim.

Among the boys each had his own friends, and Roy’s chum was seldom on speaking terms with Ray, while the latter’s champion generally went around with the chip on his shoulder lying in wait for Roy. Despite this loyalty many funny things frequently occurred. The brothers have always been the best of friends, and, like all American lads, are ready for a joke at any time.

They tell with great relish how they have times without number fooled their friends. Ray still bears a tiny scar on his left knee which he received in a tussle with a certain Hob Smith, who was his sworn ally, while endeavouring to wipe out an old score of his brother’s. Smith will not believe to this day that he fought the wrong fellow, and it is impossible to offer him proof positive, because Roy also carries a scar on his left knee which he received while playing football.

For a long time the girls of the town refused to have anything to do with the Burgess boys, indignantly declaring that they never knew to which boy they were talking. Roy, however, being quite a young gallant, was not content with this state of affairs, and finally, after many failures, succeeded in winning the friendship of a certain young lady, whose name must remain a secret. Just when Roy was winning his way into the little maiden’s favour the measles broke out in the town and he was stricken with that very unromantic disease. The day on which the spots appeared and the suffering hero was banished to a dark room was the one set for the Sunday-school picnic. He and his youthful sweetheart had made wondrous plans for enjoying themselves at this festival, and the pangs of disappointment which the giving up of the fun caused him were worse than the measles.

Ray was delegated to carry his regrets, and here the comedy of error commenced. The little maiden could only distinguish the brothers because Roy was the one she knew, and Ray was the one she did not. Consequently, when she saw young Burgess strolling across the lawn, picnic basket in hand, she, much to that gentleman’s surprise, and not a little to his embarrassment, greeted him in a prettily affectionate manner.

Poor Ray stammered out something about his brother being ill with the measles, and was assured by his companion that it didn’t matter in the least, for she had had them, and was not afraid of contagion. The young lady then suggested that they should hasten to meet the rest, as it was nearly time to start. Mystified Ray was enlightened as to the cause of the young lady’s indifference about his brother’s absence when she called him “Roy.” Seeing that he was mistaken for his twin, and being after all only a mischievous boy for all his seeming sedateness, he determined to get all the enjoyment possible out of what was to him a most lucky mistake.

The two went to the picnic, the one wholly unconscious of any hitch in the long-ago-made plans for the day, and the other enjoying to the fullest the stolen sweets. At the end of the day, when the little lassie shyly kissed him over the garden gate, he hadn’t the courage to tell her he was himself and not his brother.

During the two weeks that Roy was confined with the measles Ray continued to take his place with his companion of the picnic. When Roy was able to be out once more Ray fell back and allowed the brother to escort Nellie–that isn’t her name, but she is so called for convenience sake–to singing school as usual. All would have gone well, and little Miss Nellie would never have known of the exchange, if Roy hadn’t slipped in his part, missed a cue, and revealed the whole secret. The kiss over the garden gate, the notes secreted in the hollow of an old tree, and the many love-tokens of the past two weeks were remembered–there was a terrible scene, and the friendship which was growing so beautifully was cruelly ended. Broken hearts were talked of, but that was long ago, and the two brothers tell the story with the keenest enjoyment, while Nellie joins in the laugh most heartily.

The fact of having such an exact double is laughable to those not concerned, but the Burgess say that it becomes rather monotonous to be constantly greeted with “I say, who are you, Roy or Ray?” so Roy has made a dash for freedom; and unless his friends in Auburn recognise him as an individual with a personality of his own, and treat him as such and not as simply Roy’s brother, Ray says he too will leave the town and go where it is not known that he is a twin or, as he expresses it, “only half a boy.”



One of the strangest avocations pursued by any person in the civilized world is that pursued by Mr. E. C. Larrabee, jun., of Salem, Massachusetts, U.S.A., who makes, with bits of rarest wood which he has spent almost two decades in collecting from all parts of the globe, the most beautiful and intricate pictures imaginable. These pictures are veritable gems of art, offspring of the playtime efforts of a gentleman whose nominal life-work is the manufacture and sale of native wines. In perfect detail of workmanship, in delicate beauty of colouring, in indescribable blending of natural tints, Mr. Larrabee’s marvellous pictures rival the most exquisite inlaid pearl-work done in any clime. Even the carven beauties of Japanese ivory-work are scarcely to be compared with the intricate productions of Mr. Larrabee’s care and skill.


