Before the modern supermarket and the big box store, and certainly long before the Bangor Mall, the Queen City of the East had its annual Food Fair and Winter Carnival. The purpose of the event, held at City Hall in 1913 a century ago, was to stir up business during the darkest days of the year when the city was locked in ice and cold and the idea of flying to Orlando was still science fiction. Fair-goers came by train from miles around.
The most impressive part of this festival was all the lights, courtesy of the Bangor Railway and Electric Company. Bangoreans were still fascinated by electric light bulbs. Six thousand of them, to be exact, were strung around downtown on top of the 2,000 that were already in use. The light show was a sure way to attract people from the many small towns all over eastern Maine, where the roads at night remained dark and gloomy.
BANGOR STREETS ARE TRANSFORMED INTO GLITTERING ELECTRIC LANES, said a headline in the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday, Feb. 2, the day the fair opened. “Bangor streets were flooded with electricity last night … and the business section blazed from one end to the other — a real electric fairyland. It was a gorgeous, spectacular display with the whole downtown district as the setting,” the reporter explained.
“In Exchange, Central and Main streets, in parts of State, Hammond and Broad, and in Postoffice and East Market squares, a row of incandescents has been strung every 20 feet, so that one walks or rides beneath a continuous canopy of yellow light. Then there is the White Way leading from Exchange Street across Kenduskeag Bridge to City Hall (then located at Hammond and Columbia streets). Fifty or more tall, white pillars … are grouped in this one lane, lining both sides. Each pillar is surmounted by a huge crystal globe and incandescents are strung between them — 800 or so in all.”
Individual institutions had also electrified the exteriors of their buildings with hundreds of more bulbs.
“The tall tower of City Hall and the Main Central station [Union Station] are outlined in light, the new Eastern Trust and Banking Building is crowned with electric festoons, and more are draped upon the building of the Merrill Trust Company. In Main Street, the handsome Christmas displays of the Besse-Ashworth Company, the E.C. Nichols Company, A. Langdon Freese and other big establishments will flash into life.” The impression made by this display is hard for us to imagine in an era when city lights blot out the stars.
The third annual Food Fair and Winter Carnival offered something new this year besides more lights. Vaudeville, the lively new entertainment that had taken over whole theaters in the Queen City in the past few years, was on stage at City Hall every afternoon and evening. First would be The “Kitamura Japs,” an acrobatic troupe offering “juggling, barrel kicking, contortionistic work and perch balancing” — all of this in “the most beautiful Japanese costumes.”
Next were Ollie Young and Adah April, “novelty manipulators” of bubbles. “They make soap bubbles do all kinds of unheard of stunts. They roll and bounce them all over the stage, as though the bubbles were made out of rubber,” reported the Bangor Daily News. Ollie and Adah also had a booth where they sold their bubble ingredients between acts.
Joe Decos acrobatic troupe provided a third act that included “two midgets,” who turned out to be two small boys.
By now, music had become a popular staple of the fair. Pullen’s Orchestra was performing, as was a new group, Miss Weston’s studio orchestra. Several other local musicians performed recitals and one young woman from Brewer, Miss Jeanette Croxford, demonstrated her skills as a “reader” of dramatic passages from literature.
The fair was sponsored by the local chapter of the United Commercial Travelers — an organization of traveling salesmen and the merchants who employed them. The lights and vaudeville acts and musical performances were strictly secondary to the fair’s main event — exhibits of various products, mostly food, in the City Hall auditorium and banquet hall.
Kellogg’s Toasted Corn Flakes, pasteurized milk, Kineo butter, Velvet tobacco, Liggett’s Opeko tea, Swift’s Premium Butterine, Moxie, King’s Puremalt, a nerve tonic, olives imported from Italy, Daniel Webster flour, Mapleine and Armour’s grape juice were among the products “demonstrated” or given away as samples.
For example, fish cutter Joseph Powers, an expert in “manufacturing boneless fish,” for Alfred Jones’ Sons, a Bangor fish processor with its own Grand Banks schooner, demonstrated the fileting process and took orders “to be processed through one’s grocer.”
A “pretty young lady” handed out samples of King’s Puremalt in “sanitary cups,” while Mrs. Mary Tracey demonstrated the merits of Daniel Webster flour by baking bread. Ahh, the smell of baking bread and a shot of Puremalt, which according to one website I found contained only six percent alcohol. Sounds like more fun than local supermarkets today.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.