For those of you who are planning to use your last holiday tomorrow to finally address your Christmas cards – and are putting off implementation of your 2012 resolutions until you hear the last one has been received – you may be well and truly grateful that you did not live at the turn of the 20th century where etiquette demanded that you send New Year’s greeting in addition to Christmas cards. We have a fair sample of these from Margaret Edythe Young’s album and present them here for your pleasure along with the New Year’s headlines from the Galveston Daily News in order that you may savor the tenor of the times.
Margaret Edythe Young was born thirty years after the surrender at Appomattox and nearly a decade after the armed occupation of the South ended but that did not mean that THE WAR was by any means over. Radical elements in the Congress had as little regard for the Constitution then as they do today and still tried to bully their agenda through by spreading hate in the name of equality and labeling cupidity as justice.
Some of us tend to think of Galveston as having been there forever and while the spirit of the city may be immortal the city as an incorporated entity in its modern form was a result of the Texas Revolution that freed us from Mexico. The headlines and story from 1888 speak of a city that has only been incorporated for fifty years but that has grown and progressed as only the 19th century seemed to allow with its boundless optimism and generous risk reward ratios for efforts geared toward growth.
Most of us are used to the graphic newspapers that owe so much to what used to be called the “funny pages” with their splashes of color and graphics that present the “news” in much the fashion of the contemporary Houston Comical. There is no advertising on the from pages of these solemn repositories of all the news that’s print to fit but the 19th century Galveston Daily News had no inhibitions about filling a third or even half of its front page with paying copy from its business partners – at the risk of sacrilege one is tempted to belive that the general Resurrection might have been relegated to page two had Eiband’s had a particularly large sale. In 1889 evidence of the principal at work is given us courtesy of Blum’s.
Continuing in this same vein one of the constants on page one throughout the years was the entertainment at the Tremont Opera House which was open almost every night of the year.
Before we stray too far from the reason for Galveston’s prominence and precedence as the first city of Texas at the time it is well to remember that it owed all of its good fortune to the fact that it was a port and it was the infrastructure of the port that will occupy our next three extracts.
For those of us who have fished from them or hiked out to their end at low tide the proximity of the Gulf crashing a few feet to our right or left while we look back at the city to our left and watch the ocean-going commerce on our right makes for an exhilarating outing. Their construction was a massive undertaking and the fact that they have weather over a century of storms seems to say that they don’t do public engineering works like this anymore.
After all of this construction there was no doubt about the ability of the port to handle the largest vessels afloat and the new particulars of its capacities were front page news.
With deep water and big business and the expansion of the nation as a whole when we were challenged on the world stage we were prepared to meet the challenge. Those who derisively sneer at what they call jingoism would do well to remember the words, “We don’t want to fight, But by jingo is we do, We’ve got the men, We’ve got the ships, and We’ve got the money too.”
The magic of Christmas is rapidly followed by the less pleasant burden of paying property taxes in order that those of us who have paid for our homes may keep them and provide for those who can not or will not pay their fair share. The largest line item on the property tax bill is the assessment for schools and last week the tax collector was unable to tell me why the children become less well-educated as the taxes go up. We certainly have nothing to lose – and everything to gain – by putting the government on a very strict diet indeed but we are neither the first nor the last to realize this and unfortunately it seems to take a cataclysmic event to bring any beneficial change about. The teachers in 1903 – even without a union – were preaching the same nonsense then that they preach today and after a century of throwing money at schools we now have a graphics interface world that seems more reminiscent of La grotte Chauvet Pont d’Arc than either the centers of ancient learning or the reasoned discourse of the high middle ages.
With the dawn of the new century the age-old dream of manned flight had become a reality for Americans at Kittyhawk and the next two items will translate that faltering first step into the sure and steady progress that would land an American on the moon before the end of the century.
Part of the wisdom of aviation is that takeoffs are optional whereas landings are mandatory and nothing proved that more than the 1911 recounting of aircraft fatalities. If it had been up to the modern regulators we would never have flown – far too dangerous – and we would have missed out on such characters as Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan, a Galveston native, who worked at Ryan Aeronautical Company and helped to build Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis”. Later he piloted his own 1929 Curtiss Robin OX-5 monoplane named “Sunshine” from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York, to Ireland allegedly due to a “compass error” after being denied permission to fly that same trans-Atlantic route by the U.S. Bureau of Air Commerce many times before. There is nothing more tragic than the loss of someone brave enough to fly a plane unless that loss can be somehow mitigated by improvement of the safety for all of us who fly.
By 1912 “news” had chased the advertisers from the front page and where formerly most of the front page news had been of national or international import now Texas headlines began to appear with regularity. The calamity of a fire – always an attention getter that ranked right up there with natural disasters and murder – and a new railroad with a huge foreign capital infusion took over the two right hand columns while the left was left for more distant headlines.
If Woodrow Wilson had been conniving with the British to get us into World War I, and the historical record is conclusive that he had, our lack of preparedness bordered on the criminally negligent – bordered Hell! it had a residency permit! The headlines from 1918 show how unprepared we were and how many American boys lost their lives because of it has never been accounted for.
By 1919 the Armistice was nearly 60 days old and holding. Relief efforts had started. The horrors of Bolshevism and the diplomatic ineptitude that would lead us into the next war and a century of hot and cold wars were yet to come. For new years a collective sigh of relief could be breathed and the front page carried a caricature of a war-weary world emerging into the sunlight. It is the sort of thing a century later that we still hope for and judging by all of the great headlines when business and progress were the order of the day we know it is still possible – for Galveston and the world.