Port Townsend – A Century Ago

The Port Townsend Leader is the oldest newspaper on the Peninsula.  It has been in publication – under one name or another since the first issue was published on Oct. 2, 1889.  The Leader was a daily paper originally, and became a weekly in 1908. Past issues of the Leader are a wonderful historical resource and they can be accessed easily through the Port Townsend Public Library website.  View almost any issue and you will find many stories that could be in today’s Leader.  There may not be anything from a hundred years ago on television or the internet, but some social issues are as pertinent today as they were 100 year ago.

An April 1912 story about an auto accident in Chimacum focuses a bit differently than we do today on the issue of speed in an auto accident.  A gentleman grazed a pole lying on the side of the road, lost two wheels and may have sent one passenger through the windshield.  The Leader noted in passing that the driver had previously been “suspended from driving … for a term of 90 days” for driving down the Taylor Street Terrace.  The only charge that “could be made to stick” in the accident was “being in an automobile in a drunken and maudlin condition.”  The passenger was charged a $20 fine and the driver sentenced to 30 days in jail.  One can only hope his Washington auto insurance policy was up to date as the car was evidently a total loss. 

The same edition of the Leader offered up a national story with a viewpoint as fresh as today.  The Alabama State Humane Society had issued an appeal to people to avoid eating oysters – specifically to avoid consumption of “bivalves as they lay in their freshly opened shells.”  Citing several sources, the articles suggested that oysters live for some time after being torn ruthlessly from their shells.  Ensuing discussion seemed to indicate that oysters felt more pain than plants, but less than fish.  The Leader evidently consulted with the Board of Health to confirm that oysters did live for a time after being extracted from their shells, and that they could be killed by steaming.  In a helpful observation the board of health official also noted:  “if one likes them raw, about the only way to deprive them of possible pain is to chloroform them.”  We presume his tongue was firmly embedded in his cheek at the time.

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