WAYNE REILLY

New immigrants formed clubs in old Bangor

Posted Nov. 24, 2012, at 1:51 p.m.
Wayne Reilly
Wayne Reilly

BANGOR, Maine — On Thanksgiving afternoon, Nov. 28, 1912, a century ago this week, the Ancient Order of Hibernians held its annual Old Folks’ Card Party in its meeting hall at 107 Union St. Thirty-five tables were set up for 100 players. More than a score of spectators watched from the sidelines.

Nine games were played, and Thomas Comer and Dennis Murphy emerged as winners of the “pipe prizes.” M. Shaughnessy and J.J. Connelly were runners up. Cider, cigars and apples were distributed adding to the pleasure of the occasion, according to the Bangor Daily News.

Hugh T. Gallagher gave a short talk before the card playing began. The event sponsored by the Irish fraternal organization had two purposes, he said.

The first was to “extend our compliments to the old men of our race who reside within the city of Bangor or its neighboring towns.” These graybeards had “played an important part in the building of Bangor. For more than half a century, you have been in Bangor in considerable numbers.” These “old men” had won the respect and commendation of their “worthwhile ‘American’ neighbors and we take our hats off to you,” Gallagher said with a touch of sarcasm.

The second purpose of the meeting was to interest younger men of the city to become members of the Irish Catholic organization. Younger men of Irish lineage by then were mostly second, third and even fourth generation Irish-Americans. A few undoubtedly had cast off their religion, even their telltale names, if not their DNA, in an effort to join society’s mainstream. These youngsters were not so interested in Irish patriotism as they were in the economic opportunities and the technological wonders unfolding before their eyes in the new century.

The Ancient Order of Hibernians was only one of dozens of clubs, societies and organizations existing in Bangor during this period, but it was one of the few that was not dominated by moneyed Protestants. Many of the Irish had already made their mark in the business, political and social life of the Queen City of the East. A few of them had quite possibly even moved on from the AOH to establishment organizations such as the Tarratine and Madockawando clubs and the Bangor Yacht Club.

Now new ethnic and religious groups were entering the city in a vast wave of immigration. These newcomers were forming their own clubs, and they had no problem attracting members.

The most active organizers, as reflected in stories in the city’s two daily newspapers, were members of Bangor’s Eastern European immigrant population of the Jewish faith. A Young Men’s Hebrew Association was founded with 50 charter members, said the Bangor Daily News on Jan. 22, 1909. The meetings, held at Russell’s Hall, were intended to discuss political and social issues. The officers were I. Caplan, president; Charles Bernstein, vice president; Samuel Richardson, treasurer; and H. N. Taylor, secretary.

The next year, on Feb. 7, 1910, the Bangor Daily Commercial briefly described a meeting of “the Hebrew political club” to discuss upcoming municipal elections. It met at AOUW (Ancient Order of United Workmen) Hall at 121 Main St. The president was listed as M.R. Rosen with Max Cohen, vice president; A. B. Friedman, secretary; and Lewis Berger, treasurer. The organization, which claimed to be nonpartisan, picked representatives from each of the city’s election wards. More than a year later, the group endorsed Charles F. Sweet for mayor, according to the Bangor Daily News on March 6, 1911.

Bangor Jews also formed the Hebrew Relief Association to help Jewish people who arrived in the city penniless. Many of them could not speak English. Max Cohen was the president, said the Commercial on Dec. 26, 1911.

A few months later a Jewish fraternal organization, the Independent Order of Brith Sholom, was formed at a meeting “in the hall at the corner of York and Exchange streets,” said the Commercial on April 15, 1912. Its purpose was to provide insurance, promote naturalization and teach and inspire members “with motives of higher civilization.” Joseph Horowich was president.

Italians also organized a club with 30 members around this time. The purpose, as discussed at several planning meetings held at 286 Hancock St. in a hall “prettily decorated’ with pictures of Columbus and Washington, “was loyalty to country and religion with a secondary object that of sociability,” said the Bangor Daily News on Feb. 5, 1912.

Manzie I. Rogers was elected president, B. Pappa, vice president; Bernard A. Bove, secretary; and Charles Murray, treasurer. A board of trustees consisted of Michael De Maria, chairman, Michael Pecorelli, Domenic Gallante, Joseph Profita and Angelo Chiavazzi. Bove, who conducted the initial discussions about the group’s purpose, was described as a graduate of St. Mary’s College and a student at the University of Maine School of Law, then located in Bangor.

Religion and education needs probably motivated more groups to organize than the desire to socialize and pay homage to the mother country. Frequently, local institutions played a role in helping immigrants establish such groups. The YMCA decided to set up classes in English and other elementary subjects for Greeks and Italians like the night school it had already organized for Jews, said the Commercial on Sept. 22, 1910. Teaching the latter class was M. Horowich, “a bright young high school student.”

“About 100 Poles,” described as members of the Greek Catholic Church that met at the lecture room at the YMCA, had sent for a Russian Orthodox priest, Rev. Timothy J. Bondarenko of Salem, Mass., to conduct services in Bangor, said the Commercial on April 4, 1911.

Meanwhile, a Chinese Sunday school class at the Advent Christian Church on Center Street, consisting of about nine individuals, had raised $75 to pay for a new stained glass window for the church, which was being rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1911. That was in the Commercial on Nov. 5, 1912.

All these groups and others like them, some recognized in the newspapers and others ignored, formed and then disappeared when their purpose had expired. About 40 percent of the residents of Bangor in 1912 were either immigrants or the offspring of at least one immigrant. Today such ethnic and religious distinctions have become blurred or even forgotten by many. The idea of staying loyal to some far off country where one’s grandparents or great-grandparents lived sounds quaint indeed to many of us. That is unless we are recent immigrants.

Wayne E. Reilly’s column on Bangor a century ago appears in the newspaper 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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