Celebrating the 1916 National Election in Bedford

[In indexing the Charles Jenks Scrapbooks for the Society, Sharon McDonald found a delightful set of newspaper articles from the November, 1916 Bedford Enterprise. She summarizes them for us here:]

It was election time in 1916, and the presidential race between Woodrow Wilson and Charles Evans HughesWoodrow Wilson Campaign Button was too close to foretell. Bedford resident Fred F. Cook, however, was sure that his candidate, Hughes, would win. He and his friend Randall A. Whittier argued about it as they rode the Boston commuter train. Randall was just as sure that Wilson would be reelected.  Rashly, Cook made a bet: if Hughes didn’t win the election, he, Cook, would harness himself up to his one horse shay and pull Whittier around the streets of Bedford. If Hughes did win, it would be Whittier who would play horse.

The presidential campaign had been intense. The Great War had begun in Europe, and Woodrow Wilson was promising to keep America out of the war. Hughes, on the other hand, wanted to prepare the United States to join the war.

Ticket to Town Hall Election Returns 1916

For the first time, Bedford was going to receive the results of the election as quickly as they were announced. The Bedford Civic Club (Randall Whittier, president) was renting a newswire, and for the price of 25 cents, you could join the crowd upstairs in the Town Hall on election night and listen as the votes were counted across the nation. The evening would be festive as well as patriotic, for the Civic Club would be serving oyster stew.

Even with the oyster stew, it was a long night, but at the end of it, Woodrow Wilson had won again. Fred Cook had to make good on his bet.

Cook, a man of about fifty, worked as a salesman of paper boxes. He was also the captain of the Fred Cook in his Lexington Minuteman UniformLexington/Bedford Minutemen, and a fireman. Whittier was a bit younger, about thirty years old, and worked as a bank teller. The whole town turned out to see the forfeit, and it was an unforgettable occasion. Cook took up the traces of his shay with Whittier aboard, and a parade worthy of the Fourth of July stepped off.  The Lexington Drum Corps set the pace, and two triumphant Democratic donkeys tramped along behind. Then fell in practically the entire town, carrying torches and signs reading “Wilson Whittier Winner.” From his seat in the carriage, the local winner himself bowed grandly to his audience.

After proceeding up and down all of the main streets of Bedford, the parade broke up in front of the Town Hall, and all went inside. There they were treated to a program of wit and farce, with local politicians the butt of the jokes. (Woodrow Wilson himself was invited, but alas could not attend.) Then, to the accompaniment of music from a twenty piece band, all enjoyed a collation of coffee and beans.

Cook’s pronouncement on the bet?

“To be a horse is no pink tea,

And this was caused by the G.O.P.”

Sharon McDonald

The Historical Society Salutes Bedford High School’s History Day Winners


At our first meeting of our program year, the Bedford Historical Society recognized the outstanding students from Bedford High School who won honors at the State History Day competition, and went on to compete at the national event.

Students Maya Bostwick, Emily Weigert and Ava Altman won 1st place at the Massachusetts State History Day competition for their Senior Group Documentary, “Rachel Carson: Exploring Pesticides and Encountering the Power of the Chemical Industries.” The film is available for viewing on YouTube via the highlighted link.

In addition, students Michelle Gong and Stella Miller won 2nd place at the state level for their Senior Group Website, “Re-inventing Our Understanding of Humanity: Jane Goodall’s Exploration of Chimpanzees and Encounters with the Scientific World,” which can be viewed by clicking on the highlighted link.

Congratulations to all of the winners!


Uhlan: Bedford’s Famous Trotter

During the 19th century, horse races that featured trotters in harness became increasingly popular in the United States. Unlike thoroughbred racing, known as “The Sport of Kings,” harness racing was a sport for the middle classes and gave rise to  a new breed of horse, the Standardbred. These animals were bred to work in harness, like the carriage horse so many owned. Standardbreds were considered sturdier than thoroughbreds and generally less high-strung. Everyone followed the races and the horses became celebrities. One of these early superstars was a horse named Uhlan. He was one of the first trotters to break the 2:00 minute mile and, most remarkable, this amazing horse began his life here in Bedford.

Standardbred Trotter Uhlan

The story of Uhlan’s career is recounted in a 1914 publication, recently purchased by the Society, called The Driving Clubs of Greater Boston (edited and compiled by John H. Linnehan and Edward E. Cogswell). At the turn of the twentieth century, wealthy Bedford industrialist Arthur H. Parker established stables on Old Billerica Road, calling them the Shawsheen River Stock Farm. In the fall of 1900, Parker purchased a mare named Blonde from a Dr. Alderman of Lexington, MA, paying less than $300 for her. The following year, Parker added a stallion named Bingen to his stables, purchasing him from J. Malcolm Forbes for a price of $32,000. Bingen was a well-known stallion and is now considered one of the most important sires of the Standardbred line.  Parker bred his new acquisitions and in 1904, the foal Uhlan was born. Early on, Parker recognized Uhlan’s potential, and ordered his trainer, Ed McGrath to begin developing the colt. Uhlan proved so promising that Parker was soon racing him at Readville and Charles River Speedway. In 1907, Parker offered his three-year old to Charles Sanders of Salem, Mass for $2,500 and Sanders purchased him immediately. Sanders enlisted Robert Proctor of the Readville Track to train his new horse, and Uhlan’s career as a champion began in earnest.
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