As it were

Snow marked 1914 St. Valentine's Day

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PHOTO COURTESY OF THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
A valentine from this period, circa 1919.
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As Columbus, Ohio, left January 1914 behind, the state capital was looking forward to a prosperous year ahead.

Twenty years earlier, 125,560 people had lived in what was rapidly becoming an important center of Midwestern transportation and trade. In 1910, the population had reached 181,510.

Now, in 1914 there were 200,000 people living in a town that seemed to be growing like a giant cross along the Broad Street and High Street corridors.

The city had suffered a major setback in March 1913, with the worst flood in its history. The raging water had inundated much of the west side of the city and claimed more than 90 lives.

While full recovery from the flood would take time, most of the major cleanup of the flooded area was well underway and plans were being made to prevent similar floods in the future. The process would take more than a decade but the end result would be the riverfront Civic Center.

With the Great Flood behind them, most people living in Columbus had reason to feel good about the future. The economy had rebounded from economic recession a few years earlier. Jobs were plentiful and incomes were generally rising. There was also a rather optimistic view of society expressing itself in the politics of the period.

Hoping that the worst of winter was behind them, residents of Columbus began to prepare for the holidays of February. These included the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln on Feb. 12 and President George Washington on Feb. 22.

Both holidays would continue to be celebrated separately across the country until a single national holiday was established for the third Monday of each February in 1971. Both of these holidays were celebrated often with dinners and receptions of a political nature.

St. Valentine's Day, on the other hand, was a holiday more for the young and the young at heart. It is not at all clear when people first began to celebrate Valentine's Day as a time of romantic encounter in Columbus. But since the birthday of the city is Feb. 14, 1812, it is probably fair to say that the date has been observed for one reason or another for most of the town's history.

The modern observance of Valentine's Day really dates from the mid to late 19th century, with the development of an efficient postal service, the ability to keep large quantities of flowers fresh out of season and the development of commercial markets for a variety of products fitting for the day -- not the least of which was candy.

In Columbus, the Busy Bee had three stores and was advertising a variety of tempting treats. Among them were Busy Bee Caramels about which it was said, "Every ounce of the caramels for this sale are fresh made in our own factory, Vanilla Nut, Chocolate Nut, Russian Cream as well as the plain flavors. Regular Price 40c lb.: the Saturday candy special at the three Busy Bee stores -- 30c lb."

Flowers were popular as well. One local paper reported that, "Milady's valentine this year is more than apt to be a bouquet of perfect flowers according to those who make a study of popular tastes. The marvelous skill of the modern florist and the comparative cheapness of the product, coupled with the exquisite sentiment that always has been associated with flowers, has wrought the change from the old-style paper 'atrocities' our childhood cherished."

But before there could be a holiday on Saturday the 14th, Columbus had to pass through Friday the 13th. And it was a memorable one indeed.

A local paper told the story. "Maybe it was King Winter's valentine greeting or perhaps some less sentimental humans will attribute it to Friday the 13th, but it was a real snowstorm that hit Columbus Friday and continued for the greater part of the night. The snowfall ... was 9.3" -- the heaviest February snowfall since the local weather bureau began keeping records in 1885."

The paper went on to note that as the snow fell, the temperature also continued to drop. "The lowest temperature Friday night was five above. The mercury stood at this mark at 7 a.m. Saturday."

In a way, this was a good thing because the cold kept the snow light and powdery. "The 'beautiful' drifted nicely on the sidewalks, and thousands of citizens were out early Saturday morning armed with shovels, brooms and scrapers, making pathways."

The snow was cleared away and the parties planned for the day went forward. A few examples included: "Mr. and Mrs. B. Gwynne Huntington ... will entertain with a Valentine dinner party ... the Student Council of Ohio State University will have a Valentine party and open house at the Student Union; members of the Denison and Ohio State basketball teams will be the guests of honor ... Beta Tau Delta sorority will give a dancing party at Rader's Oak Street Academy."

And it would be nice to think that a good time was had by all.

Happy Valentine's Day.

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

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