Benjamin Franklin Cummings (1855-1918), with only two or three years of formal schooling in his past, began his journalistic career as a pre-teen manual laborer in the pressroom of the Deseret News. His natural abilities and willingness to read and observe won him promotion through the ranks of reporter, editorial writer, advertising manager, and state editor at the Deseret News; he later founded the Logan Leader. One of his three LDS missions was as editor of the Central States’ newspaper, the Liahona. Cummings also virtually invented the professional research and recording of genealogy so far as it was known among the Latter-day Saints, and was well respected among New England’s genealogists. He traveled widely in pursuit of genealogical materials. This letter was written on one such research trip.
While engaged in genealogical research in Boston, some months since, I took a furnished room in a respectable lodging house, and ate my meals at any restaurant that came handy.
By the way, Boston abounds in small, clean, tidy restaurants, where the prices are exceedingly reasonable and the food is prepared and served in a neat and cleanly manner.
I had endured this life a fortnight and it was becoming unbearable. I had no one to converse with or even speak to. I would frequently meet other lodgers in the corridor or hall, but Boston etiquette forbade even a bow until a formal introduction had taken place, or close contact forced an acquaintance.
I resolved upon a change, as I had several weeks to remain in the “hub,” and they would be unspeakably tedious without more society. I decided to take board in a private family, and so set out to find a place that would suit. I knew about what streets to pass through to find what I wanted. Many families in various parts of the city add to their income by taking one or more boarders or lodgers, and a surprisingly large portion of the inhabitants, including many refined and well-to-do people, live in lodgings.
The fact that the family wants a boarder or lodger is announced by a placard hung in the window. The price for a furnished room, kept in order for the lodger, is from two to four dollars per week, board three to four dollars additional, in most respectable families, and the fare given at that price is excellent.
I soon approached a house whose outward appearance indicated quiet and respectability, in the window of which was the placard. I rang, was admitted by a servant and conducted up stairs to look at the room. It was cozy, and I told the landlady I would take it, and next morning removed my effects thither.
At noon, while the family and two or three boarders were at dinner, I was passing the dining room door; going out, when the landlady opened it, stopped me, and, apologizing, asked my name again, as she had forgotten it.
In reply I gave her my card containing my name and address, “Salt Lake City, Utah.” She took the card back to the table, when a gentleman boarder, whom all knew by the initials of “M.D.,” took the card and read it aloud, exclaiming in amazement; “My goodness, he’s a Mormon!” Then came a scene – afterwards fully described to me. The card was passed around the table with such exclamations as: “A real Mormon!” “Is it possible!” “Wonder how many wives he’s got!” while one rigidly pious and elderly lady declared it scandalous to have a “Mormon” in the house. The landlady persisted that “he looked like a gentleman anyhow,” while the head cook, a very intelligent lady, and very liberal in her religious views, at once declared her joy at having an opportunity to get acquainted with a “real, live Mormon, as she had read so much about them.”
I had taken the room but had not engaged board, and soon after returning in the evening, I heard a tap on my door. lt was “M. D.,” who asked me if I would not join the family and a few boarders in a “pop corn party,” in the dining room. I readily assented, and spent a most enjoyable evening. By the blessing of the Lord I made a good impression upon all present, and at their request became a boarder, and as one of the family. All the inmates of the house, except the elderly and extremely orthodox lady, became very friendly and cordial. I remained an inmate of the house about two months, in the meantime explaining my religion to those who made inquiries respecting it, and removing much prejudice from their minds. “M.D.” and I became room-mates and the firmest of friends, and, though he has not yet embraced the gospel, he possesses many sterling traits that won my regard.
The scene at the dinner table, with the various exclamations, and comments then expressed, was often related to me after I became intimate with the family, and all declared a “live Mormon,” to be a vastly different kind of a creature from that which their imaginations had led them to picture him.
[B.F. Cummings, Jr., “A ‘Live Mormon’ in Boston, 1879,” The Contributor 1 (1879-80), 112-113]