From the Dec. 12, 1958 edition of the Vineyard Gazette: There are various feelings in the air by day and by night as December proceeds in the fashion ordained long, long ago: chill, dampness, wind, and so on, but the one that takes precedence increasingly is the feeling of Christmas.

This week will see the sun set at its earliest — 4:12 p.m. — which means the earliest darkness, to be broken by the lights of shop windows, the Christmas lights, and the quickening of heartbeats of children and others. The days are short, but the Christmas season has neither length nor brevity. It has only eternal recurrence, not a part of the calendar or of the climate but as much over and above these as the bright stars in the deep winter sky.


Nov. 18 was the seventy-fifth anniversary of the birth of standard time. Prior to that event in 1883 a traveler who crossed the country by train had to change his watch twenty times. Wisconsin alone is reported to have had thirty-eight time zones and Michigan and Illinois twenty-seven each.

In those days the nation operated on a series of local times called “sun time.” Under this system, the time observed was based on the movement the sun reached its highest point above the agreed-upon Landmark. That instant was fixed as high noon.

Railroads generally operated on the time observed in their headquarters cities or in some other major cities along their lines. Confusion for travelers was rampant, and rail line officials decided to do something about it.

Starting in May, 1872, in St. Louis, they held a series of meetings which eventually evolved the system of standard time. The leading spirit behind the idea, according to the Association of American Railroads, was William F. Allen, a railroad expert who promoted the idea of dividing the country into four time zones based on sun time at the 75th, 90th, 105th and 120th Meridians west of Greenwich. This was the basis for Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific time zones.

Even though standard time came into general use on railroads in 1883, it was not accepted by many localities until much later, and official sanction did not come until March 19, 1918, during World War I, when Congress passed the Standard Time Act. Many persons argued that sun time was nature’s time and anything different would be unnatural.

The four noons now observed in this country are no longer based on the sun. They are computed from the moment certain stars pass a fine hairline in a telescope every night at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.


Winter tends to be a level season; the foliage disappears and woodland becomes insubstantial to the eye, the wind flattens most things in its path, and countless open vistas allow the eye to sweep across land that had seemed deep secret under the cloak of green thickets and of summer.

In such a leveling interlude, the red cedar maintains its columnar independence, so natively erect that winter has no argument whatever. Even the winds cannot prevail. There in the old pasture or in the civil wilderness of thickets and briars, the cedar raises its steeples, and they are good to see. Upright they stand, now and forever.

There must be space around the cedar, and the comfortable, random company of separated cedars is the making of a landscape in summer but most of all in winter.


Twenty-five years have now elapsed since the end of prohibition. To be exact, liquor went on sale in Oak Bluffs on Dec. 17, 1933, and soon after that day in other places there and in Edgartown — but never in Tisbury, West Tisbury, Chilmark or Gay Head, although Gay Head had voted wet when the delegates to the constitutional convention were elected in June, 1933.

Twenty-five years seems only overnight to those of a certain age, and a lifetime to others. Those who can remember the prohibition era either clearly or vaguely may feel that they should moralize after the passage of a quarter of a century, but nothing much can come of the attempt. There is about as much significance in being able to recall prohibition days as there used to be in being able to remember the Portland storm of 1898.

People were people prior to that borderline day in December, 1933, and they have been people since, though on the whole we have seen twenty-five years of law succeed an interval of pretty general lawbreaking — exceptions to be noted in both instances.

There was not much jubilation on the Vineyard when prohibition ended; no sprees occurred, no processions, no rush for the newly christened taverns. But there is in the Gazette files, and we think in most memories, a tone of relief, as if a bad job had been abandoned, and as if better times ought to be on the way. And there was certainly a feeling of novelty that lasted quite a while.

The anniversary of the ending of prohibition is, like many other modern anniversaries, a reminder that people now living have seen a lot of history being made.

Compiled by Hilary Wall