City greeted 1900's first hours quietly

Way Back When

History: New Year's Eve 1899 fell on a Sunday, and celebrations in the area were joyful but reserved, with many attending midnight Mass and other church services.

January 01, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

As the 19th century came to a close, a wag seriously proposed that the U.S. Patent Office be closed because everything mankind needed had been invented. And The Sun seemed to echo those sentiments in a New Year's Eve editorial:

"The year 1900 enjoys special distinction because it is the last year of the nineteenth century, the greatest century of human progress in all history. With the exception of mathematics and astronomy, all the sciences may be said to have been established in this nineteenth century. Nearly every material agency for the transaction of commerce and the comfort of men with which we are now familiar is a product of the nineteenth century.

"The use of steam for all purposes, and especially for steamships and locomotives, every commercial use of electricity, for transportation, for lighting, telegraphing, telephoning etc., belongs to the century that will begin its last stage Monday; all the agricultural machinery now in use, the sewing machine, the mechanical devices for setting type and printing newspapers and books and countless other inventions that have cheapened production, extended the use of luxuries to the masses and promoted the spread of intelligence, belong to this marvelous century and some of them to our own day and generation."

Whether the average Baltimorean thought about these weighty notions is unknown, as they prepared to attend midnight masses and other services.

"The mass, which was authorized by Pope Leo XIII," The Sun reported, "marks the beginning of the Holy Year, during which Rome will be the fountain head of all mercies for Catholics throughout the world."

With the mercury hovering near 17 degrees, "with a tendency to go lower," reported the newspaper, Baltimoreans traveling by streetcar were encouraged by the news that the United Railways Company had "decided to run cars over the all-night lines 15 minutes apart between midnight and 2 o'clock Monday morning giving persons who attend such services the chance of reaching their homes without the risk of waiting an hour or more for a car."

"It was Sunday night that saw the last of the Old Year, and for that reason the noise and acclaim which mark this annual disappearance were, perhaps, not as marked in Baltimore as they have been when his departure occurred on other days of the week."

The Sun reported crowds on downtown streets whose motive seemed only to remain up to the midnight hour "to shake hands with their friends and wish them `A Happy New Year.' "

At midnight, church bells rang, shots were fired in the air, and steamships and tugs in the harbor "did their best to show that they knew what was happening, the range of tone reaching from the tiniest steam whistle to the long-drawn, versatile blast of the gigantic siren," the newspaper said.

"And then, about 12: 05 o'clock this morning, all became quiet again and Baltimore went to bed, to awake today on the 1st of January to make and break good resolutions.

"The Old Year had gone to join his departed brothers and the New Year, bringing with him what no one knows, was here among us all -- a real thing, bearing good luck to some and ill luck to others, joy to many and sorrow, perhaps to more, but still, as ever, inspiring hope in the unfortunate, thankfulness in those better blessed and a feeling of happiness in everyone," said The Sun.

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