What life was like 100 years ago

December 29, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Zero year fear did not affect most local people in 1899.

Mother boards and microprocessors did not yet rule the world. Without computers to control and confuse their lives, people didn't think about a "Y2K" bug.

cont. from lifestyle

Mainstream society had no anxiety.

It was business as usual when the calendar page turned to 1900. Yawns and sighs probably greeted the quiet passing of that age. Much like today, people were more concerned with things material.

Ads indicate consumers were obsessed with fashion and health. Burhans & Co. often ran large ads on the left side of The Morning Herald's front page.


The company offered fancy articles such as silk hosiery, aprons, ribbons and dolls. The company often ran drawings showing "a Bodice of Silk Gauze" or "The Prettiest Spring Hat" or "a Fine Shirt Waist."

Ailments included catarrh (sinus infections), consumption (tuberculosis) dropsy (edema or swelling) and grippe (a cold). Suppliers offered everything from balms to pennyroyal pills. Otto's Cure and Paine's Celery Compound were among the alleged cure-alls.

Consider the warning of Dr. J.K. Kellogg, which appeared March 24. "Will All Soon Be Idiots Or Insane" topped the item. The doctor made a plea for "vegetarionism," saying that feeding men with meat is like feeding a steam engine with coal stones.

Kellogg suggested more healthy libations. "Many people today are habitually intoxicated on tea," the article reported him saying. "There is more poison in a single cup of tea than an entire glass of beer."

He warned humans will sink into oblivion without reform. The number of degenerates, insane people, imbeciles and lunatics was increasing, according to the doctor. In 1849, there were 600 of these among 1.5 million people. In 1899, there were 1,800, he said.

It was the year the Philippines revolted against U.S. rule, so readers frequently found dispatches from Manila on the front page. America's war with Spain was over, but Havana still was a hotbed for headlines. Yellow fever was in the South.

Helen Keller was setting bicycle records. On May 24, The Herald reported she traveled - in tandem - 28 miles without stopping.

The trip took two hours and 34 minutes. "Ms. Keller persists in riding fast and is quite indignant when either a halt or a slow pace is called for," the article stated.

The state was considering the sale of its stock in the C&O Canal and B&O Railroad. Maryland received about $1.5 million in war reparations for property damage during the Civil War. President William McKinley signed a $3.1-million appropriations bill March 4.

In Washington County, the free library was only a proposal that prominent community leaders touted. Williamsport chose electric lights over street lamps in a March election. Residents cast 804 votes.

Cumberland Valley Telephone Company planned to extend its system to Midvale. An envelope factory was planned in Hagerstown. The Douglas Brothers were trying to extend their electric railroad from Myersville, Md., to Hagerstown.

The town council approved the railway, but Mayor Schindel questioned its right to grant such a franchise to individuals. In June, Hagerstown set its municipal tax rate at 60 cents per $100 of assessed value, three cents more than in 1898. The county set its levy at 70 cents.

Baseball in Hagerstown

A plan to bring a baseball team to Hagerstown may have excited residents. The president of American League of Baseball clubs wrote The Herald of his intent to start a circuit of six clubs in Western Maryland.

Local education was considered paramount. The County School Institute started a weeklong conference at Court Hall Jan. 9. As the paper reported, "the standard of intelligence in Washington County is probably unexcelled by any other community, the United States or World."

The year's weather opened with a record-breaking cold snap. The temperature in January dropped to 10 degrees below zero on New Year's Day, disrupting trolleys.

The worst came Feb. 10, when the mercury plummeted to between 16 and 18 below.

But by spring, crowds were flocking to PenMar, the popular Cascade resort, which opened for the season June 25.

The Morning Herald was the result of an 1896 consolidation: The Morning News, established in 1873, and Daily Herald and Torch Light, established 1891. Differences in the newspaper reflect another era's values.

It was an eight-column, four-page broadsheet without bylines published six days a week, except Sundays. Yearly subscriptions were $3 and dailies cost a penny. A pound of English cream paper went for about 18 cents.

The copy was dense and wry and often sensational. "William Kenney Violently Insane," the June 23 edition reported.

"Kenney, aged about 23 years, who has been simple minded for some time, yesterday became violently insane on the street," the article stated. Before Kenney could be "taken in hand," he knocked another person down and threatened several lives.

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