Debby Summey:Scandal is nothing new
Scandal is reported everywhere these days ... you’re exposed to it every time you turn on your television, pick up a newspaper or magazine, or log onto your Facebook account. Sometimes people long for “the good ol’ days”, when scandal was less invasive in everyday life.
I used one of my favorite research tools, the Georgetown County Digital Library website, to find out if there really was less scandal reported in “the good old days”, one hundred or so years ago.
Here’s what I found. If rumors were being spread around Georgetown about scandalous activities that could ruin the reputation of that “fine, upstanding gentleman”, or that “virtuous, honorable woman”, the editor of the paper would likely take you to task and admonish you to “shut up” (not quite in those words).
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the local newspaper reported many scandals, as long as it was about someone from ‘off’.
One of the scandals that got the most “ink” involved the South Carolina Dispensary, the government facility created by Governor “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman. The Dispensary bottled, dispensed, and controlled the sale of all liquor in the state of South Carolina. It was a perfect recipe for corruption and was brought down by scandalous behavior and prohibition.
Another widely reported scandal at that time was the alleged immoral and criminal act of Grover Cleveland, who later became our 22nd and 24th president. The Georgetown Enquirer covered this scandal in their Aug. 13, 1884 issue.
It was alleged that then Governor Cleveland raped Maria Halpin, a sales clerk he had been seeing, on Dec. 15, 1873. She learned that she was pregnant the following July and gave birth to a baby boy in September.
Cleveland had Halpin committed to a “lunatic asylum” and the baby sent to an orphanage.
He later explained his neglect of the child as being due to his uncertainty over paternity.
I doubt this alleged scandal was discussed during Cleveland’s duck hunting excursions to Georgetown.
Scandals close to home usually bore no details and certainly didn’t “out” the people involved, as demonstrated by an item in the Aug. 27, 1884 issue of The Georgetown Enquirer. “Social circles in Columbia are now agitated by a scandal involving the soprano singer and the organist of the choir of the Plain Street Baptist Church. A suit for libel has grown out of this matter.”
On the other hand, people who didn’t live around here were fair game. Georgetown’s Sunday Outlook published, on the front page of its Oct. 19, 1907 issue, this story that came out of Brooklyn, New York.
Reverend Maxwell H. W. Walenta, pastor of a German Mission church, and one of his married parishioners, Mrs. Louis A. Baner, were brought before a magistrate for an inquiry into their mental state. Seems Mrs. Baner visited Rev. Walenta in his “office” at 2 a.m. one morning after having “differences” with her husband. After hearing their story, the magistrate stated, “I believe you both need to be examined as to your mental conditions.” He then had the “prisoners” committed.
One of my favorite “scandals” was reported in The Georgetown Enquirer on Aug. 2, 1882.
Our paper shared a news story first published in the Argus newspaper in Warrick County, Indiana.
A Mr. Bramley, parishioner of a church in Warrick County, handed his minister a note to be read to the congregation before the close of the Sunday service.
The minister complied and announced, “Brother Bramley has handed in the following.”
The minister read, “My own pet Bram: Are you never coming to see me again? I am dying to see my darling once more and gaze into his beloved eyes.
“The old mummy that calls herself your wife will never find out. How can you endure her? Come, darling, to one who truly loves you. Your one and only, Mary.”
Realizing he had handed in the wrong note, Brother Bramley calmly told the enraged congregation, which included his wife, that he had turned in the note in an effort to “fight the Devil”.
He continued, “The writer of that vile note is unknown to me, but is evidently some depraved child of sin who is endeavoring to besmirch my Christian reputation.
“I shall use every endeavor to ferret out the writer and if discovered will fearlessly proclaim her name and hold her up to the contempt of all good Christian people.”
Brother Bramley won everyone’s sympathy after that and his wife was satisfied with his explanation.
To the GCDL and the archives of our local newspaper ... thanks for the memories.
I may be reached at (843) 446-4777 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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