Hal Roth: March 2006

Old News from Delmarva
100 Years Ago – The Local News
Hal Roth

     Last month we examined front-page news in a Delmarva newspaper a century ago. Unlike today, Page 1 typically showcased a collection of advertisements, short fiction stories and a smattering of humor and philosophical observations.
Entertainment and ads were the principal features in many of our journals in 1906, and community news was the other primary reason our grandfathers spent a dollar a year to subscribe.
      Under small captions that stated only a town’s name, or titles such as “Local Intelligence,” “News of the Neighborhood,” “Miscellaneous Matters,” “News Gleanings,” “Scraps,” “The Local Department,” “Minor Matters,” “Locals of Little Length,” “Personals and Social News,” “Brief Bits” and “Dashes Here and There,” the comings and goings, the lives and deaths of citizens were reported in a simple, matter-of-fact manner, moving from one tidbit to the next without benefit of caption or extra spacing. Community correspondents also managed to insert a little humor as well as editorial and commercial comment at times.
      The following intelligence from Whiteleysburg, excerpted from a March 1906 edition of the Denton Journal, is typical of community news the length and breadth of Delmarva a century ago.

Mr. Frank Longfellow met with an accident Saturday. His horse became frightened, ran away and entirely demolished his new buggy.
Miss Edna Nichols entertained a number of her young friends Friday evening in honor of her guest, Miss Sadie Cherry.
Mr. Jonathan Longfellow has been critically ill at his home.
Miss Emma Steward has returned home after visiting Snow Hill friends.
Miss Florence Hall spent Saturday and Sunday with her parents.

     Electricity would not arrive in some communities on Delmarva for another forty years. There were no motion picture theaters and no television. Home and community activities provided the bulk of entertainment, and pleasures were simple. Can you imagine a community turning out today and paying to hear “a Victor phonograph operated by an expert?”

     “Dot, the Miner’s Daughter” will be given in Masonic Hall by local talent on the evening of Easter Monday. The play––a temperance drama––will be given under the auspices of the Ladies’ Aid of the M. E. Church.
      A number of young Prestonians attended the Epworth League rally at Bethlehem last Wednesday evening.
      The Thursday Afternoon Club met at the home of Mrs. Bessie Noble this week.
      The Junior League of Denton M. E. Church will give an entertainment in the audience room of the church Monday evening, March 12. Program will consist of recitations and music by the Juniors, supplemented by members of the choir and the W. F. M. S. One of the attractions will be a Victor Phonograph operated by an expert. There will be a general admission fee of ten cents. Doors open at 7:00; entertainment begins at 7:45. All are cordially invited.
     “Resolved, that the General Assembly should pass the Haman Bill” was favored by Salisbury High School boys and opposed by Easton School boys in a debate on Tuesday last at Easton. The Easton speakers gained the decision.
     “Mr. Briggs of the Poultry Yard,” which was so well rendered here by local talent a few weeks ago, will, it is understood, be given again sometime this spring. The request for another rendition comes from many who could not hear it the first time because of inclement weather.
      Evangelists Etta Gibson, the singer of Tilghman’s Island, and Miss Bessie Jones of Henderson will conduct services at the Holiness Mission beginning Sunday, March 25th.
      Prof. and Mrs. H. H. Murphy entertained members of the Teachers’ Reading Circle on Saturday last, St. Patrick’s Day. After the usual lesson taken from Fisk’s Critical Period of American History, a short sketch of St. Patrick was read by Mr. J. F. Gelletly and was greatly enjoyed by those present. Stories of the Emerald Isle and jokes characteristic of the Irish were told by members of the Circle. The house was prettily decorated in green, and the guests wore shamrock boutonnieres. Refreshments were served at ten o’clock.
      Maryland Day exercises were observed yesterday at Preston Academy. An engraving, “Washington Resigning his Commission,” was hung with appropriate exercises.

     Shad and herring, which once migrated in great numbers into our rivers from the ocean each spring, were an important food item on Delmarva a hundred years ago, and the first catches of the season were eagerly anticipated and newsworthy.
      We think of fish stocking as a recent phenomena, but state hatcheries flourished in the late nineteenth century and stocked thousands of shad, perch and other species across the state. Unsuccessful attempts were even made to establish Atlantic salmon on the Eastern Shore.
And, of course, there were those who thought that fish were a God-given right, to be taken by any method that worked.

     Fisherman James Andrews, a few miles down the river, caught a shad several days ago.
      The season for hatching perch is at hand and Tuckahoe hatching station has been opened by Col. Thomas Hughlett and his assistants.
      It is said that dynamite is being used by fishermen in the upper waters of the Choptank and Tuckahoe Rivers. This is a very serious charge. If proven against the offenders it will put them in the penitentiary.

