Harry Reidinger yearned to see the real West.
At 21 he set out from his native Galicia for America, landed at Ellis Island, went to work in New York City as a tailor. He had learned the trade at 13 from the tailors who hung around his father's wollen goods shop. He married a girl from the old country, and they had a couple of kids.
But he didn't like New York. "You worked for a song there," he says. He saw a notice on a bulletin board: Wanted: tailor. Cody, Wyoming.
So he took a train to the real West. That was in 1903.
The next thing you knew, he was Buffalo Bill's tailor. That was about as West as you could get.
He learned to ride a horse. His wife Lottie did too. They had two more kids, and he opened a tailor shop.
Harry Reidinger had his 100th birthday party last Sunday at the Holiday Inn in Bethesda, and his children were there, and the seven grandchildren and some of the nine great-grandchildren and an assortment of cousins and friends. And they were all still talking about Buffalo Bill.
"He had some sort of baths there, a spa. He owned a hotel. He was just a plain ordinary man, a fine man, very modest," said Reidinger, sitting in the lobby with his hat on and a red felt pen in his breast pocket.
This didn't sound like the Buffalo Bill of song and story.What about the coat with the fringed elbows and the beadwork lapels, and the pants with the leather tassels, and the velvet vest?
"Oh no, he just wore plain regular suits."
To the world he was Buffalo Bill. To his friends in the town he had founded, he was William F. Cody, citizen. He still had the circus and Wild West show, but that was business. Cody died in 1917, and his tailor moved to Butte, Mont., where he was to live 44 years.
"Mining town," said Reidinger. "Copper. Anaconda. It was just a mining camp then, a lot of gambling. There was more money in the gambling halls than in the bank."
But no gunslingers. He never saw a gunfight. "Naw, it wasn't wild at all," he said, disdainfully and wistfully.
A man could buy a suit for $50 in those days, $75 if he was a dandy. The wollen fabrics cost $2.50 a yard. Reidinger would take the measurements -- a good tailor can literally size you up at a glance -- and spread out the cloth samples, cheaper than stocking all the bolts himself.His assistants would construct the suit.
Over the years, he made suits for almost everybody in town, especially the Anaconda executives. Mike Mansfield, when he was a Montana senator, wore a Harry Reidinger suit.
Was it lonely for a Polish Jew in the real West in 1903?
"Oh, no," he said, "there were other Europeans. I went to work first in the shop of Charles Benjamin in Cody."
Eventually, during the Butte years, his daughter said, there were about 100 Jewish families in the whole of Montana. Some pioneers have to pioneer more than other pioneers.
Twenty years ago Reidinger came to Washington, worked for Joseph Wilner, Farnsworth and Reed, spent many years with Lewis and Thos. Saltz until bad eyesight forced his retirement.
Lottie died six years ago, aged 89. They had been together 68 years, which is longer than a lot of people live. Harry stays at the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Rockville. He watches TV when his eyes don't bother him. fHe sings a lot. He can sing in seven languages, his children say, but he's not sure how many he remembers now.
"Polish -- I'm fluent in Polish. German. Hebrew. Yiddish. No Russian -- I'm a Galician! . . ."
He is not the only Galician who refuses to speak Russian. He still speaks with a trace of accent.
The children call him Pop. There is Joseph, from Silver Spring, Mabel Studenberg of Miami Beach, Henrietta Lindemann and Martin, of California. The littlest ones call him Poppa Harry. There is a great-grandson named Joshua who likes to strut around with a cane and say, "I'm Poppa Harry."
He wrote a speech for the birthday party, a brunch eaten at a long table, buzzing with family talk, for many hadn't seen each other for a long time. The children were all very good. A no-candle cake baked by a grand-daughter waited on a sideboard.
"I've spent my life minding my own business, working hard and raising my family, two boys and two girls," he wrote. "It was all I knew how to do and I'm satisfied. If you want to live to 100, do these things. Keep budy, don't get excited and keep singing.Even if it hurts you sometimes, don't tell others. Be thankful for life and for your health."
At the moment his only trouble is bad circulation. He hasn't smoked for years. He doesn't see well, and he repeats himself. Don't we all.
"Tell you a secret," his son Joe muttered, helping the old man up the stairs, "this isn't really his birthday. His real birthday is on St. Patrick's day."