Hal Roth - January 2010


Old News from Delmarva:
January 1910
Hal Roth

   A brief note in the January 1, 1910 edition of the Denton Journal reminisced about a time when Christmas celebrations were more like our New Year festivities today.
   “There was a time – not very many years ago – when Christmas was ushered in by the discharge of firearms and explosives, with almost a constant fusillade during the day. Now all this is changed and we hear little racket of that kind. Evidently the people prefer to spend their holiday cash for other things – and perhaps wiser ones.”
    The same edition contained a philosophical New Year’s editorial in the grandiloquent style of the day. In the interest of keeping you awake I shall copy only a portion of it.
   “To all those who truly wish that the new may be better than yesteryear, this ought to be the most important date of the calendar. It is the day of lofty purpose and noble decisions. The beginning of the year is a natural, sharp turn in the road of time. Here we may wisely rest awhile, and in the peace and quiet and calm of self-communion see the long stretch of the road of a twelvemonth [sic], made up of short steps of living from moment to moment. In its unity it now stands clear in the perspective of memory.
   “Many of the purposes for which we labored and struggled in our narrow, close, selfish absorption seem poor and petty and puny when seen from the turn of the road. The structure of some effort we thought to be of marble now is revealed as a hasty affair of show and pretense, but failure is real failure only when it teaches us no lesson.
   “In the perspective from the turn of the road we may now see how many times the paralyzing hand of procrastination touched the good deeds we meant to do but did not will to do. We were not equal to opportunities. It is a false philosophy that teaches that opportunity calls only once at any man’s house. It comes with the persistency of an importunate creditor, always in a new guise, and clamors for admission. We must be equal to our opportunities.
   “Habits that we had determined to master, to transform into harmony with our highest self, may still stalk large and insolent before us. They were never made in a day and cannot be mastered in a day. Time, with heart and mind united in determination, can conquer any evil habit or create and confirm any good one.
   “The look backward from the turn of the road should inspire us by making vivid to us how much of what we feared did not come to pass. The tyranny of worry that dominated and held us for weeks is now seen as an enemy to true individual growth. It means a useless sacrifice of present strength and peace to humor what may never come to pass.
   “Nature is constantly giving us these turns in the road to see living in true perspective. Then may come one of those rare moments of life, of fine spiritual discernment, of luminous revelation, of coming to one’s highest self, when the sordid, the mean, the temporary, the selfish are stripped in an instant of their garish shams and tinsel. Then the real, the true, the eternal stand out in their majesty, bathed in the splendor and glow of the revealing of truth. In such a spirit the very tingle of the inspiration of the infinite fills us, we seem born again to new, better and greater things, for we have seen the vision at the turn of the road.”
    There was less precipitation on Delmarva in 1909 than any year since 1871. Water levels were seriously low, which meant poor crops and a shortage of power, but 1910 arrived in the midst of an Artic blast.
   “The heaviest snowfall since 1898 started Saturday and was whipped into a fury by the winds of Sunday. On the peninsula the snow was perhaps ten inches deep on an average, but there were many heavy banks. Trains on all the roads were blockaded. Most of the telephone wires were kept in order, however.
   “The heavy snow on the ground and the weather threatening another layer make those who have plenty of fuel laid in commend the wisdom of making preparation for the future at the proper time; and of them it may be said, as of the noble wife and mother described in Proverbs, they are not afraid of the snow for their households, but of the others – well, they are scuffling around in the snow, very uncomfortably seeking comfort.
   “By the effects of the great storm our communities have been cut off from postal communications with the great outside from Saturday evening until Tuesday afternoon. How dependent we are upon one another, and how sincerely we should appreciate the services of our fellow men.”
    And we learn from the following notes that travel problems continued during the second week of January.
   “Last week everyone seemed to enjoy the snow, as from early morning till late at night we could hear the merry tingle of [sleigh] bells.
   “Another cold wave came upon us early this week, sending the mercury way down below the freezing point, interrupting navigation on the big rivers, the upper reaches of which were locked up tightly. The mild weather of Saturday, Sunday and Monday ruined the sleighing, but it left many of the snow banks to impede highway travel. The sleet on Wednesday and Thursday made walking hazardous, and the small boy promptly put on his skates and had a fine time gliding over the icy pavements.
   “We beg pardon, but we cannot help wondering what has become of the man who said this would be a mild winter. We think he certainly must be snowbound.”
    As the snow melted, a different kind of problem was briefly noted on January 22.
   “Muddy roads followed the snow, and travel has been lessened and business interfered with thereby.”
    But the biggest weather disaster occurred at the head of the Bay during the last week of the month.
