WAYNE E. REILLY

Who was who in Bangor a century ago?

Posted Sept. 30, 2012, at 8:01 p.m.

Who was who in Bangor a century ago? I don’t mean the glittering socialites or the windiest politicos — the people who get their names in the newspaper all the time. I mean the really important people, the people who tried to keep their names out of the newspapers or ignored the newspapers completely because they had something else more important going on in their lives.

The reference book, “Who’s Who in America,” provided an answer to this question that was featured in the Bangor Daily Commercial on Aug. 31, 1912. The 16 Bangoreans who amounted to something were all men — white men as far as I can tell. They included eight theologians and clergymen, one college professor, two authors, two railway officials, one lawyer, one soldier and one businessman, according to the newspaper.

In 1912, the famous reference book was so new that the Commercial felt obligated to print its standards for admission to its August columns. There were two categories. The first was for people who “are selected on account of special prominence in creditable lines of effort.” Second were those who “are arbitrarily included on account of special positions” — governors, congressmen, judges, ambassadors and so on. No one paid to have his sketch included, unlike so many “men of progress” type books that were published in that era, which make very boring reading today.

“Names appear of those who are broadly prominent in some special field, but who are little known in their own communities,” explained the newspaper. That was for sure. While a few of the individuals listed were well known to Bangoreans, like Gen. Joseph Smith, the Civil War hero, and Frederick Cram, the railroad magnate, most would have been obscure. All of them are obscure today, or certainly not as well known as Paul Bunyan and Fan Jones.

The large number of theologians and clergymen listed was not a sign of Bangor’s piety. It reflected rather the important position Bangor Theological Seminary occupied in the nation at a time when institutionalized religion held near universal sway in society, and sermons still were published occasionally in the newspapers. The names of these scholarly souls have all but been forgotten. They included David N. Beach, seminary president, author and prohibition activist who was credited with prominence in the movement that “permanently rid Cambridge, Mass. of the saloon.”

Others were Calvin N. Clark, seminary history professor; Francis B. Denio, seminary professor of the Old Testament and an author; Henry L. Griffin, a seminary lecturer on comparative religion and secretary of the board of trustees as well as the minister of churches in Bangor and Brewer; Eugene W. Lyman, seminary professor of theology and author; Charles A. Moore, minister at the Central Congregational Church; Charles J. H. Ropes, seminary professor and librarian as well as author; and Joseph M. Warren, New Testament professor at the seminary.

The college professor listed was William E. Walz, dean and professor of the Maine School of Law of the University of Maine, then located in Bangor.

The two authors were Bangor natives Charles William Close and Frederick Hankerson Costello. Dr. Close, who had advanced degrees from Spiritual Science University in Chicago, was a practicing “mental healer” and editor and publisher of “The Free Man” (a monthly “New Thought” magazine) and “The Phrenopathic Journal.” He was also president of the Bangor Co-Operative Printing Co. and the author of several books on phrenopathy, the occult, esoteric thought, sexual law and other subjects that seem to have slipped through the intellectual cracks today.

Costello, the local agent for R.G. Dun & Co., a mercantile agency, was the author of adventure novels such as “Master Ardick, Buccaneer” and “Under the Rattlesnake Flag.” You won’t find many of his books in local libraries.

The two railway officials were important businessmen in the economy of all of eastern and northern Maine. They were Bangor native Franklin W. Cram and Percy R. Todd. Both men had served as president of the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad Co. since its founding a little over a decade ago.

The lawyer was Oscar F. Fellows, a member of the Maine House of Representatives, customs collector at Bucksport, Hancock County district attorney and counsel for the United States with the International St. John’s River Commission.

The soldier was Gen. Joseph S. Smith, who had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his role in the Civil War battle at Hatcher’s Run at the siege of Petersburg. Smith was well known in Bangor in the early part of the twentieth century for bringing famous generals to town to speak at Memorial Day exercises.

Finally, the lone businessman listed by Who’s Who (not counting the two railroad magnates) was Bangor native Henry Lord, a ship broker and ice manufacturer. He had held many civic and political positions, including president of the boards of trustees of the University of Maine and Westbrook Seminary, president of the Maine State Board of Trade and speaker of the Maine House and president of the Senate.

Former Bangoreans who had been on the list for 1910-11 were also mentioned. They included Samuel L. Boardman, journalist; Charles Hamlin, lawyer; Henrietta Gould Rowe, author; John Smith Sewall, seminary professor; Robert James Sprague, University of Maine professor; and Franklin Augustus Wilson, lawyer.

The Commercial noted somewhat condescendingly that Brewer, the little city across the river where several of the area’s most important industries were located, had only one name in Who’s Who. That was author and Maine lore scholar Fannie Hardy Eckstorm. Ironically, Mrs. Eckstorm is better known today than any of the names on Bangor’s list.

Wayne E. Reilly’s column on Bangor a century ago appears every other Monday. An illustrated collection, “Remembering Bangor: The Queen City Before the Great Fire,” is available where books are sold. Comments can be sent to him at wreilly.bdn@gmail.com.

 

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