     March on Delmarva has always been capable of weather extremes. Consider these two items in consecutive editions:

     More disagreeable than any such period of the past winter was the weather of this week, and the very raw winds from the northeast, accompanied by snow and very cold rains, required extra precautions to avoid pneumonia.
      The spring-like weather is making some of our property owners anxious for improvements. Mr. S. C. Faulkner has erected a handsome porch to one of his houses and is having the whole house painted. This will add much to Main Street.

     Here is more of the Delmarva scene from March 1906. Because items follow so quickly, one upon the other, you will be tempted to rush through the reading. Take your time to learn more of the spirit, the mood and the values of those times.

     Mr. R. G. Auklane on Wednesday received a painful injury of the arm by a setscrew on a rapidly revolving shaft.
      Denton painters are busy.
      Some of the gunners are looking for jacksnipe.
      Come quickly gentle spring.
      Hartley now has telephone service.
      Talbot sportsmen are distributing stock quail.
      Robert Nichols, Herman Jester and C. Nelson McMahon, of Hynson, have gone to Philadelphia to secure employment.
      The fountain is running and the soda is even better this year than last. Enough said. Douglas Palace Drug Store.
      Town Commissioners have been stricken with the spirit of improvement and Hillsboro is to have paved sidewalks.
      Easton will have a hospital similar to that of Cambridge.
      The stockholders of the Gentleman’s Driving Park will meet at the office of Attorney Deweese next Saturday evening.
      Mr. W. T. Tuft is having a new roof put on his house.
      Isaac Winder, the colored murderer who escaped from jail on March 5th, was captured on the 20th. He will be hanged next Friday.
      Judge Martin has an old advertisement of a sale of Sharp’s Island, which took place in 1809. The tract then contained 700 acres. The area of the island is now less than 30 acres. In a few decades it will be entirely submerged. [And so it was.]
      While workmen were engaged in cutting railroad ties in the woods of Mr. Edward Rhodes, near Willoughby, Queen Anne’s County, last Saturday, they discovered a gold ring in the heart of an oak tree. The ring was in perfect condition, except that in sawing down the tree the saw had disfigured the set of the ring. How the ring became imbedded in the tree is a mystery, as the tree did not have a hollow in it. It is supposed that the ring was lost in the woods many years ago, and when the tree was the sprout of an acorn, the ring became encircled around it.
      In the magazine section of the Journal today the most noteworthy articles are: “Eighty-Sixth Birthday,” “Triumph for Root,” “In the Southland,” “History of Rain Drops,” “Destroying Gophers,” “Typhoid Fever on the Farm,” “The Law of the Frontier.”
      A one-armed man near Bear Station in one day last week cut and put up two and a half cords of wood. James Wilson, an industrious colored man of Dover, who lost both hands by the explosion of a cannon, is equally as remarkable. He is a successful well digger.
      The School Commissioners on Tuesday last decided to close the colored schools of the county on April 12th and the white schools on May 25th.
To those who have tried the harsh experiences of the city, and in whose memory there lingers, perhaps as faint, idealized pictures, some vision of the old home in the country, the cry of “back to the farm!” represents a hope. The tendency to rush to the city excites the amazement even of the one who at earlier days had answered the same call. The city offers to a certain mentality a reward more glittering than the country holds, a political and social power of which the country has no knowledge. Nor does the country need to regret this. It has its own rewards, and they are better than gold.
      Messrs. J. W. Kerr, William D. Uhler and William H. Deweese will soon establish a plant for the manufacture of cement building blocks. The plant will be located on Mr. Kerr’s farm. The manufacture of these blocks, which are made of sand, gravel, cement, etc., has become a great business in many parts of the country. There are many kinds of machines with which to make the blocks, and their products are of various sizes and styles, some of the best buildings of the country being made of them. A house built of this sand and cement block will, it is said, last for centuries.
      Road Engineer Uhler, by authority of the County Commissioners, has had about 75,000 bushels of marl excavated from the Choptank River by the mud machine, which has been at work for the government between Denton and Greensboro. This is the same excellent grade of road-building material with which several miles of first-class highways were constructed several years ago.
      Striving persistently to collect a small amount due the county on account of taxes, one of our good officials was recently estopped [sic] very effectually by a letter written in a feminine hand. It ran something like this. “We have been getting notices about ____’s taxes, amounting to 75 cents. He has been dead for seven years. If you have got anything against him, you will have to wait till you meet him in another world. His remains were put in the graveyard. Come and see for yourself. No more at present.”
      On Wednesday next a special train will be run over the M. D. & V. Road carrying lecturers, who will talk on subjects of interest to farmers, stops at principal stations being made for that purpose. The meeting at Denton Depot will be at 2:30 p.m.; at Downes at 4:15; at Hickman, 12:30.
      Master Clifford Ranghley narrowly escaped being seriously injured last Saturday morning, The horse that he was driving became unmanageable, ran away, throwing Clifford out and badly damaging the carriage.
      Seaford has decided against electric lights. [I would like to know the rest of that story.]
      The ice crop is a failure.
      Now is a good time to subscribe.
      Mr. W. T. Hignutt has two of the finest wheat fields between Federalsburg and Denton.
      An epidemic of measles in a mild form prevails hereabout.
      [Who would ever have guessed that this would be a problem?] Because of the growing scarcity of good match timber, matches are being made in vast numbers of paper rolled spirally and dipped in wax or stearin.”
      An exhibit added to the collection at the Maryland Academy of Sciences, which has recently been completed, will prove of interest to students and lovers of Indian lore. The exhibit includes the skeletons of two Indians, says the Baltimore American. They were magnificent specimens. One from a mound near the Choptank River was about eight feet in height.
      The hour was divided into sixty minutes because no other small number has as many divisions as sixty. It can be evenly divided by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 15, 20 and 30.
      A city man was showing a country cousin through the Metropolitan Museum. “See that bunch of old Egyptian coins over there,” he said, pointing to one of the showcases. “Well, every one of those coins is over three thousand years old.” “Quit yer kiddin’,” retorted the countryman. “Why, it’s only 1906 now.”
      Insomnia is a poor substitute for an alarm clock.
      What reason could not avoid has often been cured by delay.
      Patting yourself on the back is a difficult task––seldom done gracefully.
      Love does not ask for perfections; it asks only for its own. You cannot propitiate it with gifts or satisfy it with all virtues if you cannot pay it back value for value in its own coin, and if this tribute be paid, it will forgive every weakness.
     “I will work night and day to make you happy,” he said. “No,” she answered thoughtfully, “don’t do that. Just work during the day and stay at home at night.”
We should make a rich personality our great aim instead of a fat pocketbook. If the aim is directed toward the pocketbook, the head will suffer, the heart will starve, and the life will deteriorate.

