One from the tobacco editor

By Daniel Dunkle | Jan 24, 2019

I was interested to learn, reading back issues of The Courier-Gazette, that 101 years ago we had a Tobacco Fund Editor.

Under the headline, "Smokes For Our Soldiers," I found the following from Tuesday, Jan. 15, 1918:

"Continued Contributions Show That the Folks Have Not Forgotten the Boys In the Trenches.

"The story has been told of a Civil War officer who won the admiration of his men during a hard battle when he braved a rain of bullets and stood at the head of his command, calmly loading a huge briar pipe from a sack of tobacco hung from his belt.

"Recently we read of an English officer, whose friends paid him this tribute: 'He stood in the thick of shell fire smoking cigarettes and giving orders as calmly as though he might have been in his club at home.'

"Tobacco has always been an important factor among fighting men; but its forms of use have changed."

The article goes on at some length about the advantages of cigarettes over other forms of tobacco on the battlefield.

"Cigars, for instance, are hard to carry; they will dry quickly and after a hard march will often look more like a pocketful of corn flakes — one soldier remarks — than like a good smoke."

The article included a coupon for "The Courier-Gazette’s Tobacco Fund" that you could cut out of the newspaper.

"Fill out the coupon printed below and send it to The Courier-Gazette with as much money as you feel you can spare for the purchase of tobacco for our soldiers and sailors in foreign lands. A dollar will buy four kits, each of which contains enough to supply a man for a month. If you cannot spare a dollar, send what you can; Every little bit will help." And this was to be sent "To the Tobacco Fund Editor."

We can judge from this vantage point, of course, but I suppose that for many of the soldiers in the Great War, lung health was the least of their worries.

Too many tramps

Jan. 5, 1897

The following article from The Courier-Gazette is shocking by today's standards. County commissioners had the power in those days to put someone to hard labor simply for being a "tramp." It would be interesting to know what the process was for determining someone fit this definition.

"For two years past Knox County has been delightfully free from that nonchalant element known as the tramp, but our people congratulated themselves all too quickly that the aforesaid element had made its valedictory.

"The stone yard on Sea Street, which was in a great measure responsible for this sudden dearth of tramps, but which has been taking a vacation the past year owing to lack of patronage, has again been started in operation by order of the county commissioners, and the chain gang is once more a familiar spectacle on our streets.

"The number of prisoners at the county jail eligible to this stone-yard cure is about a dozen and every morning and noon they are marched down Sea Street to the scene of Operations.

"The stone-yard came as a happy inspiration to the commissioners and that this second dose will forever drive away a desire on the part of tramps and vagrants to visit Knox County, is to be earnestly hoped."

Ever wonder who made the money from the labor of these chain gangs?

While this story is somewhat horrifying in its glibness, I do find it interesting the way they wrote newspapers in the past. In the 19th century and well into the 1940s, there was a smart-aleck humor to most newspaper writing and it was clear the goal was to entertain as much as to inform.

Today, we would offend people if we wrote the way they did in those days, and a lack of seriousness in hard news stories could also give rise to concerns about bias. But I wonder sometimes if we lost some ground as an industry due to the fact that newspaper writing has become somewhat dry and aloof. I also believe strongly that people tended to be better writers in the days before TV, text messaging, video games and all of the other things that distract us now. People used to read much more widely for entertainment, and the more you read, the better you tend to write.

Not only that, but since people were out and about doing things more in those days, there were more interesting incidents to report. People staring at their phones don't tend to be interesting unless they take a fall while trying to take a selfie.

When does the year start?

I found this ad from January 1918:

"Our 1918 Calendars are ready for distribution. Call and get yours on or before February 15. M.B.&C.O. PERRY"

About that pennyroyal

Last week, I mentioned that they used to use oil of pennyroyal as an insect repellent. Alert reader Mike Florance of South Thomaston told me Friday that it's actually been found to be quite toxic. WebMD says: "Pennyroyal oil is LIKELY UNSAFE when taken by mouth or applied to the skin. It can cause serious liver and kidney damage, as well as nervous system damage." It was used over the years for a number of medicinal needs and was apparently believed safe in the 1890s. It makes you wonder what we do now that historians of the future will find terrifyingly dangerous.

Editor Daniel Dunkle of The Courier-Gazette lives in Rockland. He is author of the novel, "The Scrimshaw Worm." Send in your stories, photos and memories via email at:; or snail mail to: 91 Camden St., Suite 403, Rockland, ME 04841.


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