Charles Dickens on West Genesee

Harriet May Mills recounts, as a child, seeing Charles Dickens stroll down West Genesee Street the weekend before he was to perform at the Weiting Opera House in Clinton Square.

On a Sunday afternoon in March 1868, a distinguished-looking man with a companion walked up W. Genesee Street. It was a quiet thoroughfare with but a few houses on it. There was but one on the block from Geddes to Liberty Streets. Not even was there a name for the latter street. It was just a lane. There was a picket fence across the front of our lot. The gate was a good place to swing and watch the few passersby.

Why Mr. Dickens chose this route for his walk does not appear. Perhaps he happened to take it because he was staying at the Syracuse House on the corner of Salina and E. Genesee Streets. The Onondaga County Savings Bank now occupies that site. My father had seen him register the night before. As the pedestrians came along he (Harriet May Mills' father) said to my brother and me, sotto voce, "That is Charles Dickens." What! The author of "Little Dorrit?" Just then that was my favorite volume, for I had been reading it or hearing it read that winter.

Yet there was my hero right in front of us! It was a miracle. He looked just like the cut taken at the time and reproduced here by the Journal. I noticed his whiskers, his piercing eyes, and the keen look he gave us. One knew that he would miss nothing of the sights of Syracuse. He had a genial air as if he felt no end of good will toward the world. He had come here unwillingly ahead of schedule because there were no Sunday trains. His readings on Monday night at the Weiting drew a full house...

Our sidewalks on W. Genesee Street were not cleaned often in those days. They looked much as they do now! Young as I was, I remember feeling mortified at the slushy walk along which Mr. Dickens strode with a swinging gait.

Syracuse American newspaper, Sunday edition, March 4th, 1934.