     As prices of everything from housing to a loaf of bread continue to skyrocket today, we might be tempted to view the financial scene in 1906 with some longing. A “fortune” then would make a good down payment on a waterfront condo today. And can you imagine paying more for a can of corn than for a can of oysters?

     A prominent lawyer from Baltimore was here Wednesday gathering information concerning the whereabouts of the Wilson heirs, who have inherited a fortune, a Miss Elmira Wilson having died in Baltimore some time ago leaving an estate valued at $100,000.
      No use looking like thirty cents when you can buy a good-looking ten dollar suit or overcoat for an even $5, or a swell $30 suit or overcoat for $15. Don’t miss the chance at Oehm’s Half Price Clearing Winter Sale.
      The latest patterns in Wall Paper, 5¢ a piece; Gilt, 8¢ a piece. Window Shades, 20¢ each.
Sugar: 5 cents a pound
Canned Corn: 8 cents
Canned Oysters: 5 cents
Corn Starch: 7 cents
Best Rice: 8 cents
Washing Soda: 3 cents
Soap: 2 cents
Fine Blended Coffee: 16 cents
Fresh Soda Crackers: 5 cents
Bottle of Vanilla: 5 cents
All Kinds Mixed Cakes: 15 cents
Country Bacon: 8 1/2 cents per pound
Sugar Cured Corn Beef: 10 cents per pound
Whole Hams: 12 cents per pound
Small End Cut Ham: 12 1/2 cents per pound
Large End Cut Ham: 12 1/4 cents per pound
      [But why the high cost of eggs? If the ad had not appeared in several March issues, I would have thought it was a misprint.] Eggs For Sale: Price $1.00 for 15 eggs. D. J. Givan, Hillsboro, Md.

     We certainly envy the prices he paid, but our great grandfather also complained about the cost of living:

     The reports of government statisticians and mercantile agencies all show that the cost of living has increased in the United States within the past few years, and the increase continues. A report gives prices for a selected list of articles for an average family as quoted by representative merchants for the month of June last. These reports have been made every year from 1898 to 1905, and they show a progressive increase of prices throughout the period of eight years. In 1898 the test bill of supplies amounted to $18.14, while in 1905 it had increased to $21.15 for the same supplies. The increase is 16.8 percent.

     And I am certain you prefer today’s salaries to those in 1906. I found few ads with job offers, but one placed by an out-of-state business seeking district managers for Delmarva offered a salary of $18 a week, and a comment in one March edition of the Journal cited $3 a week as common pay for women.

You can reach Hal Roth at nanbk@dmv.com