A century dawned

Way Back When

Festivities: Baltimoreans' first week of 1900 included ice skating, cake walks and glowing economic reports.

January 08, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

During the first day of the first week of 1900, Baltimoreans awoke to a New Year's Day snowstorm and chilly weather that did little to hamper activities both indoor and out.

The Sun reported that skaters were "out in full force" with the largest crowd taking to the ice at Gwynn Oak.

"The ponds around Hampden and Woodberry were crowded all day yesterday. Quigley's Pond on Merryman's Lane, was in excellent condition, and 200 persons at one time enjoyed the sport. Woodberry dam and the ponds along Jones' Falls were also crowded. Jones' Falls is frozen from Woodberry to Melvale, and the mill race from Union Ave. to Woodberry dam is in good condition, making a continuous run of a mile and a half," reported the newspaper.

In Washington, more than 2,000 people stood in line to shake hands with President William McKinley and attend his traditional New Year's Day reception, which "ushered in the new year and marked the opening of the social season in Washington," reported The Sun.

At 11 a.m., a bugle sounded, announcing the arrival of McKinley and his wife, Ida Saxton McKinley, who entered the "blue parlor" to the strains of "Hail to the Chief," played by the Marine Band.

"Mrs. McKinley was present, despite her feeble health. She remained in the blue parlor only through the strictly official section of the program," observed the newspaper.

By the time the reception ended at 1: 15 p.m., the President had greeted and shaken the hands of 3,354 government officials, legislators, diplomats and private citizens.

And not unlike the current debate over when the new century begins, a similar controversy raged at the turn of the 19th century, with such authorities as Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and the president of Wellesley College stating that the new century began in 1900.

Russian Czar Nicholas II and Pope Leo XIII, however, citing the Gregorian calendar, said that the first day of the new century was actually Jan. 1, 1901.

"Some cynic has said that each year is but a repetition of the follies, the blunders and the crimes of the preceding year," said a Sun editorial.

"If that were really the fact, we should have little cause to welcome today the birth of the new year, 1900, and little hope for the future. We might simply assume that the world will continue to be cruel, selfish and unreasonable, and that mankind is in the decadent stage. That would be an unwarranted assumption, however, even if present conditions seem to justify such downright pessimism," said the editorial.

Locally, that first week of the New Year saw theatrical impresario David Belasco -- whose "Naughty Anthony," the first comedy he ever produced, had opened at Ford's Theatre -- giving a private dinner for 14 at the Hotel Rennert. His guests dined on oysters, terrapin, red-head duck and salad, accompanied by Sauternes and Champagne.

About 300 African Americans "had a jolly time last night at the Monumental Assembly Rooms, St. Paul and Center streets, dancing waltzes, lancers and `doing' the cake walk in celebration of the New Year," The Sun reported.

Economic reports from the previous year were glowing, with 188 corporations with an aggregate capital stock of $43 million having been formed in Baltimore during 1899. Shipbuilding in Baltimore broke all records, with 44 new ships built and launched from local yards.

"In reviewing the trade results of 1899 the striking feature is the statement from almost every industry that the year's business surpassed all previous records. Favorable conditions prevailed throughout the year and in many directions the volume of business was only limited by the ability of the trade to handle it," said The Sun.

Horace G. Seward, born in Baltimore a few seconds before 12: 01 a.m. on Jan. 1, 1900, was believed to be the first-born baby of the 20th century and the first in the Eastern Time Zone.

Seward lived in Baltimore all his life and was the owner of Maico-Seward Hearing Aid Co. on Park Avenue. He died in 1963.

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