By JIM ZBICK
In one scene from the 1970 movie The Molly Maguires, Richard Harris, portraying detective James McParland, takes his sweetheart Mary Raines, played by Samantha Eggar, to the “city.” Since much of the film was filmed locally – including Eckley and the surrounding coal region – the “city” referred to was actually Jim Thorpe. With a few minor tweaks (dumping dirt on the streets, etc.), film director Martin Ritt’s prop people quickly had the Carbon County community looking very 1870-ish.
Filmgoers saw the town as being very neat and clean, with townspeople dressed in their Sunday finery. In the towns and cities of the day, however, the environment was not quite as hygienically-friendly.
Just because there were no gas-chugging automobiles at the times doesn’t mean streets and walkways were free of pollution. Today, a horse and buggy ride in New York City provides a nostalgic look at transportation back in the day but multiply that one horse by 150,000 – the number of equine in New York City at the turn of the century – and you can only imagine the major pollution problems.
One writer noted that each horse produced between 20 and 25 pounds of manure a day, and the powerful fragrance attracted swarms of flies. Add that to the stables filled with urine-saturated hay and you have the ingredients of a sanitation nightmare, especially in a hot summer.
During such summer heat waves, the regular pounding of hoofs and wheels turned the manure piles into dust which covered clothes and furniture. That can be cleaned but you can’t clean the lungs of unsuspecting citizens inhaling the filthy air. One writer in upstate New York estimated that Rochester produced enough manure in 1900 to provide a 175 feet-high layer over an acre of ground.
In smaller towns like Tamaqua, the pollution problem wasn’t nearly as bad as in the major cities, but it was still a concern. In the summer of 1911, a Mr. Adams told a Courier newspaper reporter that while riding the trolley into Tamaqua, he overheard another rider remark that Tamaqua “is the dirtiest town in the valley.”
“After leaving the clear pure air of the woods, we were met with a cloud of dust as we were swung into Broad Street, which almost blinded the speaker,” he said. “As we continued out Broad Street, the dust rose in volumes, at times almost obscuring the sidewalk.”
He said that the automobile must also carry blame for producing the choking dust.
“He came sailing along with a cloud of dust in his rear which caused more consternation than did the tail of Haley’s Comet,” he stated. “Occasionally, men appear on the street and scrape the dirt into piles for removal, but the fellow with the cart forgets to come around until the dirt is all scattered again by the wind.”
There were other not-so-healthy issues concerning area residents during the hot summer of 1911. One was the enforcement of anti-spiting laws, which Dr. Samuel G. Dixon, state health commissioner, promised to adhere “to the letter.”
The Courier reported that a women’s civic club in Wilkes-Barre posted warnings in three languages for those who make a habit of spitting in public.
“Already the officers have made a number of arrests and the spitters have been compelled to hand over the $1 (fine), the writer stated. “When a man gets soaked for spitting in public it generally impresses him so that he refrains from repeating the offense.”
While the state health commissioner was busy enforcing the spitting law, Tamaqua officials were focusing on a dog problem.
“Tamaqua is not unlike other cities relative to trouble with vicious dogs and complaints have been made to Postmaster Freudenberger by the carriers,” the Courier reported on June 11, 1911. “Many people have vicious dogs in the town and mail carriers on many occasions have been bitten and experience so little trouble in delivering the mail to homes where dogs are permitted to run at large.”
The next month, the Courier stated in an editorial that it had no trouble with people having dogs but that it did object to the “hundreds of ownerless canines running at large about the streets and being a constant menace to little children and making the nights hideous with their howling.”
“If John Smith thinks his pup has the rights of the street he should also put a muzzle on it during the months of July and August as the borough ordinance demands or keep it penned up in his own back yard,” the writer stated.
He did not give a free pass to the neglectful owners of hunting dogs.
“Some men think a great deal of their dogs when they can point a pheasant or chase a rabbit in hunting season but when that time is passed they forget all about them until hunting season again comes around. They love their dogs only when they can use them,” he said.
To address the dog problem, Chief Burgess A.H. Heath issued notice on July 11 that all dog owners must purchase muzzles for them or chain them up in their yard, or pay a $1 fine.
He also arranged for the hiring of a dog catcher who would collect all canines roaming the streets. If not claimed in 48 hours, they faced a death sentence.