Diary of Alfred Burton Welch

Sunday 11-27-98

Detailed for special duty in adj. office. Went to town with Ser. Maj. Went to Valencia [Valenzuela] where is our 2nd batt. Then to town along long stone quat which is very dilapidated now, and was the means of the commissioner swindling Spanish gov’t, out of lots of money. Their report showed drawings of marble piers and stone warehouses. A colossal ruin. Went along seaward side to entrance. Good steady red light on N. A fort on S. with old fashioned brass pieces, about 5 in. cal. U.S. coal station also on S. side and old Spanish torpedo depot on N. The river at this point is about 300 ft. wide and the current runs perhaps 4 to 5 mil. From here to the old stone bridge at the Pasig teems with craft from Sampans or cascas [cascos] with their high stems, and all more or less covered with paint & omamental [ornamental] matting. Along the side, on the H²O line, is a shelf of bamboo to walk upon for the sailors have long bamboo poles they get a good hold on the bottom, put one end against their naked shoulders and push as they walk & crawl along the shelf. Dugouts too, over 100 ft. long and six to eight ft. beam, but they are as general rule, are very primitive and are the homes of their owners. Many fleet boats in the dispatch system.

Long, slim and very trim old Spanish torpedo boats taken during the fight. Also a couple of gunboats, rusty, broken and twisted by fire and shell, have been raised and lay along the seawall.

This wharf is a great study. On the old town side, the dark grim walls come clear to the H²O and a landing is impossible. At other places along that side the stone wharves, three feet above H²O, descends in slips. At these places the natives go in bathing, both sexes together and seem perfectly oblivious to any impropriety. They pound their clothes and pat them with their hands to wash ’em.

Plazas with many monuments are along here. The walled city up to the time of modern artillery, was impregnable, it being at least 50 ft. wide and 30 to 50 ft. high, with wide moats in places 100 ft. and drawbridges, mounted with brass pieces with strong sentry boxes at short intervals. Said to be the strongest walled city in the world.

The new city is on the north side of river with stone wharves and is the busy portion of the waterfront. Thousands of over half naked men are here with their shoulder poles –taking the place of modern machinery. All seem to be happy and an occasional cock fight livens up the scene. H²O carriers and their pots are frequent. Many cafes front the river and canals open up on every hand. It is a regular Venice. We met Adm. Dewey in his launch coming down the river –his fine physique & white hair are very impressive. Landed at the Customs House and rested a while then up under the bridge to the restaurant Espanol where a guard was left at the boat and I went up town.

La Escolta is the principal street. Perhaps 50 fty. wide paved with square stone blocks. A tram way with little tired looking horses. All the horses are stallions. Driver has a whistle which he uses with true American school boy proficiency. Many kinds of carriages crowd the streets from a two-wheeled axle to a fine victoria. All small editions and all drawn by very small native horses, driven by barefooted natives, at great speed. cost 40¢ Mexican dinero per hour. Women wear very narrow skirts of fine silks and a sort of bodice covering the upper part of the body –the part from the breast to the skirt belt being bare, as are the shoulders and no hats. A guazy kerchief is thrown around the neck of the better class and over the skirt is folded & pinned in front of a square piece of silk. Stiff wooden shoes with a leather toe piece. But the great class of working women go barefooted and carry immense bundles upon their heads. All classes smoke. Laboring men have but two garments, many nothing but breach cloths with legs and body bare.

Went to res. Espanol for dinner. Great fans swung in the ceiling and res. opened on the river. Menu — Soup — then a broiled chicken with some strange sort of “sauce.” Chicken croquettes –meat of lizard: Iguana –beef with greens — more meat — fruit, coffee, Oh! such delicious coffee, and cigars. A man stands at your elbow and 75¢ Mexican is all it cost. At 8 o’clock we took boat and went up river. Rafts of cocoa nuts were floating down. Thousands of nuts in a single raft. Landed and looked at sever great churches and the Bank of Spain — with a front like the Parthenon of Athens. The constant stream of lights going across the bridge and the soft sounds of music heard as we floated down at 10 p.m. made me think of “old Madrid.” Back on the “Ohio” at 11 p.m. and it started to rain so I went below to stateroom to sleep.