COLUMNS

As It Were: Christmas 1920 left Columbus bereft of snow, but not Christmas cheer

Ed Lentz
Guest columnist

It was cold and clear on Christmas morning in 1920 in Columbus.

The day brought some disappointment among the younger set receiving sleds because they had no snow on which to test them.

Ed Lentz

But for people leaving home for church services at 6 a.m., the absence of sleet, ice and snow was welcome.

In the meantime, people in Ohio’s capital city enjoyed what essentially was a very long holiday weekend.

Christmas in Columbus came on Saturday in 1920. This meant the entire city enjoyed two days off in a row. It also meant Friday was a very busy shopping day in the city.

A local paper reported on the flurry of activity: “Columbus merchants, in reporting holiday business equal to last year said that individual sales were more modest, but the number of buyers were larger than last year. Perfumes, dress accessories, jewelry, especially pearls, toys, neckties, gloves and shirts for men, and musical instruments were sold in large numbers.”

Another local news report echoed the interest in all things musical: “Downtown stores dealing in musical things were the center of a tardy maelstrom of late gift buyers or would-be buyers. It seemed that despairing of selecting a suitable present of some other nature, many persons decided to say it with records, sheet music or something else that can be played. Late records were sold out at all stores.”

Across the city, a number of organizations brought aid and comfort to people in need. Even though the economy had improved notably across the country, some people still needed help.

Some people helped the poor and underprivileged directly: “Columbus charity workers are very much on the job this year and it is safe to say that not a poor family or child will want for Christmas gifts and cheer. The Santa Claus Club will distribute 1900 baskets from its headquarters, 74 East Gay Street, Saturday. Food, toys and wearing apparel make up the contents of each basket. ... The club will be assisted by the Columbus Auto Club.

“The Columbus Lodge of Elks has already distributed 450 baskets of good things and 100 more were packed on Thursday night. Each basket contains a half peck of potatoes, cans of tomatoes, corn, peas, salmon, syrup, three pounds of corn meal, two pounds of beans, two pounds of rice, ham, rolled oats, candy, pickles, flour, coffee and sugar.

“The Salvation Army has prepared 359 baskets for needy families and distributed them on Friday evening.” On the Thursday after Christmas, “the Salvation Army is to entertain 400 children of the Sunday School and a number of poor children at its headquarters.”

The Volunteers of America distributed its baskets on the Friday before Christmas; it was assisted by members of the Exchange Club. The assistance was appreciated but in some ways a bit unexpected: “A big live turkey and $55 came unexpectedly to Major Collins of the Volunteers of America when he attended the Exchange Club luncheon at the Chittenden Hotel on Thursday. Upon President Cussins suggestion, it was put up for auction and knocked down at $55 by Carl Piefer, and then the money and the bird were both given to the charity worker.” The ultimate fate of the bird was not recorded.

Although most businesses and offices of the city were closed for the holidays, a number of places stayed open.

Most major hotels and restaurants were open, as were the major theaters. Motion-picture theaters were becoming more popular. But the movies still were silent and usually accompanied only by a pianist or organist.

For more varied entertainment, a lot of people went to local vaudeville theaters. The Hartman Theatre was at the southwest corner of Third and State streets. Over Christmas weekend, the Greenwich Village Follies offered entertainment billing itself as “the original Greenwich Village Theatre Company,” which included “Twenty Famous Artists Models.” A few blocks away, the B.F. Keith’s Theatre offered “A Trip to Hitland,” which included “the McCarthy Sisters, Charlie McGood and Company and Seymour’s Happy Family.”

One might wonder what all of these entertainers did after the show was over. A local paper revealed that the "Greenwich Village Follies folks at the Hartman had their Christmas celebration back stage at the theatre on Thursday night. Keith vaudeville players and a few close friends of Keith theatres ... enjoyed the annual Christmas party and supper provided through the generosity of E. F. Albee, President of the B.F. Keith vaudeville circuit. ... By 11 p.m. the party was in full swing with dancing in the club rooms. Supper was served promptly at midnight with 60 persons seated at a specially prepared table, set in the form of a letter 'A' in honor of Mr. Albee."

Concluding its coverage, one local newspaper noted: “When is all quiet through the house Friday evening, Santa Claus, despoiled of his snow, will make his Columbus chimney rounds via airplane.”

Have a safe and happy holiday season.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.