Hal Roth - December 2009


Old News from Delmarva:
December 1909
Hal Roth

   As always in December, newspapers across Delmarva were filled with advertisements, information and advice about Christmas.
    Bullock’s, in Denton, headlined itself as “the largest 5c and 10c store found outside of Baltimore.” William Bullock also stocked groceries and clothing, purchased “any kind of country produce that can be turned into cash,” and offered to pay the highest prices to trappers for their pelts. Now there was a convenience store.
    The Retail Merchants of Baltimore continued their three-month campaign to attract Eastern Shore residents by offering a full refund for round-trip fares between Delmarva and the city to anyone making purchases totaling $20 from any of their firms. Ads were headlined: “Time grows short! Don’t delay your Christmas shopping.”
   “An Edison Phonograph,” touted one ad, “makes an ideal Christmas gift in any home because it is enjoyed by every member of the household from the smallest tot to the aged grandparents.”
    And, of course, there were sales: “Ostrich feathers, plumes and fancy feathers at a great reduction at Mrs. I. S. Hollingsworth’s.”
   “Few probably know just how December 25th happened to be fixed as Christmas Day,” one article began. Do you?
   “About 340 A. D., St. Cyril made careful inquiry as to the birth of Christ and reported December 25 as the correct date. Pope Julius accepted this, and some years later established the festival at Rome on this date. Before the close of the century it was accepted by every nation in Christendom.”
    Perhaps today’s reader will also find the following decoration advice to be helpful.
   “In the center of your dinner table set up a small tree, three feet or a little higher. Dress it with silver tinsel, silver and red balls and red and white candles. Old fashioned red and white candy toys – such as pipes, pistols and spades for men; scissors for the clever sewer; irons, tubs and brooms for the busy housekeeper; a harp for the musician, etc. – can be hung by red ribbons and distributed with joking speeches to guests. All these can be bought at any candy-making establishment.
   “At each plate place a tripod made of red candy sticks, tied together near one end with narrow ribbon, and in each tripod hang a little stocking made of red or white tarlatan and filled with salted nuts and tiny chocolates. The red sticks stand out against the white cloth and enhance the silver-trimmed tree.”
… or this advice for choosing gifts:
   “When selecting a gift for Christmas, the following requisites should be borne in mind if it is to be wholly acceptable and pleasing.
“It should be appropriate to the receiver.
“It should be beautiful to the eye.
“It should be useful as well as ornamental.
“It should possess lasting charm.
“It should be thoroughly good of its kind.
“It should be of a moderate expense, so as to work no hardship for the giver to be generous.
“Someone has suggested the following as among the gifts suitable for this season:
“Little pincushions with hand-drawn linen covers that unbutton and may be taken off when soiled, for 35 cents.
“Pretty little boxes of good writing paper, for 50 cents.
“China plates with dainty rose border, for 25 cents.
“Panel mirrors with gilt frames and quaint little imitation French prints at the top – effective too – for $1 to $1.50.
“Leather hides suitable for table covers in the den, library or living room, for $1.50.
“Pictures that we know and love in dark wood or gilt frames – reproductions, of course – for 50 cents to $1.50.
“A sturdy umbrella – plain but durable – for the man to keep in his office, for $1.
“Shirtwaist lengths of white madras in neat boxes, for 60 cents.
“Crepe de Chine scarfs, pink, white, blue or black, for $1.”
    And for Christmas evening:
   “The hours after a heavy Christmas dinner are apt to lag unless some amusement is provided. Get up some excitement, no matter how simple, if you want your family dinner to be a success.
   “Not new but always popular with the young is a grab-bag. Hang it from the chandelier and fill it with enough trinkets to give each child many turns with the magic wand. The gifts should be wrapped so as to deceive one as to the size of the present.
    Another sport is a huge snowman found in one corner after dinner. This can easily be made from boxes and cotton batting. Give each guest a small spade and three efforts at digging a present for himself. The base, arms, body and head should have openings only partially concealed, where the spade can go.
   “A Christmas game on the order of the favorite pinning the tail on a donkey will give lots of fun. Have a screen on one side of the room and draw a huge Santa Claus on it with a pack. Give the children long tabs of red flannel, which they are to pin blindfolded on Santa’s chest.
   “Those who succeed are given a chance to dip into the pack, which is filled with small gifts. Have numerous trials so that none of the children will be disappointed.”
    And don’t neglect this Christmas warning:
   “In the great rush of Christmas preparation, it is probable that two important features, health and beauty, will suffer because of a scarcity of time to give them the proper attention, and on the day after, the mirror will reflect new lines, congested, tired eyes, sagging muscles and a world-weary expression that is anything but fetching. If we do not eat regularly and partake of nutritious food, or fail to exercise, the blood will become impoverished, and just so the muscles will languish and grow flabby if they do not receive their nourishment.”
    Philosophical editorials also acknowledged the season.
