Hal Roth: February 2006

Old News from Delmarva
Page 1 News A Century Ago
Hal Roth

     In February 1906 the Denton Journal was published weekly––every Saturday morning––and contained eight pages. The price of an annual subscription was $1.00, “in advance.”
      Small town news priorities were a little different on Delmarva a hundred years ago. The first half of page 1, top to bottom, contained advertisements.
      On February 3, 1906, Winfield R. Wright’s remnant sale dominated nearly a quarter of the page, followed by pitches for B. & B. Oil Heaters and Dolly Madison Shoes.
     “For Tender Feet,” the lead line for Dolly Madison read, above the drawing of a shoe that looked very much like a high-heeled combat boot and cost $3.00. “The comfort of a woman’s shoe,” the ad continued, “depends largely on the flexibility of its sole.”
      There was an illustrated advertisement for New Holland feed crushers. Hughes Lumber and Coal Company offered berry cups, berry crates, trays, boxes and baskets, while W. W. Dukes promised “the VERY lowest prices” for their two-horse wagons, two-horse spring dearborns, one-horse dearborns, top buggies, runabouts, road carts and surreys.
      R. T. Carter made a pitch for life and fire insurance, and James T. Cooper and Willoughby Nowell, undertakers, ran competing, side-by-side ads with identical drawings of a horse-drawn hearse.
      Later in the month a fertilizer ad made page 1, and James King & Company of Baltimore bought space to plug their vehicles and horses. “Our reference,” King boasted, “is EVERYBODY.” Readers were advised to clip the ad and bring it with them to “get one of our Special Piano Top Buggles [sic] for $34.75.” Additional commercial notices could be found on most of the other pages.
      A short story or two followed the ads. The fiction, apparently reprinted from major magazines of the day, was generally well written.
     “The Retreat of Ensign Beebe,” authored by Alice Louise Lee, began: “Ensign Beebe turned to Hymn 160, gathered himself together and arose. It was a process worthy of note, a gradual unfolding, as it were, of bone and muscle, joint by joint until the result stood six feet four, his bare crown brushing the cobwebs from the ceiling.
     “His heavy bass voice rumbled against the windows, an unintelligible roar taking the place of any word which he failed to see distinctly….”
      An assortment of human interest, philosophy and humor completed page 1. Here is a sampling of what our grandfathers were reading in February 1906.

The Gem of the Collection

     A distinguished visitor had been going over the museum of a little country town, and when about to leave he asked the curator if there was anything more to be seen.
     “Yes, sir,” was the reply, “there remains a little casket.”
     “No doubt used as a deposit for the jewelry of some eminent personage?” inquired the gentleman.
     “No, sir; that is where I put the tips given to me by visitors to the museum.”

     “Was it necessary for you to kiss my daughter the very first time you met her?”
     “No, madam, not absolutely necessary, but I wanted to get on a friendly basis with her as soon as possible.”

Frost Makes Fat Turkeys

     “Cold weather makes fat turkeys,” said the poulterer.
     “Because in a warm fall the ground keeps soft, the vegetation lingers on and the fields are full of worms and bugs. What’s the result? The result is that the turkeys tramp the tempting fields on long forages from sunrise till dark, eating the worms and bugs, which thin them, and walking all their soft and fine flesh into tough, stringy muscle. A cold fall, with early frosts and snows, freezes the ground and kills the bugs. Then the turkeys are not tempted to wander. They loaf in the farmyard, gorge an abundance of grain and put on flesh like a middle aged woman at a seashore hotel. But in a warm fall, hunting the irresistible bug, the turkeys do their fifteen to twenty miles regularly and become athletes. For athletic turkeys there is no public demand.”

     Not money but the love of it is the root of evil. The right use of money brings only good.

Mr. Gilder’s Judicious Reply

     The woman journalist was entertaining half a dozen Wellesley undergraduates at ten. It was an expensive tea, served in an expensive apartment. Plainly, the young woman journalist was doing well.
     “Yes, I am doing well,” she admitted. “I write fashions now. But when I was a high-class journalist, interviewing celebrities on my own hook, I couldn’t afford to give teas. These celebrities––if they would only talk! You visit them expecting to extract a twenty-five dollar story. You come away with a quarter one––or nothing. Once I sought out Richard Watson Gilder in order to get from him five or six columns on ‘Young Women in Literature.’ A fetching subject, eh? But, alas, Mr. Gilder wasn’t in a talkative mood, When I suggested this glorious topic to him, when I opened fire with the first question: ‘What is the chief requisite for a young woman entering the literary field?’ he replied, ‘Postage stamps.’”

