Hal Roth - October 2009
Old News from Delmarva
A century ago the majority of newspapers on Delmarva were published weekly, on Saturday, and commonly contained four pages. There was little world or national news. Page one was typically half filled with advertisements, followed by a short fiction story or two and some humor. The remaining three sheets contained a wealth of local gossip, obituaries, church news and an abundance of advertisements. The “hard news” was often political in nature, and editors left no doubt as to their party affiliation, often brutalizing the opposition in print.
The automobile was becoming a more common sight on Delmarva roads in 1909 and was frequently mentioned. The mere purchase of one was enough to make the news.
“Prof. F. M. Noble has an automobile.”
“Captain Simon Hoddinot made the trip from Chestertown to Cambridge a few days ago in his automobile in about six hours.”
With the invention of anything that moves, it doesn’t take long for men to begin to race it…
“In the automobile races at Easton on Thursday, Col. A. W. Sisk, A. J. Messick, Alex. Noble and W. M. Wright were among the participants. Col. Sisk won one of the races.”
…or to wreck it.
“Rev. Thos. S. Holt’s automobile was ditched at Watts Creek on Thursday last. All occupants of the machine escaped unhurt.”
The horseless carriage quickly proved to be at least as deadly as the kick of the mightiest steed.
“Thomas J. Pennington, a merchant of Galena, who, while on business in Baltimore Saturday, was knocked down by a taxicab and died Sunday evening.”
But automobiles were not the only cause of traffic accidents:
“Two buggies were demolished, a horse injured and a man hurt in a street race in Greensboro a few days ago. William West, of Centreville, while driving out Railroad Avenue, was met by two racing teams, driven by Oscar Swain and Ralph Nichols. Swain was thrown from his buggy and painfully injured. West’s horse was hurt.”
With the increase of road traffic came an interest in better roads and bridges.
“One mile and a quarter of stone road, including the draw of Dover Bridge, will soon be built under the Shoemaker Act. The Shoemaker Act provides that where bridges conflict with the building of new roads, the state will bear its proportionable [sic] part to build the bridge, and in this way the Talbot side of Dover Bridge will be rebuilt of steel with a pivot draw. The most of the wooden bridge was replaced with a steel structure, principally on the Caroline side, some years ago. On the Caroline side the new road will have to be built sufficiently high to prevent overflow by the tides, which makes the present causeway so dangerous. The estimated cost to Talbot County will be $7,000 and the same to Caroline, while the state will pay about $14,000. One feature of the improvement in the road will be the cutting down of the high hill at the Talbot approach to the bridge. The dirt so taken will be used to fill in on the Caroline side.”
The following notice will puzzle many, but the public often became involved with the construction of early roads on Delmarva.
“Mr. Robt. Jarrell, Jr. has been and is still soliciting subscriptions to a ten percent fund for a state road from Sandy Island Bridge to Bright’s Corner. Quite a good many have subscribed.”
There was also a growing interest in air travel in 1909.
“It is said that the first line of airships to carry passengers will be put into service next month. The line will be from Paris to a city thirty miles distant.”
The reporter was, of course, speaking of dirigibles or dirigible balloons as the aircraft were often called. The Wright Brothers had made their first flights in a fixed-wing craft – the longest lasting 59 seconds and covering a distance of 852 feet – on December 17, 1903, less than six years earlier.
Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin inaugurated the first commercial airline on November 16, 1909. Between 1910 and the beginning of World War I in 1914, his “zeppelins” or “zepplins” carried 35,000 passengers around Germany.
In October 1909, the Denton Journal noted that the first airman to lose his life in flight had fallen to his death more than a century earlier.
“Jean François Pilatre de Rozier, who was born at Metz in 1756 and who was killed, a martyr to his zeal, by a fall from his balloon at Boulogne, France on June 15, 1795, was the first aeronaut to lose his life in the dangerous work of mastering the air.”
Other sources inform me that de Rozier, in the company of Marquis d’Arlandes, made the first manned flight in a hot-air balloon.
My article in the July 2009 issue of Tidewater Times, “To Limit the Right of Suffrage,” presented an overview of the movement that solidified in 1908 to disenfranchise the majority of African Americans living in Maryland.
In order to fully understand the following editorial, which addresses that issue, one needs to understand a little of Philippine history. The Treaty of Paris, ending the Spanish American War in 1898, transferred control of the Philippines to the United States. The Philippine Government, however, denied this arrangement and declared war against us. When the conflict officially ended in 1902, the Philippines became a territory of the United States, an arrangement that continued with varying degrees of control until after World War II.
