Thursday, December 29, 2016

An Ohio Newspaper Looks at New Year’s Eve 1891

Since my blog readership is traditionally very low during the time between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, I don’t produce very much new content during that time period. Call it my Christmas Vacation.

Along those lines, however, it’s a good time to recycle an article that I wrote for what turned out to be the final edition of the Black Swamp Trader & Firelands Gazette in January 2015.

It’s a look back at the December 24, 1891 edition of the Napoleon, Ohio Democratic Northwest (shown above). The newspaper from Black Swamp country had such a whimsical look at the New Year that I decided to share some of its poems and short bits.

So here’s the article, courtesy of the Black Swamp Trader & Firelands Gazette. (I’m still hoping that the brown ink paper will return some day, as I enjoyed writing for it.)
Not the Same Auld Lang Syne: 
the New Year as Celebrated in an 1891 Ohio Newspaper
By Dan Brady

When the end of December comes around, today’s newspapers tend to run articles that make us glad that the year is almost over. For many papers, it’s a time to look back at the most newsworthy (and often depressing) happenings of both local and national importance. The deaths of noted celebrities during the past year are often highlighted as well. Predictably, many newspapers feature articles about the likelihood that most New Year’s resolutions will be broken.

Was it always like this? Well, in the late 1800s, at least one Ohio newspaper treated the arrival of the New Year with humor and whimsy. Let’s reset the hands on the clock back to New Year’s Eve, 1891 and make a resolution to chuckle and smile along with the readers of the Democratic Northwest – and get ourselves ready to face the New Year.
The Democratic Northwest of Napoleon, Ohio published a special Holiday Souvenir edition, “The Christmas Star,” for its readers on December 24, 1891. Mixed in with the Christmas-themed material were poems and items specifically about the New Year.
While the Christmas articles were heavy in religious or historical overtones, the New Year’s articles were for the most part light and breezy. One article, “Hints for New Year’s Day,” includes some suggestions that are fairly amusing, and others that are a bit racy. One hint even makes a topical reference to Julius Ludwig August Koch, a German psychiatrist who had recently published the first of three parts of his work on psychopathic inferiorities.
• Look not upon the wine list when it is read
• Don’t eat pie with your fingers; try your mouth – it tastes much better
• In conversation, slide over the weather chestnut and talk about Koch and his cure
• Don’t ask how many calls the young lady’s had; you should rather seek to discourage falsehood
• Don’t enter the parlor with muddy boots; you may be taken for a carpet-cleaner anxious for work
• Do not carry a cane; some of the ladies on whom you call may consider one stick at a call sufficient
• Have your boots nicely polished, providing conclusively that if you can’t shine at one end, you can at the other
• Don’t allow the young lady to help you to any one thing on the table more than twice; the third time help yourself
• Be sure you have your own hat and coat when leaving; this may not be for your financial aggrandizement, but it’s safer
• Refrain from spilling coffee down the back of your lady friend’s dress; her best young man may wear lavender trousers, and perhaps objects to having coffee spots upon them
Unlike today’s newspapers, “The Christmas Star” included many poems to entertain the readers. One clever poem – with its lines typeset to form the shape of a grandfather clock – humorously said good riddance to the Old Year. It is entitled, “To the Old Year – Time!” and can be read to the cadence of a swinging pendulum.
TICK, tick how quick time flies! The old year dies as slick as actors on the stage, but does not foam or rage. He simply flits – “gets up and gits,” because, you know, he’s got to go. And like a clock, which we here mock, he goes right on till he is gone. Good-by, Old year! We do not fear that you’ll come back. It would be queer; but now your bier draws very near, so clear the track! You’re now a chestnut, and we hope you’ll skedaddle. Scoot! Elope with bitter memories of the past. Move on, and don’t you dare to cast one shadow on the fair young face of him who soon will fill your place! Tick! Tick! How slow you fly, when we all want to see you die!
And yet we’re loath to have you go, for in another week or so the dread array of duns and hills, accompanied by divers bills will swoop down on us, both root and branch, like some resistless avalanche. But then, again, we bit you flit. Tick, tick, “git,” quick!
Another poem, “The New Year Interviewed,” offered a more thoughtful perspective on the New Year through the use of fantasy. A gentleman makes the acquaintance of the just-arrived New Year and notices his strong resemblance to the Old Year. This gives the man the opportunity to complain to the New Year how the Old Year was untrue to him, making promises that turned out to be false. The New Year wisely shows him the error of his reasoning, and points out what he can do to ensure twelve months of happiness: be a better citizen and help the downtrodden.
Now slowly strikes the twelve o’clock – midnight!
The moon has borrowed her full orb of light,
And who is this, with cold and silent mien,
With slow and noiseless step, come gliding in?
“Your face I’ve seen – ‘tis much like those of yore;
Have I not sometime met you here before?”
“Never before – have just alighted here;
You must have looked for me – the glad New Year.”
“But where’s that fellow so resembles you,
Who stole a year from me – had he got through?
A twelvemonth since what promises he made!
No sweeter thing fond lover could have said;
And has he really gone and left me? Say!
Perchance you may have met him on the way?”
“A glimpse I had of him – the gray Old Year –
He’ll scarce redeem his pledges now, I fear.”
“Gone like the rest, their flattering words all broken;
The pleasant things they said all falsely spoken.
Tell me, New Year, will you, as they, deceive me?
You look so like those faithless years, I fear
To trust again a promising New Year.”
“Before I answer, may I question you –
For now I claim the right to interview –
Have you to these lost years been always true?
“Have you not pleasure asked and madly sought it?
And now, too late, have learned you dearly bought it?
You lost the years, and much you lost beside them;
If they were robbed by you, should you deride them?
With wise advice they came – did you receive it?
No, alas, poor soul, you did not heed it!”
“Oh, say no more! You move me quite to tears;
I robbed myself and all those friendly years.”
“Though lost those years, e’en now a blessing send
To all the worthy poor who need a friend;
Lift up the fallen ones and bid them stand;
Offer to them that need a helping hand.
A prophecy I make – though not a seer –
That you shall fail not of a happy year.”
“Shake hands, New Year – thanks for this interview!
I ne’er will call another year untrue.”
The last page of “The Christmas Star” contains no less than three New Year’s-related articles, each with a different tone and attitude. In one, “Turning the New Leaf,” the author recites all the things he’s hoping to do during the New Year. Here’s one verse:
If you’re waking call me early, call me early, mother dear;
For I’ve a heap to resolute upon this glad New Year;
There’s lots of things I’m going to say that I’m a-going to do,
And I kind of hope in a thousand things I’ll manage to keep a few.
I’m going to do the very best that ever a fellow can,
And I will make no friendship with a very angry man.
Curiously, the last two New Year items have a darker tone than the others. In the poem, “Good-by, Old Year, Good-By,” (which can also be found in an 1886 volume of Good Housekeeping issues) the unknown author equates the end of the year with death. Here are the first three verses:
The bells ring slow, in muffled tone.
The chilling wind makes sadder moan.

