Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy New Year! Snippets and stories from past years…

As we ring in the New Year I thought it might be interesting to look back at the old newspapers and see how much things have changed over the years.

In the January 2, 1914 Daily Union there were many social events to ring in the New Year. There must have been something to do every night in December in Junction City.

The highlight of the season was the annual Gamma Tau Beta event.  The Ball was held at Woodman Hall on Tuesday evening. “The occasion was a full dress affair, with the ladies becomingly attired in gowns of the new shades, while the young men in dress suits added dignity to the ball.” The hall was decorated with hundreds of pennants representing schools and colleges across the nation. Streamers of green and white, the fraternity colors, formed a canopy above the crowd and framed the GTB symbol. The Sixth field artillery orchestra from Fort Riley serenaded the party.

The paper continues on with more mundane matters. There were forty six fires in 1913. It seems that July and August were the most active months with eight fires each month.

Cattle were selling for above average prices. Col. L. R. Brady sold two Holsteins. One for $165 and one for $150, three heifer calves went to the same man for $25 each. The livestock reports from Kansas City price prime fed steers at $8.50-$9, dressed beef steers $7.25-$8.40, cows and heifers $4.50-$9.00.   

The B. Rockwell Company paid the highest tax for a privately owned business, $2,895.96, according to the County Treasurer.

Dickinson County was having quite a problem with gophers. Crop losses were estimated to be $50,000 according to farmers. The county commissioners raised the bounty on gopher scalps to ten cents each.

The parcel post celebrated its first birthday at the first of the year. The allowable weight was also raised from twenty to fifty pounds.

There was an organized gang of box car robbers operating out of this area but their headquarters was believed to be Salina. The police are still investigating these crimes.

Over fifty men participated in the wolf drive that was held in the west part of the county. After the hunt the total count was an astounding one coyote and a sighting of two others that escaped.       

The Cozy Theater will be showing vaudeville acts on the Sullivan & Considine circuit this coming season. Ticket prices will stay the same, 5 and 10 cent admissions, except when a tabloid musical comedy is shown in conjunction with the regular act.

Fifty years later the Junction City Republican from January 2, 1964 starts the year on a more sober note. The front page features a large photo of the elevator at Alida with the caption, “Silent Sentinel in the Republican Valley… All activity has ceased in this once bustling community. Houses are all torn down. No school stands…only the elevator is standing… a silent reminder of things past… a silent reminder of Milford reservoir of the future.”

Inside the newspaper is more optimistic with the first major headline stating “Prizes Offered To First Baby Born in 1964”, there are twelve sponsors participating by offering a plethora of prizes ranging from cash and baby supplies to a box of cigars for the new father.

The YMCA sponsored a ski trip to Hidden Valley, Colorado for a large group of Junction City youth. Youth paid $25 each to participate in the trip and will be returning by the end of the month.

Highway construction contracts in Kansas reached a record breaking total of $84,480,000 for 1963 due to the increased volume of work on the interstate system. Interstate contracts in 1963 totaled $36,112,000 for work on I-70, I-35, I-35W and I-435. 90 percent of the project was funded by federal taxes and the state funded 10 percent from the collected highway user taxes.

Agriculture fills a good portion of the paper; “The first consolidation of regional grain co-operative in the United States was announced in Kansas City, Friday by P.J. Nash, secretary and general manager of the Farmer’s Union Co-operative Marketing Association.” They will now be able to better serve co-operative grain elevators in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming because of combined assets valued at $35,000,000. They will be processing and storing grain for over 100,000 farmers. The storage capacity will be in excess of 50 million bushels. This allows for an increase in exports, grains will be loaded on barges at St. Joseph and Kansas City.    

On the next page there is a large article about the Kansas Agricultural Convention. Topics to include Wheat Marketing in South America and What’s Ahead for Beef Producers.

The Agriculture outlook for 1964 is “much of the world is short of food… heavy purchases of grains will do more to bolster U.S. farm income than will government-supported prices in 1964.”

As I turn to the next page full of advertisements a used car ad catches my eye; 1963 Buick Skylark $2,895, 1960 Chevy El Camino V-8 $1,499, 1959 Chevy Bel Air $1,099.

On the last page of the paper is the newspaper’s prediction for what will be major stories in the coming year. The Milford Dam project will feature heavily as it nears completion. At this time the contractor is 105 days ahead of schedule and may have the project completed by mid-summer if the weather cooperates.

            Fort Riley is discussing the feasibility of acquiring approximately 50,000 acres. If acquired it will double the size of the fort. “The additional land would provide for adequate firing range and maneuvering of vehicles and personnel.”

