Swimming holes, country rides helped Bangoreans beat the heat

Posted Aug. 16, 2009, at 6:48 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:26 a.m.

“BANGOR WILTED IN TERRIBLE HEAT,” said the Bangor Daily News on the morning of Aug. 9, 1909. “Over 100 degrees in Parts of the City, Fires in Essex Street — Three Horses Burned in Brewer.”

All stories like this started at the Queen City’s “official thermometer,” which was located at the East Side Pharmacy at 30 State St. The numbers told it all: 6 a.m., 83 degrees; noon, 94 degrees; 6 p.m., 82 degrees.

“SOME HOT! EH, WHAT?” responded the Bangor Daily Commercial that afternoon. “BANGOR DONE TO A TURN.”

Reporters waxed poetic over the summer’s first terribly hot day. “All through the forenoon the sky was like a great bowl of brass — not a cloud in sight, and a fiery sun beating down pitilessly upon the stifling city,” rhapsodized the BDN’s man on the scene.

It was said that at Pol’s corner, in sunny downtown where Main and Hammond streets joined, the thermometer reached 114 degrees. After a brief thunderstorm shortly after 2 p.m., “the city steamed like a gigantic Turkish bath.”

The whole business took on a decidedly smoky turn when the woods out on Essex Street burst into flames. Only about 10 acres were blackened thanks to the heroic effort of a little band of volunteers.

Then lightning hit the stables at the Eastern Manufacturing Co. in South Brewer, killing three horses, four hogs and some hens. Mill whistles droned dolefully, calling Brewer firefighters to work.

How did Bangoreans combat this tedious weather? They slept out of doors. They rode the open-sided trolley cars. They went swimming in the Penobscot River at the sand bank on the Brewer shore near the railroad bridge, or up at the Bangor boom. Out on the Kenduskeag

Stream, they swam at a multitude of places with names such as “slippery bottom” and “the stump.”

For a small fee, they could take excursion boats down the Penobscot to Bar Harbor or Islesboro, or trains to Old Orchard Beach or Moosehead. These excursion trains could become horribly crowded, pointed out the Bangor Daily News on Aug. 19, “until every car was congested with perspiring humanity; and women with red faces from standing and men with pale lips from swearing … did not serve to advertise the excursion in any way.”

If they had the money, Bangoreans took rides into the country in their carriages or autos. They went to their private clubs, such as the Conduskeag Canoe Club on the river in Hampden or the Niben Club on Pushaw Lake, or they spent a few days at their summer camps on nearby lakes or along the river or down on Islesboro or Hancock Point.

Or they dreamed about being the iceman. The Bangor Daily News, however, recently had exposed the myth that the iceman was perpetually cool and happy. “Did you ever think you would like to drive an ice cart during the hot days of July and August, and have the barefooted and freckled-faced youngsters chase you down the back streets and grab and hustle for the choppings and fragments of crystal coldness, as they fly from the cleaving ice, like sparks under the blows of the blacksmith’s hammer? Seems rather nice does it not, to sit in a seat that is upholstered and stuffed with solidified chunks of Penobscot River?” asked the editorial writer on July 17.

But the “real man who drives the real ice cart informs us privately that his summer task is a perpetual torture from the heat.” When you were not sweltering, you were freezing. A man needed to feel the sweat rolling down his back to be truly comfortable, wrote the newspaper sage. “So long as a man perspires like a fountain, he can enjoy himself in the hottest climate that was ever manufactured, while the man who sits in the breezy shade perched on top of an ice cake, swelters and shivers alternately, and finds nothing that will afford him relief.”

A summer problem for which the editorial writer had no solution was the dust that accumulated in the hot, dry days on the mostly unpaved roads at the edges of the city and beyond. “During the heat of dogdays on roads outside the limits of the watering cart, the dusts of hot August are serious obstacles to travel, particularly so if one is wearing his best clothes and riding in open carriages,” began an insightful editorial in the Bangor Daily News on Aug. 12.

When high winds prevailed, certain sections of road presented the appearance of a great fire viewed from a distance. Speeding automobiles also kept things stirred up. Nor was it good for the health to be pelted by “smarting and gritty clouds of pulverized loam and sand, all of which are shot through and permeated with odors, which suggest close contact with the stalls of the horse stable.”

These clouds of dirt and horse manure poisoned the air, covered fruit and vegetables growing near the roads, including the “second-crop clover” that was fed to “milch cows.” Road dust was “a breeding matrix for tuberculosis and other infectious and contagious maladies that are dangerous alike to man and beast.”

As if this was not enough, global warming had reared its ugly head as well a century ago. “IS OLD EARTH GROWING WARMER?” asked a headline in the Bangor Daily Commercial on Jan. 23. “Statistics Prove That Winters Are Not So Cold.” It’s nice to see that some things never change.

An illustrated collection of Wayne E. Reilly’s columns titled “Remembering Bangor: The Queen City Before the Great Fire” is available at bookstores. Comments about this column may be sent to him at wer@bangordailynews.net.

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