The flowers are dead, and all must die –
Good by, Old Year, good-by!
The laughing streams run coldly now;
Stern winter reigns, with ice-crowned brow;
Fair summer is dead, and you must die –
Good by, Old Year, good-by!
Once you were young, but now you’re old;
Our youth can ne’er be bought with gold;
Your youth is dead; all youth must die –
Good by, Old Year, good-by!
The very last New Year piece is both haunting and thought-provoking. In “The Ghosts of New Year’s Eve,” the author uses the occasion to honor those who have passed, and welcomes their ghosts to his festive celebration. He writes, “Some of them, the nearest and dearest, have found a resting place on the wind-swept hills, where tall marbles gleam out whitely in the cold starlight. Sadder, still, others have drifted so far and wide that only a faint memory remains of what was. They are all here tonight, the living and the dead, mingling their voices with the gay music.”
After the celebration, the author bids farewell to the ghosts at the stroke of midnight, promising to watch for them each New Year’s Eve, and to happily welcome them back. It’s a gentle reminder to the readers to remember their departed loved ones.
More than a hundred and twenty years after “The Christmas Star” was printed, newspapers no longer entertain their readers with poems and stories written to amuse them, or make them think. More’s the pity. Perhaps the rich selection of holiday material in the December 24, 1891 Democratic Northwest helped its readers approach the New Year thoughtfully, and with hope and good cheer.

No comments: