War fever swept the nation a century ago. Civil war raged in Mexico. American sailors were arrested in Tampico on April 10, 1914. The U.S. Navy invaded Vera Cruz later that month. Some Americans were killed or wounded. Many civilians fled the country. American newspapers predicted war and a national debate ensued.
In Maine, one man who supported war was Gov. William Haines. A cartoon in the Bangor Daily Commercial portrayed the state’s chief executive decked out in Napoleonic regalia on horseback waving a sword.
Maine’s National Guard officers predicted troops from the Pine Tree State would soon be called up.
“The Second Regiment National Guard State of Maine will be under canvas within a week,” a military source told the Bangor Daily News on May 11. Company G expected to be called into service “any minute.”
Meanwhile, a steady drumbeat of stories about “Maine boys” — soldiers and civilian workers affected by the conflict — made their way into the newspapers.
Carl G. Smith, a Navy seaman from Tenants Harbor, was reported wounded in the fighting at Vera Cruz. Frank Garnsey, a member of the Bangor board of assessors, was worried about his brother, Frederick, who worked for the Mexican Herald, and his family, who had not been heard from in weeks.
A Bangor boy, Cpl. John L. McKinnon, sent a letter from Vera Cruz to his parents, who lived on Cedar Street, telling how snipers were picking off American soldiers.
Harold and Fred Barton, brothers from Hodgdon, fled their jobs working in the oil fields near Tampico. By horse and boat they narrowly escaped. Harold carried his violin wrapped in his overcoat.
A Dexter electrician, Ivan Skillings, who had been working in a mine near Mexico City, told of indignities and insults to American citizens. “His idea is that the only good Mexican is a dead Mexican,” related the Bangor Daily Commercial on May 18.
Amidst these tensions produced by this faraway conflict, Bangoreans were planning one of their most festive summers in history. The gaudy entertainments would be unmatched in the annals of the Queen City, the city’s boomers predicted.
Topping the list of events was definitely the Bangor Merchants’ Week and Summer Carnival. Initiated in 1912 to demonstrate to the world that Bangor was back in business after the great fire that destroyed much of the downtown the year before, the inaugural carnival had featured the first airplane flight over the city.
The carnival for 1914 opened Monday night, June 22, with circus acts located in several of Bangor’s spacious squares. Events included a hippodrome and a wild west show in Haymarket Square; a motordrome and a Ferris wheel in Post Office Square; diving girls, oriental exhibitions and a dance pavilion in Abbott Square; “the Working World, the first and original mechanical wonder that puzzles all spectators” in West Market Square; and A Night in Paris “with Miss Lucille, the $50,000 beauty” and Lyon’s Troupe of Alabama Minstrels “with a presentation of plantation life and songs” in Pickering Square.
An automobile parade was planned for Tuesday. A description of the Buick driven by Mrs. J. S. Dow containing seven “women passengers” gives an idea of the grandeur of this event: “The car was one mass of white paper chrysanthemums…. The ladies were attired in white summer gowns and carried lavender parasols of a handsome design matching the lavender in the decorations.”
That night “confetti throwing” created pandemonium throughout much of the downtown. Thousands of people surged back and forth in East and West Market Squares and on Main, Central and Harlow streets pelting each other with “gaily colored confetti and multi-colored streamers.”
“It was a general loosening up of the staid, conservative Bangor life,” commented the Bangor Daily Commercial. The Bangor Daily News added, “Not a drunken man was noticed.”
Equally thrilling events followed that week. A work-horse parade featured hundreds of “Bangor’s best horses” hauling ice wagons, firefighting equipment and other signs that Bangor was still a horse-drawn town.
During a “spar contest” in West Market Square, contestants armed with clubs stuffed with feathers astride a horizontal pole tried to knock each other to the ground.
A motorcycle “endurance run” on the unpaved roads between Bangor and Rockland pitted Harley-Davidsons, Thors and one Indian.
The carnival was not the only light-hearted event that summer. The social highlight was the “lawn fete” held at Elmbank, the Prentiss mansion with the beautiful gardens on Kenduskeag Avenue, to raise money for the Bangor Anti-Tuberculosis Society.
A professionally directed performance of Alice and Wonderland featuring local children attracted lots of proud parents. Gardening displays such as “Wonderland Lake” and a “garden within a garden” drew large crowds with deep pockets.
The list of entertainments seemed endless. The re-opening of Riverside Park, the trolley company’s outdoor theater on the Penobscot River in Hampden, featured “a smart musical comedy.” In Bangor, a circus would soon be arriving. Concerts, baseball games, races, movies and vaudeville acts too numerous to mention were also ahead.
If that was not enough, the events scheduled for the Fourth of July — including a five-mile swimming contest between Cecelia Friedburg and Esther Charm down the Penobscot between the Kenduskeag Stream and Riverside Park — would help cure anyone of boredom.
Nevertheless, the dark clouds of war still floated by and not even the people of Bangor could ignore them.
Toward the end of Carnival Week a story appeared in the Bangor Daily News indicating that delegates to an international conference seeking to end the chaos in Mexico had reached agreement. But the confused situation continued on until 1916, when troops from Bangor and other places were sent to quell the cross-border depredations of Pancho Villa, one of the protagonists in the struggle.
A much larger event was brought to the attention of Bangor newspaper readers on June 29, the Monday morning after the carnival ended. A large headline in the Bangor Daily News announced, ARCHDUKE FRANCIS AND WIFE MURDERED: Heir to the Austrian-Hungarian Throne….Shot to Death While Making Triumphant Progress Through the City of Sara Yevo — The Assassins Barely Escaped Being Lynched.
Even though this was the paper’s lead story, it is doubtful many people understood its significance or could even point to the city of “Sara Yevo” on a map. Only as European nations descended into war one after the other would certain events make clear how Americans were affected. Another debate would begin over whether they should enter a war that would dwarf the troubles in Mexico. By then, Bangoreans would look back nostalgically on the evanescent moments of Carnival Week, 1914 and the other entertainments of a simpler time.
Wayne E. Reilly’s column on Bangor a century ago appears in the newspaper every other Monday.His latest book, “Hidden History of Bangor: From Lumbering Days to the Progressive Era,” is available where books are sold. Comments can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.