For the first time in years, St. Patrick's Day in Columbus in 1913 was a very quiet sort of holiday. For many years -- well back into the years before the American Civil War -- Irish Columbus had let the city and environs nearby know that it was alive and well.
The celebrations were rather small at first. But then Columbus was only a city of 5,000 people when Irish immigrants began to arrive in large numbers in the1830s. Germans were arriving as well and were settling on the South Side -- just outside the city limits -- and making it their home. But the Irish settled on the North Side near the rail yards outside the City Limits at the street we now call Nationwide Boulevard but was once called North Public Lane. In 1870, the name of North Public Lane was changed to Naghten Street to remember a popular Irish President of City Council -- Billy Naghten -- who died crossing the rail yards from work to home one night. By the turn of the Twentieth Century, Naghten Street from High Street east to St. Patrick's Church was known as Irish Broadway.
And on each St. Patrick's Day, the Irish came forth. With banners waving and songs singing, the Irish of Columbus recalled who they were and why it was important to remember them. They marched through the snow and the wind and the rain of early March in Columbus each year and it seemed if little if anything could deter them. In 1913, one thing did -- it was a holiday called Easter.
In the days before March 17 local newspapers published articles about Irish life and Irish customs and even several popular Irish recipes. But there was no notice announcing the details the annual St. Patrick's Day parade. The reason was simple. There would be no St. Patrick's Day parade in 1913. One paper summed up the situation. "The fact that St. Patrick's Day comes during Holy Week is the reason for so few social events on this day, which is usually the occasion for many parties and dances." Another paper noted that, "The City Council is giving the only official recognition of St. Patrick's Day in postponing its regular meeting on Monday night to Tuesday night. ... Many private social celebrations, however, are scheduled. On the streets, bits of green and Irish emblems adorned both pedestrians and stores."
Some people wondered at the time whether canceling the annual St. Patrick's Day parade would bring bad luck to the city.
But in mid-March 1913, in Columbus, misfortune did not seem to be in sight. On March 15, 1913, a local paper noted in a headline that, "Warm Sunshine and Balmy Air Dissipated Desire of Everyone to Work." The newspaper went on to note that "Friday's maximum temperature was 75 degrees at 3:00 PM."
The weatherman soon reported however that the warm snap would not last long and that cold weather would soon return for the week leading up to Easter.
Weather notwithstanding, the people of Columbus prepared for a happy Easter holiday. As the first major holiday of the spring season, many people looked at Easter as not only a religious holiday but the proper time to buy clothes for the Easter Parade. Columbus merchants were only too happy to oblige. The Lazarus department store advertised "$25.00 suits for $15.00" and "35.00 suits for $25.00" and "$7.50 Misses dresses for $5.00."
At the Busy Bee candy company on High Street, a variety of candy was offered at very low prices. As an example, one could buy "Large Candy Eggs." These were described as "chocolate marshmallow, chocolate, cocoanut cream, marshmallow hen eggs, pure candy, fresh made, quite attractive -- 10 cents/dozen."
Of course, Easter was primarily a religious holiday and every Christian church in the city prepared for special holiday performances of music and song. But for many people, the high point of Easter was the Easter Parade of people promenading along the main streets of Columbus after church.
In Columbus, on Sunday, March 23, 1913, the parade did not fare well. A local newspaper reported that weathermen, "After promising Saturday that Easter would be fair, to turn around Sunday morning and drive in a thunder and lightning storm and put the kibosh on the Spring parade ... Columbus had .53 of an inch Sunday."
Perhaps to regain trust, the weather bureau reported that "the storm which did so much damage in the west Sunday had spent itself before reaching Columbus Monday. All danger is over from this storm, according to the local weather bureau."
The weather bureau -- not for the first time and perhaps not for the last -- was simply not correct. Approaching Columbus was a bad storm at a bad time and the result -- two days after Easter -- would be the worst flood Columbus had ever seen.
All in all, March 1913 would turn out to be one of the busiest months in the history of the city.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz write the As it were column for ThisWeek News.