July 16, 2020

Mainers didn’t mark 1900 with fanfare

BANGOR — One thing is immediately apparent when looking at the Bangor Daily News edition of Jan. 1, 1900, through the magic of microfilm. Folks back then were sticklers for accuracy when it came to counting years.

There was no banner headline welcoming a new century. No news of a blow-out party and fireworks along the river. No retrospective stories looking at the accomplishments of the previous century. Nothing to mark a major numerical turning point at all.

Squeezed in among single-column dispatches detailing the latest battle of the Boer War in South Africa and a Rockland-built schooner that ran aground on a breakwater off Gloucester, Mass., was a simple recounting of Pope Leo XIII’s New Year Eve Mass celebrated at midnight in Rome.

“This Mass was to consecrate the beginning of the closing year of the 19th century, as a midnight Mass on Dec. 31, 1900, will usher in with solemn ceremony the twentieth century,” read the passage.

The unnamed writer of the story then cleared up any lingering confusion over the when-does-a-century-end question.

“It will be seen that Pope Leo regards this as the closing year of the 19th century, rather than the beginning of the 20th century, as some people unaccountably view it.”

If the minicontroversy of 100 years ago seems charmingly familiar as the modern media rushes to prematurely trumpet the arrival of the new millennium, check out some of the other stories of New Year’s Day 1900:

Under the headline “Gov. Powers’s predictions for the coming year” ran these words from Llewellyn Powers, then Maine’s governor: “The last year of the 19th century will find the people of Maine enjoying unprecedented prosperity. … Every wage-earner who is able and willing to work can find profitable and constant employment at advanced prices.”

Replace the 19th with a 20th and you’ve got a speech current Gov. Angus King could borrow.

Inside the eight-page paper, a story lamented the crime rate in Maine during the previous year.

“Maine’s criminal record for 1899 is not one to be proud of,” wrote the unnamed reporter. “In the past year, only three months passed without a homicide. Seven of these manslayers have been convicted, three committed suicide, and one or two are yet at large.”

Compare the dozen homicides of a century ago with the current 1999 total of 25 and you see things are pretty much the same, when you factor in the state’s population has about doubled.

Under the headline “News of Bangor and Vicinity” ran a series of short items that could, with a few minor changes, be seen today. To wit: “A large party of Bangor bank men will spend today at Holbrook’s Pond on a fishing trip… Several Bangor people enjoyed great sport ice-boating at Green Lake Sunday… The mail carriers will make no deliveries today.”

Substitute ice-fishing for fishing and snowmobiling for ice-boating and our recreation preferences seem pretty much unchanged.

Naturally, a lot has changed over the years.

For instance, there was big news on Jan. 1, 1900, that Gen. Joshua Chamberlain had accepted an invitation to speak at the Sedgwick post of the Grand Army of the Republic. Both Chamberlain and the G.A.R. have long since been relegated to the history books.

Another story trumpeted the “Good Year for the Paper Industry.” The piece noted “old mills previously idle, have been started up under the pressure of demands.” And the writer noted the expectation surrounding the opening of a mill “of extraordinary size now in construction,” referring to the Great Northern Paper Mill in Millinocket.

At century’s end, the paper industry in Maine has been significantly downsized, and the Millinocket mill badly needs modernization.

Nothing points out 100 years of change like advertisements. On Jan. 1, 1900, the BDN ads hawked ladies high cut overshoes with button and buckle at a sale price of $1. Horse blankets were going for 75 cents, and Yale cigars could be had for a nickel. The biggest bargain, in retrospect, was the five-volume set of Rudyard Kipling’s works that went for $1.

It was on Jan. 1, 1901, that the BDN welcomed the new century under the page one headline “The End of the Century — Many Watch Meetings throughout New England,” referring to religous services held that auspicious night.

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