Editor’s note: This story was originally published in March 2018. Daylight saving time begins at 2 a.m. on March 12, 2023.
At 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 11, Bangor will join the rest of Maine in springing into daylight saving time. But once upon a time — way back in the 1880s — Bangor stubbornly kept itself 25 minutes ahead of the rest of the state all year ‘round.
Bangor Mayor Frederick A. Cummings was a fierce holdout in 1883 when railroad companies came up with the four time zones that we in the Continental U.S. know today — Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific. Prior to that, the country had a baffling hodgepodge of more than 50 time zones. Rail passengers had to reset their watches five times between Boston and Washington.
Cummings balked at the push for standardization, arguing it was contrary to God’s will. The position of the sun in the sky dictated the time, according to Cummings.
“It is one of the immutable laws of God that the hours of noon, sunrise and sunset should occur at different periods of the day at different localities on the Earth’s surface,” Cummings wrote in January 1884. “The law was undoubtedly established at the creation and has remained upon Nature’s statute book since that day. I do not believe that any municipal regulation or railroad laws have power to change it.”
When Nov. 18, 1883 rolled around and the majority of towns and cities across the U.S. embraced Standard Time, Bangor did not because Cummings had vetoed the city council resolution that would have adopted it. The council tried again on Jan. 1, 1884, and Cummings, a Democrat, again vetoed it.
Bangor had four public clocks at that time, and Cummings vowed that anyone who tried to change the time on them would be arrested.
Yet two of those clocks were in churches and were changed to Eastern Standard Time, despite the mayor’s threats. The other two remained 25 minutes ahead — on Cummings time.
Which clocks were right? Which were wrong? It was all very confusing.
“The whole performance is supremely ridiculous, as those who are engaged in it will realize before long,” declared an editorial in the Bangor Daily Commercial.
Down the coast, the Rockland Free Press had snarkier things to say about Cummings’ effort to keep solar time in Bangor. And its editorial board took the opportunity to take potshots at the Democratic Party.
“The new time table is likely to be adopted, on trial at least, all over the state, except at Bangor, where the Democratic mayor has vetoed it,” it wrote. “Perhaps he doesn’t like the idea of it interfering with the four and eleven o’clock customs of his party in that city of free rum.”
In March 1884, Cummings was up for reelection. On March 5, The New York Times noted that he was being challenged by Republican Samuel Humphrey and that Cummings’ stance on time change was controversial. Too controversial, apparently. Cummings lost. Or, you could say that he simply failed to get with the times.
Nevertheless, Bangor’s anti-Standard Time supporters kept their fight alive. And for the next three years there continued to be a 25-minute disagreement between the town’s two church clocks and its other two public clocks.
The dispute continued until 1887, when the state legislature adopted Eastern Time for the whole state.
That wasn’t the end of Maine’s time zone disagreements, though. The idea of Maine’s jumping ahead an hour to Atlantic Standard Time, like in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, has been bandied about for years, in fact. A bill to switch to Atlantic Time passed the Maine House last year.
The state Senate didn’t vote on it, so the legislation never reached Gov. Paul LePage. That didn’t stop the governor from weighing in. The bill was “insane,” he said, adding that its supporters needed “therapy.”
So, 134 years after Bangor’s clocks battled with each other, time is still a matter of opinion.
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