Hal Roth - October 2010


Old News from Delmarva:
October 1910
Hal Roth


On October 1, 1910, one newspaper editor waxed a bit poetic about the arrival of autumn on Delmarva.
“Its birth is almost but not quite due. If winter lingers in the lap of spring, summer clings to the skirts of fall. The nights grow cooler, but the sun shines hotly as if reluctant to leave us unscorched by day. So fickle a human race as we are, just as we tired of the tingling rigors of winter weather, which brought us Christmas and the exhilarating pleasures of skating and sleighing, and yearned that the earth would warm and be painted again with flowers, so there is now a common delight and sense of relief at the departure of the season we had longed for as bringing us Fourth of July, swimming, boating and the temporary vacation of duty, and we perfidiously welcome the advent of autumn nodding o’er the yellow plain.”
The summer of 1910 had not been a good one for Delmarva farmers.
“The driest summer on record has passed into history. It would seem to be impossible to produce a good corn crop in such a summer, and it may be set down as a certainty that the yield this year is to be short. As the corn supply has a direct influence on the pork product, it may be as safely predicted that hog meat will be quite high.
“We learn from the weather bureau that the total rainfall for the astronomical summer, which began on June 21 and ended September 22, was only 4.59 inches, but that is misleading. On the first day of September there was a local downpour, during which 1.52 inches fell. Certain sections were flooded while the dust was not even laid in others. Deducting that cloudburst, which did good to neither crops nor water supply systems, the real total for the summer was only 3.07 inches. The heaviest summer rainfall on record was in 1905, when there was a total of 21.33 inches.”
Despite the difficult summer of 1910, Maryland farmers apparently had a lot to be thankful for, according to a statement from Secretary Trappe of the United States Immigration Bureau, who had just returned from a trip to the West.
“From my observation the agricultural work in the states I have visited suffers much from the want of sufficient help. There is a general unrest among farmers in the Western States because of the big inducements the Canadian government makes to get settlers to Canada. Thousands who emigrated last year and who started into farming were struck by misfortune this year in so far as all their crops froze in the ground during August. Most of them are returning. I made a comparison of farming conditions in the West with those in Maryland and came to the conclusion that our state has by far more to offer than any other state east or south of the Rocky Mountains. It is our fine climate and good markets, the social conditions and the immense increase of population in the East that makes Maryland a desirable spot.”
It certainly seems strange today to read a newspaper article questioning which to choose: electricity or coal oil.
“This is a question asked by many people of Delmarva. It may seem an idle question to those who have always regarded electricity as an expensive luxury. Do you remember grandmother’s kindly dictum: ‘Better light the oil lamp, dear, it is cheaper?’
“There was reason for it in the bygone years when everything electrical was much dearer than now and when even rough figuring showed that lighting by oil lamp was much cheaper than by incandescent. Since that time the cost of current has steadily decreased, but thanks to the Standard Oil Company the price of oil has also gone down. So how do the two compare now?
“In grandmother’s day the comparison was merely as to the amount of light obtained at the lamp at the same cost, for the use of reflecting and diffusing mediums was then practically unknown. All logical comparisons today must be what comparative illumination can be obtained from each illuminant for the same money.”
The writer then compared the effectiveness of kerosene and kilowatts in 1910 and came to the conclusion that electricity was more efficient than the oil lamp, in some cases by a ratio as high as four to one.
An interesting confrontation occurred in October 1910 between Governor Austin L. Crothers and the Maryland Board of Police Commissioners. When the governor’s intention to suspend the board and replace them became known, the commissioners surrounded police headquarters with an armed guard. In retaliation, the governor issued an order to the state militia to mobilize with the intent of physically removing the board. In the end, wiser thinking on both sides averted a dangerous confrontation, and the matter was referred to the courts.

Dashes from Here and There
“Another victim has been called to the great beyond by that dread disease, pellagra. So far there have been little more than a score of cases in the United States, and two of these have been in Queen Anne’s County. The authorities declare that the disease can come from no other cause than the use of cornmeal that has become infested with rust.”
We know today that pellagra is a vitamin deficiency disease most commonly caused by a chronic lack of niacin (vitamin B3) in the diet. There was a connection to corn, but it was misunderstood at the time. Domesticated corn, when treated with lime, makes niacin nutritionally available. Pellagra became common when corn became a diet staple without the treatment.
“Texas statistics show that the death rate among colored people in that state is greater than the birth rate. Similar statistics from Indiana are also given. Tuberculosis is making the greatest inroads on the colored race. Without a radical change, observes the Baltimore News, the race is doomed to extinction. The voting lists in Maryland, however, are strong refutation of that prediction.”
“Harvey Lee, thirty-six years old, had trouble with his fiancé, so he jumped in the river off the stone bridge at Denton. He was pulled out before he could drown and sent home.”
“Sydney Noble, a 52-year-old married man, eloped with the 14-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Columbus F. Dunn, of Sussex. He was arrested last Saturday and lodged in Easton Jail.”