This editorial should also dispel any notion that the media of old reported the news without bias. Many Maryland journals were blatantly outspoken on behalf of the Democratic Party, which was the power behind the attempt to disenfranchise the black voter.
“President Taft had restrictions placed upon the ignorant and irresponsible yellow people of the Philippines, but he is in favor of all sorts and conditions of negroes being on a level with the highest in Maryland. What he says is nothing short of this. Mr. Taft realizes that they [meaning the Republicans] need these votes in their business.
“The Baltimore Sun says: ‘The President, in a recent letter sent to this city, said that the pending franchise amendment to the Constitution of this State ‘is deliberately drawn to impose educational and other qualifications for the suffrage upon negroes and to exempt everybody else from such qualifications. This is a gross injustice and is a violation of the spirit of the Fifteenth Amendment.’ The President added the amendment should be voted down by everyone who is in favor of a ‘square deal.’
“Apparently the President is not in favor of a square deal for the illiterate Filipinos. For under the laws formulated and approved by the commission of which Mr. Taft was the head, only about one third of the adult male population of the islands is permitted to vote. The qualifications for voting fixed by Mr. Taft for these Filipino people in their own country are in some respects singularly similar to the qualifications fixed in the Maryland amendment, which he denounces. For many years while Mr. Taft was governor of the islands, the natives were not permitted to vote at all because it was contended that they were not prepared to exercise the right of suffrage intelligently. Here in Maryland, Mr. Taft is in favor of permitting the negroes to vote whether they are prepared to exercise the right of suffrage intelligently or not.”
October 1909 newspapers were filled with admonitions to the public to vote for the constitutional amendment and contained extremely negative comments against Maryland’s African American population. Following is one of many such statements:
“The sufficient reason why negro suffrage should be restricted is that the black race has demonstrated a peculiar phase of incapacity for self-government not exhibited by any other race. Not simply that a greater number of them are illiterate, for the educated negroes, of whom there are now quite a number, evidence this inherent defect with the same fatal persistence as do those who are grossly ignorant. With rare exceptions, negroes, literate and illiterate, are afflicted with a strange involuntary mental and moral self-abnegation of political freedom.”
“Vote for the amendment first, then vote for every man on the Democratic ticket,” was a commonly published admonishment in this month preceding the election.
Brief, commonly single-sentence announcements made up a large percentage of reported news a century ago, and often included a slyly injected advertisement or two. They were displayed in columns with the name of the community as the title.
“There are many rabbits and partridges in some sections.
“31 cents per dozen cash paid for hens’ eggs at W. J. Blackiston’s.
“Mr. James T. Sylvester brought to town one day last week a single sweet potato vine on which there were 43 potatoes.
“Easton’s first chrysanthemum show drew a big exhibit, which netted $200 for the benefit of the Aged Women’s Home.
“Mr. John T. Carter, who some time ago bought the Jack property on the Denton-Hillsboro Road, is improving it by erecting a dwelling there.
“Holly men are taking contracts for the making and delivery of holly wreathes during December. Making holly wreaths is a great industry in some sections of the Peninsula.
“John Bailey, a well-known colored man who resided in West Denton, took Paris green with suicidal intent on Wednesday night last and died on Thursday. Dr. Nichols was with him for quite a while before his death but could not save him.
“W. W. Dukes advertises lap robes and horse blankets.
“The pork crop on the Eastern Shore is short, and high prices will prevail.
“Mr. H. A. Roe has built a silo on the Potter farm.
“Sussex County farmers are more generally supplied with telephones than the farmers of other sections of the Peninsula.
“The tomato crop will be up to if not above normal. The canneries have been taxed to their utmost capacity for the past three weeks, and with delay of heavy frosts there will be another full week’s run.
“The will of Mrs. Eddy Jean, of New Orleans, provided for an industrial school at Chestertown, and an instructor at $650 per annum will be secured to teach sewing and cooking. The old Methodist parsonage has been rented for the purpose.
An offering of advice and philosophy could be found in most newspaper editions.
“The only sure cure for colds and cough is to avoid the infections and the foul air of ill-ventilated rooms and buildings in which they breed. Keep the body toned to fighting pitch by cold baths and an abundance of fresh air, especially in the bedroom.
Don’t tinker with symptoms; look for the cause and remove it. Don’t lock the stable door after the horse is stolen, but train your horse to bite strangers. Attack is the best defense. Keep your body at good fighting weight and you can defy disease. Sunlight, food, fresh air and exercise are the only sure cure-alls known. Don’t worry about disease and what to take when you’re sick, but work for health.”
“You will find it less easy to uproot faults than to choke them by gaining virtues. Do not think of your faults, still less of others’ faults. In every person who comes near you, look for what is good and strong. Honor that, rejoice in it, and, as you can, try to imitate it, and your faults will drop off like dead leaves in the autumn.”
