Thursday, July 3, 2014

Fast Riding and Other Local Color

Shelby Warner is a Reference Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read Shelby's column in the July 3 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

     Back in the 1890’s Warren Taylor was charged for “fast riding”.   Norwood’s finest said he had exceeded the town’s posted 10 mile an hour speed limit.  He suggested there was collusion between the police and “some” clergyman.  To add to the charge, the offense happened on Sunday. 
     This took place during the time bicycling became very popular in Norwood.  Those who purchased “wheels” even made it to the front page of the newspaper.  In a letter to the editor, Taylor defended himself, claiming the charge against him “opened a wide door for the arrest of every driver of vehicles into and through the town”.    He had many supporters.  Those who opposed him thought bicycle riding on Sunday opened the door for baseball, football and other Sunday events.  Well, wouldn’t those people turn over in their graves today?
     One of my projects at the Morrill Memorial Library is that of “indexing the local paper”.  This means reading through issues of newspapers sometimes more than a hundred  years old, finding local color articles pertaining to our town and then, entering them into a database which you can access at the library.  If I have learned anything along the way it is the more things change, the more they stay the same. 
     Take Mr. Taylor, for instance, all he wanted to do was get up a little speed, no doubt expressing some exuberance, and perhaps, showing off for his friends.  Nothing new there – last night as I was writing this article, I heard the squeal of tires and an engine revving loudly somewhere in the neighborhood.  Undoubtedly, some young man was celebrating with his friends on being out of school.
     There are other examples I found while indexing.  Take local politics!    Do you like local politics?  How about a good town wide debate over whether to build a new high school?  Remember that discussion a few years back?  We didn’t come to blows but feelings certainly ran high.  Back in the 1890’s a similar discussion was held around the question of building a new high school for $20,000.  What do you think our ancestors would have thought about a price tag of $68,000,000? 
     Another article from the Advertise and Review published in the 1890’s, deals with partisan gridlock in Washington.     The Advertiser (the 1890s paper) quotes the New York Journal on its editorial page, “Let the democracy do something, cries the Journal.  Perhaps it is a little unreasonable and expects too much.  Let the democracy do something besides quarrel among themselves with the other party and with the whole material universe in general” is perhaps what they meant.  My, My.
     In a similar discussion going nowhere was the question of the national debt being increased to $400,000,000, an editorial remarked, “….these unpleasant facts grow out the mistaken ruinous policy of building up the industries of other nations at the expense and depression of our own.  If there were no blind partisan politics at the bottom of this disastrous way of running the country, there would be a unanimous cry of condemnation against it and the men who are responsible for it.  But party politics cover a multitude of sins and blinds the minds of hosts of otherwise intelligent people.” 
     But enough of Washington I say, let’s return to our own companionable town and the problem it was having with alcohol and whether to license its sale or not.  An Advertiser editorial put it this way, “A vote for No-license is a vote for the home, the church, the schoolhouse, the business interest and the general welfare of a growing and prosperous town.”   No-license meant no liquor and the residents of the town held out for a long time.  All we have to do is visit one of our popular restaurants today to find the No-license side was eventually defeated.  Of course, we have our own debate today on the issue of substance abuse as we struggle to accommodate ourselves to the new law legalizing the sale of medical marijuana.
     Now let’s return to Warren’s problem with fast riding.  He, at least, had the option of riding the bicycle whereas women were riding but not being encouraged.     Many people were scandalized by the sight of women in bloomers rolling through the town on their bicycles.    One person remarked, “I have never seen a woman who looks good in bloomers”, while a speaker warned college graduates by saying,   “He hoped he should never have his sensibilities shocked by seeing one of them on a bicycle.”   The editorial covering this event encouraged women however, saying, “The position on the bicycle is quite as graceful, the exercise quite as healthful, and soon it will be quite as popular.  So go on girls, and enjoy your new freedom.” 
      One more thing we share in common with our ancestors is the town wide celebration on the Fourth of July.  In the 1890’s, year after year, the newspaper reported the activities enjoyed on the “glorious” Fourth.  All business was stopped.  Speeches and gatherings began early in the morning and continued into the evening, with picnics and fireworks in the yards of many residents.  Well, we do it a little differently, but then as now, we remember the birth of our nation.  God Bless America. 

     There are many stories like these and they connect us to the people of Norwood who lived in a different time.  If you would like to enjoy more, the reference librarian will be glad to help you access them.   Visit or call the library at 781-769-0200.