Not since the days of the German Fatherland’s long ago has similar work been done, and Mr. Larrabee knows of no other person in the world to-day who is engaged in the fashioning of pictures in inlaid wood. Indeed, the art–and it is an art–stands unique in the latter-time history of wood-working. Between it and the carving of blocks into living, breathing shapes–wood sculpture one may call it–there is not the least comparison. Nor is there the slightest similarity between Mr. Larrabee’s beautiful products and the products of that other beautiful art, pyrography, the graving of pictures or designs on wooden plaques or panels by burning or scorching.

So wonderfully perfect is the concrete result of Mr. Larrabee’s work that even the practised eye finds it extremely difficult at times to ascertain what material has been made use of. It is no small labour to lay out, carve, and place scores of tiny pieces of wood so that the natural colours will blend and give the effect of a painting in oils, without the least sign of rigidity or the most remote suggestion that wood rather than pigment was manipulated. That the intricacies of the work may be realized, let it be said that this wood-artist of the noted American “City of Witches” has often spent half a day mousing about his assortment of material to find a piece of rare wood to suit his needs, and which no more than five minutes was required to inlay.

A great deal of the wood used in the work comes from portions of the globe but rarely visited by travellers. A sacred tree of Indian growth, the wood of which was once used only for the manufacture of idols, has furnished Mr. Larrabee with many rare pieces. The wood is not coloured or stained by any means other than those which Nature has chosen.


The method of work is very interesting. First, upon a mount of wood a sixteenth of an inch thick is pasted a pen-and-ink sketch of the picture to be fashioned. A wood backing, also a sixteenth of an inch thick, is applied to the first, and both are then cut with a jig-saw along the inked lines. Then those portions of the upper panel which have been cut free by the saw are removed, and the orifices formed in such a way are filled by a careful upward displacement of the corresponding sections sawed simultaneously from the basic slab. Quite naturally, the delicacy of the work depends a great deal upon the saw, for the finer the saw the less the kerf.

In the construction, for example, of a wooden painting 10in. by 14in. square, from forty-eight to seventy-two saw-blades imported from Switzerland are worn out, and from six hundred to eight hundred or even a thousand bits of little-known wood but a sixteenth of an inch thick are made use of. Not at all infrequently the sawing of the material demands the most extreme patience on Mr. Larrabee’s part because of the innumerable irritating factors which are by the nature of the material forced into the labour. Take as an instance the wood of the cocoabollo, which exudes a gum that fills up the crevices of the saw so quickly that not more than six, or at the greatest seven, strokes can be made. Then, too, some of the rarest and most beautiful woods are so saturated with sap that baking and drying must be done before the glue will cling.


When at work Mr. Larrabee places his two thin wooden panels upon a glass table which may be turned at any angle, and does his cutting with what is known as a Fleetwood jig-saw. Photographic reproductions of some of the most exquisite bits of Mr. Larrabee’s work accompany this article.

One of Mr. Larrabee’s pictures, in which he takes great pride, is “A Paris Street Musician.” This striking  bit of handiwork is made with a background of plum-pudding mahogany. The coat is inlaid in black ebony from Madagascar, the doffed hat in striped ebony from the banks of the Congo River, the hair and portions of the trousers of Alabama persimmon, the eyes of white English holly, the cuffs and cravat of American maple, portions of the vest of gold-coloured bamboo from India and yellow sandal wood from the Philippines, the face and hands of rare cream-coloured olive wood from Palestine, the shirt of cream-coloured quince wood grown in Massachusetts, and the violin bridge and “F” holes of Cuban pepil. Portions of the trousers and a bit of the hat are inlaid in ashen grey impee wood, which grows in the Philippines.

The conception of “The Desert After a Storm” is said by persons who have been permitted to see the great Sahara under such conditions to be marvellously accurate. Our photograph of this picture gives a splendid idea of the scenic value of the original; but unfortunately the charming colour effects which are obtained through the skilful manipulation of the rare woods cannot be reproduced. It will be seen that the figures are extremely lifelike and that the poses are very natural, while the departing sand-storm in the distance is weirdly impressive. This storm, true in colour, and the ominous sky seen through it and above are brought forth by the grain of the wood with as much perfection as an artist could obtain with the admixture of the primal colours on his palette.

