By Patricia Patula, Town Archivist
Some of the newspaper writers at the end of the 19th century were romantic poets at heart. A social news article about Washington Grove, which appeared in The Post on August 17, 1886, was titled: “Many People Attracted There–A Picture of Rural Loveliness” and reflects a trait of the time to write in literary detail for the reader. The writer of the article is unknown and may have had religious leanings himself, for he not only captures the religious tenor of that Camp Meeting day in his poetic descriptions, but provides unlikely details such as the preacher’s selected text and schedules of both adult and children’s services.
The article begins listing the days most popular at the Grove which were Tuesdays (in 1886 was Aug. 17), Thursdays (in 1886 was Aug. 19), and Saturdays (in 1886 was Aug. 21). “A heavy shower fell last night, which laid the dust and cooled the atmosphere, and our friends find Washington Grove looking at its best.”
Young people, never referred to as teenagers by these earlier writers, are given special attention by the narrator. “The customary number of young people wended their way to the station to meet the incoming train and the depot for a time presented a gay picture as they promenaded up and down the wide platform.” (Our readers may recall a previous article in this series, based on The Post writing of July 3, 1880, that also highlighted young people. It listed the sources of amusement for them during the camp meetings as picking cherries and berries, excursions into the woods, and participating in croquet and archery.)
The news reporter writes about young people again later in the article, and in his enthusiasm allows his poetic spirit to soar:
“Mr. W. H. H. Smith had charge of the young people’s meeting at 6:45. This service is singularly beautiful and impressive. The tent faces the west, and just as the sun sinks below the horizon the services of song begins. Day melts into twilight, and a solemn stillness creeps over all, and as ‘night draws her sable curtain down, and pins it with a star,’ the echo of the tabernacle bell calls to the evening services.”
Our unknown author has created a dramatic visual. The sable curtain reference is from a temperance poem titled “Death in Disguise” and was often used as a quote. The poem was penned by a poet of that time, McDonald Clarke (1798-1842). Clarke had led a poverty stricken and unhappy life and was known as the Mad Poet from Broadway, sometimes seen sleeping on graves. This poem, as well as other works of Clarke, is available on the Internet and in libraries. The news reporter writing this article in 1886, twenty-four years after Clarke’s drowning death, obviously was quite familiar with this quote for he (the writer) easily slipped it into his narrative, revealing his own interest in poetry and romance.
Sources: The newspaper quotes are from The Washington Post (1887-1992); Aug. 17, 1886; Proquest Historical Newspapers.