PEOPLE NAMED SMITH
by H. Allen Smith
We, The Smiths
Robert Ripley once reported that Albert J. Smith of Dedham, Massachusetts, was a man with one arm, a paper hanger by trade, and that he suffered from wheals of urticaria, popularly called the hives.
One morning near the mid-mark of the twentieth century a girl named Polly O'Connor arrived at the side of a large plane which was being loaded at LaGuardia Field. Miss O'Connor was present for the purpose of making a routine check of the ship's personnel before the take-off for Puerto Rico. Such matters are generally carried off with a dignified precision borrowed from the military. The uniformed members of the crew stood at attention and Miss O'Connor) pencil poised above her check sheet, sang out: "Captain?" "Clifford Smith," said the captain. "First Officer?" said Miss O'Connor. "Harry Smith," came the response. "Second Officer?" "Ben Smith," said the second officer. "Purser?" "Gulie Smith." "Stewardess?" "Priscilla Smith," answered the stewardess. "Sakes!" exclaimed Miss O'Connor, departing slightly from routine, for such a concatenation of Smiths had never happened before, at least in her exyerience.
Along about this same time a news dispatch concerned with another Smith came out of Chicago. A professional ukulele player living in the heart of the meat metropolis was revealed as the owner of a pig which he had raised in the yard back of his house. When the International Livestock Show opened the ukulele player hauled his pig over to the exposition and a few days later walked off with a ribbon. The pig's name was Light Green Smith. A couple of months after the triumph of the pig named Smith, Superior Court Judge William A. Smith mounted to the bench in Newark and examined the papers in the case before him. Mrs. Anna Snith was suing on behalf of her son, Robert Smith, who Ead been struck by an automobile. Judge Smith summoned counsel to the bench and after a conference announced: "There are too many Smiths in this case. By consent of counselI excuse the four Smiths on the jury panel."
These incidents -- a mighty plane roaring down to Rico with a crew made up exclusively of Smiths; a pig named Smith winning an award at the nation's greatest livestock show; seven Smiths btought together in a New Jersey courtroom because an automobile hit a boy -- were closely related in time and illustrate the vast range of the Smiths upon our earth. Only the most ignorant of all the inhabitants of this planet (possibly a Smith) needs to be told that we excel in numbers. Our lead is so commanding, our procreative instincts so sharply developed, that it is unlikely that any of the other family groups will ever catch up to us. There have been times in the past when the Johnsons or the Browns or the Millers or the Joneses have taken to their mattresses and tried to make a fight of it, and some of these have actually shown slight gains, but in the end they faded and gave up.
We, the Smiths, are far and away the largest family group in the United States. We hold an easy lead, too, in the British Isles. The Smiths are predominant in England, and it is a fact that in Scotland there are many more Smiths than there are MacDonalds. In some sections of Scotland one out of every fifty persons is named Smith. Please keep in mind that we are dealing here with straightaway Smiths -- people having the name Ess-Em-Eye-Tee-Aitch. Not Smythe, or Schmidt, or Smjtt, or Smid, or Smed, or Kovacs, or Kowalski, or Gowan, or Taliaferro, or Haddad, or all the multitude of other versions and variations of the name. No field of human endeavor is without its share of Smiths, from the arts and government down to highway robbery and indecent exposure. There is nothing we can't do and nothing we don't do. It could easily have been a Smith who kidnaped Charley Ross. A Smith, perhaps, was responsible for the presence of overalls in Mrs. Murphy's chowder. A Smith very likely ate the first oyster. It may have been a Smith who wrote Shakespeare's plays. Our concern in this book is mainly with the Smiths of the United States, though we cannot ignore all the others scattered across the world. We represent a perfect cross section of the population. A few years ago a New York City newspaper made a custom of telephoning Smiths at random whenever a symposium of public opinion was wanted. The answers of the Smiths were, generally speaking, just as wise as if the newspaper bad called Browns or Johnsons or Cohens.
We are Black Republicans and Communists and we are anarchists; we are Baptists and Catholics and Jews and Christian Scientists and Pillar of Fireites and Presbyterians and Jehovah's Witnesses and atheists. We are black and white and pink and red and brown and even yellow. We are rich and well off and just getting by and starving to death. We are titled lords and honorable sirs and we inhabit the hobo jungles. We are male and we are female and some of us -- well, you wouldn't quite be able to tell for sure. We are bishops at the baptismal font and we are diggers of graves. We have not as yet produced a President, but one of ours, Abigail Smith, married a man before there ever was such a thing as the United States, and he became its first VicePresident and its second President; and this same Abigail, with the not inconsiderable assistance of her famous husband, produced from her womb another man who was to become the sixth President of the new nation.
