May 24, 2019

It was a happy New Year’s in 1903

BANGOR – One hundred years ago when a Bangor Daily News reporter looked back on 1903, he found that it had been, in general, a prosperous year. He consulted the mayor, merchants, bankers, the police chief and a theologian to arrive at his conclusion.

“Down here in Bangor,” he wrote, “we are all cuddled up for the winter. Nobody is going to steal our children. Coal is high, but not so high that it can’t be burned. We have plenty to eat. Violence isn’t abroad. We can go to bed early and sleep late. Money is in circulation. The wells and cisterns are full. They are working hard in the woods. Farmers are getting good prices for their products. In short, we do not have to worry, for the outlook is unusually bright.”

But many were still reeling that New Year’s Eve from the news of Dec. 30 that 564 people had perished in 10 minutes when the Iroquois Theatre in Chicago burned. The fire was caused by faulty electric wiring. Comedian Eddie Foy had ordered that the asbestos curtain be lowered, but it stuck half way down and created a strong draft, which caused the fire to spread rapidly until it reached gas lines and an explosion ensued.

When Bangor residents read the news, some began to wonder just how safe their own theaters and public halls were, but it did not stop hundreds from attending the Fireman’s Relief Association Concert and Ball at the old City Hall on New Year’s Eve.

Nor did it prevent two teams of young ladies from playing at the YMCA what may have been some of the first basketball games females ever played in Bangor. The winning team was from Bangor High School. The score was 10-1.

Bangor’s Mayor Beal had one thing on his mind when he looked toward the New Year – building bridges.

“One of the most interesting problems that Bangor has ever tried to solve,” he said, “will be worked out during 1904. It is the building of a new bridge, and the construction of another one across the Kenduskeag Stream.”

David Nelson Beach, president of Bangor Theological Seminary thought back on the old year and said, “In the Roman Catholic world, the death of Leo XIII removed one of the greatest and best of the long succession of popes, and called out a sympathy from all the world which augers much for the unity of Christian spirit. The choice of his successor, Pius X, appears to have been singularly wise. … There are religious conditions, undoubtedly, to cause regret and anxiety, and like a bugle note, to stir every earnest Christian to greater faith and larger activity.”

Police Chief Bowen sounded less optimistic.

“In the department,” he said, “the men have worked harder than they ever have before, and I suppose the official records will show an increase in the number of arrests. We had a troublesome period last March, but it soon passed, and for the remainder of the time there has been nothing out of the ordinary excepting the liquor raids.”

The annual report of the Fish and Game Commission concluded that the grand total of game killed and shipped through Bangor was 1,679 deer, 217 moose and 26 bears. The report also stated, “Among those who frequent the Maine woods in quest of antlered trophies, the fair sex has been quite in evidence, and among the army of hunters who have shipped deer and moose through Bangor during the season of 1903 have been 95 lady sportsmen.”

Bangor Public Library reported that there were plenty of new books in the stacks to help folks through the long winter evenings. Its very long list of new titles included “Cherry” by Booth Tarkington, “Adventures of Gerard” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Ambassadors” by Henry James, “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” by Kate Douglas Wiggin, and 42 volumes of the works of Voltaire.

But banker Edward G. Wyman of the First National Bank, summed it up best.

“I am looking forward to a brisk business for the next few months,” he said, “but I expect that when the time for the presidential nomination comes around people will begin to haul in their heads.”

Some things never change.

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