By Jim Harmon
Happy New Year!
First, a confession. This is not my first draft. Far from it. Perhaps the 12th. I’m uncertain. I stopped counting.
The trouble is, I thought I’d reflect on 2016, then link to past years. Big mistake. Too negative. Too depressing. When I got to the point of quoting Alfred, Lord Tennyson (something about a “quiet sense of something lost”) I gave up and scrapped it all.
I want to be upbeat – as giddy as the Missoulian newspaper was in 1910, when the editor wrote: “1909 was the best year in the history of Missoula and western Montana; there was never a New Year’s morning in this part of the country when there was greater reason for cordiality in the season’s greeting than there is today.”
Of course, in one of my original drafts, I may have mentioned that in little more than four years after that upbeat article, the “war to end all wars” would commence, followed by the Great Depression, followed by World War II, followed by … well, you get the idea.
Not this time!
No, I’m staying positive.
The 1889 New Year’s message from the Philipsburg Mail was inspiring. “Truly no country or political division on the face of the earth has a greater reason to be more thankful for its good fortune, material prosperity and great future, as assured by the past year, than Montana. Her onward march is still progressing and the new (year) promises to treat us as kindly as the old year.”
I’m feeling better already!
Let’s try some more.
The Billings Gazette recounted the 1883 New Year’s Eve Firemen’s Ball. (Whatever happened to those, by the way?) “The guests that gathered at the Park Hotel…were regulated for a good time even without other incentive than (the firefighter’s) own gay spirits.” It was an “eminent success.” Dancing and dining went on far into the early morning hours, when some of the “more demonstrative citizens” went outside to welcome the new year with “a fusillade of firearms; a very good and appropriate substitute for the bell-ringing indulged in by towns of a more staid and quiet character.”
Who knew Magic City residents were such party animals?
Of course, there had to be at least one Montana Scrooge.
The editor of the Helena Independent announced on New Year’s Day, 1889, there would be no paper the following day because of an old union rule (scrapped by most papers) requiring double pay for that holiday. “The principle of double price for holiday work is utterly absurd and untenable. The very tramps who voted against the repeal would protest vehemently should the men behind the bars, where they spend most of their earnings, exact double price for holidays.” Zing!
Sorry. Back on track.
Positive and upbeat.
“The man of business who has sought to accumulate wealth at the expense of honor and truth and integrity, feels, then, how insufficient wealth is to bring happiness and…resolves to seek happiness in a more upright and generous course of life during the few days he has to mingle with mortals.”
The editor concluded with his hope that, “…the idler resolve to make his life useful; the selfish will become liberal, the drunkard reform, and the dishonest become honest.”
Thanks, I needed that.
Here’s my wish. Let’s all put 2016 in the rear view mirror and resolve to be good citizens, working together with civility, listening to and appreciating each other’s viewpoint.
As Frank Kenyon said in 1868, we only have a “few days…to mingle with mortals” on this tiny speck in an immense universe. Let’s make the most of it.
Best wishes to Martin Kidston and the Missoula Current team, and to all their readers, for a great New Year, 2017!
Jim Harmon is a retired journalist whose 50-year career included nearly three decades at KECI-TV, Missoula in roles ranging from news anchor to weather forecaster. In retirement, Jim is a landscape gardener and history buff who’s spent years reading historical micro-film newspapers. You can read his weekly history column at the Missoula Current.