   “What an opportune time, the Christmas time, with the New Year about to be ushered in, to look into the heart of things – to stop right short in the chasing of phantoms, always out of reach. Happy is the man, as says the Circle, who finds and asserts his dominant ego before he becomes hopelessly and finally submerged. We have known such men – many of them – along the way of life. They have gone along for years, the slaves of circumstances, held down unresistingly, though not always uncomplainingly, by hard masters or hard conditions, moving in a dull, narrow routine of life, seemingly unconscious that they belong, by right, and can be in a very different relationship to life. Suddenly something has awakened within them; they have been born again; they have discovered the wonderful fact, as old as creation, that the Almighty did not put man on this earth to be a weakling or a slave, but to be a strong ruler and to have dominion. Likewise, He equipped him with powers and provided possibilities of development in keeping with the bigness of his position, and put upon him responsibilities of similar measure. The awakening of such a man is a beautiful thing – an inspiration to all who see it. Simple justice to himself demands of many a man at the changing of the year to learn where his ship – the ship of which he is the captain – is drifting, if it is drifting at all. Let him cast the lead and put his vessel upon a course which is safe and which at last will bring him to a haven of contentment and happiness.”
    Are you inspired?
    In spite of the media’s fascination with Christmas, general news continued.
   “Foreseeing an enormous development of air travel, Dr. Frederick Lux has devised a system of wireless signaling to keep airships informed of their exact whereabouts. He proposes that wireless stations, 30 or 40 miles apart, be scattered over the country, and that each send out every five minutes a signal of a few letters to identify itself.”
    They were, of course, speaking of dirigibles and other lighter-than-air craft.
    How many of you knew that the United States Supreme Court once declared income tax unconstitutional? Can we try that again?
   “The Maryland Legislature will likely approve the amendment passed by Congress, which will allow the national law-making body to pass an income tax bill after the states have ratified the amendment. During President Cleveland’s second administration, an income tax bill was passed, but it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court by a majority of one.”
    In the days when harnessing electricity was still in its infancy, ice for refrigeration was a major item of commercial interest, and most of it came from our winter rivers and ponds. If you’re searching for evidence of global warming, consider this article, titled    “Prospects for Ice Crop.”
   “There are excellent prospects of an ice crop this winter. The weather this week has been very promising. The mercury was as low as twenty degrees below the freezing mark. Ice covered the upper Choptank and all the ponds and was heavy on the latter.”
    The article continued with details for constructing and packing an icehouse to preserve the harvested ice through the summer months.
    And there were the usual “DASHES FROM HERE AND THERE.”
   “Is there a Santa Claus? Of course there is to everyone that believes, and ill betide him who shatters the innocent illusions of childhood.”
   “See to it that Santa Claus does not overlook any of the children, even if the homes of some of them are little better than hovels. You will thus increase your own happiness in spreading abroad the Christmas spirit.”
   “The post offices are doing heavy work in Christmas packages.”
   “Designs for the new postal cards have been approved by Postmaster General Hitchcock. On the ordinary card the head of the late President McKinley will appear, as now, but a much better likeness has been selected. On the new small card, intended for index purposes and for social correspondence, a likeness of Lincoln will appear. The two-cent international card will bear a portrait of General Grant.
   “A novel and pleasing innovation has been made for the double or reply card. On the first half will appear a portrait of George Washington, while the stamp on the second, or reply half, will be a likeness of Martha Washington.
“The borders of the stamps will be diversified in design. On all the cards the words ‘Postal Card,’ required by the Universal Postal Union Convention, will appear on the border of the stamp and not, as now, as a separate inscription. The paper to be used is the best for the purpose yet manufactured.”
“The St. Mary’s Guild of Christ Church will hold a Christmas bazaar on Thursday and Friday evenings, December 16th and 17th in Denton’s Masonic Hall. Supper will be served at 25 cents.”
“Elwood now has telephone service.”
“It is said the mistletoe has few berries this year.”
“Mr. J. A. Wright has a moving picture theatre at Seaford.”
“Quite a number of robberies and holdups are reported from Seaford and neighboring towns.”
“Scores of school children have been detained at home lately by measles.”
“With a possible elopement as the only explanation, Mary E. Dulin, 17-year-old daughter of Thomas H. Dulin, a farmer, is missing from her home, two miles from Easton.”
“Our most renown baseball player, Charley Herzog, who has developed as one of the young stars of the National League, may figure in a deal whereby he will become a member of Roger Bresnahan’s St. Louis club. Herzog, who has been devoting time to his farming interests at Ridgely, Md. since the season closed, when asked his plans for next season, remarked that he had not made any.”
“The automobile of various shapes, for conveying passengers, is rapidly putting the faithful horse out of business in many cities.”
“Thomas A. Edison predicts that within the next twenty years the art of molding concrete will reach a marvelous degree of perfection in architecture. Twenty years hence, the poor will have more beautiful homes than the rich can now aspire to.”
“Several large flocks of wild geese have been seen within the past week flying southward, which is taken as an indication of the near approach of winter weather.” [Few people today realize that geese were once relatively scarce on Delmarva during the winter months, most of them migrating farther south, and there were no resident geese nesting here in the spring and raising their broods through the summer.]
“The rainfall has been lighter in the past few months than for many years, and all the water powers in the State are affected.” [“Water powers” refers to the water wheels that still provided the power to many industries in 1909.]
