As it were

City saw busy beginning to 1913

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The holiday season concluding the centennial year of Columbus in 1912 ran the gamut from tranquil to tumultuous -- and all within the space of a week or so.

Christmas week was quiet. After all of the parades, pageants and proprieties of the one hundredth year of the capital city, it seemed that people were ready for something a little less grand for the yuletide season.

As one local paper reported, "Everything pointed out that Columbus people had made preparations in advance for their celebration, and were carrying out their program exactly as planned. The out-of-town travel took place before Christmas more than ever before. Less than usual street traffic appeared, revealing people were already located for their Christmas Day festivities."

This is not to say that a lot of people spent the holiday in quiet contemplation. There was plenty to do in the capital city if one was not inclined to spend the day at home. All public offices and most businesses were closed for the Wednesday holiday. But certain commercial locations like the railroad stations, hotels, restaurants and most theaters remained open to offer something to do after services were concluded in every Christian church in the city.

The theaters were particularly busy. This was a time when most theaters still featured live performers in either serious drama or light vaudeville performances. Increasingly the established theaters were showing "moving pictures" as well.

But for all of the ballyhoo about the "movies," the programming offered something to be desired. For example, the Broadway Theatre offered the following Sunday features Reptiles of Asia Minor, Tulip Studies, The International Motor Boat Race, Fashion Weekly-Furs, The Struggle-A Drama and An Awkward Mixup -- A Comedy.

It has been often noted that most of the short films from the early days of the movies have been lost. Judging from these titles, it perhaps is not hard to see why.

In addition to enjoying themselves, residents of Columbus also reached out to help people less fortunate than themselves.

Christmas celebrations and programs were held in the Ohio Schools for the Blind and Deaf as well as at the institutions for the treatment of mentally ill and developmentally disabled and the Ohio Penitentiary.

Organizations like the Salvation Army and the Volunteers of America provided shelter and dinner for needy adults while the Columbus Diet Kitchen fed 300 needy children in the basement of Trinity Episcopal Church on Statehouse Square. Further assistance was provided to families in need by Charity Newsies and other charitable organizations.

Columbus did not have a white Christmas, but by all accounts it had a quiet and pleasurable one.

New Year's week would prove to be considerably more eventful.

The New Year celebration itself was about what most people expected. A local paper later described the evening. "Columbus people, as a rule, had lots of fun but indulged in little unusual hilarity, watching the old year out and the new year in Tuesday midnight. At 11 o'clock, the chimes played and this was the signal for whistles and other bells in all parts of the city to open up with their greeting to Mr. 1913."

"All of the downtown cafes, grill rooms and hotels were filled with merrymakers, bent on seeing the year die, but in nearly every instance the crowd was orderly. No arrests were reported. At some of the churches, watch services were held, while hundreds of homes were brilliantly lighted at midnight while entertaining watch parties. Masked balls and dances were held in a number of downtown halls."

This description gives the impression of a medium-sized Midwestern capital city welcoming in the new year in the local way it always had. And to some extent, as we can see, this was true. But the reporter writing a description neglected to mention what was rather unusual about the New Year.

On New Year's Eve and then through most of New Year's Day, the Welsh community of Columbus sponsored an Eisteddfod singing contest and concert with contestants from all parts of the United States. Memorial Hall's 3,000-seat theater was full for the entire event. Many local viewers were undoubtedly pleased when the Columbus contingent won first prize of $1,000 in group choral competition. Columbus had sponsored other Eisteddfod contests from time to time since the 1870s and more would follow in the years to come. But this was one of the most memorable.

The success of the Eisteddfod is all the more remarkable given the fact that a few blocks away 12,000 people were crammed into an auditorium especially constructed to hear Billy Sunday. William Ashley Sunday was a former baseball player turned evangelist who was at the height of a career that would last into the 1930s. His revival meeting lasted from Dec. 30, 1912 to Feb. 16, 1913. And the auditorium was filled the entire time.

It was an enthusiastic start to a new year.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek News.

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