The early 1920s aren’t remembered for many momentous historical events in the United States other than perhaps the sudden death of President Harding in 1923. The “Roaring Twenties” and the Depression came later in the decade. However, those early years were marked by turmoil and political conflict in Europe which eventually culminated in the Second World War.
In 1924, Mussolini tightened his grip on power in Italy and Hitler went on trial in Germany for his 1923 attempt to overthrow an impoverished German government which was under pressure from the French and Belgians for failure to pay war reparations. Hitler was convicted and given a 5-year jail sentence but he was also given a platform at the trial to rant and pontificate for hours on the Jewish and Communist threats facing Germany, a message which began to resonate with an increasingly desperate German population. He was pardoned by the end of 1924, his time as a prisoner being more than sufficient to write his racist masterpiece Mein Kampf and his confinement was extremely comfortable by any standards. The prison was more an upscale rooming house than a prison and the inmates were allowed to associate freely. Rudolph Hess, the Nazi deputy party leader, is second from the right in the photo. It’s fair to say not many prisons other than Hitler’s provided fresh flowers. The world wasn’t paying sufficient attention to Herrs Hitler and Mussolini in 1924.
George Mallory, the noted British explorer, made the first attempt to reach the summit of Everest in 1924 and was not seen again for 75 years when his frozen, decomposed but still relatively intact body was discovered in 1999 by a team searching for his remains. As it happens the discovery can be attributed to either pure luck or some instinct on the part of searcher Conrad Anker who had strayed far from the search area and, just before discovering the body, had received a radio message from the team leader to rejoin the team as he had wandered far from the area where the body might be found. Anker was preparing to obey the order when he noticed what appeared to be a “marbled” spot in the permafrost which was, if fact, Mallory’s back. In the tradition of Everest, Mallory remains, unburied, where he was found.
In the US, the federal government magnanimously granted Native Americans citizenship although they still couldn’t vote in Maine for several decades and J. Edgar Hoover took over the reins of the FBI. Robert Frost received the Pulitzer and the comic strip Orphan Annie debuted. In Boston Logan Airport opened and the first NHL franchise was formed and named the Boston Bruins. In other hockey news Canada defeated the United States to retain the Olympic Gold Medal at what were the first Olympic Winter games in Chamonix, France. Canada had won the hockey Gold Medal in 1920 in a contest played at the summer games in Antwerp.
In entertainment a two-year child named Frances Gumm made her show business debut but didn’t become a star until her agent wisely changed her name to Judy Garland.
In Calais, the St. Croix Valley’s first really serious automobile accident, a near head-on collision, resulted in three Calais residents dead and two seriously injured. The driver of the car who caused the accident, who survived, was from Lubec and was being chased by the police when the collision occurred.
About 6 miles South of Calais there was a sharp corner on Route 1 which, because of this accident, became known as “Dead Man’s Curve”. Where it is exactly is uncertain because the road has been straightened and widened since the curve was named in 1924 but we would guess it was just beyond Heslin’s where the road takes a right approaching what was known more recently as the “quarter mile”.
Cars had been around for over two decades by then but the roads were still gravel, badly maintained and cars or “motors” as they were sometimes called didn’t generally have the power, suspension or steering to travel at very high rates of speed. Cars did manage to injure horses with fair regularity and occasionally killed a pedestrian or bike rider such as June 30th, 1915 when Todd Murchie fatally injured a lad on a bike in Red Beach, but, for the most part, cars did not hit other cars. There were few on the cratered and potholed roads to begin with and finding a sufficiently long straight stretch of smooth road to get up enough speed for a spectacular crash was a difficult proposition.
On July 20, 1924, Bert Spinney of Calais decided to take a spin in his Maxwell Touring car, the family car of the day. It cost $700 new which may have been the reason the notoriously cheap Jack Benny always drove one. For company Spinney took friends Tommy Hinds and his son Morris, William Thompson and Vernald Powell, reportedly for their first ride in an automobile.
The Spinney vehicle proceeded the River Road at, according to the newspaper account, a “moderate speed”. At about the same time Bert Spinney left Calais, Hoot Gibson, the local State Trooper, received a call from his counterpart in Lubec reporting a speeding automobile heading toward Calais. In Red Beach Hoot tried to stop the vehicle, a Hudson driven by James Sullivan of Lubec but Sullivan ignored the officer. A high-speed chase ensued which ended when the Sullivan vehicle collided with Bert Spinney on the corner which became known locally as “Dead Man’s Curve.”
