John S. Hyde (1867-1917) 100 Years On

Among my frequent guilty pleasures is an afternoon break that starts with a cup of Alonzo’s Double Dark at Café Crème on the corner of Front and Center in downtown Bath. I’m out the Mansion front door at 3:28 so as to miss one of Maine’s biggest traffic jams — especially brutal this time of year due to the viaduct reconstruction project — when the BIW afternoon shift ends.

After getting my coffee, I make my way across the street and into the entry way of Bath City Hall to view the daily changing dual exhibit called “Bath 50/100 Years Ago.”  This exhibit presents bound editions of the then Bath Daily Times with pages turned to a given day 50 and 100 years ago.  I’m especially attuned to the “50” side as they have begun to show news of a certain brand new local school in its first year of operation.  (OK, I also have read about the exploits — or lack thereof — of a Little League catcher on the Odd Fellows who happens to share my name.)

Yesterday, the 100 Years Ago front page featured the top photo about John S. Hyde’s passing. If you’re a Hyde person, you probably know that John S. Hyde built the/our Mansion. Construction began in 1914 and as the date shows, he died shortly after it was completed.

While I knew he was a prominent businessman, the article makes it very clear that he was truly a major “player.”  For example, his pall bearers were grouped in a hierarchy of classes that ran a spectrum from shipyard laborers to senators to captains of industry to college presidents (e.g., Bowdoin’s William Dewitt Hyde).

But two things struck me about the article. First, is the mood and style of the article itself: unbridled respect and optimism with no hint of cynicism. And it’s worth noting that this is all occurring against the troubling backdrop of a nation headed into a deeply uncertain international conflict: WWI.  (Most of that day’s issue of the paper is focused on the likelihood of that happening.)  Second, the sheer love that the Bath community had for this man is palpable.  Both of these emotions come through in this section of the article:

The opening sentence evokes a warmer, simpler time:

“Bath’s saddest afternoon for many a year has been this last half of a beautiful sunshiny Spring day in which the best loved son of Bath, John S. Hyde, president of Bath Iron Works, was tenderly carried to his lasting place…”

The articles goes on to read: “The hush of death itself made itself felt throughout the well loved home of the Master of Elmhurst, who nobly having completed his great life work was mindless of it all, lying at rest in his beautiful casket of black which was massed about and blanketed with the choicest of conservatory blooms.” (Note: Elmhurst was the name he gave to The Mansion.)

The piece wraps up on an emotional note: “At the close of the services, the men were given an opportunity to view the remains and many of the big, strong men who had known Mr. Hyde from boyhood, looked upon his last earthly remain with eyes dimmed with tears.”

For sure, the article also reflects the gender biases of its time.  (Martin Mull’s “Men, men, men… It’s a ship all filled with men” comes to mind.) In any case, the article grabbed my attention and provided me with insight into the considerable depth, contributions, and character of its subject.

Looking forward to future exploration of the local past.

Onward, Malcolm Gauld