Hal Roth - March 2010
Old News from Delmarva:
Ah, the month of March: “The air is like a butterfly with frail blue wings,” wrote Joyce Kilmer. “The happy earth looks at the sky and sings.”
March 5, 1910: “The warm rains have added a shade of green to the landscape. The electric storm of Monday evening had the effect of waking the snakes, as a townsman decapitated one on Tuesday morning.”
Before the advent of paved roads, spring thaws made for difficult travel and, in 1910, for a revolt among citizens in northeast Dorchester County.
“For a long time past we have been asking our county for a few bushels of shells [to pave dirt roads], but so far they have never arrived, and we are wearing life away in desperate struggle to reach the neighboring town and depot [Federalsburg in Caroline County]. The past was dark and the future still holds that color, for our county ignores our pleas and leaves us to struggle on. But, alas, over the border from a sister county has moved a man who is awake to our needs, and he says we should transfer our homes to that county. He says it will be good for us. He promises good roads, and to show his sincerity he is circulating a petition to get the names of those who wish to transfer. We find the move he is making to be very popular, and many are joining with him. We who have not signed are in the same position the Celts were in when they wrote: ‘We are between the devil and the deep blue sea.’”
[I have a bad habit of occasionally interrupting stories to share bits of information my curiosity exhumes as I research and write. This time the journey took me back to the lore of Celtic Scotland. The first recorded citation I can find of “the Devil and the deep sea” is recorded in Robert Monro’s report of his expedition with the Scots’ regiment known as Mac-keyes in 1637: “I, with my partie, did lie on our poste, as betwixt the devill and the deep sea.” When the sea first turned blue is not recorded, but the phrase became popular when Cab Calloway recorded the song “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” in 1931.]
“As far as our thoughts are concerned, if we side with our county, our neighbors say we are working against our friends who wish to assist us, and if we side with this petition, we are breaking allegiance with the county we call home, but which our neighbors say never intends to help us. Is she going to allow part of her subjects to go to another county for the want of a few shells, or is she going to furnish the shells and regain the good will of these valuable taxpayers?”
There was much concern in 1910 about the high cost of living.
“There has been allegation that folks have been hurrying to town to live until the farms don’t realize enough to feed us all. The answer comes promptly, however, that we are raising more per capita of most primary agricultural products than ever before. Combinations of manufacturers, of transportation and of merchants are charged with great responsibility. The universality of the complaint points the need of finding a universal cause, and more and serious attention has been given by economists to the increasing supply of primary money metal – gold – as the universal cause.
“Without doubt, the increasing output of gold is an important factor, but there is an underlying cause in the changing conditions of living. We may call it extravagance, but it is not merely that. It is the effort of the people to appropriate their share of the advantages, the comforts, the luxuries, if you will, which modern industry, invention and science have made possible.
“At one side we see the powerful few, multifold devices of organization over capitalization, patent protected monopoly, subsidies, tariffs, privileges of all sorts seeking to control production. On the other side are millions, insistently reaching out for means to supply new needs, to indulge new ambitions, to gratify new tastes. The captain of finance exploits his industry by the process of overcapitalizing it in order to squeeze more profits from it, and his employees exploit it by enforcing demands for higher wages. The joint burden is laid on the consumer.”
Supporting the nation’s military, many felt, also weighed heavily on the economic problems of 1910.
“The average cost per year of the army and navy for eight years preceding the Spanish American War was $51,500,000 [about the cost of a single jet fighter plane today]. The average cost for the eight years since then amounts to the enormous sum of $185,400,000 annually. This increased cost of maintaining the country on a war footing is costing every family in the country $60 annually, which amount is contributed indirectly through the higher cost of living.”
On the legislative front, Senator Gorman expressed his opposition to a national amendment taxing income: “The tendency of the Supreme Court has invariably been to encroach upon State’s Rights, and under its decisions the National Government has been given many rights which were not intended for it to have by the framers of the Constitution. The Supreme Court says the State has the right to tax incomes, and I do not see any reason why we should give it to the Federal Government. In my opinion the Federal Government, through the tariff laws, internal revenues and other means of taxation has an abundance of means for collecting all the money necessary to defray the expenses of the Government.”
A Kent County legislator had another idea for filling the revenue coffers: “Mr. Willis has a bill providing that all able-bodied, unmarried male citizens between the ages of 25 and 40 years shall pay a yearly tax of three dollars, and those between the ages of 40 and 60 years shall pay a yearly tax of five dollars.”
I can just hear all the bachelors musing: “Let me see now, how much money can I save if I get married?”