If it would appear that we are a heterogeneous brotherhood of mixed beliefs and clashing passions, the picture is true enough; yet we are capable of unity and dangerous when aroused. The oldest maxim associated with our family, handed down from one of our ancient Scottish clans, is: Touch not the cat without a glove. We are a minority and, like all other minorities, we have certain inalienable rights -- including the right to impose our will on the non-Smiths of this country. Woe betide the Hollywood producer who calls a scoundrel by our blessed name! Let no comic, by the utterance of stale and stereotyped jokes, caricature the Smiths! Warn the Southerner to cease insulting the race of Smiths by calling us "Smitty"! And woe again to the perverted scribbler who would ridicule us by putting the Smith manner of speech into the mouths of his characters! Touch not the cat without a glove! Best touch 'er not at all!
I have before me a magnificent book just recently published. It is titled The Complete Button Book (one of its two authors was formerly a Smith) and it is a beautiful specimen of the book designer's art. It sells for ten dollars. And what is it about? Buttons. This splendidly fashioned volume is of interest only to people who make a hobby of collecting old buttons. It is by no means the first book ever written about buttons. There are fat books about Cree Indians, and glass blowers, and bird watchers, and outfielders, and able-bodied seamen, and cloud seeders -- but where is there a book about the Smiths? There are shelfloads of books about other families, from the Jukes and the Kallikaks to the Adamses of Boston. No one but an Adams of Boston would contend that his dynasty is greater than that of the Smiths, and we can quickly quell him by pointing out that the Queen Mother of his tribe was a Smith. Even granting that the Adamses are entitled to have whole libraries of books written about them and the Smiths none, are the Smiths of this world less important than buttons?
I have found but two alleged books purporting to be about the Smiths. One of these is a little volume called Origin and History of the Name of Smith, published in Chicago in I906 and written, apparently, by a retarded eighthgrader. This pamphlet contains about fifty pages and only five or six of these pages are given to a consideration of the name Smith -- a subject about which the anonymous author knew close to nothing. The second book is called The Clan of Fire and Forge, or The Ancient and Honorable Smiths. It came out in I910 and, notwithstanding its pretty title, is of somewhat lesser stature than the other.
After an examination of these two essays I believe I can safely say that no book has ever, up to now, been written about the Smiths. I have been doing casual research on the subject for years and as a preliminary to the writing of this volume devoted several months to earnest digging, interviewing, and correspondence. Yet the book you hold in your hand is a modest endeavor, a simple prospectus, a mere sampling of the subject. Its purpose is to demonstrate something of the adventure that goes with being named Smith, and to show that the Smiths of this world are common only in the sense that they are numerous. It is a large subject -- as large, perhaps, as vinyl plastics, nervous tension, or Moral Rearmament.
The great Mark Twain had his first book published in 1867 -- a small volume titled The Celebrated Jumping Frog. It contained the famous frog story and a handful of humorous sketches written originally for newspapers. The dedication by the author follows:
"To JOHN SMITH, Whom I Have Known in Divers and Sundry Places About the World, and Whose Many and Manifold Virtues Did Always Command My Esteem, I DEDICATE THIS BOOK.
"It is said that the man to whom a volume is dedicated, always buys a copy. If this prove true in the present instance, a princely affluence is about to burst upon
In the same mood, it would be my hope that this volume will find its way into the hands of all the Smiths who can read. I expect to hear from many of them. I have already found out that they can be as proud and as sensitive as Cuban college professors or English servants. They will howl after my blood for neglecting certain Smiths, for overlooking others. They will blast me because of some of the swinish Smiths whose attainments are included herein. No doubt they will catch me in error. All of this will be welcomed by me because someday, I should think, this book will need to be enlarged and revised. Whether I do the job or not is of no consequence; it will have to be done. The person or persons who ultimately write the final and definitive story of the Smiths will range much farther than I have, taking in all the variations of the clan name at home and abroad, for they are all Smiths. The Kuznetzovs of Soviet Russia are the Smiths of that country, but they are not the first family-that distinction belongs to the Ivanovs, or Johnsons. I have a strong conviction that if the situation were reversed-if the Smiths were as proportionately strong as they are in Britain and the United States -- things would be different in the Kremlin.
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