November 30, 2021

Turn of another century

Historians combing through back issues of the Bangor Daily News this New Year’s Eve should be prepared for a millenniun-size jolt. The BDN’s Jan. 1, 1900 edition was brimming with the usual news of war, crime, shipwrecks — even a statewide blizzard. But nowhere was mentioned the turn of the century.

That’s because our great-grandparents and newspaper editors throughout America didn’t count 1900 as the beginning of the new century. The newspaper’s Jan. 1, 1901 edition, on the other hand, chronicled how celebrants ushered in what they believed to be the start of the 20th century.

Just as with this evening’s festivities, there was much looking back, and ahead, on Dec. 31, 1900, as Mike Dowd found in a related story elsewhere in today’s edition. And while Maine was legally a dry state, no doubt the champagne flowed as freely as it will tonight in some places.

Boston bid adieu to the 19th century with “Twelve singing clarion blasts, exactly on the hour of midnight, blown by four sturdy trumpeters from the front balcony of the State house. …” the BDN reported.

“Maine’s metropolis [Portland] welcomed the new century with 12 strokes on the church bells connected with the fire alarm system and the ringing of the St. Lawrence church chimes,” the paper stated.

Religious services were widespread. The Rev. F.L. Hayward of the Old Town Methodist Church delivered a sermon titled, “The 20th Century, Its Demands and Opportunities.”

“The 20th century generation faces more magnificent opportunities, yet graver responsibilities, than were ever assumed by any people,” he said. “The 19th century created an immense system of commerce, transportation and communication … by which the people of the entire globe — good or bad — are crowded into one world neighborhood. We must live in it.”

The Rev. Hayward might be astounded today to return to a world filled with the good and bad of the post-sexual revolution, nuclear energy and the Internet.

Other headlines commented on the condition of the stock market (“buying power well maintained”), and a curious story datelined Saint John, New Brunswick, reporting on the ultimate New Year’s gift to 25 male and female inmates who were released from their cells.

Another article spoke of the new century’s “heavenly lights.” The century began without an evening star, Neptune invisible to the naked eye. The eastern sky, however, contained Orion “with the straight glow of three bright stars.”

A 20th century sale at Wood & Ewer clothiers advertised Persian cloth capes for $5.98 and colored silk waists for $2.98 each.

It was left to the BDN’s editorial page to get serious about the year just passed and the century to follow. In a piece titled “A year of gifts,” the writer commented that 1900 was “famous for its charity…”

“The Chicago Tribune has lately made an exhaustive study of the gifts donated in 1900,” the editorial stated. “Of those which have amounted to $1,000 or more the sum total is $60,264,030.”

Pretty good money for 1900. And a fine history lesson to the citizens of today as we all head into a new century, and a new millennium.

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