The red and grey sand-cloud, the murky sky, and the rocks in the nearer landscape are inlaid with the little-known but very truly-named zebra wood from Stanley Falls, Africa, and with tortoiseshell wood from the Amazon River in South America. The camels are inlaid in burr French walnut cut in the vicinity of Paris, and the cords encircling the camels’ backs are done in the indescribably beautiful golden-yellow vagnatico wood from Persia. The Arabs and their trappings are constructed variously of ebony, tulip, and satin-wood obtained, after great trouble, from the south of Africa, from Cayenne, and from  Arabia respectively. Portions of the Arabs are inlaid, too, with impee wood and burnose garnet from the region around Manila in the Philippine Islands.

The head-gear and sashes of the Arabs consist of Arabian satin-wood and the wood of the Turkish tulip. The water-bag thrown over the back of the recumbent camel is fashioned from Cuban zincotta and the fibre of the leopard tree from India. The saddle-pommels are of red and yellow African cam wood. Merely the naming and placing of these many-hued woods serve to give some idea of the wondrous beauty which radiates from the picture as a whole, and it is almost idle to say that “The Desert After a Storm” must be seen in its grand wooden actuality to be truly appreciated.

In the recumbent camel alone there are 750 bits of wood, and of this great number between sixty and seventy are in the saddle.

Mr. Larrabee’s most recent picture is entitled “The Old Violin Maker,” and represents the great Antonio Stradivarius in his workshop, surrounded by the tools of his trade and portions of violins or completed ones. The old man sits with one of his beloved instruments on his knee, studying it meditatively, his right hand to his face. Our half-tone reproduction represents well indeed the vast amount of detail in the wood picture.

“The Old Violin Maker” contains between 700 and 800 pieces of wood from India, China, Africa, South America, the United States, and the Philippines. The tiny picture which can be discerned on the wall just beyond the violin-maker shows an actual castle on the Philippine Island of Mindanino, and is composed of but a single piece of wood, save one tiny part of the castle which was inserted to cover a worm-hole. About twenty-five different kinds of wood are used in the picture of “The Old Violin Maker,” and Mr. Larrabee has been working upon it for many months.

XXXII.–“COASTING.” By John L. Von Blon.


The most exhilarating sport for the youths, and one of the oddest sights in Southern California, is coasting. Imagine a lot of barefoot boys and girls, in the scantiest summer attire, sliding down long slopes where not a flake of snow has ever been known to fall, and you have the strange picture before you. This sledding, with the thermometer registering 100deg. in the shade and a midsummer sun beating down upon the semi-tropical land, is beyond a doubt the most unique ever attempted. This is the first time it has ever been done, so far as known, and it all came about through the discovery of a lad with a penchant for doing something out of the ordinary. He learned that snow isn’t the only thing that makes the hills slippery, and as a result the people of Los Angeles enjoy a winter sport where winter never comes and where no wraps are needed to keep the biting frost from nipping off their precious ears and noses.


After the spring rains the Southern California mountains and hills are thickly covered with weeds and grasses, which die and dry in the summer heat, leaving a brown coating so thick that it remains until the following season. While playing on a hill the inquisitive boy found the dead wild mustard so slick that he could scarcely walk over it. Instinct suggested that he get a board and take a slide, and he did. Others took a hand, evolution brought the sled, and now hundreds go coasting every day. A smooth slope a quarter of a mile long, where the accompanying photographs were taken on the 4th of July, is the favourite slide, but there are many others.


The spectacle of half a hundred yelling boys and shrieking girls shooting down the hill at lightning-express speed, landing in heaps at the end of the run, and trudging back and pulling their sleds, is very interesting. There are exciting races, thrilling tumbles, and hairbreadth escapes when obstructions chance in the way, and all the incidents except the snow and ice and cold of the north enliven this glideway. At the steeper places the sleds go so fast that brakes are necessary to keep the youngsters from flying off at a tangent into kingdom come. Only a boy can handle the brake, and a novice is sure to pull the lever at the wrong time and wind up with a disaster. A young lady who made the mistake of handling the brake went through a performance that would have shamed an acrobat just after these pictures were taken. Before she was through a dozen sleds and their occupants were piled on top of her.


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