Spinney, William Thompson and Thomas Hinds were killed, Powell and Morris Hinds injured. Sullivan received almost no injuries and was taken before the magistrate where he was arraigned for manslaughter and despite the pleas of his lawyer, John Dudley, held on $10,000 bail. At the October term of the Superior Court. Sullivan was fined $1000 and sentenced to 10 months in the county jail.
The photographs of the two vehicles after the crash bear witness to its violence. It is hard to imagine how anyone in the Spinney vehicle survived for, as reported in the Advertiser, the Hudson “literally walked right through the Maxwell throwing the occupants in all directions.” The paper also claimed the Hudson was going at “terrific speed, probably 60-70 miles an hour” when the crash occurred. This may be somewhat of an exaggeration as the standard Hudson motor of the day generated 16 horsepower and was advertised as having a top speed of 40 MPH. By 1931 all of Route 1 from Florida to Calais was finally paved, Ford had developed the V-8 engine and America fell in love with flashy fast cars. Fatal automobile accidents became commonplace, many of them on this same stretch of road.
Eastport made the national news on a couple of occasions in 1924. In April of 1924 a team of U.S. Army pilots took off from Seattle flying west to attempt the first circumnavigation of the globe by air. On September 5th nearly every paper in the country reported the flyers had finally returned to the United States after months in the air, having landed in dozens of exotic locales including Japan, Russia, Vietnam, Iran, Turkey and Hungary .
Billings Mountain Gazette September 6, 1924
“The world flyers reached the United States at 1:20 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, Friday. The three planes, flying very fast, passed over the West Quoddy head coast guard station on the boundary between Maine and New Brunswick at that hour. The wind was light and from the southeast, and there was a slight fog.”
The planes landed in Boston later that day and some days later completed the circumnavigation of the globe by returning to Seattle.
The Grande Valley California News and many other national papers reported that Eastport folks had seen an inverted or “upside down rainbow.” This apparently is a fairly rare phenomenon but is not a rainbow rather it is a “circumzenith arc” or a “smile in the sky” for those disliking scientific jargon.
In Calais smuggling continued unabated, and if the culprits were too inept, the authorities would actually arrest someone for the offense. The national papers carried the occasional story with photos of piles of contraband, usually, booze, confiscated at the bridge. In a twist on May 18, 1924, the Indianapolis Star and other national papers reported the seizure at Calais of dozens of black fox skins worth several thousand dollars accompanied by a photo of a smiling Calais Customs Inspector proudly displaying the skins for the press.
In 1924 the “snow plow” was not a common sight on Maine roads in the winter as most towns didn’t have one. Those who owned an automobile simply put it up for the winter. The Bangor Daily reported on March 7th that Downeaster auto owners decided they wanted to drive their cars year-round and were willing to pay to do it.
March 7, 1924:
COMMUNITY OWNED PLOW KEEPS DOWN-EAST ROADS OPEN
Calais, Me March 7, 1924
E.L. Weston, manager of the River Bus Line, has done effective work in keeping the roads open this winter with his snowplow which was purchased by popular subscription from business and professional men of Calais, Baring, Woodland, Robbinston and Eastport, a sort of community project that went over big, enabling automobilists to run their cars all winter long.
The snowplow, a Maine made project, was attached to the front of a Mack truck.
In other local news of 1924, C. C. Grant of St. Stephen was advertising racoon coats worth $225 for the bargain-based price of only $149 which sounds cheap enough until you realize this is the equivalent of $2250 in today’s dollars, Border Motors of Calais would put you in a new Chevrolet Roadster for $475, and the Unobskey family built the State Theatre block on Main Street.
The Norcatur Dispatch of Kansas reported that C.E. Brown of Perry Maine was able to pick up the radio signal of a Schenectady, NY radio station and his children were able to listen to Sunday night church sermons. “Not that they are neglected”, says Brown, “but they have never been to church.” The Baltimore Sun reported the apprehension of John Holmes, age 18, of Robbinston who had run away from a Maryland military academy where his family had sent him, it appears, much against his will.
Woodland it seems needed a barber but only one who could play the cornet in the town band.
Finally, we want to mention Robert Brinkerhoff of New York, Paris, London etc. who summered at his lovely cottage in Meddybemps. He was much in the news in 1924 as the creator of the Little Mary Mixup comic strip. According to Wikipedia:
Little Mary Mixup debuted as a gag-a-day strip featuring a mischievous nine-year-old girl. However, Mary aged slowly over time, and by World War II, she was an adventurous teenager who could participate in the war. By then, Little Mary Mixup had developed from a gag strip into an adventure strip that involved kidnappers, crooks, and a treasure hunt.
There were a number of articles in the papers in 1924 about Brinkerhoff’s globetrotting, and we mention him because he was one of those nationally famous characters who drifted in and out of local history over the years.