Sunday 1 January 2012

New Year's Day 1876

“Everybody was sorry there was no good sleighing on New Year’s Day, but in spite of the muddy streets and the heavy weather, the holiday was generally enjoyed throughout the city.”
Spectator. January 1, 1876
          And so the year 1876 began in Hamilton.
          Rain, rain and more rain. The result was muddy streets and no opportunity for a drive through the city, and maybe even out to Ancaster or Dundas or Stoney Creek or even to the Dynes’ Hotel at the Beach for a duck dinner.
          There had been more than a few New Year’s Days in Hamilton when a horse drawn sleigh ride across the bay to Dynes’ was easily done.
          But that was impossible on January 1, 1876.
New Year’s Day, 1876 was a Saturday and the reporter for the Spectator noted that the weather was most unseasonal : “several boats put out on the bay, and one gentleman pulled to the Beach. Ladies went to church without shawls, and carried parasols, while gentlemen laid their overcoats aside. This year has opened auspiciously for those who dread the cold; but lumbermen inform us that they are losing heavily on account of the absence of frost, one firm losing $50 a day.”
Out in the rural areas around Hamilton, the warm, early winter, weather, was also causing impacts.
As described by the Spectator reporter : “a gentleman, driving into the city from the country, observed two men plowing in a field near Ryckman’s Corners. Farmers in the neighbourhood of Grimsby have been plowing for some time past, and that, in the opinion of the “oldest inhabitant,” is most unprecedented. A farmer on the market this morning declared that the frost was entirely out of the ground in well-drained lands, and that the plow ran as nicely as in August. Fruit growers state that heat will hurt their prospect for a heavy crop next season by swelling and softening the buds, rendering them less capable of preservation from the frost. It is hoped, however, that it is too early in the season for any such fatal results.

          New Year’s Eve celebrations had been very traditional in the ways Hamiltonians welcomed in the year of 1876.
At the major churches, watch meetings or midnight services, solemn and inspiring in character, were attended by large numbers of citizens.
People wanting to kick up their heels attended one of the many dancing halls in the city. Private parties in the residential districts were numerous as well.
But as the midnight hour approached, it was the vicinity of the City Hall on James street north where a large crowd gathered.
As described in the Spectator , which indeed appeared on January 1, 1876, “When the town clock struck twelve, the bells of the city broke into merry peal to usher in the new year. Guns were fired, and bands and bagpipes playing lively airs paraded the streets for hours afterwards. The streets at 2 o’clock A.M. presented as lively an appearance as they generally do at noonday, and “when a lively body meets a body,” everybody wished everybody “a Happy New Year.”
The sport of baseball was extremely popular in the Hamilton of 1876. Despite the fact that it was still many weeks before the baseball season could begin in earnest, that did not stop several young men from venturing out with bats, gloves and baseballs:. Even the Spectator’s sporting reporter ventured out to record the event and think about the upcoming season :
“A large number of the members of the Standard Baseball Club collected on the Crystal Palace grounds. Although the soil was not dry enough for a straight and successful game, still the ball was kept  flying about the field for over an hour to the extreme gratification of the ‘b’ boys. That this game is unprecedented in the history of baseball will denied by few, and the ‘oldest inhabitant’ of the baseball world affirms that he never knew it to occur before.
Tonight the “Standards” hold a meeting in their rooms to reorganise for the coming season. The list of membership will be opened tonight, and those young men in the city who wish to belong to a first class destined to become a leading club will do well to join.
          The “William Field’s” are also considering reorganisation, and this promising club has stuff to make a class nine.
          The coming baseball season promises to be a lively one, and it is hoped that the Hamilton boys will make their mark before it is over.

An amusing incident which happened on New Year’s was making the rounds of conversation, even more so after it was recounted in the newspaper :
“A number of people stayed up late on New Year’s eve to listen to the bells ushering in the new year. Among others a jolly party of young gentlemen and ladies were standing outside of a gentleman’s residence in the west end. The verandah of his house is divided from another by a small fence running across. On the fence, one of the male sex was seated, chatting and teasing one of the young ladies, who, in a spirit of mischief, tipped his hat over his eyes. With an utter want of thought of the weak hold he had on the fence, and, apparently having but little idea of the weight of a frail creature of eighteen, weighing somewhat in the neighbourhood of one hundred and forty pounds, he dexterously threw out his right arm and encircled her waist. The centre of gravity apparently got considerably mixed about that time, for in an instant the young gentleman had fallen on his back, completely over the fence on the adjoining verandah, his arm still clinging around the young lady who fell completely on top of him, and in her endeavor to rise, rolled off the verandah on the grass in front of the house. They were soon on their feet, however, neither of them injured at all, but the young man still exhibits two mud patches on his black coat immediately over the shoulder blades, while the young lady’s dress is considerably soiled. A Greco-Roman wrestling match never showed a fairer fall, nor was there a fairer burden ever held by man. When will young ladies cease to beguile the sterner sex into putting their arms around them ?
          An incident involving the poor driving conditions happened on New Year’s Day :
          “At the corner of Wilson and Tisdale streets, Mr. Ted Harrison’s cab was completely mired in the slough of mud and mire which has gathered there. The wheels sank to the hubs, and the horses after struggling valiantly for a time lay down in the mud. The animals had to be unhitched, and it was feared at one time that their valuable harness would have to be cut. Planks were got and the cab pried up when boards were put under the wheels and the vehicle ran off by hand. Such accidents are apt to happen in other parts of the city as there are several spots with a quicksand bottom which are dangerous to pass over.”
          A similar incident took place in Beverly Township : On New Year’s day, as a team of horses were passing along the quick sands near Copetown, the horses broke through the frozen surface rotted by the late warm weather and were nearly lost, great difficulty being had in getting them out. One of the horses cut himself severely.”
          It was a wet, and rather, eventful to the start of a new year in the Hamilton of 1876.

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