‘Watch parties’ kept track of the new year’s progress a century ago

Posted Dec. 28, 2008, at 7:07 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 10:38 a.m.

At around 11 p.m. on Dec. 31 a century ago, the calls began coming into Bangor’s telephone exchange. ”What time is it?” revelers shouted over the crackling line on that night long ago.

The Hello Girls of Bangor, as the local phone operators were called, kept busy for the next hour giving the exact time to anxious observers of the passing of 1908 who wanted to be absolutely correct in every particular. No one could sit back on the couch and watch Guy Lombardo on TV, while waiting for the ball to drop in Times Square (for only the second time in history that year).

At about the same time on that distant night, Ensign Arthur E. Armstrong was lining up his troops on Franklin Street. The Salvation Army band was about to march into history.

“They went over the Kenduskeag bridge and back, up Main street and back, and after a short service in West Market square, during which a crowd collected, they went into the Franklin Street barracks and held a watch service,” wrote a Bangor Daily News reporter for the next morning’s paper.

Conditions that year were perfect for “all the proper New Year traditions,” thought the

reporter. “The moon which was on the half full, an atmosphere with just enough sting to let one know that it was winter, and a blanket of clean white snow that covered the country made the true environment for the passing of an ‘old’ year.”

And of course there were the “watch parties.” From the mansions on Broadway to the dimly lit saloons in the Acre, people were watching for the New Year’s baby to officially arrive. Some parties of the high-tone sort were noted by the newspaper’s conscientious society editor, always on the lookout for bits of gossip.

Miss Madeline Clark on Fifth Street was giving a most enjoyable hearts party for her friends, who included an honored guest, Miss Marion Pendleton of Islesboro. Meanwhile, Miss Gladys B. Hutchings of Maple Street was giving a chafing dish supper followed by bridge in honor of Miss Ruth Hardy of Salem, Mass.

The event that received the most publicity was the annual reception and dance given by the Alpha Phi fraternity at Society Hall. A portion of Pullen’s orchestra directed by H.C. Sawyer was on hand. The party roared on at the Exchange Street ballroom until 1 a.m.

A reader can deduce from his comments that the Bangor Daily News reporter was not happy with the lukewarm enthusiasm Bangoreans had demonstrated on past New Year’s Eves, but this year was different. The church bells were rung. New Year’s Eve was a bigger event than ever before.

“For once in her history, Bangor realized Thursday night at midnight that a new year was being ushered in. The old was sped on his way and the new was greeted, vociferously, with horns and bells and general jubilation on the part of two thirds of the population who apparently were sitting up half the night for the event,” he wrote. “The ringing of the church bells at midnight was something that the town has needed for many anniversaries, but which it did not enjoy until last night.”

The celebration did not end with church bells. On New Year’s Day the revels continued. At Society Hall, the second “subscription assembly” of the season was held. The gowns were very handsome. Ten pieces of Pullen’s orchestra were on hand to furnish music and the ever-popular Kate Fitzgerald catered supper. The decorations were the same as had been used during the first subscription assembly a few days before.

A few blocks away, Miss Gladys Lowell gave a dance party at the Knights of Malta Hall in the Graham building in honor of Miss Mildred Horne of Vassar College. It was one of many parties that season written up in the Bangor press. Miss Lowell was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Waldo P. Lowell, one of the city’s wealthy lumbermen.

Presentations were made by Howard Philbrook, Robert Cruikshank, Wallace Parsons and Albert Gardner. Another portion of Pullen’s orchestra turned out to provide the entertainment. “The hall was most attractively decorated … and the picture was exceedingly pretty,” according to the society reporter for the Bangor Daily News on Jan. 2, 1909.

The college and prep school students would be returning to school in a day or two. A few more gala events would be held by their parents as the winter wore on, but the fevered pace of festivities had reached its pinnacle. Today, Society Hall, a survivor of the Great Fire of 1911 and Urban Renewal, sits dark and somber and full of ghosts, waiting to be rediscovered by a city that has very little use for such places and the kind of social events they witnessed.

Wayne E. Reilly may be reached at wer@bangordailynews.net.

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