Christmas in Owensboro was a festive event in 1920, just as it is now. There are many things that have changed a great deal over the past century, and others that have remained very much the same.
Let’s delay our walk through the winter wonderland long enough to stroll “through the archives” and see what was happening in our hometown during the most wonderful time of the year … 100 years ago.
With the Great War still a recent memory, President Warren G. Harding endorsed the idea that every family should place an American flag at the top of their Christmas trees, a “beautiful custom” that also provided “a lesson in patriotism.”
Local Postmaster Clint Griffith warned anyone planning to send Christmas gifts through the mail to remember to wrap boxes securely. According to an article published in the Owensboro Messenger just a few days after Thanksgiving, “much trouble over carelessly wrapped and poorly addressed packages” had been avoided because his clerks refused to accept anything not appropriately bundled. He also shared a reminder that candy and tobacco intended for American troops stationed in Germany must be placed in tin or light wooden boxes before mailing.
But not everyone listened.
On Christmas Day, assistant postmaster Ed Hayden pleaded for help in locating the intended recipient of a package addressed to “Marie, from Aunt Hannah.” Delivery was promised that very day if a more definite address could be determined.
But in the meantime, the previous week, the newspaper had reported the “Christmas rush is in full sway,” with “liberal buying at all of Owensboro stores; gifts attractive this year”!
“Everyone smiles on the street,” the article stated, and the stores were festive, too: “The windows are attractively trimmed in their red and green – here and there a bright red chimney and now and then Santa Claus, and again snow and ice suggesting a real Christmas.”
Among items being swept up by shoppers were jewelry, leather goods, clothing, furniture, novelties for the home, and something called “queensware” – a type of cream-colored Wedgwood pottery.
Children were especially caught up in the spirit, “trying everything in the stores that makes a noise or squeaks, or runs when wound up.”
Remembering the source of these treasures, “One little maiden paused before a glorious big Santa and said, ‘Please, Santa Claus, don’t forget Margaret.’”
One hundred years later, the reader cannot help but hope that little Margaret was remembered well.
McAtee, Lyddane and Ray – “Owensboro’s Store of Standard Merchandise” – published a large advertisement featuring gift ideas for the whole family. I wonder what the ladies really thought of their suggestion that “a very practical gift to give to sister or daughter would be one of these Redfern Corsets, made of beautiful quality pink satin, front lace and low bust.” Only $10.
An equally doubtful suggestion was featured in another ad’s insistence that what the lady of the house really wanted was …. a vacuum cleaner. Just think, men: “If your wife is tired out when you come home at night, if she is losing her dainty appearance and her good temper alike,” the money you invest in a new vacuum cleaner will pay off in “playtime and happiness.”
Wonder how THAT turned out?
A better idea might have been offered by George Steitler, who offered new Victrolas (sold on the easy payment plan), guaranteed to “make your Christmas this year musical.” His store was open evenings, and everyone was invited to stop by to hear recordings for children titled “Santa Claus Tells About His Toy Shop” or “Santa Claus Gives Away His Toys.” For the sentimental crowd, there was “That Old Irish Mother of Mine,” a melody guaranteed to make listeners think of their own mothers – whether they were Irish or not – with the reminder that “you can’t find a better place for your thoughts.”
But how to pay for these gifts? Well, the Owensboro Banking Co. had the answer. Their Dec. 25 advertisement invited visionary individuals to consider the benefits of a Christmas Club account. “Think how simple a matter your Christmas buying would be this year if you had been a member of our club,” they said. Promising that “payments are small but the check is big,” the bank offered seven levels of savings, starting with the investment of 10 cents a week, which would pay off $5 in December 1921, all the way up to the fabulous $10 a week, which would yield a whopping $500 … plus 4 percent interest!
Gift-giving, budgeting, and children’s Christmas wishes … they have remained with us through the years. But best of all is the eternal message of the season. May that gift be with you now and in all the days to come.