   “Fully 1,500 men with picks and shovels were at work Monday in clearing the streets of Port Deposit and the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks of the huge cakes of ice and gathering up piece by piece household furniture, timber and other materials that were swept away in the disastrous ice gorge that partly wiped out the business and residential section of Port Deposit on Sunday. The loss to property reaches between $150,000 and $200,000. The flood came under unusual conditions, and the people are unanimous in ascribing the cause to the temporary piling driven at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Bridge.”
    For the past several months we’ve been observing the increased interest in automobiles and road improvements throughout Delmarva in 1909. As an article titled “The Fool and the Auto” noted on January 29, it did not take long for folks to begin to abuse the invention’s potential. I love the comparison to a locomotive.
   “If a man should put rubber tires on the wheels of a locomotive and drive the same at express speed or anywhere near it over an ordinary wagon road he would be pronounced a suicidal lunatic, yet this is exactly what men presumably of sound mind are doing every day with their motorcars. An automobile is practically a locomotive, and, like the latter, it can be driven with safety at any speed faster than a jog trot only on a specially prepared track free from obstructions that might derail it, ditch it or cause it to collide with rocks, telegraph poles and other things by the roadside. An elaborate system of signals is required to prevent collisions between locomotives on the rails, but our road locomotives zigzag over uneven and treacherous roadbeds, turn hairpin curves on steep grades and take a hundred other chances that would make a railroad engineer’s hair stand on end. The daily bulletin of automobile fatalities ought to bring the conviction that common roads are not built for running locomotives at even the lowest speed now authorized by law and that the regulation of automobiles needs to be made stricter and unflinchingly enforced rather than liberalized.”
    Well, there were a few new laws to control traffic.
   “According to a recent decision of the courts, a man who wants to go faster than his neighbor who is ahead of him on the road has a right to pass. If he is prevented by the other and an accident happens because of the latter’s interference, the obstructionist is responsible for the damage.”
    One of the most dangerous encounters on the road was that between the automobile and horse-drawn vehicles.
   “Frightened by a passing automobile, a horse being driven by Theodore F. Blades, of West Seaford, dashed off the mill dam at Dulaney’s farm and threw Blades, his wife and three children down an embankment of 12 feet into a deep pond of water.”
    Although Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, the legislation did not immediately impact all ads for patent medicines.
   “Much sickness is due to nervous troubles. Headache, dizziness, epilepsy and insanity are nervous troubles. Then there is a large class of disorders which arise from a weakness of the nerves of an organ or part, as weak lungs, heart, stomach, kidney, bladder, eyes, etc. Dyspepsia and indigestion are usually the result of nervous disorders.
   “RESTORATIVE NERVINE soothes the irritated nerves and assists the nerve cells to generate nerve force.
   “‘Dr. Miles’ Restorative Nervine cured me of a period of nervous prostration of over three years duration, and the Anti-Pain Pills are as necessary to us as the roof of our house. They have been household remedies with us for many years.’
–Wm. J. Loughran”
   ‘“I had dropsy, and was told by my family physician that there was no chance for me. My family also gave me up. My limbs and body were swollen one-third larger than natural, water collected around my heart and I had to be propped up in bed to keep from smothering. I took Dr. Miles Heart Remedy and was entirely cured. My cure was certainly marvelous.’
–L. Turley Curd”
    Come on; surely their advertising department could have invented a better name than that!
    A lengthy letter from E. M. Noble, Caroline County Superintendent of Schools, was published on January 15. Most of its contents continue to be relevant today.
   “Only where parents and teachers are allied closely in educating the young can the schools do their best work. Theoretically, this is pretty well understood and quite generally approved. In practice, however, the conditions are still far from satisfactory. One thing is certain, that the outside world is making greater demands upon the time and interests of parents than ever before. At the same time, the schools have become a topic of great public importance, and that is a considerable gain.”
    He goes on to promote the need for cooperation between home and school through what he simply refers to as “an education association.” I’m sure he would be astounded if he could be transported to 2010 and witness the modern distractions for parents, teachers and students alike, and the fact that his message still rings fresh and almost desperate today.
    Did you think that free postal delivery has always been the right of every American?
   “The friends of the free delivery service were a long time gaining the ear of Congress, and the question was agitated many years before it received legislative approval. It was regarded by many as an impractical theory and iridescent dream, so to give it a trial, Congress, in 1897, appropriated the sum of $40,000, only $10,000 of which was used the first year. This appropriation met with such popular favor, and there was such a demand for rural delivery, that it was not only renewed but increased by 25 percent in 1899. [I am skipping the statistics for the following eleven years because there are clearly several misprints in the news report.]
