DO YOU EVER ponder what it would be like to be living here 100 years ago? Were those simpler times? Everything was so inexpensive. Life was peaceful and serene. Or was it?
History should not be a collection of stories and trivial facts used to win fame and fortune in a game show. Neither should history be the most boring class in school. History can help us see where we came from and the decisions that have shaped our present.
From that we can begin to glimpse into the future. Winston Churchill has been often quoted as saying, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
On Nov. 6, 1923, President Calvin Coolidge issued a proclamation designating November 29th as Thanksgiving Day. President Calvin Coolidge recalled two tragedies. One was the recent death of President Warren Harding. The other was the tragic earthquake in Japan that killed over 140,000 people. Coolidge declared that, “We have the most blessed people. We ought to be the most thankful people.” So true!
The root of the word “holiday” is holy day. It was meant to be something special. Over time we have declared so many holidays that they no longer seem very special. Today, “holiday” simply provides an excuse for a day off from work.
In 1923, you could go see a play at the Mack Theater. The Mack was “The Mortgaged Home of the Homespun Drama.”
In November 1923, you could see “Foiled by Heck,” a “truly rural drama in one scene and several dastardly acts.” Admission was 50 cents.
The Mack also showed silent movies. It was special to go see a movie. You could go see Douglas MacLean in “Going Up.” It was a familiar comedic theme. A man gained a false reputation as an expert pilot even though he could not fly and was afraid of airplanes.
Today, videos are so commonplace we give them little thought. It requires special marketing to make them special. Since I have the pen in my hand, I can offer an opinion. With today’s computers and CGI, many videos are no more than gloried cartoons.
Seeing how far we have come; how far will it go?
In November 1923, you could stop by the Wolten Grocery Company. A can of Snider’s tomato soup was 10 cents. Roasted peanuts were 14 cents per pound. Twenty-five bars of soap were 85 cents. A roll of toilet paper was 6 cents.
Do you think groceries were really cheap back then? A dollar in 1923 had the same purchasing power as $17.60 today. That 10 cent can of soup would be $1.76 in today’s money. Those 25 bars of soap would be $14.96 in today’s money. And that roll of toilet paper would be $1.05 in 2023 dollars.
Today we can feel the pinch of grocery costs. When you compare the 1923 prices with 2023 dollars, there are many similarities. Groceries have always been expensive. People in 1923 felt the pinch. We feel the pinch. Our children will feel the same pinch.
In 1923, a coffee percolator would cost you $2.50 ($44.00 in 2023 dollars). A teakettle would cost you $1.65 ($29 in 2023 dollars). Mass production has certainly benefitted us.
We read about many dramatic collisions on our highway. High numbers of cars going at high speed. Speeds unheard of in November 1923. Mrs. O. L. Harris sustained painful cuts to her face from broken windshield glass. 1923 was soon after safety glass was added to automobiles. On the highway near Forks, the Harrises were passing another car and hit a log at the side of the road. Sounds like Forks.
Since the advent of automobiles, people have always been injured and killed in collisions.
Today we deal with higher driving speeds and higher congestion. Driving is no longer a privilege. It is a right. I wonder if safety features can keep up with us.
Today we have GPS to guide us and text messages for getting travel alerts. In 1923, you had almost nothing except what you could see. If the road was wet, it was raining. If a tree fell across the road, it was windy.
In 1923, the British made a big leap forward. The British automobile Association was planning to install radio receiving booths along the major highways. You could stop at a booth and get a travel bulletin.
In 1923, driving an automobile required skill and patience. You did not get anywhere fast. You could be in the middle of nowhere and need to make your own repairs. Plus, you certainly would not drive a car without knowing how to change a tire. If you went anywhere you certainly needed to know how to read a paper map.
Today, many drivers do not even know where the spare tire is, let alone how to use it. Where will we be in the near future with self-driving cars and GPS?
We were not shielded from tragedy in 1923. People have always suffered terrible events. On Nov. 6, 1923, two young children were buried in Clallam Bay. They were four years and four months of age. Their mother went to the Post Office. Her house caught fire and two of her three children lost their lives.
Today, it is a tough world to live in. Today’s media has turned from local grief to grieving over worldwide tragedies.
Our Personal Lives
In 1923, simple things were noteworthy. Travel was significantly harder. So it was noted when people left and returned. “J. F. Hogan of the Buster Brown Shoe store returned last night from a short business trip to Seattle.” “C. H. Meyers of the Crescent Boxboard Company left today on a business trip to San Franscisco.” “Miss Mabel Owen returned from Seattle Monday night on the evening train.”
It was such a simple time. Today, we can announce our every activity on social media. Do we think it is important to let everyone know what you had for dinner, where you are and whether your bowels are working right? How far will this go? How long before all our lives are open for all to see?
What do you think? Are our lives today that much different than 100 years ago?
John McNutt is a descendant of Clallam County pioneers and treasurer of the North Olympic History Center Board of Directors. He can be reached at email@example.com.
John’s Clallam history column appears the first Saturday of every month.