Books

12.31.13

New Year’s Rockin’ Eve 1913: How We Celebrated 100 Years Ago

It was a magnificent year—a year of innovation and triumph. Perhaps the best year of our lives. Charles Emmerson reflects on the year passed and what 1914 has in store for us all.

Dear Reader,

That time of year is now upon us when old Father Time seems to slow his pace a little and a reflective cast of mind steals over us all. Even the scribblers of The Daily Beast are allowed a day or two away from their ink-wells, from the tap-tap-tap of the telegraph and from the daily avalanche of events with which the news reporter of the twentieth century must contend.

Either fondly or with curses, it is a time to look back at a year grown familiar to us now. 1913, when Woolworth’s tower lit up the New York sky and J.P. Morgan’s funeral cortège turned Wall Street black with grief (or with the thought of President Wilson’s income taxes). 1913, when the Armory show brought the artistic deformities of Old World to the not-so-pristine shores of the New. 1913, when our oldsters met one last time at Gettysburg to bury the hatchet of this nation’s bloody civil war, and our youngsters danced the tango through the night. 1913, when China’s awakening got a little bumpier, Turkey escaped oblivion by the skin of its teeth and Mexico slithered deeper in. 1913, when the French kicked their legs up a little more petulantly than usual and the Kaiser’s daughter got hitched in Berlin with the English King and the Russian Tsar looking on.

Most importantly of all, 1913, the year the Philadelphia Athletics reclaimed the World Series from the Boston Red Sox, and the New York Giants and Chicago White Sox set off to Japan to become the world tourists instead. Heartily we hope that American sportsmanship will repair relations with our Pacific neighbour, so upset by California’s Anglo-Saxon attitude toward them.

All in all, was 1913 a good year? Or was it one to be placed firmly in the bottom drawer of memory, the lock secured, and the key thrown away? That is, like all things, a matter of perspective (as well as being a question of whether one is a Giants or an Athletics fan). But The Daily Beast is not so shy that it cannot humbly give readers its own view on the matter: 1913 was not just a good year, it was perhaps the best year we have ever had.

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1913: In Search of the World before the Great War ()

Like the Armory Show, not everything in it was to our liking. Yet there is much left to please the open-minded, globe-trotting soul which we take to be our readership, free of unwonted prejudice and willing to grapple with the world’s dynamic energy, not wish it shut off in the name of a quiet life. In 1913, let us remember, the world is richer than it has ever been. The clarion call of the Republic is heard more widely than ever before, turning the world’s affections towards American ways of democracy and individual freedom. The arrogance of wealth and power, at home and abroad, is being tamed by civic virtues. Just as the telephone and the automobile are binding this nation together with commerce and conversation, so the ceaseless to and fro of goods and people around our globe are making it a safer and richer place, more congenial to the high ideals of peace and justice which we all espouse.

Whatever bracing jolts the Fates may have in store for us in 1914 we know that ingenuity, industry, and ideals are building the world anew. We see the spread of opportunity and the advance of science.

Europe has had its war scares in recent years, the beat of military drums, the sounding of bugles and the stamp of boots on the parade-ground floor. Yet these great shows do not worry us unduly. We at The Daily Beast believe that man’s wisdom is still greater than his folly. The blood-thirsty war cries of Balkan hot-heads and the rants of retired German generals should not blot out the steady advance of arbitration as a means of settling disputes, nor the quiet successes of diplomacy in preventing war, nor the still grander forces at work in the modern world, beyond the power of any military martinet. As Norman Angell has reminded us, and as none of us can be unaware, war between nations in the modern world profits none. Even with our Mexican neighbors mired in strife, and even with our European cousins spending all they have on guns and ships and fortresses, we trust in wise counsel and in the constant march of progress to keep the wider world at peace. Commerce, science, and humanity demand it.

And so it is with confidence in what is to come rather than in sorrow of what has been that we peer into our newspaper’s crystal ball to make out the dim outlines of the year ahead. Whatever bracing jolts the Fates may have in store for us in 1914 we know that ingenuity, industry, and ideals are building the world anew. We see the spread of opportunity and the advance of science. We see the growth of justice and the deepening of civilisation. The speed of our world’s headlong advance into the future is sometimes disquieting, even to us. Yet it is a future full of promise and light. Farewell 1913, you were a hoot. All hail 1914!