I enjoy reading old newspapers. As one who resides in a 21st century age of modern comfort, surrounded by the advantages of advanced science and technology, a brief visit to the simpler times related from now digitized “ink” is both enlightening and entertaining. It is revealing to see if old prognostications about the future were indeed accurate, but I most enjoy reading about what Western Maine was like from the writer’s 19th Century lens and what they were experiencing. When I find an article in an old paper where the older generation shares what the earlier age or pioneer days of Rangeley were like, its especially interesting to me. What follows was found on page one of the December 31, 1896, edition of the RANGELEY LAKES newspaper. It seems that the region was experiencing a “good old-fashioned winter” and the writer relates that this is nothing compared to the good old days. What he fails to mention is how tough the winter of 1816 was in New England. It was known as the “Year without a Summer”. A massive volcanic eruption of Tambora in Indonesia (and others just prior to) had sent millions of tons of dust into the atmosphere cooling the planet and causing hard frosts and, in places like Rangeley, snowfall in every month! Crops froze causing starvation and anguish never before experienced. The author does share some bizarre natural phenomena that is fun to look back on. The piece has been partially redacted for space reasons with contemporary commentary added in italics. Enjoy and, as for me, I hope the winter of 2021-22 is a “good old-fashioned” snowy one so we can get outside and play in it!

The Wonderful and Extraordinary Are Seldom Forgotten

Written for RANGELEY LAKES: B y S. H. McCollister.

The aged delight to tell how it used to be when they were young. The cold of winter and the heat of summer, the snows and rains, the whirlwinds and earthquakes, the thunder and lightning, the accidents and escapes, the robberies and murders, were far more remarkable than any in modern days. The stories of the sires thrill the hearts of the grandchildren as they tell how they came into the woods and settled, living in log huts and raising their corn among the stumps and carrying it to mill on horseback far off through the forests before there were any roads save the trails whose course was marked by spotted trees. Oh, the bears and wolves that used to chase them! Oh, these wild creatures frequently would
render the nights hideous! Then the snowstorms are not to be matched anymore! Why, the drifts were like mountains and often buried camps out of sight so that the indwellers would have to dig for days before they could get the light! The hailstorms of that old time were just terrific. The stones were often as large as hens’ eggs and would smash the glass where there was any exposed and drive all living creatures under shelter or destroy them. The eclipses of eighty or a hundred years ago were just surprising! These were want to render the day so dark at noon as to set the dogs howling and the cats yawling, inducing the birds to sing their vespers and the fowls to rush for their roosts. The great frosts of 1813-14 were described not long since by a veteran who said that the “cold was so intense as to freeze up everything here at the north, even the voices of men, the report of guns, and the blasts of trumpets, which did not thaw out for a long while.” The year of 1833 is memorable for its marvelous display of
shooting stars. During its winter, several nights were tendered brilliant by meteors flying in all directions, as though the heavens were “waging fearful battles”. Many were frightened and felt that surely the world ‘s fast coming to an end. The red snow of the same year, occasioned by the northern lights streaming to the zenith from all points of the compass, will long be remembered and described as startling. Boys and girls did not care to be out upon the ice, or sliding down hill, while the “lumanae boreale” was staining apparently the snow scarlet, as if the very elements were shedding blood.
Are not just as wonderful phenomena taking place now-a-days as ever heretofore? It is believed that when they shall have become four score years old, they will be repeated with as much zest as some of the old folks are asserting that this winter has never been paralleled. Some are declaring that it is an “old fashioned winter”, just like such a one fifty or sixty years’ ago when December was open but severely cold so that the ice froze two and three feet thick on the lakes and in the rivers and February was very open, but, when March came in like a lion, how the heavens did let fall the snow! How it was piled up in the roads and streets in many of the rural towns as it was a few weeks ago in certain parts of New Hampshire, the select men could scarcely get out so as to post their town warrants. The present winter is likely to be one that will be often quoted as remarkable in the years to come.

Back in the day, a good old-fashioned Maine blizzard could make getting to Rangeley a real challenge! Photo courtesy of Rangeley Lakes Historical Society

The blizzard of 1888 is already being spoken of as the most remarkable winter occurrence that ever-visited New England. As I read of it, it seemed that a good share of our land was so deeply buried in snow the people would not be able to discover themselves again for the longest while, and it was a question if the sun of summer would give forth sufficient heat to bare the meadows!
The comet of 1861 and the April meteors of that year are already being recounted as phenomenal, and the snows of the same month covered the fences out of sight; and a crust in places was formed so strong that heavy teams could go across lots. When we have a mild winter, it is natural to infer that our climate is becoming warmer; and we attempt to account for the change by the ‘cutting off’ of the forests, the tilling of the soil, and the probable nearer approach of the Gulf Stream to our shores. But let a winter like the present one come upon us, and our logic is prone to an entirely different conclusion. If the Pilgrim Fathers did nearly freeze to death the first winter they spent on Cape Cod, we are not ready to admit from any changes since, that Plymouth Rock can be a very hot place the present season. The old people of the next generation will no doubt have wonderful stories to relate to the young people about natural phenomena.

It is interesting to read the 1896 reference in the last paragraph where the writer speculates that humankind might be impacting the warming climate: “the cutting off of the forests and tilling of the soil”. When one considers the modern decimation of the Amazon and the catastrophic impact of the ‘Dust Bowl’, this unsophisticated writer from little old Rangeley Maine now looks like Nostradamus!

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