hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News October 2020


An editor unmoved by patriotic hoopla

Maury Thompson


On March 3, 1876, the Methodist Episcopal Church in Cambridge, N.Y., served a “Centennial Supper” of pork and beans, rye bread and tea.

D.R. Byrum, a sewing machine dealer from Whitehall, advertised his upcoming sale as “A Great Centennial Outrage!”

Across the region, there was plenty of excitement about the 100th birthday of the United States.
But J.L. McArthur, the editor and proprietor of The Granville Sentinel, was a centennial curmudgeon.

“We are surrounded on every side with evidence that this is a centennial year,” he wrote in an editorial on Feb. 11, 1876. “We put on our centennial hats and wear our centennial necktie, eat from dishes of centennial ware, and read the centennial gazette. We smoke centennial cigars, lighted with centennial matches. We look at our centennial calendar for the day of the month, and find out when the sun rises by consulting our centennial almanack.”

McArthur, who established The Granville Sentinel in September 1875, was unimpressed by a historic artifact to be exhibited at Centennial Exposition, which would be held from May 10 to Nov. 10 in Philadelphia.

“Washington was once asked to dine with Judge Jarvis,” he wrote. “The chair in which he would have sat, if he had accepted the invitation, will be exhibited at the Centennial.”

McArthur acknowledged, tongue in cheek, the centennial was an opportunity to honor the elderly.
“This is a great year for old men,” he wrote in another editorial on March 10. “Grandfathers who have been neglected are made to feel that they were in the way … and left to mumble to themselves in the chimney corner, are astonished by being brushed up of an evening and being brought into the parlor, where they are shown off to the company as centennial relics.”
On March 17, he pointed out that the centennial occurred in a leap year.

“This will be a busy year,” McArthur wrote. “Just think of it – 366 days, 53 Sundays, leap year, centennial celebration, and the presidential elections, and perhaps – the millennium.”
On May 5, McArthur linked nuisance insects with the centennial.

“The potato bug has already commenced his centennial ravages down on Long Island, devouring the tender potato vines, and in some localities the ground is fairly filled with them,” he wrote.
McArthur was less sarcastic on May 12.

“The familiar hymn ‘Rock of Ages’ first appeared in Gospel Messenger just 100 years ago,” he wrote. “It is appropriate on account of its character, as well as the accident of its age, for Centennial occasions.”

On May 19, McArthur finally succumbed to centennial enthusiasm and published a special Centennial issue.

The front page of the four-page weekly newspaper was devoted completely to detailed articles about the Centennial Exposition and elaborate illustrations.

On the back page, the paper published the complete text of President Ulysses Grant’s speech on the opening day of the exposition.

Yet, on the inside pages, McArthur was his usual cynical self.
“For the next six months the chief business of the country will be to glorify itself,” he quipped. “Moved and seconded that the president’s speech at the centennial be investigated. There isn’t anything else to investigate, so far as he is concerned.”

McArthur also chided the management of the Centennial Exposition for being open on Sundays, which he called the “American Sabbath.”


Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star of Glens Falls for 21 years before retiring in 2017. He is now a freelance writer focusing on the history of politics, labor and media in the region.

“Through all its history, the Sabbath has been recognized as a day set apart for rest and religious worship,” he wrote. “To ignore it now, in the presence of the representatives of all nationalities, would be to repudiate the sacred traditions of the past and to dishonor the memories of the fathers of the Republic, whose great work is to be commemorated by the exhibition itself.”

Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star of Glens Falls for 21 years before retiring in 2017. He is now a freelance writer focusing on the history of politics, labor and media in the region.