     “He’s bragging that he doesn’t owe a cent to any man in the world.”
     “Well, he needn’t brag that he does not owe me.”
     “Why not?”
     “I’m doing the bragging for that.”

A Precise Answer

     Lawyers are supposed to be the most literal minded men,” said Elihu Root, “ but every now and then counsel in course of practice will encounter witnesses who can give them points in the matter of literal answers. An Irishman was called to testify in a damage suit arising out of the death of a man “at the hands of a bull,” so to speak.
     “Are we to understand, sir,” asked the prosecuting attorney, “that the deceased, Patrick Finnegan, was your father?”
     “He was till the bull killed him,” was the reply of the witness.

     “You must have money to be able to offer me so beautiful an engagement ring.”
     “Must have had money, you mean.”

The Way of Long Twilight

     On first thought it seems to be a rather paradoxical statement that the nearer we approach to the equator the shorter is that intermediate stage or transition from day to night and from night to day, which we call “twilight.” This being the case, however, the period of duration of “the dim, uncertain light” in all tropical countries is very short when compared with that of countries of high northern or southern latitude. The explanation is this: On the equator the sun’s path is at exact right angles with the horizon, The last beam of light fades from view when the sun is at 18 degrees below the horizon. This 18 degree mark is quickly reached at the equator for reasons given in the first sentence of this explanation. The further from the equator we get, the less become the angles which the sun’s course makes with the horizon and the longer the time required for him to reach the 18 degree mark; hence the longer period of twilight.

     Small brother (enthusiastically): “Oh, Grandma, Harry broke the record at the college contest!”
      Grandma: “Well, I declare, that boy is always breaking something. What will it cost to fix it, or will we have to get a new one?”

Christmas Waits in England

     Christmas waits are a very old institution. The word “wait” was originally the name for a musician or one who played on wind instruments. Waits were at first annexed to the king’s court and sounded the watch every night and in the winter paraded the streets to prevent lawlessness and theft. A regular company of waits was established at Exeter in 1100.
      The word is also thought to be connected with the old German “wacht,” a vigil or watching.
     “Waits” has also been considered as a corresponding word with the Scottish word “waith,” which meant wandering or roving, in allusion to the ancient “menstrales” [sic] of that country. A remnant of the custom still exists, for magistrates annually grant a certificate to a few musicians, generally blind men, who perambulate the streets at night during December, playing on violins the old Scottish melodies. At the beginning of the year they call upon the people whom they have serenaded and receive a small subscription.

     When there are sickness and trouble and mother is sent for, that is one occasion when no one notices she wears old-fashioned clothes.

At an Execution

     Sir Wemyss Reid wrote as follows of one of his early experiences as a reporter: “On the first occasion of witnessing an execution, as I stood trembling at the foot of the scaffold on which the victim was about to appear, I noticed an old reporter for whom I entertained a great personal respect pacing up and down beside me reading the New Testament.
     “In the passion of horror and pity that filled my young heart, I concluded that my friend was seeking spiritual comfort in view of the event in which we were about to take part as spectators and recorders. I said something to him about he horror of the act we were shortly to witness.
     “He looked up with a placid smile from his reading and said gently, ‘Yes, very sad, very sad; but let us be thankful it isn’t raining.’ And then he calmly returned to his daily reading of the word.”

     Occasionally, love affairs drag on so that Cupid disappears and Father Time takes his place.

Drove an Eighteen-in-hand

     Many years ago a well known New Yorker, one of the Livingston family, who had lived for may years in Florence, used to drive six-in-hand there every afternoon. He was a very eccentric individual and gradually increased the number of his horses until strangers in Florence would note with amazement every afternoon a white headed gentleman driving an extraordinary procession of horses harnessed together two and two, sometimes as many as eighteen. It was one of the sights of Florence. Old Mr. Livingston ran his team safely for a few years, but finally they bolted and ran away. Nothing could stop eighteen horses, and the smashup was something terrific. After that the authorities of Florence forbade Mr. Livingston to drive more than four, and in disgust he shook the dust of Florence from his feet and never returned.

