Hal Roth - February 2010

 

 

Old News from Delmarva:
February 1910
by
Hal Roth

As winter waned in 1910, Delmarva folks were especially anxious for the arrival of spring.
“An old saying is: ‘the harder the winter, the earlier the spring.’ That January was an exceptionally cold month, as shown by the monthly report of the Weather Bureau. Of the 31 days of the month, 25 were either cloudy or partly cloudy. Precipitation measured 4.68 inches, which is the greatest amount of precipitation recorded in January since 1905. The mean temperature for the month was 34, which is the lowest mean temperature since 1905.”
“There is still a certain sting in the morning air, but that will not last for long. Some day in the near future, perhaps tomorrow or the day after, a diffident, caressing little breeze will come stealing in from the southward with a touch as of velvet and the faint, indefinite perfume of some ancient sachet – and spring will be here.”
“Robins, spring’s harbingers, have come ahead of the ethereal mildness.”
But before the ethereal mildness, these two brief, mid-month notes were posted: “The thermometer registered five degrees above zero early Monday morning, and we had another snow on Monday night.”
The most celebrated date in February is the 14th, Valentine’s Day, and I was surprised to read this editorial, suggesting that the custom might have been in danger a century ago.
“There was a time in the life of most men and women of middle-age today when the approach of February 14 meant a thrill. It was a day of sentiment and humor. To the very young it was an occasion for the exhibition of irresponsible and frequently cruel play in the dispatch of the ‘comic’ and mostly coarse Valentine. Old maids and bachelors and other grow-ups of well-known weaknesses and tender sensibilities suffered most, but even these could afford to forgive and ignore the thoughtless effrontery of children. The other and elaborate valentines, however, if sent anonymously, bore a mysterious, even a celestial message. There are many thousands of women still living today who have some of these lacy and colorful creations preserved in lavender. And why not? There is all too little of the tender and innocent expression of a distant and respectful regard for women to be noted among men just now, and altogether too much of a bolder and degrading admiration. There was something good and pure in the sweet old-fashioned valentine, and men and women who still believe in chivalry and modest reserve much dislike to see the ancient custom fall into disuse.”
In the days when our roads were unpaved or topped only by a scattering of oyster shells or gravel, the coming of spring was attended by travel problems.
“All travel has been stopped by fencing across the highway from Sour Apple Tree Lane to Watts Creek, the road not being in safe condition.”
But spring then, as now, was also a time when the urge grew strong to take to the highways, perhaps even to purchase a new car.
“The automobile spirit grows apace. There are said to be about 6,000 automobiles in Maryland. A number of the patrons of the automobile attended the show in Baltimore this week.”
And car companies touted their offerings in bold newspaper advertisements.
“An Amazing Achievement! Handsome, powerful but light cars with from twelve to thirty ACTUAL horse power, which does all that anyone wants of a car – 50 miles an hour, fast on the hills, off like a thoroughbred as soon as you open the throttle, quiet and smooth running, and full of the Reo get-there-and-back ability, which has been in every Reo since the first one was built in 1904.
“Every part of Reo cars is made of the best-known material in the world, and wherever exactness and fineness of construction count for anything, they are there in their most exact and refined possibilities. The Reo Line for 1910, aristocrats every one of them:
“Four Cylinder Touring Car,
30 h.p. $1250
“Four Cylinder Roadster,
30 h.p. $1250
“Two Cylinder Touring Car,
20 h.p. $1000
“Single Cylinder Runabout,
10 h.p. $500
A card will bring the beautiful catalogue of the “Mighty Reo.”
Both the federal government and individual states struggled during these early years to find ways to regulate the automobile. Never before had it been so easy for an individual to travel independently from one state to another.
“Uniform motor vehicle legislation is now urged for all the States. A federal registration of automobiles is proposed. The purpose is to allow an automobile owner, complying with the requirements of the motor laws of his own State, to obtain federal registration at a nominal fee, which will permit him to motor thro’ any State in the union without paying a succession of taxes and making a series of registrations.”
