Monday, May 05, 2008

Quote of the Day: James J. Hill

"Give me snuff, whiskey and Swedes, and I will build a railroad to hell."
So said Minnesota railroad baron James J. Hill, the man who took a bankrupt railroad in 1878 and turned it into the Great Northern Railroad, amassing a $63 million fortune by his death in 1916.

His quote, which is so good it must be apocryphal, sounds a bit like the title and opening line of a Keats poem:
Give me women, wine, and snuff
Until I cry out "hold, enough!"
You may do so sans objection
Till the day of resurrection:
For, bless my beard, they aye shall be
My beloved Trinity.
Not to be confused with wine, women and song (or sex, drugs and rock and roll). John Keats died in his apartment near the Spanish steps in Rome in 1821, almost a decade before Hill was born.

I stumbled upon the Hill quote in the latest issue of a year-old quarterly called Art Review & Preview published by a couple of artists in the Twin Cities. The quote was invoked by my friend Andy Sturdevant in a review of an exhibit of Minnesota art at James J. Hill's mansion called "Looking Back / Moving Forward" (October 4-April 20). Andy's review can be read online in a PDF version of the Spring 2008 issue.

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