Poof Tardiff: 1903 VII

Hello fellow Berlinites. Before the summer was finished in 1903, several accidents had taken place that claimed the lives of Berlin’s citizens. Of course, many of these tragedies took place in the local mills.

On Friday, July 31, 1903, Max Ortelt, an employee of the International Paper Company, was caught in a paper machine at about 7:30 p.m. and instantly lost his life. Mr. Ortelt was employed as a back tender on this machine, and when he commenced work at 6 p.m., found both reels full of paper, due to the improper working of the machine during the daytime shift.

When he started to wind off the surplus, he led off with the paper on the upper reel. The paper broke, and to prevent it from catching on the lower reel, Ortelt reached for the end of the paper. The 20-year-old man then was caught up in the machine, which took his life, becoming another of Berlin’s Mills' statistics.

Another sad accident that took place on Aug. 21, 1903, that was not related to the manufacturing in this city, was that of Mrs. Phileas Nadeau, who was severely burned trying to light her kitchen stove. She had risen before her husband in the morning and was using kerosene to light the fire when the liquid in the can started burning and exploded, setting fire to her clothes. The sudden burst of flames frightened the lady and she ran to the room where her husband was sleeping, jumping on his bed. He was awakened at once and tried his best to relieve his terrified wife. He did succeed in putting out the flames, but not until severe injuries were inflicted to his own arms and hands.

Despite the efforts of Dr. Provost, the 23-year-old lady died the following day. Another sad accident that took a young Berlin citizen and left a small child motherless.

In the fall of 1903, not long after the start of the 1903-1904 school year, an incident took place at the Marston School that was the talk of this growing city for several weeks. J. W. Hamlin, the principal of this school, was before the court, charged with assault on 14-year-old Richard Farnham, a student at this schoolhouse, brought on by the parents of this lad.

The courtroom was filled to the maximum, and it was evident that considerable interest had been awakened by the reports that had been going around since this disturbance took place. This was Mr. Hamlin’s first term of school and he had come highly recommended to the board of education.

The first witness to testify was the young Farnham boy, and he said that he was standing in the line formed by the pupils before marching into the building. A boy in back of him punched him and in turn, he told the classmate to cut it out.

It was at this juncture, so he testified, that Mr. Hamlin appeared, grabbed him by the back of the neck and chin and threw him several feet down the terrace. During his flight, the boy’s feet struck another student in the face causing his nose to bleed.

Young Farnham also said that he struck on some rocks, being bruised to such an extent that he was lame and sore for some time, remaining in bed for the greater part of three school days. Several of the other students testified to corroborate Farnham’s story and the father and grandmother explained to the court the condition of the boy following his punishment.

Mr. Hamlin testified that he had some difficulty with several of the students while making the class line, especially the Farnham boy. The principal had visited all of the grades at the onset of school, explaining the rules and regulations that he expected to be carried out and he said he had to speak several times to the boys in line.

Other teachers also gave testimony that the pupils had been unruly since the opening of the school term, but the bone of contention was the height of the terrace over which the boy was thrown and the rocky ground on which he landed.

Farnham’s attorney said that this was not “reasonable corporal punishment,” but the school’s attorney said the law was very plain in such cases and that a teacher was allowed the same latitude as a parent, and Mr. Hamlin was acquitted. Things have certainly changed since then for both teachers and parents.

Two weeks later, J. W. Hamlin was again in the news and he was dismissed from Marston School, when a revival of matters in connection with this principal took place. The facts that were eventually uncovered created quite a bit of excitement and alarm.

Even with his acquittal, there seemed to be a strong wave of public sentiment against this teacher-principal. It was now apparent that he would have a hard row to hoe as a result of the Farnham episode. People wanted to know more about this man and where he came from. Trouble with other students was continually occurring, and the relation between scholars and teacher were becoming strained. With this, some new facts were now presented to the public.

After the arrest and acquittal of Mr. Hamlin, in the beginning of October 1903, Mr. Farnham wrote to the sheriff at Rumford Falls, Maine, to make an inquiry regarding Mr. Hamlin. He did this because of reports that he had heard about this new Marston principal.

This fresh research elicited a letter from the Maine official, bringing to light the fact that Hamlin had stolen $50 from an express company in Rumford Falls, while he was a clerk in their employee and later, he was arrested for pocket peddling of liquor.

The first case was dropped, after Mr. Hamlin returned the money, but in the second case, he was tried before the Municipal Court in Rumford Falls and found guilty. When the report reached Berlin and the facts became known to the board of education, Hamlin was fired at once.

Before Hamlin was engaged as principal, he had several recommendations from reliable parties, who were known personally by members of the school board of education. At the time the principal’s selection was made, the school board had received very few applications, to be exact, only one other one besides Hamlin’s.

This must have been the gossip in Berlin for at least two weeks, if not longer, and it certainly must have changed how the local board of education conducted their future interviews.

I will continue with the interesting history of Berlin’s in 1903 with my next writing.

Poof Tardiff writes a weekly column for The Berlin Sun. Questions or comments email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Also, join the many fans of “Once upon a Berlin Time” on Facebook and guess at the previously posted weekly mystery pictures.

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