Gareth Jones

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Gareth Jones

FROM the whirl, the crash and the glaring lights of Chicago and Milwaukee I descended upon the calm and the dignity of the Welsh community of Waukesha County.

To illustrate the contrast between the two worlds I shall tell the tale of the eve of my departure for the Welsh district, when I spent a night in a Milwaukee hotel. It was at the time when “Baby Face” Nelson had been shot down by the police; the old gangsterdom seemed on the verge of doom and the remaining gangsters were concentrating on the racket of kidnapping.

I was fast asleep in my hotel room when I heard knocking at a door. I took no heed, believing that it might be another door. But the knocker was persistent and soon I realised that someone was trying to enter my room. Putting on the light I noticed it was two o’clock in the morning, and, somewhat puzzled as to the identity of my mysterious visitor, I shouted, “Who is there?"

The reply came, “It’s the night watchman. You have not locked your door. I have instructions to test every door and to wake the occupant of any unlocked room.”

I locked the door and went to sleep. When I told an American next morning he said: “There’s still fear of gangsters entering hotel rooms and for that reason the hotel people have to take every precaution. But lock your door in future. It isn’t safe.”

Within twenty-four hours I slept in the quiet house of the Rev, and Mrs. John Pugh Jones. There was a Bible by the bedside, a religious picture on the wall, a library of philosophical works and of Welsh poetry not far away. No thought of locking a door, no thought of gangsterdom! I was in Wales, and I was in a Welsh atmosphere. Within a day I had escaped from the America of the great cities and I was back with my own countrymen.

Moreover, I was back in the spirit of Wales, for I was amazed to see how Welsh characteristics and the Welsh tongue live on in that part of America. A veneer of Americanisms in speech, it is true, is covering the surface of the Welsh people. They say “Shucks” and “Oh, boy,” and their accents are often pure Middle West, but beneath it all you find the old Welsh features, of which the first is hospitality.

I was feted and dined and invited and asked to speak until I felt like a visiting Prime Minister. When I stepped into the Avalon Hotel at Waukesha and the word went round the town that a Welshman from the Old Country had arrived, the Welsh citizens came trooping in, as African natives assemble when they hear the beating of the tom-toms. There was the Rev. Hugh Owen, who, although born in America, spoke Welsh with a powerful Anglesey accent (“ Oh, his praying is beautiful,” whispered an ardent Welsh-American to me), and there were many others. Invitations were showered upon me. The Editor of the local paper came rushing in to interview me, and by this time I was feeling like the Prince of Wales. Had I stayed there much longer I believe I should be bestowing autographs.

Welsh hospitality followed me all along my triumphant tour, and it reached the height in the home of the Welsh minister and his wife at Wales, Mr. Pugh Jones, who came from Llanbrynmair at the age of 15, and was in school with Mr. Iorwerth Peate, of the National Museum of Wales.

Shall I forget the son, Thomas Charles? He was a grand fellow.

Another characteristic of the Welsh in Wisconsin is their humour and sense of the ridiculous, which is shown by the reception of the “Royal Scot,” when it travelled past the station of Wales, Wisconsin. The Welsh swarmed to see the train from Britain, but, being accustomed to the huge American engines, they thought the “tiny” “Royal Scot” one of the greatest jokes of their lives. The whole village roared with amusement, and when, instead of the long, deafening shriek of the American train, there came a little “tin-whistle sound,” they held their sides with laughter.

Sometimes Welsh humorists meet their master in an American. In the prison of Waukesha there is only one Welsh prisoner in spite of the large Welsh population. Mr. John R. Williams was boasting about this to the warden before a large group, when the warden retorted, “Yes, but just think of the thousands of Welshmen outside who should be inside!”

Humour even characterises the relations of the Welsh with the Catholics. The Rev. Pugh Jones said to the Catholic priest of a local community, “I as a Welsh preacher can do something you cannot do.”

“What is that?” “Introduce you to my wife!”

“Ah,” retorted the priest, “and I can do something which you cannot do.”


“Place all my family in one chair and feed them with one meal ticket!”

The gift of vividly narrating experiences, brilliantly typified by Dr. John Morgan Lloyd, Barry, lives on among the Welsh in Wisconsin. Mrs. John H. Williams, Y Parc, tells of a remarkable premonition which she once had. Her husband intended sending cattle to the International Dairy Fair at Chicago, where, having had two consecutive victories in three classes, he might have won three cups. Mrs. Williams dreamed that some terrible tragedy would happen to the cows, and insisted that no cattle be sent to the show. After days of debate, Mr. Williams yielded, and the cattle were led hack to the fields. It was a fortunate decision, for foot-and-mouth disease attacked the animals in the Fair, and thousands of America’s best cattle perished.

Vivid description as a Welsh feature is linked with the Welsh love of music, which lives on in Wisconsin, where the Waukesha Welsh Chorus, under Mrs. Mary King Schoen (formerly known in Wales as Mary King Sarah), sang in a Cymanfa Ganu in the World’s Fair at Chicago. In the Welsh chapels I heard fine, resounding singing in the good old tradition of the homeland.

 March 29th, 1935.

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