“The State road from Federalsburg to Hurlock is being oiled and sanded, and when completed will be one of the finest pikes in the country.”
Consider the distance between Wilmington, Delaware and Chestertown, Maryland when reading the next clipping.
“Fire broke out Monday night in Davis & Satterfield’s blacksmith shop in Chestertown, and in four hours had reached down a whole block and caused an estimated loss of $150,000. Wilmington firemen arrived at 10:30 and put a line of hose into the river. In an hour and a half they had conquered the flames.”
“By the 1900 census, the United States farmer is, collectively, the most wealthy capitalist the world has ever known.”
“Cold winter ahead, say the weather prophets.”
I suspect the typesetter intended to spell “gastritis” in the following statement. Either way, it has me a bit bewildered. I would be interested in an opinion from anyone in the medical profession.
“Gasitis is a disease which results from too much talking.”
Or does that clip belong in the humor department?
“The honk of the wild geese in their flights south has been heard lately, but they also have put too much faith in the weatherman.”
Just one of the perils faced by early drivers:
“Mr. J. W. Kelley, while cranking an automobile Tuesday, was struck on the right arm by the crank and suffered a compound fracture near the elbow.”
“The steamer Vesper, after having discharged her cargo, struck a log with her propeller at Greensboro on Saturday last and sank, a big hole being torn in the bottom.”
“Rural free delivery mail carriers on Delmarva have additional duties to perform and an opportunity to earn additional compensation hereafter. In accord with legislation enacted in the last session of Congress, they have been created notaries public by the United States Post Office Department and are required to execute vouchers for pensioners residing on their routes, for which service they will receive 25 cents for each voucher executed.”
“We can hear the gasoline boats early in the morning and late at night coming and going, catching the oysters, which are very delicious this season.”
“The great aviation meet to be held in Baltimore from November 2 to 8 will rival in interest and importance the international meet to be held at Belmont Park this month. Indications point to the presence in Baltimore of practically all the famous fliers who will participate in the international affair. Glenn Curtiss and his corps, the Wright brothers and their associates, the English team from the Royal Aero Club and other celebrated aviators have turned in their entries, and Count de Lesseps, Hubert Latham and others are expected to follow.”
“Talbot has a society, recently organized, to protect birds and wild game.”
“The diphtheria patients near Whitleysburg are improving. Their dwellings have been fumigated, and it is thought the danger is past.”
“A good coating of whitewash inside the house will help considerably in getting rid of vermin.”
“Physicians and parents are constantly inveighing against the unhealthful practice of the too rapid eating of meals. Bolting one’s food, they term it, and the dyspeptic horrors they conjure up as the result of such lack of judgment are terrifying in the extreme. Of equal importance to health is the eating of meals under tranquil and pleasant conditions.”
“A horse belonging to Mr. George W. Frank, near Centreville, had hydrophobia. When the animal was first taken, it was treated for St. Vitas dance. A luckless hen, which passed in front of the horse, was caught up and torn to shreds, and the suffering beast tore his own flesh horribly. The owner then shot him.”
“After having laid stone roads costing thousands of dollars, citizens of Milton are compelled to watch their roads going to ruin because they lack the money for repairs and because their town charter forbids them from raising the amount to pay for repairs by local taxation.”
“Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week were carnival and home-coming days at Dover. Governor Pennewill opened the festivities, which included airship flights. There were many Marylanders among the visitors.”
“Two performing bears, in charge of two Italians, excited the children of town on Tuesday last.”
Now read that again and help me to understand. The bears were in charge of the Italians? Did they make them dance, I wonder.
“Mrs. Annie Shorts, wife of Thomas Shorts of Greenwood, while riding alone near Frederica on Monday, cut her wrists with a razor and drank carbolic acid, dying three hours later.”
“Kent County imports of liquor for speakeasies will be called to the attention of federal authorities in hopes that they may be stopped.”
“A traveling salesman, who visits many sections, says Denton has more automobiles, according to size, than any other place on his route.”
“Street cars on Light Street in Baltimore will soon be a convenience, especially to Eastern Shoremen.”
Delmarva residents, traveling by steamboat to Baltimore, then having to walk from place to place, found it difficult to conclude their business in a single day.
“The Hillsboro Commissioners require automobilists to slow down to eight miles an hour when passing through town.”
“Many persons at Greensboro saw a light passing from west to east across the sky on Monday night last and conclude that it was an airship.”
“Lee Simpson, aged 18, of Trappe, died Wednesday from the effects of a football accident.”
“The town of Easton has gained nine in population in the past ten years.”
“Are you worried because your hair has recently begun to fall out? You need not be, for this is the human molting season, and your hair is only behaving naturally.”
“Scores of people in Ridgely, Greensboro and Denton are putting in electric light fixtures.”
On the crime front: “Arthur Benson, a colored bicyclist, was arrested and fined for riding on the sidewalk at night without a light.”