Small news items, announcements, even simple thoughts and now and then an advertisement were randomly published in most 19th and early 20th century weeklies under titles such as “Miscellaneous Matters” and “Dashes from Here and There.” We know from the numerous pen and pencil highlights made by readers on surviving papers that they were the most sought-after news of the time, and they offer us considerable insight into the daily lives and interests of our ancestors at a time when the pace of living was so much slower. A selection of general interest items follows from February 1910.
“Pride goeth before a fall, and foolhardiness before an automobile.”
“A bill has been introduced to give owners and renters of land authority to arrest gunners without warrant.”
“Cambridge will improve its streets, the property owners paying one-half of the cost.”
“Dr. Franklin White, an expert in dietetics, suggests the following as a bill-of-fare for those whose incomes are reduced to the minimum. Breakfast: corn meal mush, oleomargarine, syrup; Lunch: potatoes, oleomargarine, smoked herring, cocoa shells and milk; Dinner: beans, pork (3 cents), cocoa, bread. A total for all three meals, 20 cents. The suggestion is made to enable the unfortunate to escape the impositions of food trusts, which are now distressing thousands of families in the land.”
“The Pennsylvania Railroad Company [which served much of northern Delmarva], in giving employment to new men, gives preference to those who do not use tobacco.”
“Manager Thompson expects to put in many phones at Preston, Easton, Centreville and elsewhere in the spring. There are demands for the service in a number of sections in three counties.”
“Immense quantities of driftwood are being washed upon the Eastern Shore due to the Susquehanna River flood.”
“There are more than 600 proverbs in the English language which relate to dogs.”
“To Mothers: Children who are delicate, feverish and cross will get immediate relief from Mother Gray’s Sweet Powders for Children. They cleanse the stomach, act on the liver and make sickly children strong and healthy. A certain cure for worms. Sold at all druggists for 25¢. Sample free.”
“I find the benefit of drinking a tumbler of cold water with a little salt in it every morning on rising at about 5 o’clock before my bath or cup of cocoa. If people could be induced to try the easy and cheap method of taking a little common salt with the water they drink, they would, in the generality of cases, find that they would seldom require other medicine.”
“A report from Hillsboro says Harry Love, a telephone lineman, and Miss Bertha Evans, a telephone operator, left Hillsboro on Thursday evening of last week, and it is alleged that they eloped. It is said they are at Dover. Lane is about 26 years old and is said to have a wife living in Baltimore. Miss Evans is 19.”
“Mr. W. Scott Way wrote a letter to the Easton Ledger, objecting to a crow bounty law for Talbot, for he thinks county treasuries have been raided aforetime by these bounties, many non-resident crows having figured therein. Then Mr. Way learned that the proposed law applied only to Dorchester and promptly apologized. The Sycamores is not many miles from Dorchester’s seat, and there is a fine lot of crows in the neighboring forest.”
“Mr. William Moore, a Queen Anne’s farmer, has killed a hundred hen hawks within a year, the last one, which was after a turkey, being captured while struggling with the turkey under a brush heap.”
“The streets of Greensboro are now lighted by electricity. Fifty lights have been contracted for the town.”
“Mr. T. Herbert Shriver thinks voting should be made compulsory.”
“There is power in the multitude. Already the meat trust has dropped prices in some sections as a result of the anti-meat crusade.”
“Rabbits and English sparrows are generally acknowledged to be destructive pests, but they make good eating all the same. It may be that in these days of soaring prices, when so many people have sworn off meat until the price drops, that sparrows and rabbits may be considered as a providential supply to replenish the larder with meat.”
“Easton’s principal streets, Washington, Goldsborough, Dover and Federal, are to be improved by vitrified brick from curb to curb. A bond issue of $35,000 has been decided upon at a public meeting a few days ago.”
