From a 1967 Gazette column of reminiscences by Joseph Chase Allen:

The anecdotes of the early 1900s would constitute a volume second to none. Times and customs being far different from those of the present day, some of these are unique indeed.

For example, Joseph Bassett of Chilmark “peddled” in the Cottage City Camp Ground, retailing the meat of spring lambs, which he purchased and butchered. Why the word should have been brought to his wife that he had dropped dead as he made his rounds, no one ever knew, but it happened. Familiar with the customs of the day, Mrs. Bassett knew that the body of her husband would be brought home, where it would be “laid out” and prepared for burial. Accordingly she sent word to certain neighbors asking them to be on hand to perform these services.

There were no telephones in the up-Island section, and they were scarce elsewhere, and the neighbors came to the Bassett farm where they waited in solemn silence for the arrival of their dead friend. He arrived, eventually, but sitting in his wagon and apparently in good health. Told of the report, which explained the presence of his neighbors, he said: “I thank you gentlemen, but you won’t be needed today!”

In these days when it seems three adults out of every four are racking their brains to find something new to prevent teenagers from being bored, something that must take the form of a pastime, it is little short of astonishing to look back and realize how little boys and girls had in the way of toys, and to what lengths young people would go, particularly boys, in order to obtain something that offered enjoyment without being particularly essential to life and living.

Only now and then did a boy appear with a new bicycle, and if there had been as many bikes condemned and thrown into dumps as there are today, not one would have been left to rust and fall apart. Boys collected old wheels from one place, a sprocket chain from somewhere else, a frame that had been twisted or broken, and so on, until they could assemble a complete bicycle. Probably no two parts actually fitted without some bending or other adjustment, and as for tires, it was extremely difficult to obtain one that would hold air.

But the lads of that time were probably as able mechanics as those who soup up old cars today, and eventually got their bikes on the road. They covered old saddles with condemned harness leather. Ancient saddle flaps from riding saddles were sometimes used. They pumped leaking tires full of hot molasses or shellac, the former sometimes fermenting and causing a blowout which showered the rider with evil-smelling fluid, and even spliced heavy rope around bare rims to take the place of tires. And, somehow, they appeared to be quite as happy as the youth of today, perhaps even more so.

It was much the same with guns. There was a gun in most homes, but not for the boy to use. A single-barreled shotgun of ten or twelve gauge, breech-loading, could be obtained from Montgomery Ward for three dollars and fifty cents. But few boys had that amount of money. Thus they prowled through shops and sheds looking for old guns. In this sort of quest they were fairly successful because the old-timers never threw anything away. If a man arrived at the point where he purchased a breech-loading gun and gave up using his muzzle-loader, the latter was tucked away into a corner of a shop or shed and forgotten.

Such guns were begged and borrowed, possibly even stolen, and resurrected by youthful gunners, who obtained powder in the same manner, and bought their shot at the general stores. Percussion caps were also obtainable, and but for the grace of God tragedy would have followed in many cases. Such guns were old, rusty and burned thin in the breech, but since they were usually loaded lightly in order to conserve the powder supply, they did not burst. But many of them were so rusted that the charges had to be drawn: working in the old gun barrels with an iron wormer was hazardous at any time. The boys did it and lived to tell the tale, but they did little telling until much more time had passed. It never would have done to talk loosely of such things.

Grocery stores sold cigars and when a male customer paid his bill at the end of the week or the month, the proprietor would pass out a free smoke. Plenty of men never smoked a cigar on any other occasion. Many of the grocery men lived dreary lives. The general stores up-Island were well-heated and comfortable, but they did not carry perishables. Salt pork and beef in pickle could be obtained, but no fresh meats. The down-Island stores carried fresh meat and vegetables and were not heated, or were heated just sufficiently to prevent items from freezing. The clerks wore more clothing when at work than when they went outdoors in winter, and the floors were laid deep in sawdust.

Compiled by Cynthia Meisner