“Mr. Elwood Lane, of near Denton, was attacked on his way home by someone in ambush on the road, who fired a shot which wounded the horse. This is the second time Mr. Elwood has been attacked on the highway.”
“One of the most shocking cases is that against Norman Sharp, a full-blooded negro something over twenty-one years old. The charge was made by Willie Jester, a very young girl who lives in the vicinity of Bethlehem. She told the State’s Attorney and the grand jury of the negro’s abuse of her, accusing him of being the father of her dark-hued baby, born a few weeks ago. The severest penalty for the crime is death.”
Throughout much of our history, a crime committed by a black man commonly resulted in a quick decision and a maximum penalty, but the tide was beginning to turn a century ago. The preceding report appeared in an October 8, 1910 edition and the following was published a week later – a swift turnaround with a somewhat surprise ending.
“The case of the State against Norman Sharp, colored, on a charge brought by a white girl under fourteen years of age was disposed of quickly on Wednesday morning. The prisoner admitted guilt and was sentenced to eighteen months in the penitentiary for the offense. He also admitted the stealing of a watch, and six months were added to the sentence on that account. From admissions made by the prosecuting witnesses, the State was willing to accept a minimum sentence in both cases.”
The terms “rape,” “sex” – anything with a sexual connotation – were rarely printed in community newspapers until more recent years.
“A Seaford dispatch says that John Kelly, from Maryland, has been arrested on a grave charge preferred by Mrs. Minnie Truitt, who was in her husband’s store last Saturday night when attacked by Kelly. Frederick W. Dukes and Harry J. Coulbourn happened to be near, and Kelly was frightened away. He said he had been drinking and did not know what he was doing.”
“The circuit court of Caroline County will be convened on Monday next to try the case against Mrs. Minnie Morgan, whose husband, Mr. W. A. Morgan, died from a gunshot wound having been inflicted while husband and wife were scuffling over a gun, it is alleged, after Mr. Morgan had attacked and beaten her. Mrs. Morgan is now living with her father in Queen Anne’s County, having been released from Denton Jail by Judge Adkins on habeas corpus.”
To save you from the agony of suspense, Minnie was not tried until the following April, when the jury, after discussing the case for thirty minutes, found her not guilty.
“Two colored camp meetings in Dorchester and Caroline were scenes on Sunday of disgraceful rows. Two colored men were shot and one beaten into insensibility, and a deputy sheriff and his posse were forced to flee for their lives in Finchville. Deputy Sheriff Brinsfield had been tipped off that Texas, a colored roadster and desperate character, was on the ground and that a big crap game and whisky selling was going on. Sheriff Brinsfield deputized several men and proceeded to the camp meeting ground and located Texas and his gang. Texas spied the sheriff and opened fire. The bullets flew so thick and fast that Sheriff Brinsfield and his men fled across the field. Securing breech-loading guns, they returned and made another attack. Texas was shot down but managed to crawl in the woods and was spirited away by friends. Peter John was also shot, but he, too, escaped. Jack Frisbie was captured and lodged in Cambridge Jail.
“Sheriff Brinsfield expressed indignation at the report that he and his deputies ran away. He said they attempted to creep up on the rioters through the woods, but found a swamp prevented reaching them. They then took the road, where the negroes were acting in a disorderly manner, but the latter took to their heels when the posse was still at some distance, nor did a dozen shots serve to stop them, though one is said to have been hit in the heel.
“At Jonestown, in Caroline County, Thomas Strawberry was beaten into insensibility by Carl Jones. The fight occurred during preaching service, and Pastor Powell fled from the pulpit when one of the men appeared with a shotgun. The man fired, but no one was injured, and other men overpowered him and took his gun away. At St. Paul’s Camp, William Johnson was fatally shot by Wilmer Hammond. Johnson was shot in the stomach and died on the operating table in Cambridge Hospital.”
And, in parting, our usual look at some century-old humor:
“‘What constitutes flirtation?’ asked the young man of the women of the world,
“‘Attention without intention,’ replied the experienced one.”
“‘Yes,’ said the doctor as he stood at the bedside of the miser millionaire, ‘I can cure you for ninety-five dollars.’
“‘Can’t you shade that figure a little?’ wailed the miser. ‘The undertaker’s bid is a lot less.’”
“Guest: ‘Waiter, this meal is simply vile. I won’t pay for it. Where’s the proprietor?’
“Waiter: ‘I’m sorry, sir, he’s out to lunch.’”
“Mary was a buxom country lass, and her father was an upright deacon in their village church. Mary’s plan of joining the boys and girls in a nutting party was frustrated by the unexpected arrival of a number of the brethren, and Mary had to stay home and get dinner for her father’s guests. Her already ruffled temper was increased by the reverend visitors themselves, who sat about the stove in her way.
“One of the good ministers noticed the wrathful impatience and, desiring to rebuke the sinful manifestations, said sternly, ‘Mary, what do you think will be your occupation in hell?’
“‘Pretty much the same as it is on earth,’ she replied, ‘cooking for ministers.’”

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