“Rev. H. E. Smith will preach next Sunday afternoon at 3 o’clock, weather permitting. The subject will be ‘The Reality of Heaven.’ On account of the bad roads, Mr. Smith has deferred the Holy Supper until next month.”
“Barring those who are incapacitated or out of work, the increased cost of living falls with greater force upon no class than upon ministers of the Gospel. In most cases their salaries were fixed some years ago, when nearly all the necessaries of life were at least fifty percent cheaper than now, and the salaries even then were pitifully small. A family of five persons, for which everything must be bought, can not now be supported in the most frugal manner on less than five hundred dollars a year, this figure allowing nothing for luxuries, charity, traveling expenses or the unavoidable expenses which nearly all families incur to a greater or less extent through illness.”
“A correspondent gives the following as the historical recipe for Eastern Sho’ cake: Take half a pound of butter, one pound of sugar, half a pint of milk, six eggs, two and a half cups of flour and two teaspoonfuls of baking powder. Sift together thoroughly and add vanilla to suit taste. This amount should make five good layers. Filling: half a cake of chocolate, one gill [one-quarter pint] of milk, one and a half pounds of brown sugar. Boil till thick as cream; add one teaspoonful of vanilla, large lump of butter; beat two minutes and spread.”
“It is generally believed at Seaford that all the crew of the schooner E. C. Ross have been lost.”
“There was buried with appropriate ceremonies by Mrs. Miles Cannon and her children their favorite hen, Polly, seventeen years old. She was believed to be the oldest hen in the world. According to Polly’s owner, she laid more than 3,000 eggs and raised thirty-five broods of chickens.”
“Mrs. Fred Stafford has a hen which recently laid two eggs in one day and within one hour.”
“While delivering his mail Tuesday, Mr. John K. Lynch’s horse became frightened at some clothes lying on a hedge near one of his boxes. The horse ran through a cornfield, and in trying to guide it, one of the reins broke. The wagon was overturned and completely demolished. Mr. Lynch considers himself very fortunate to escape with slight injuries.”
Mr. Lynch, you need to get one of those new, thoroughbred Reo roadsters to deliver your mail.
“For wife beating, Dread Murray, colored, was sent to jail for thirty days by Justice Wilkinson on Saturday last. Murray will also receive ten lashes on the bare back by order of the magistrate.”
“Mr. Lewis Steen, Stokely, Del. has a mule known to be over fifty years old.”
“Some fishermen are already after the festive herring, white and yellow perch, which, however, like the shad, have grown scarce in the past twenty years.”
“The Government will probably discontinue the practice of printing stamped envelopes with the cards of business firms in the corner. For several years past the printers’ unions throughout the country have been laboring to that end, claiming that it was an invasion of their field and forced private firms to enter into competition with the Federal Government.”
“On account of the mixing of wireless messages, the flying in all directions of small talk between operators, which interferes with important airgrams, it is proposed that Congress pass a law to regulate the use of the wonderful system, and the question arises, ‘Who owns the air?’ As science rushes forward, there are many adjustments to make.”
“Children over 14 are not allowed to skate on the concrete sidewalks of Ridgely, which sport many have engaged in lately.”
“The celebration of Washington’s birthday becomes a greater event with each recurrence. Time by no means lessens the glory of the greatest of American patriots. Governor Ogle, of Maryland, was the first to suggest that the day of the birth of Washington be made a holiday.”
I find no reference to Lincoln’s birthday in the papers I reviewed. Maryland, including the Eastern Shore, was largely controlled by the Democratic Party, and the press by members of that party. Lincoln had freed the slaves, and Maryland Democrats remained busily employed, in 1910, with attempts to disenfranchise the state’s black voters.
