New Years Day in Columbus in 1909 dawned cold and clear and crisp. At midnight the temperature had read 16 degrees.
New Year's Day in Columbus in 1909 dawned cold and clear and crisp. At midnight the temperature had read 16 degrees.
But by 7 a.m. the thermometer had moved all the way up to 19. The several people who had planned to play a new year's round of golf at the local country club felt good about their prospects.
Or at least they felt better than their friends in Cleveland, where -- predictably -- snow was forecast.
Columbus at the beginning of 1909 was a city feeling reasonably good about itself. Although our forebears had a tendency to be a bit more circumspect about many things, in at least one sense they were far more to the point than is the case today.
An economic reversal was not called a recession or even a depression. It was called a panic. The Panic of 1907 had been a memorable one. But the worst of it was over and most people were at work.
New Year's Eve had been celebrated in fine form throughout the city. Parties had been held in people's homes, local clubs and lodges and in many of the churches of the capital city.
As a whole, the city celebrated New Year's Eve in a generally reasonable and safe manner. There were, however, as one might expect, a few exceptions to this general rule. Forest McCann achieved a certain distinction when he became the last person arrested in Columbus in 1908.
Stopped for brandishing two loaded revolvers at a policeman in a downtown livery stable, Mr. McCann was rather incongruously charged with carrying concealed weapons.
The first arrest of 1909 was a little more straightforward. Mrs. Margaret Chico was arrested at 1:10 a.m. on a charge of being more than a little intoxicated.
According to a newspaper account, "When Mrs. Chico is intoxicated; the sight of a policeman has an effect like unto the shaking of a red rag before a gentleman cow. She put up a desperate fight, trying to bite the officer ..."
Probably the most confusing aspect of New Year's Eve involved the blowing of steam whistles. It had been customary in Columbus for a number of years to blow whistles of all sorts at the stroke of midnight to usher in the new year.
This was a modern accompaniment to the church bells that had rung in the new year for generations and in fact still did. However, with the blowing of factory whistles, train whistles and honking horns, the bells were harder to hear than they once were.
None of this would have mattered much to most people if indeed everyone had blown their whistle at the same time. But such was not to be the case.
This was not because someone failed to blow a whistle at midnight. It was due to the fact there was no agreement as to when exactly midnight arrived.
As early as the 1870s, the railroads had determined that agreed-upon times across the country were needed if trains were to "run on time." Since 1883, that agreed-upon measurement was called "railroad time." But in many places, local areas continued to follow what was often called "sun time."
What this meant on New Year's Eve in Columbus was that at midnight on "railroad time," virtually every train whistle in the city was blown. Then, a few minutes later, just as many people had fallen back asleep, most of the other bells, horns and whistles in Columbus were sounded in recognition of a more traditional measurement of midnight.
The capital city was by no means alone in this clash of cacophonies. It was a difference of opinion that would not be completely eliminated until the Federal adoption of our modern system of time zones was adopted in 1918.
In any event it made for a lengthy conclusion to New Year's Eve.
New Year's Day in 1908 was a holiday for many people. But unlike our own time, it was not a holiday that was universally celebrated with a day off.
Most government offices, schools and financial institutions were closed. But many restaurants, theatres, markets and retail stores were open on New Year's Day. It was not a time for major sporting events, since the season for the favored outdoor American sports of baseball and football were long since over.
For the people who had a holiday, New Year's Day was a time to gather with family and friends and remember the past year while looking ahead to new times in a new year.
Some of those remembrances had a touch of tragedy about them.
One elderly resident of Columbus remembered New Year's Day 45 years earlier in 1863 in Columbus in the middle of the American Civil War:
"It was so warm that men went around in their short sleeves and dug up their old straw hats. But then in the evening there was a remarkable change. A cold wave struck the town and the temperature dropped away down below zero by midnight."
It was so cold that several prisoners of war at Camp Chase were frozen to death. Other cases were reported of people freezing. As it was New Year's, there were many "watch parties" and dances going on, and the ladies were so lightly dressed that they were, in many cases, obliged to stay in the halls or houses where they were all night long.
For the residents of Columbus of 1908, New Year's events had considerably less danger and more variety. For the more serious, a reception was held in the parlors of the First Congregational Church. Begun by the Rev. Washington Gladden more than 20 years earlier, it had become a popular annual event.
On a slightly more public note, a reception was held for incoming Gov. Judson Harmon at one of the great mansions along East Broad Street. More than one thousand persons had been invited and it was considered to be a successful beginning to the new administration.
On a lighter note, members and friends of the United Commercial Travelers spent the afternoon on New Year's Day at their headquarters on West Goodale Street. "Music and refreshments contributed to the enjoyment of the afternoon."
Most of the major clubs in the downtown had similar receptions as well. Probably the most interesting of these, to the uninvited, was the one held at the prestigious and private Columbus Club for members and their guests. For the benefit of those unable to attend, a local paper published the menu for the Club's annual new year's dinner. It was quite a repast.
Bisque of Clams
Olives Radishes Celery Almonds
Bouchees a la Reine
Timbales of Sweetbreads
Cutlets of Chicken with Peas
Kennebec Salmon Sauce Remoulade
Boned Turkey in Aspic
Galantine of Squab
Squab Guinea Pate Truffled
Baked Ham Roast Saddle Mutton
Roast Suckling Pig
Roast Turkey Smoked Tongue
Roast Ribs of Beef
Larded Saddle of Venison
Lobster a la Russe Mayonnaise of Chicken
Meringues a la Chantilly Marrons Parfait
Roman Punch Cakes Neapolitan Ice Cream
Assorted Cheeses Coffee
Happy New Year!
Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.