A Fine Fish Story, 1904

The following is a continuation of a newspaper article about the property shop of E. L. Morse on Twenty-ninth Street in New York City. The article first appeared in The New York Times on May 8, 1904, and Mr. Morse’s property shop is long gone. I have previously posted the introduction, a bit on Morse’s career and another portion of this article as well.

In the middle of the room a long, spiked monster catches the eye of the visitor. It is evidently meant for a fish, and looks like the kind of fish men see on dry land after a Saturday evening around town. Jutting out from its sides are sharp spear-points. Its scales are shiny, red and yellow, and its eyes are red electric light bulbs.

“What is that thing?”

Mr. Morse chuckles delightedly at your surprise.

“Funny thing about that,” he replies. “A man came in here several months ago and said he was going to tell a fish story and wanted a good illustration. I didn’t catch on at first, but finally he told me that he was going to get up at a dinner, tell a wonderful tale about having caught a fish, and then pull aside a curtain and say, ‘This is the fish.’ The bigger and fiercer the fish, he said, the most suitable to his story.

“He was one of these rich, society people, you know, and he didn’t care what he paid for it. He told me to go ahead and make him one, no matter what it cost. And this is what I made him. I heard afterward about his getting off the story at his dinner. When he came to the end of it and had everybody laughing he pulled the string.

“‘And here is the fish!’ he cried.

“The fish was in a glass tank full of water, and by wires it was made to wiggle around just like a real one. The electric eyes were connected with a battery and glowed like two fierce, red coals of fire. The stunt was a huge success, and the man was pleased to death. As he had no further use for the fish he sent it back to me, and told me to do whatever I liked with it. So there it hangs—to scare away thieves at night.”

The fish is not Mr. Morse’s only curiosity. Grotesque shapes have been the fad in musical comedy lately, and there are many of them in the place. They are made as light as practicable, so as to give as little trouble as possible to the men who bear them in the play.

There is a great wicker elephant, made so that two men can walk inside of it. Near by is a camel, with unsightly humps. The crooked claws of an angry-looking lion almost pull your hair if you stand straight up near the north wall of the room. Filling up the gaps between the larger things are tiny paper forms. It looks as if the owner of the place were afraid some of the walls might show and had carefully covered every inch of them.

This article first appeared in the New York Times, May 8, 1904.