“Ridgely is rapidly becoming the most progressive town of its size on the Shore and is already far in advance of many towns double its proportions. It has factories of several kinds, with others in view, and last week electric lights were turned on.”
“Denton’s electric plant affords good service. There is talk of a day current to be used as a motor power.” [Early electric service was only provided during the hours of darkness.]
“The man who attends strictly to his own business has a good, steady job.”
“Wreath makers are getting higher prices this year, holly being scarce in many sections.”
“Mr. D. C. Armstrong, owner of Dry Dock, has accepted the challenge of Mr. Collins, owner of Julia Marlowe, for a match race. Mr. Collins’ challenge was published in the Philadelphia Record, offering to match his mare against any horse between Wilmington and Cape Charles.”
“John N. Furbush, a wealthy farmer residing a few miles from Delmar, who sent out an advertisement for a wife a few weeks ago in which he promised a wedding gift of $5,000, is having more trouble in obtaining one than he bargained for. Every day brings him hundreds of replies from those anxious to join him in matrimony, but thus far he has been unable to make a decision. Mr. Furbush is a widower, 65 years old.” [Advertising for a wife was not an uncommon practice in the early 20th century.]
“Miss Hattie Euker, of Ridgely, went to Baltimore on Wednesday of last week, where she expected to meet Charles Walls of Fairbanks and become his bride that afternoon. When Miss Euker reached Baltimore, Walls failed to appear, and upon investigation she learned that he had a wife living in Washington. Although much annoyed by the affair, Miss Euker was happy to know she learned the real circumstances in time.”
“Hog killing is in order, and while several have participated, no real heavy ones have been reported.”
“Eastern Shore trolley talk has again subsided, but it will be heard some more.”
“Great men too often have greater faults than little men can afford room for.”
“DeRue Bros. will appear at the opera house Tuesday evening and will present one of the most novel and pleasing entertainments ever offered the amusement loving public. The program is overflowing with rapid-fire fun and genuine surprises. Pretty music and dazzling scenic and electrical effects form an important part of the entertainment. The mammoth program is everywhere presented in absolute perfection, never curtailed in any detail, a fact that makes this organization still more successful each successive season. The management’s motto has been, ‘Perfection Makes Perpetual Popularity.’”
With winter weather beginning, cold-weather advice was urged on the public:
“Don’t have a fur collar for ‘best.’ Wear it always or not at all. Changing is dangerous to health.
“Don’t wet the lips while out in the air. It is the combination of frosty air and wet lips that chap them.
“Don’t stay indoors because it is cold. A brisk walk on a clear, cold day is a great beautifier, makes the blood circulate, producing a glow, and makes rosy cheeks and bright eyes.
“Don’t breathe through your mouth. The nose is a germ filter as well as a heater for the frosty air before it reaches the throat and lungs. Much trouble will be averted if the mouth is kept closed.”
For some, the last sentence might be good advice for the rest of the year also.
And here are a few statistics and highlights of the year 1909:
William Howard Taft succeeded Theodore Roosevelt as the 27th president of the United States.
Congress proposed a federal income tax, which would not become law until 1916.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation was established.
Auto production in the United States reached 127,731, of which 10,000 were Model T Fords. They cost $850, and all were painted black.
The first transcontinental motorcar race pitted two Model Ts against an Acme, an Itala, a Shawmut and a Stearns, the latter of which failed to start. Five cars left New York on June 1, and a Ford won the race, arriving at the Alaska-Yukon Pacific Exposition in Seattle on June 22.
One Iowa farmer in 34 owned a motorcar, while in New York City the ratio was one for every 190 families. Only 11 states required drivers to be licensed.
The Wright brothers obtained a government contract to produce a plane that carried two men and was capable of remaining in the air for 60 minutes at a speed of 40 miles per hour. Designers immediately commenced work on an antiaircraft gun.
General Electric and the National Electric Co. introduced the incandescent MAZDA light bulb, named for the Persian god of light, Ahura Mazda.
United States troops ended their occupation of Cuba, which had begun at the end of the Spanish-American War in February 1899.
The Apache chief Geronimo died in Oklahoma at the age of 79, and the Oglala Sioux leader Red Cloud died in South Dakota at the age of 87.
The modern plastics industry had its beginnings with the invention of Bakelite.
The NAACP was founded.
Robert Peary reached the North Pole.
The Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Detroit Tigers to win the World Series 4-3.
The field goal in football was reduced from 4 points to 3.
The Philadelphia Mint issued the first Lincoln-head penny, replacing the Indian-head that had been in circulation since 1864.
The Bell & Howell Company eliminated the “flicker” from motion pictures.
The most popular songs of the year were: “Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland,” “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now,” “Put on Your Old Grey Bonnet,” “Casey Jones,” “Yiddle on Your Fiddle,” “On Wisconsin!” and “The Whiffenpoof Song.”
Wall Street’s Dow Jones Industrial Average closed on December 31 at 99.05, up from 86.15 at the end of 1908.
You can reach Hal Roth at nanbk@dmv.com.