Ben Ridder was a different kind of tramp. He didn’t push brooms, smoke old stogies or hop freight trains.
He was a man of means, by all means: Ben Ridder was the “millionaire tramp,” and he began a weeklong visit in Schenectady on Sunday, Feb. 25, 1912.
Ridder, whose home base was Copenhagen, Denmark, arrived in the city at 11:25 p.m. and didn’t need to look for a warm alley or a flophouse. He checked into the upscale Edison Hotel on State Street, near Erie Boulevard, and talked tramp with a reporter from the Schenectady Gazette.
This dude liked to gab. The 48-year-old, college-educated Ridder said he had been on the road for about 15 years, had a millionaire foster father and had written the play “Millionaire Tramp.”
Ridder was also a socialist, and a fancy dresser. While other tramps tolerated torn, patched and threadbare wardrobes, the “millionaire” wore a corduroy suit with wool lining, high boots and a broad-brimmed hat. He carried a whip.
Ridder said he planned to visit fellow socialist George R. Lunn, then mayor of Schenectady.
“The only objection I have to Mayor Lunn so far is that he is closing the saloons on Sunday,” the tramp told the writer. “I like my drink, and like it whenever the occasion arises that I feel thirsty.”
Ben might also have liked tall tales. He said he had 1 million tramp followers, and said he had been arrested 605 times during his travels.
“I really believe I have been in more jails than any person in the world,” Ridder said. “Of course, I do not mean that I have served time in all of them, but I always inspect the jails in every city I visit.”
Thousands of crossbar hotels were on his list. “The best I have seen is in Fort Madison, Iowa,” he said. “Auburn prison is the worst.”
Believe it . . . or not
Ridder actually sounded a little crazy. Here’s why:
— “I was given the longest sentence in Walla Walla, Washington. I was editor of the Walla Walla Statesman for four days, and it was my editorials during that period that resulted in my arrest and sentence to four years in prison.”
— “In Portland, Oregon, I was sent to jail for seven months for creating a disturbance, but in 22 days I had organized three strikes among the prisoners and they were glad to release me.”
— “I am now on my way to London, England, as delegate from the national prison board to the international prison congress.”
— “I was in Herkimer last night and spoke at the Grand Theater to the largest crowd that has ever assembled there.”
— “Up to a year ago, I had never been seen with a woman, but at that time I addressed a suffrage meeting in St. Paul. There I met a girl, was acquainted with her in two hours and in 12 hours we were married. I had 4,000 guests at the wedding and the mayor acted as best man.”
The marriage didn’t last. After one month, the “millionaire tramp” abandoned domestic life and returned to the path of the hobo. “They say I am going to take another chance,” Ridder said. “Well, maybe so.”
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