From the Denton Journal: “The suffrage amendment [to disenfranchise black voters] was defeated last year, but a great majority of the white voters favored it, and further efforts will be made to limit the power of the colored voter in politics. One measure suggested proposes qualifications as to registration, which would greatly curtail the colored vote. Following are the qualifications suggested:
“A person whose near or remote or intermediate ancestors, on both sides of his family, and regardless of race or color, were natives of any port or ports of continental Europe, or of the European British Isles or of both.
“Or (alternative) whose ancestors were natives of some port or ports of the world located at once and exclusively between the thirty-fifth (Gibraltar) and seventy-second (most northern limit of Sweden) parallels north of the equator and between the twelfth (Iceland) meridian east of and the sixty-fifth (Nova Scotia) meridian west of Greenwich.
Or (second alternative) if he be a person whose ancestors on both sides, and regardless of race or color, were natives of some country or countries which, prior to the beginning of the sixteenth century, attained a high degree of civilization, showed themselves capable of enacting laws and maintaining civil government and educational institutions, and who made considerable progress and advancement in the arts, sciences, politics, literature, philosophy and inventions, and who also possessed a written language.”
And consider this excerpt from another Delmarva editorial:
“Should we by disagreements and factionalism so far forget ourselves as to invite and bring about a considerable period of Republican rule in Maryland, legislation, etc., which would undoubtedly be very distasteful to Marylanders generally, would inevitably follow, as it has always followed radical Republican domination in States along the Mason Dixon Line.
“We have before us ample circumstances, evidence to prove this proposition. It is only necessary to note conditions in Pennsylvania and in New Jersey. We all know what the years of absolute Republican control have done for the city of Philadelphia. What could prevent a Republican chief executive in Annapolis with a partisan Senate and House to suit him, from Afro-Americanizing Baltimore as the cities of Philadelphia and Washington have been Afro-Americanized? Do we not get an example of the first fruits of absolute Republican government in the black and white police forces in these nearby cities?”
My, how political alliances can change with the shifting sands of time and the political games we play to establish those alliances.
Let me change the mood and end this month’s column with a smile or two. Newspapers in 1910 always included a little humor.
“He had courted her for years, never missing his evening call, and finally was landed. On the day of the marriage a friend observed the bridegroom wandering about in a restless manner and with a very dejected expression. ‘Why what’s the matter, old man?’ he asked. ‘You should be the happiest man alive, and you look like a mute at a funeral.’
“‘Of course I’m happy,’ the bridegroom asserted.
“‘Then why the glooms?’
“‘Well, to tell the truth, Bill, I was just wondering where I’ll spend my evenings hereafter.’”
“A broad minded dominie, whose parish was near the headwaters of the Susquehanna, had among his parishioners a character who was more punctual at the fishing hole than he was at church. Bright and early one Monday morning this Sabbath fisherman called the preacher to his door and presented him with a very fine string of pickerel. The dominie was profuse with his thanks.
“‘But look here, parson,’ said the man, still retaining the fish, ‘these were caught yesterday, and maybe your conscience won’t let you eat them.’
“‘Never mind that,’ said the dominie, stretching out his hand for the string. ‘There’s one thing certain; the pickerel are not to blame.’”
“‘I give you my word,’ said the judge sternly, ‘the next person who interrupts the proceedings will be expelled from the courtroom and ordered home.’
“‘Hooray!’ cried the prisoner.’
“Then the judge pondered.”
“Recently one of our most fastidious young men bought a pair of overalls and found in them the name of the sewing girl who made them.
“He very promptly wrote her a letter with all the effusiveness necessary in such a case, and in due time he received a reply, which, however, was void of the romance usual in such cases. Here it is:
“‘I am a working girl, it is true, but I make a good living, and I do not care to support a husband, as I would do if I married some silly noodle who gets mashed on a girl he never saw. Permit me to say that I do not know how my card got in that pair of overalls, and that when I do marry, if ever, it will be to some fellow who can afford something better than a forty-seven cent pair of breeches.’”

You can reach Hal Roth at nanbk@dmv.com.