Breathing Tobacco-Poisoned Air While Traveling (Written in May, 1884, at Benecia, California, 32 miles from San Francisco.)

      The sleeping car conductor spoke to the gentlemen in the seat with us, asking them to go to another car, so we have the whole seat to ourselves. We are pleasantly situated. We are delayed--a box is heated, a fire smelling badly--but we are now started again. I shall endure the journey well, I think.   

     May 9. Since writing the above we have had some experience. I realized difficulty in breathing and was greatly annoyed by the effluvia of tobacco, but as I had crossed the continent from the Pacific to the Atlantic nineteen times I had found [that] on the northern route there could be secured in the sleeper every convenience without the annoyance of being obliged to inhale tobacco-poisoned air.   

     Once only was I grievously troubled. My husband and I were situated in the car opposite a gentleman, his wife, and daughter. This gentleman was a steamboat inspector. He smoked in the cars. Others took lenity from him and they smoked. We changed our seat for the smoke room which could be closed. I thought we were safe, but I realized no relief. I used lemon freely but felt the same strange emotion, and the tobacco-poisoned air was the same as in any [other] part of the car. I was determined to endure it and I laid down, but my head felt that a tight band was drawn around it. I was unable to think, and soon went into a spasm. It was one hour before this was overcome and I was relieved, but with a strange sensation of giddiness and weakness which lasted me three months.                                       

     The smoking steamboat inspector was told it was the tobacco smoke which had acted like poison upon me. He threw away his cigar and we had no more smoking on the train. A physician on board stated that he feared it was to me a fatal poison and that I would never become conscious again. He told me never to consent to be in the room or in the car, carriage, or steamboats where I would be obliged to breathe the air poisoned by tobacco, for he had in his practice treated many cases of mothers and children with affection of the heart caused by living in and inhaling constantly tobacco-poisoned air. Notwithstanding he warned the husband and father of the sure result, he thought there could have been no change [in the man's habit], for the afflicted ones lived only a short time and were as verily poisoned to death as if a dose of arsenic or strychnine had been administered. The blood was poisoned.      

     He further stated that a very large share of these wives and children who die with heart disease are purely the sure result of living in an atmosphere that is charged with tobacco. "Yours is," said he, "a miraculous escape. The twitching of the muscles of the face, the rigidity of the muscles followed with great prostration and relaxed muscles, are the sure tokens of poison. The violent action of the heart followed by a feeble, intermittent pulse, I have met it very many times. It is the effect of tobacco poison. Hundreds are falling victims to this plague of men's own creating, and then have to suffer the consequence of their own perverted habits. They sacrifice wife and children and themselves for an indulgence which is a curse to themselves and to all around them."    

     On this short trip I have suffered great pain in my heart and dullness of the head. I questioned whether it would be safe to lie down and attempt to sleep. I was very weary, but the drawing room opening directly into the car with the door open was devoted to smoking. A party of Germans were on the car, and their habits are to smoke almost constantly.    

     I spoke to the ticket conductor. He said he had no control whatever of the passengers of the sleeping cars. He could do nothing. If the passengers wanted to smoke, they would, and no one could control the matter. I spoke to the porter, asking him if there was no place in the so-called palace car where I could be free from tobacco-poisoned air. He said he could not do anything; he was only a servant. I decided to try to solve the matter, and went into my berth, drew the curtains as closely as possible about us, and opened the windows; and, as there was no smoking after they took their berths, I thought I might sleep. In the morning I had a severe pain in my heart, and breathing was quite difficult.    

     I had yet ten hours on the cars. Close by our seats the Germans began their devotion, to offer up their morning sacrifice. To whom--to the Creator or to the devil? I spoke to the conductor. He said he could not hinder them but would speak to them in regard to it. He did, and they desisted from smoking in that locality. They went into the rear department. In order to obtain correct information, [I] inquired of the sleeping car conductor. He says that it is the custom to devote one end of the car to smoking. As the door is either left wide open or continually opening and shutting, the smoke was fully and thoroughly distributed through the car. I knew now what we had to hope for--nothing but poisoned air to breathe the entire journey. I must bear it as best I could.    

     We passed over some striking scenery. There is much on this route that is interesting in the scenery. The engine is climbing up the steep ascent with two engines tugging laboriously with their load of coaches in their serpentine course, bearing to the right, then to the left, going through the heart of the mountains.  

19MR 283-285