Correspondence of the ‘London Times’
Chicago, April 1, 1904
I resume by cable-telephone where I left off yesterday. For many hours now, this vast city—along with the rest of the globe, of course—has talked of nothing but the extraordinary episode mentioned in my last report. In accordance with your instructions, I will now trace the romance from its beginnings down to the culmination of yesterday—or today; call it which you like. By an odd chance, I was a personal actor in a part of this drama myself. The opening scene plays in Vienna. Date, one o’clock in the morning, March 31, 1898. I had spent the evening at a social entertainment. About midnight I went away, in company with the military attaches of the British, Italian, and American embassies, to finish with a late smoke. This function had been appointed to take place in the house of Lieutenant Hillyer, the third attache mentioned in the above list. When we arrived there we found several visitors in the room; young Szczepanik; Mr. K., his financial backer; Mr. W., the latter’s secretary; and Lieutenant Clayton, of the United States Army. War was at that time threatening between Spain and our country, and Lieutenant Clayton had been sent to Europe on military business. I was well acquainted with young Szczepanik and his two friends, and I knew Mr. Clayton slightly. I had met him at West Point years before, when he was a cadet. It was when General Merritt was superintendent. He had the reputation of being an able officer, and also of being quick-tempered and plain-spoken.
This smoking-party had been gathered together partly for business. This business was to consider the availability of the telelectroscope for military service. It sounds oddly enough now, but it is nevertheless true that at that time the invention was not taken seriously by any one except its inventor. Even his financial support regarded it merely as a curious and interesting toy. Indeed, he was so convinced of this that he had actually postponed its use by the general world to the end of the dying century by granting a two years’ exclusive lease of it to a syndicate, whose intent was to exploit it at the Paris World’s Fair. When we entered the smoking-room we found Lieutenant Clayton and Szczepanik engaged in a warm talk over the telelectroscope in the German tongue. Clayton was saying:
‘Well, you know my opinion of it, anyway!’ and he brought his fist down with emphasis upon the table.
‘And I do not value it,’ retorted the young inventor, with provoking calmness of tone and manner.
Clayton turned to Mr. K., and said:
’I cannot see why you are wasting money on this toy. In my opinion, the day will never come when it will do a farthing’s worth of real service for any human being.’
’That may be; yes, that may be; still, I have put the money in it, and am content. I think, myself, that it is only a toy; but Szczepanik claims more for it, and I know him well enough to believe that he can see father than I can—either with his telelectroscope or without it.’