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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Progress in McCook, 1883

Monday, November 19, 2012

(More of H.P. Waite's stories gleaned from the McCook Tribune)

The long awaited-bridge across the Republican River, discussed since before McCook was incorporated was finally being built.

Nov. 11, 1883: The lumber is in place on the spot for the new bridge. As soon as the pile drivers arrive, which are expected daily, the work will be prosecuted with all possible haste. A bridge over the river at this point will be hailed with delight by those living on the south side, who have either had to ford this treacherous stream (evidently there was more water in the Republican in 1883 than in 2012), or go to Indianola or Oberlin for their supplies; and the more so as the weather is becoming colder, and people fancy a ducking in the cold water the less. It will open up...a large territory hitherto unable to trade here during the more severe weather.

In the third week of November a "New England Supper" was served at the band hall by the Ladies Union, to raise money for purchasing a bell for the church. Admission for adults was 15 cents, children 10 cents, and supper 35 cents. By nine o'clock the hall was crowded, and the members of the Union, dressed in the New England costumes of a century ago, were kept busy dishing up Boston Baked Beans, pumpkin pie, and other appropriate viands to those who went there to partake of such delicacies.

The room was prepared to represent one of the olden times, with pumpkins, spinning wheels, old dishes, and old furniture. Aunt Jerusua and Aunt Hannah were immense, and the source of much merriment. George and Martha Washington, Uncle Jed, and other old time celebrities, all in costume, were present, as well as two representatives of the noble red men.

The band boys surprised the ladies by discoursing a number of pieces in the early evening, for which courtesy the ladies are heartily grateful. More than $50 was realized.

The voluminous feminine attire of the 18th century is in striking contrast to the long, tight skirts, the nigh necked, tight sleeved basques, and the bustles of 1883. Instead of the powdered wigs of revolutionary times, the modern woman (of 1883) wears a "switch" of false hair (or rather, it is rumored, of the real hair of some dead Chinese) to augment her natural head covering, and "rats," which form the foundation for the puffs that adorn her crown. A heavy gold chain encircling the neck and terminating in a watch carried in a pocket at the waist, and heavy earrings, are feminine adornments that evidence the affluence of the possessor. In no circumstances is the use of cosmetics permissible.

Nov. 28, 1883: The band hall was literally "packed" this evening to hear the members, assisted by some outsiders, render the drama, "Home," which the program proclaimed as 'a comedy in three acts'. All available space, including aisles, window sills and standing room, was occupied. Every person who had "two bits," who could get inside the door, was there.

As the only way the hall could be ventilated was by opening the windows, and as those who sat in and near them objected to having them open, and as at least a part of the audience was unwashed, the place was soon permeated by "a thousand smells," which, however seemed not to detract in the least from the enjoyment of those who attended.

A stage had been contrived at one end of the hall, consisting of planks laid upon ""saw horses." The settings, painted by local artists, were crude but adequate. To the amazement and admiration of the crowd, a drop curtain had been devised, that could "sometimes" be raised and lowered without balking. The mechanism did not always work smoothly, and on one occasion during the evening the curtain "stuck" when half way up, to the embarrassment of the performers, but to the delight, hilariously expressed, of the audience.

The "curtain" was a work of art -- a creation, as were the stage settings -- of native or at least of local talent. It was paid for by the businessmen of the community who received their compensation in the form of advertisements, with which the curtain was emblazoned.

Between the acts, in addition to the entertainment afforded by a three-piece orchestra, consisting of a cottage organ, a violin, and a cornet, that played pianissimo, such popular selections as "White Wings that Never Grow Weary", "Little Annie Rooney," and "Down Went McGinty to the Bottom of the Sea."

The audience was enlightened with regard to the best places to fill their material wants. They were informed that while they could secure board by the day or week at the McCook Hotel -- the best in town -- this hostelry also had livery in connection with the hotel. They learned that at D. Kendall's Billiard Parlor they could procure ice cold lemonade. At Berger's they could purchase what-nots, sofas, coffins, and burial cases. LaTourette had the largest stock of queensware in Red Willow County. The Citizens Bank of McCook would sell them tickets to and from Europe. R.H. Hamilton dealt in cowboy outfits and spurs, while his wife sold hair goods, such as switches, braids, waves, and frizzes. The B. & M. Pharmacy kept for sale at all times, pure wines and liquors "strictly for medicinal purposes." Wm. Bruin located settlers on government lands and bought and sold government claims.

Scenic effects could not be produced with lights, as the only source of illumination was the kerosene burning lamps, the flames of which could neither be dimmed nor brightened, and which, as the evening wore on, added their odor to the scents that emanated from the human occupants of the auditorium. Eventually, the atmosphere became not unlike that of "a steam heated menagerie."

The players were all amateurs, and all of them were known to most of the audience, some of whom derived amusement during the progress of the show, by making frank and facetious but, on the whole, good natured remarks about the actors. In fact, none of the critics was actuated by malice. The play had, however, been well studied and memorized, and its presentations gave genuine pleasure to a number of persons who, because of paucity of opportunity, were avid for entertainment.

There were other diversions for the citizens of McCook. For instance, from the Dec. 4 edition: One of the citizens announces through the columns of the local newspaper that he will match his dog to fight any other dog in the community for $25. This is an example of the sort of sport in which one element of our population finds entertainment. If the fight is pulled off--and, of course it will be---a large attendance may be expected. The affair will be staged primarily as an excuse for betting.

The mania for gambling in McCook is insatiable. Because of the poverty of our people, the stakes are necessarily small. This seems not in the least to detract from the fascination of the game. Poker is a favorite pastime, and it is reported that the loss of a month's wages at a single session will not deter the average man from trying his luck the next time he finds his pocket full of money. Prior to the incorporation of McCook, gambling was a nightly and a notorious avocation. The village board has enacted ordinances proscribing the pastime. One day this week the law was invoked against a pair of crooks who have been operating here for some time. Each was fined $30 and costs. As the village has no funds and will have none until taxes can be collected a year from now, the matter of policing our town is a serious problem, as no one, who can be employed as a marshal, can afford to wait a year for his pay. Being a village entails responsibilities of which our people did not think when they embarked upon the venture. However, it had to come in time, and if anything the plunge was deferred too long as it was.


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Walt Sehnert
Days Gone By