     “Come, Willie,” said mother at the table, “sit up like a man.”
     “Why, mother,” replied Willie, “men sit down for their food; it’s only dogs that sit up.”

Even Persian Cats Purr

     Phoebe was the four-year-old daughter of a missionary to Persia, born in that land of oriental ease and hospitality, and her little mind was imbued with such ideas of mutual compliment and her little tongue so given to graces of speech that her New England grandmother had many a shock.
      The morning after the little girl arrived at her grandmother’s home, the old lady was brushing out Phoebe’s curls, gloating over her after the fashion of grandmothers.
     “My little phoebe bird!” she said over and over again.
     “Why do you call me Phoebe bird?” asked the child at last.
     “Here in America we have a bird that says ‘Phoebe! Phoebe!’” explained her grandmother.
      The child smiled, and her mother standing by, knew what was passing in Phoebe’s mind. Not so the grandmother, who finished her task reluctantly at last and then stooped down for a kiss.
     “In Persia,” said Phoebe in her most caressing tone, “we have one old cat who says ‘Dramma! Dramma!’”

     Elegance is something more than ease; it is more than a freedom from awkwardness or restraint. It implies, I conceive, a precision, a polish, a sparkling––spirited, yet delicate. ––Hazlitt

Battles in the Sea

     Fights between sharks and porpoises are said to be common in the waters around the Florida Keys, and the fishermen thereabout declare that the porpoise always wins and sends the shark, which usually begins the fight, scurrying away. The shark has to turn on its side to bite, and the nimble porpoise easily keeps out of reach of its snapping jaws and then jumps in and deals the shark tremendous slaps with its tail.

     If a man is saying anything he shouldn’t, and his wife gives him a little punch under the table, he takes it for an encore and says it again.

When to Measure the Foot

     Just before going abroad, one of the male leaders of New York society stepped into his boot maker’s place to get measured for several pairs of shoes for use during his tour. It was then comparatively early in the day, and the shoemaker, who prides himself upon his artistic work, asked his customer to defer the measuring of his toot until about 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
     “But why not measure me now?” asked the social leader, with some annoyance.
     “It is too early, sir,” was the reply. “Your foot has not yet acquired its size for the day. If I measured you now, the shoes would all be a little too small. Walking about on our feet as we do, sir, the feet grow, develop, swell––whatever you choose to call it––from rising time till about 3:00 in the afternoon. At 3:00 they have their full size for the day. They retain this size till we retire, when they shrink up again for the night. Hence, to have well fitting, comfortable shoes, it is necessary to be measured in the afternoon.”

     Jealousy is like enmity. The less said about it the better.

Self Acting Weapons

     A common story in Japan is to the effect that a Muramasa sword was once on a time pledged to a pawnbroker. The fellow thought this a fine opportunity to parade himself as a gentleman and, accordingly, on a festival day he wore the sword. Quarreling with some idle fellows, he essayed to use the weapon, but his unfamiliarity with it excited the derision of the bystanders, who unmercifully ridiculed his bungling manner. But the merriment of these individuals was short lived. The sword itself took the matter in hand, as though the taunts impugned its own skill, and soon laid low all its traducers. Then it turned against the unfortunate pawnbroker and killed him.
      Another story is the basis of a popular Japanese drama and tells of the adventures of a samurai with a strange sword, which he had borrowed from a pawnbroker. He lightly hit a man with the blade without apparently wounding him in the least. Some time after the man suddenly dropped dead, and it was found that the sword had inflicted a mortal wound even when it had scarcely drawn blood. Upon examination this was found to be a Muramasa, which, though coming from the dishonor of a pawnshop and carried in the hands of an incompetent, had thus made manifest its power.

     There is no path so steep as that of fame.

     The club all through life seems to be in the wrong hands.

     The meanest father that ever lived isn’t half as mean as the meanest husband.

     Don’t keep your eyes on the man you have just heard something bad about. It is more important that you keep them on your mouth.

     If your interest lay more in local and national news than in entertainment and ads, you had to dig deeper into the paper.

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