   “It is in the last annual report of the Fourth Assistant Postmaster-General that on June 30, 1907 there were 37,728 rural delivery routes in operation, the average route being 24 miles. The carriers traveled daily over 901,068 miles, which is nearly half of the total mileage of the public roads of the United States. Every road over which these mails go is a United States post-road, and under the Constitution, Congress has authority, and in equity and justice it should contribute to their improvement and maintenance. While the extension of this service has been marvelous, it has been confined to communities blessed with good roads.”
   “According to last week’s papers, Arnold Hudson, a personage of mystery and seclusion known as ‘the Gumboro hermit,’ died recently alone in the woods. Hunters found the body. Years ago, Hudson, then a young businessman, was disappointed in a love affair and disappeared. Long afterward he was found in the depths of the Cypress Swamp, one of the most tangled and desolate places on the Peninsula, where he had built a cabin.
   “According to this week’s papers, Gumboro residents started back in fright on Monday when Hudson appeared on the streets. Hudson was greatly surprised when told that a body supposed to have been his had been found torn by buzzards. The aged man appeared very much alive and said he was very comfortable during the big blizzard. The hunters who found the body are wondering whose body it was. The authorities will make a thorough investigation.”
   “Commissioner J. Boon Dukes, Commissioner of the State Bureau of Immigration, reports: ‘We can state with pardonable pride that as a result of our work we brought many strangers into the state who invested nearly $3,000,000 in farmlands and who will help to make the State a beehive of industrious farmers.’”
    I’ll spare you the details of a story instructing how to pluck feathers from living geese in order to acquire the best material for bedding.
   “According to the Comptroller’s report, the State faces a deficit of $1,000,000. The Governor thinks the Legislature will hearken to the voice of the people to economize.”
    I wonder how that worked out.
   “‘No good can come from making flour white,’ declares Chemist Willey of the Department of Agriculture. ‘You cannot find any great amount of bleached flour going into interstate commerce now. I can tell the change by the bread. Every time I cut a loaf I rejoice because instead of having the whiteness of a corpse it has the beautiful delicate amber tint that all bread ought to have.
   “Cases are pending against millers, though the fight is made chiefly against the men who are selling the bleaching machinery. The millers would not fight it for a moment if it were left to them. They know that flour is injured by the process.
   “The wheat flour case will be fought by the best talent in this country and the most celebrated lawyers. A fund of $100,000 has been raised to defeat the Government’s contentions.”
   “Princess Anne will introduce woman suffrage at municipal elections, and right gallantly the paper of that town approves.”
   “Electric power companies are being formed in Pennsylvania and other eastern states which are thickly settled to supply light and power to farms.”
   “The Philadelphia Record speaks of the Peninsula as the ‘Fruit Paradise.’ Another name for this favored land, according to an old newspaper chronicler, was the ‘Garden of Eden.’”
   “The basis of assessment last year showed Maryland to be worth $820,831,339.”
   “Governor Crothers has completed two years of his term and has not signed one death warrant. The record is said to be without precedent.”
   “Cupid has caused so many inroads among the school teachers of Sussex County during the past three months that several schools were unable to open Monday on Account of the teachers in charge having been married.” [Only single females were permitted to teach in many areas.]
   “Dr. C. C. Harmonson, of Clayton, a well-known practicing physician, was almost frozen to death when he attempted to go into the country on an imperative sick call and became foundered in a snow bank. A searching partly found the doctor just in time to save him.”
   “The amount of food stuffs you could buy in 1896 for $1 now costs $1.61.”
   “Mr. F. G. Slemmer, Goldsboro, has patented a self-closing telegraph key, a device of great importance, long needed in every telegraph office. One of the greatest hindrances to the dispatch of business on many telegraph systems has always been the leaving open of keys by forgetful operators, who thus cut off all communication, sometimes for hours.”
   “There was wireless communication between Baltimore and Chicago on Monday last. It is said that the feat was as great as the sending of a wireless message across the ocean.”
   “Valentines are likely to be scarce this year. The greatest valentine manufacturing plant in the world, situated at Worcester, Massachusetts, was destroyed by fire a few days ago, together with most of the stock for the coming observance.”
    I have seen the following tale recorded in the literature of nearly every state, even in some foreign nations, always with the name of a local town as the place where the incident occurred.
   “There was a half-witted youth of Bridgetown to whom the neighboring farmers liked to offer a penny and a nickel. Gathered about him in a circle on market day, the farmers, one after another, would say, ‘Now which’ll yer have, Peter? Here’s a cent and here’s a nickel. Take yer choice.’
   “Peter would invariably choose the cent rather than the nickel, and the farmers would roar with laughter and slap their hips nosily.
   “‘Peter,’ I said one day to the lunatic, ‘why is it that you always take the cent instead of the nickel?’
   “Peter grinned a very cunning grin. ‘Suppose I took the nickel,’ said he, ‘would I ever get a chance to take another one?’”

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