On a still lighter note: “Uncle Sam has issued a proclamation to rural free delivery carriers in several localities, saying that they have grown altogether too ‘sporty,’ and their penchant for slaughtering rabbits and feathered game while on duty will have to stop at once or they will be dismissed from the service. They have been ordered not to carry guns in their dinky little carts, and the first carrier found with a weapon with elongated barrel designed for hunting purposes will have his official head lopped off. The Government excuses itself for depriving the poorly paid, hard-working and in most cases accommodating carriers of their wild family rations by standing behind what it says are complaints innumerable from patrons that their mail is delayed until late in the afternoon or evening or that they do not get it until the next day because the carrier is either trying to test his marksmanship or beat the high prices of the trusts by getting his share of nature’s supply of game.”
And all this time, ladies, you’ve been thinking that trying to keep young and beautiful was your own idea. You were wrong; it is your solemn duty!
“It is every woman’s duty to keep young as long as possible; unfortunately she does not always know the best way to live up to that duty. Avoid worry, hurry and getting flustered. Learn self-control. Anger is a rapid wrinkle bringer. Be temperate. Moderation does not only refer to the stomach. Overdoing in any way makes for premature age. Love the open air. Fresh air is not a fad; it is a necessity if one would keep young. Get plenty of sleep. Nothing lines the face like nights of wakefulness. Keep mentally alert. An intellectual back number [sic] adds years to your seeming age. Nothing makes for youth like a young mind save, perhaps, a young heart. Don’t let yourself get sluggish and indifferent. Here is where the benefit of massage, physical culture and vital interest in life comes in.”
You got that, girls?
Dashes from Here and There
“A frog chorus about nearly every little pond proclaims the arrival of spring.”
“As warm weather approaches, visions of ice bills alarm the housekeeper. My plan will diminish them. Take a shallow dish or basin and set in it the bottle of milk or the jar of butter. Wet a sugar bag, put it over the jar and let it extend into the basin, which must be filled with water. Then place all in a good draught of air. Capillary action keeps the cloth wet and rapid evaporation reduces the temperature. In this way I have kept bottled milk sweet for two days with temperatures of 80 degrees or over.”
“Farmers near Seaford are organizing a telephone company.”
“The Armour Company will bring about three hundred Polish operators to work in their plant at Ridgely this season. The company has already made large contracts for strawberries, and the local market will afford an ample supply no doubt for additional fruit.”
“Denton’s electric street lights will be in place before many months.”
“W. M. Wine’s sale of mules last Saturday brought a crowd, and good prices were realized.”
Road Engineer Paine started thirty-two Italians on the State work south of Denton on Thursday. Concrete bridges are now being made.”
“The people of Sharptown are exerting every effort that a law shall be passed compelling the Commissioners of Wicomico and Dorchester Counties to construct a bridge over the Nanticoke River there.”
“Builders are interested in the manufacture of a concrete brick to take the place of the clay brick. The concrete brick can be manufactured more quickly and cheaply at nearly any place, and it is more attractive in appearance than the ordinary brick and is said to be more durable.”
“Those who charge farmers with the responsibility for the high cost of living tell a fib.”
“Delegate Phillips has introduced a bill to pension Mr. Edward J. Emory, the oldest public school teacher in Queen Anne’s County.”
“Overjoyed by the news that the crew of the schooner Edgar C. Ross have all been saved from a watery grave and carried safe to South America, relatives and friends of the men living at Bethel, on the Nanticoke River, are planning a great surprise upon their return home. The homes will all be decorated with national colors, and a banner bearing ‘Welcome, Lost Ones’ will be conspicuously draped across the main street of the town.”
“The automatic telegraph system is to be brought down the Peninsula, it is said. The inauguration of service will realize a forty-year-old ambition of Patrick B. Delaney, the inventor of this system, which transmits from 2,000 to 5,000 words a minute over either a telegraph or a telephone wire at a cost to the user of one cent, half a cent and a quarter of a cent per word, covering all distances.”
“If a small quantity of chlorate of potash be powdered and mixed with an equal quantity of powdered sugar, a candle may be lighted by means of the mixture without matches. Place a little in the depression around the wick of a candle that has been previously used and then touch the mixture with a glass rod, the end of which has been dipped in oil of vitriol. It will burst into flame, lighting the candle.”
“By the vote of a majority of the 200,000 public school children of Maryland and approved by the State Board of Education, the Black-eyed Susan has been chosen as the State flower. This flower is well distributed in every county of the State, but the reason that weighed most strongly on the youthful voters was its gorgeous display of the Maryland colors, orange and black.”
“If the young men who are brought up on the farms do not want to stay there, it is up to them, but there are 200,000 more farms in the country now than there were ten years ago, and there are 6,000,000 of them now, with 30,000,000 people making a fine livelihood thereby. We cannot find it in our hearts to pity the ‘poor farmer.’ He is getting along all right, and if his son is wise he will stay by him.”
“Broom corn ought to be a profitable crop this year. Brooms are selling higher now than for years.”
