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DATELINE: SEPT. 23, 1899

The tromp of marching feet probably could be heard in Buffalo 100 years ago today, and patriotic banners snapped in the wind.

On Sept. 23, 1899, the boom town of 365,000 residents -- about 50,000 more than now -- was busily preparing for a military hero's homecoming in New York City, an occasion to celebrate victory in the Spanish-American war.

But everyday worries leavened the patriotic fervor. Citizens were angry about crime in the streets, disgruntled about pay on the docks and otherwise trying to make ends meet. Laborers responding to one help-wanted ad could expect $3 a week.

"Will some kind lady give me some clothes for little newcomer? I have six children to care for," asked Mrs. M.B. in Everybody's Column of The Buffalo Evening News.

The names have changed and some of the places have disappeared, but the eight pages of the newspaper for that long-ago September day contain the same threads of civic life as the news of today. The next century loomed three months away, but on that clear Saturday heading into a frosty night, Buffalo had other things on its mind.

Adm. George Dewey had sunk Spain's fleet off the Philippines, and his triumphant return in six days was going to be a big event. Like the rest of the nation, Buffalo basked in the victory over a European power, while undeclared war smoldered against Filipino rebels.

A front-page story gave Buffalo national guardsmen their marching formation instructions for the Dewey Day parades, while an editorial complained that their $2.50 expense allowance would scarcely cover the three-day trip to New York.

For tourists, the Erie Railroad advertised excursion trains to the festivities with "elegant Pullman sleeper" cars. The Hengerer Co.'s "Dewey Celebration" sale urged those staying home to decorate for the event -- red, white and blue bunting sold for 3 cents a yard.

In Albany, Gov. Theodore Roosevelt -- elected shortly after his own ride to fame in the Spanish-American War -- tried to smooth over a snub with a telegram giving Civil War veterans a place at the head of the welcoming parade. Miffed at having been overlooked, the Grand Army of the Republic veterans declined.

"Admiral Dewey may be right in his statement that he will not go to sea again -- after he eats all the dinners that are prepared for him, he won't be able to sail much," an editorial writer cracked.

In fact, the marathon welcome left Dewey in need of a rest and unable to shake hands, a New York correspondent said, perhaps helping to extinguish his thoughts of running for president.

Dewey's fame peaked that September 1899, but Buffalo was poised for a leap that would make it a leading city of the early 20th century. Construction of the Lackawanna Steel and Iron Works began that year, and the Great Northern grain elevator -- the world's largest -- was still a new shape on the skyline. Homes still were lighted by gas flames, but electricity from Niagara Falls was beginning to make its way to area mills and factories, prompting a bowling team to name itself the "Electric City." One seller of real estate noted his site's proximity to the grounds of the Pan-American Exhibition, Buffalo's electrical coming-out party two years in the future.

The industrial activity made Buffalo a Social Register city, whose grain barons and manufacturing tycoons filled the newspaper's society page.

Harry Hamlin, head of an old Buffalo family and an ancestor of the current actor with the same name, had left his Allentown mansion a few days before and encamped with a party of eight at the Waldorf-Astoria. His group -- including his son Chauncey, founder of the Buffalo Museum of Science -- planned to take in the play "Becky Sharp" on Broadway.

"The party will remain for the Dewey ceremonies and will afterward drive through the Berkshires," the society page said -- Hamlin's carriage and horses having been shipped on ahead.

While millionaires provided grist for the gossip page, Page One reflected the exploits of a different layer of society.

"Halpin's murderer hiding in swamp," declared The News' lead headline. The man -- a fellow named Cameron was later arrested for the deed -- was suspected of killing an Orleans County grocery peddler in his wagon, then hiding out in the wilds of Tonawanda.

Then as now, city dwellers fretted about crime, said historian Elizabeth Sholes, a partner in the consulting company Industrial Research Associates.

"Wages were constricted so you had a lot of poverty, and a lot of people were feeling very embattled by these large corporate entities," she said. Prices for food and merchandise were rising as railroads and other industries concentrated their power, sparking discontent among urban workers, Ms. Sholes said.

Buffalo had 41 grain elevators, 24 banks and six poor farms, according to the Courier Co.'s City Directory of 1899. Mayor Conrad Diehl might still have had dirt under his fingernails that September day after harvesting the first poor-farm potato, one of the informal duties of his $5,000-a-year job.

Another sign of economic friction appeared in court, where 17 dock "rioters" were awaiting justice, charged with firing on ore shovelers during a strike the previous June. The strike, a landmark in the bloody labor history of Buffalo's docks, had left dozens of ships bobbing idly in Lake Erie, enraging their owners and businessmen on shore waiting for their cargo. On Sept. 23, the judge threw out arguments that the charges be dropped, sending the strikebreakers to trial.

"The men in the boat were cooped in the hold of the vessel when those fellows manned every hatch and fired down on them," the president of the longshoremen's union was quoted as saying. "It's a brutal shame that any thing of that kind could have happened in a civilized community."

Just how civilized the community was could be argued.

Elsewhere along the waterfront, "thugs" as young as 12 and 13 regularly made life miserable for farmers coming to sell their goods at the city's Elk Street Market.

"Farmers are assaulted and robbed there every night, and Capt. (John) Lynch, instead of trying to protect them ... tells them they better stay out of the city when it is dark," The News complained in a front-page editorial.

After railing at crime on its cover, however, The News in its inside pages reflected a populace concerned about more mundane matters.

A loose dog in Looneyville -- a hamlet in Lancaster -- was "biting everything that came his way," prompting a quarantine of his victims. In sports, Brooklyn stood atop the 12 teams of professional baseball, none farther west than Chicago. The Marine Bank and Manufacturers & Traders published their quarterly reports, each boasting assets around $8 million.

If you had a telephone, four digits sufficed to call the offices of The Evening News -- one of 12 daily papers available, including three in German and one in Polish. Even more popular were breweries, no fewer than 28 of which had listings in the City Directory.

Medicine was greatly advanced compared to today's science -- at least judging by the ads from local practitioners and vendors of patent medicines. Doan's Liver Pills cured back problems; Radam's "Microbe Killer" promised to vanquish not only cancer but consumption and dyspepsia as well, at $1 a bottle.

And a Dr. Linn, who "treats only men," demonstrated that some things never change. Long before Viagra, his carefully worded ad promised to restore "weak or failing manly power" at any age.