And there was a story in October 1909 to stir the imaginative mind.
“The carcass of a strange being has been found near Burlington, N. J., and it is described by those who have seen it as the Jersey Devil, the creature that caused so much excitement in New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and parts of Maryland last winter. ‘It is impossible to identify the animal as any creature known to these parts of the world,’ declared Dr. A. L. Gordon, prominent local physician and authority on natural science after a thorough examination of the carcass. ‘There is not the least doubt as to the genuineness of the skeleton, which is that of an animal of the most unusual proportions. With legs as long as its body and peculiar bony hoofs in front, it must have stood nearly two feet high and have been possessed of a remarkable power of speed by enormous leaps.’”
Advertisements, of course, were a major feature of every newspaper edition. Some were brief and to the point, while others consumed a quarter page or more.
“The Talbot Bank of Easton is paying four percent interest quarterly on savings deposits.”
Dr. Wm. Smith boasted that he provided dentistry “in all its branches” at prices that could not be equaled in the city (meaning Baltimore) or elsewhere. “Artificial teeth,” his ad continued, “ – some want quality, others quantity. We can furnish teeth at any price.” You could make an appointment with Dr. Smith by phone or by mail. His phone number was 84.
The Easton Shirt Mfg. Co. advertised for “ten young ladies to make special parts on shirts. Those who desire to make a good weekly salary can do so by following instructions in our Sewing Department. Board in good homes can be secured at a very reasonable rate. New, high-speed machines, steam heat and all the conveniences of any City Sewing Room. Less expense than in a city and equal opportunities.”
A salary of three dollars per week was guaranteed.
Fall was the time to purchase a new suit, and newspapers carried large clothing store ads.
J. L. Everngam in Denton touted: “GETTING INTO THE RIGHT CLOTHES is merely a matter of coming to This Store. Our Stock surpasses by far all our efforts in the past in quality, quantity and value. LET US FIT YOU in a SCHLOSS SUIT that will reflect credit upon your taste.”
Men’s suits were advertised from $5 to $25; overcoats from $5 to $25; raincoats from $10 to $20. Youths’ suits, $5 to $18. Boys’ suits, $2 to $9. Boys’ overcoats, $2.50 to $10. Raincoats, $8.50 to $10.50. Ladies’ and misses’ tailor-made suits were offered in eight styles, prices ranging from $8.50 to $25. “Our MODELS are HIGH GRADE, PRICES MODERATE.”
James H. Nichols & Son, “The Big Corner Store,” posted competitive clothing prices, but a line at the bottom of their ad may puzzle you: “Highest prices paid for produce at all times. We pay cash for eggs.” A hundred years ago many stores stocked a very diversified line of merchandise.
A much smaller display for E. G. Cover & Bro., “Easton’s Best Store,” simply offered: “Ladies’ dress goods, Millinery, Suits, Men’s and Boys’ Clothing, Shoes for Everybody.”
Our humor today may be a lot more sophisticated than it was a hundred years ago, but we can still enjoy a chuckle or two when looking back.
“One of the hobbles of the old preacher was his use of long words, words that rolled out of his mouth melodiously and rang with incomprehensibility to the congregation. He devoted an extra long study to Webster one week, searching for particularly strong soul movers, and his sermon on Sunday bore eloquent fruit of his labor. It was ‘loaded to the guards’ with sin twisting jawbreakers. One word appealed to him particularly, the word ‘phenomenon,’ and he bore down on it hard and often. Brother Johnson was moved and wanted to know what ‘phenomenon’ meant.
“‘Brother Johnson, if you see a bird settin’ on a thistle and singin’, that ain’t no phenomenon. And if you see a cow eatin’ grass, that ain’t no phenomenon. But, Brother Johnson, if you should see a cow settin’ on a thistle singin’ like a bird, that thar would be a phenomenon. And now, Brother Johnson, your impertinent question has been explationated [sic].’”
“An old lady recently bargained with a cabman outside a railway station to take her into town. The sum being agreed upon, the dame returned into the station and soon reappeared with two parrots in a cage, which she handed to the cabman. Again she journeyed to the platform and brought out two cats. On a third trip she reappeared with a daintily dressed fox terrier. A fourth expedition was interrupted by the cabby, exclaiming: ‘Begging your pardon, ma’am, but you ain’t expecting a flood I hope.’”
This month’s column is the result of a number of requests from readers to present a summary of Delmarva news that appeared in local papers exactly a century ago. Let us know if you like this format.
You can reach Hal Roth at email@example.com