“A sensation in potato growing has been created in the neighborhood of Ridgely, Md., or at Richardson, a suburb, by the discovery that potatoes grown in a barrel yield enormously.”
“An unusually bold chicken hawk a few days ago swooped down upon some young chicks in the lock of a fence near Mrs. Z. A. Cooper’s home. Mrs. Cooper happened to be standing near and sprang upon the fierce bird of prey, captured it before it had harmed her fowls and promptly pulled its head off.”
“Dread Murray, colored, who, it was charged, is in the habit of giving his wife an occasional beating, and who was convicted of that offense, was given ten sharp lashes on the bare back by Sheriff Chaffinch on Thursday. The officer was merciful, but when he finished the task he told Murray that it would be different the next time if the offense were the same.”
“It is said the great Panama Canal is more than half completed. There are now about thirty thousand men at work on the big waterway.”
“Mr. [Teddy] Roosevelt, the mighty African hunter, is now out of the jungles and will soon be on his way to America. His friends are getting ready for great jubilation and the making of a loud noise, and the big animals of the Dark Continent, too, ought to celebrate the event.”
“Among the cases coming up in the court will be that against Dr. J. B. Merritt, of Easton, and John Deen, also of that town. The charge against them is abortion.”
“The bill to allow women of Easton to vote at municipal elections has been defeated.”
“A hundred-room hotel is to be built at Love Point. The land is to be beautified and an additional and competing line of steamers is to be established.”
“It is said that the Eastern Shore counties have paid the highest death toll for years during the past three months.”
“Mr. Charles Herzog, the great ball player of Ridgely, is now practicing with the New York Giants at Marlin, Texas. The New York club is one of the best, and Mr. Herzog stands at the top. It is said his salary compares favorably with that of the Governor of Maryland.”
“Elijah Hoeffer, the Pennsylvania hermit who predicted the San Francisco earthquake and the recent Paris flood, comes forward with a startling announcement. He says: ‘Halley’s comet will collide with the earth between May 19 and 25, and this world will be swallowed up in a great conflagration.’”
I’ll bet folks were dancing in the streets when old Elijah missed that one. But give him credit for a .666 batting average. Charlie Herzog wasn’t that good.
“Under a new bill the high schools of the counties are to be divided into two groups. First group schools must have an enrollment of at least eighty pupils, nor fewer than four teachers. They must pay their principal not less than $1200 a year and provide four years of instruction, maintaining manual training, domestic science and commercial and agricultural courses. Second group schools must have an enrollment of at least thirty-five pupils, no fewer than two teachers, and must pay the principal not less than $1000 a year. They must provide for at least three years of instruction, which may be extended to four in the discretion of the county board, and they must maintain an agricultural, commercial or manual training course.”
“School commissioners have decided to close the white schools on May 27th and the colored schools on April 8th. The commissioners have petitioned the Legislature for the passage of a compulsory school attendance law for Caroline County.”
With interest growing by the month in new automobile models, it was only natural that the industry quickly moved to further mechanize farm equipment.
“The handy horseless vehicle is coming into agricultural use. One of the latest developments is the automobile truck for heavy hauling on the farm, where the patient ox teams drew the big loads in the past.”
American companies had designed a ponderous, coal-burning, steam locomotive some years earlier, which had been adapted to both threshing and plowing. The plows were drawn back and forth by a strong rope between two of the locomotives. And in Germany, a new gasoline plow was being perfected.
“The gasoline motor plow of the Gas Motor Works at Deuiz, near Cologne, is designed to take the place of the steam plow and is claimed to be an important advance in agricultural machinery. The single gasoline locomotive travels to and fro across the field, pulling one of its two multiple blade plows at each trip. Being reversible, with an equal pull in each direction, the locomotive avoids the trouble of turning around. From twelve to twenty-two acres can be plowed in twelve hours, and the driver does this with only occasional assistance from another man, while the steam plow requires the constant services of five men. Having only a fifth of the weight of the steam plow, the new machine needs no special permit for traveling on ordinary roads and bridges.”
Guys looking for gals? In 1910 the odds were in your favor.
“According to a report of the State Board of Health there are 10,000 more females than males in Maryland. The population of Maryland is 1,296,754. The estimated colored population is 257,596. A little less than one-half of the total population is in Baltimore City.”
The projected population for 2010 is 5,779,400.
And let us end with a sample of century-old humor.
“A married man ran away with a silly young girl, and after an exciting chase the elopers were captured and returned to their homes. Feeling ran high against the man, and a number of neighbors were sitting one evening discussing the case. Naturally, everybody had an idea as to what action should be taken against the married man.
“One suggested jail for life, another said ninety years in the penitentiary would do, and a third offered tar and feathers.
“A little man sitting in the corner looked up and smiled. ‘I have a scheme that will beat all of yours. Turn him over to his wife’s mother.’”
You can reach Hal Roth at email@example.com.