Writers in turn-of-the-century Bangor did whatever it took to keep warm.
Cold Winter. Those were the words printed in faint typewriter ink on the border of this humorous photograph, which someone was kind enough to send to Down East recently. The identity of the bespectacled wordsmith shown here has been lost to history, but for all we know it may be Bangor photographer William H. Blacar, whose name and address are printed on the back of the image. Blacar has carefully composed this scene for maximum effect, combining the Remington Standard 2 typewriter - still somewhat of a novelty when this image was made, probably in the 1890s - and the stack of newspapers on the rack at upper right to suggest that this is the way Maine writers were forced to work during the winter.
Though Blacar was just an amateur photographer - he worked as a jeweler and engraver in his professional life, and most of his glass-plate negatives show architectural details and a few lackluster scenics - he managed to capture plenty of authentic aspects of a Bangor winter in this obviously staged shot. Many homes in the Queen City featured impressive stoves like this one, a New Clarion coal unit introduced by the Wood & Bishop Company in Bangor in 1882, according to the engraving on the ash-pan door at lower left. And when the mercury dropped people would use the wire-handled shovel, barely visible at far left, to load the stove with coal, toss some newspaper under the burner cover that has been left askew, just left of center, and take a match from the match safe hanging at upper left and ignite it on the striker below it. Once the stove was lit, the crank resting on the stovepipe, just left of center, would be slipped onto the knob protruding between the doors of the firebox and the ash pan and turned, dumping the ashes and making room for new coal. At this point, people were known to wrap themselves in a quilt and open the oven door to warm their toes a bit (though most would have removed their scuffed shoes first!).
For all his work orchestrating this scene, however, Blacar inadvertently left one subtle clue to indicate that this chilly scribe surely did not normally do his typing here. Even in this grainy print, steam is faintly visible coming from the spout of the teapot, at left, indicating that the stove was, in fact, lit. This scene might have warmed the hearts of writers from away, but Maine authors would know that extended exposure to the stove's tremendous heat would have been far too much for the ribbon, keypads, and machinery used in this hilarious winter tableaux.
- By: Joshua F. Moore