            The article concludes with the prediction that “continued growth and development of Junction City and Geary County appears to be the pattern for the New Year. “
            I guess some things don’t change as much over the years as you would expect. From all of us at the Geary County Historical Society we wish you a safe and happy New Years!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Winter Weather

Brrrr it’s cold outside but somehow it doesn’t seem quite that bad as I sit at my computer next to my heater. As I look through our archives and read about winters in early Geary County I’m so happy I live in this day and age.  

            In December of 1885 “an unbroken blanket of snow extended from Williams, NM to Kansas City” covering the state and giving settlers a small taste of what was yet to come. The blizzard of 1886 hit in January and caught settlers completely unaware. Drifts of 6 feet were common across the state.

The Annuals of Kansas starts Kansas history describing the blizzard of 1886.  25 degrees below zero was recorded at Fort Riley. Many settlers did not have permanent dwellings and it is estimated that 100 Kansans perished due to the cold. Frozen carcasses of rabbits, prairie chickens, quail, and antelope were reported across the state. It is estimated that 80 percent of the cattle in Kansas froze to death. Many major cattle companies across the state were ruined because there was no insurance to cover their losses.

 The Republican of January 8, reports that “trains on all the roads here were abandoned” because they could not get through the drifts. The Kansas State Historical Society reports that a “force of eleven Union Pacific locomotives was unable to "buck" through and cut in the snow near Salina. The telegraph wires went down on Thursday morning essentially cutting Junction City off from the outside world.           

              On April 5, 1920 the Union Newspaper reports that Junction City was completely isolated from the outside world after a two day blizzard. It is estimated that two feet of snow fell accompanied by thunder and lightning. Rural mail carriers reported that the wind had swept the fields clean leaving ten foot drifts to cover the roadways. Travel on all railroads was stopped for at least 24 hours because of the drifts. Men worked quickly around town to get the snow off roofs to keep them from collapsing. Peach and plum trees were blooming at this time of year but after the freezing weather not much crop is expected. 

A funny side note to illustrate how high the drifts were, “Carl Stevenson walked out onto a drift back of his home and suddenly slipped into a rainwater barrel.” It seems the county roads were the worst “Dr. King got stuck with his big car… in a place in the canon road north of the city, and came into town afoot, sending Dan Baker out Monday with explicit directions as to where the car would be found… [Dan] located the spot but no car could be seen. Certain that no one could have taken the car…he started prodding about on the level snow and found the car two feet under snow level.”    

Tuesday after the storm the fire department “did valiant service… after the snow got good and slushy, by getting out in the business section with the fire hose and washing off the brick paving.”    

February 18, 1926 the Republican tells us that a near blizzard swept through Kansas in the early hours. Falling rain turned to sleet and then snow as 45mph winds blew it across the plains and deposited it in low spots making huge barriers across roads. The county’s “big snow plow was ordered onto the Victory Highway... snow had drifted” covering the road. “Orders went out to all patrolmen to clear their roads as soon as the snow stopped or if there was no let-up, to get out and clear them anyway.” This seems to have been a hopeless job because the museum has several photos of the snow plows stuck while trying to clear the snow.    

             On January 4, 1947 the Union newspaper reports that the temperature reached twenty-six degrees below zero that morning. “This almost-unbelievably cold temperature was reached about 7 a.m. after a steady drop throughout the night,” according to L.W. Sargent, local weather observer. The cold was alleviated some by the absence of wind. Also, reported is that the local taxi service, tow trucks and plumbers did a booming business that day. 

  In December of 1973 an ice storm knocked out power in Junction City and the surrounding area. The Union newspaper has an unofficial report of an estimated $500,000 in tree damage. KJCK was off the air and the FM tower was flattened.

            February 1, 1983 the Union reports an 8 inch snow that made roadways in much of Kansas dangerous to travel on. This was accompanied by 30mph gusts of wind. Junction City Manager, John Higgins, declared a snow emergency after getting stuck in his driveway only getting his car out half a car length before deciding to walk to work. Junction City reported 8 inches of snow and was expecting another 2-5 inches by the end of the day.

            In more recent times, Geary County and the surrounding area was paralyzed when a major ice storm, with an accompanying 6 inches of snow hit in December of 2007. I am sure that many of us remember the storm. The Union reported on December 13, 2007 that many were left without power for several days, some up to 10 days and some in rural areas longer. Utility crews came from as far away as North Carolina to assist with restoring the power.

Christmas Traditions

Scanning through old newspapers I ran across an article in the December 14, 1911 Junction City Union newspaper which describes Christmas customs around the world. It was interesting to read about Christmas customs from over a century ago.   

The article starts in England with the “pretty custom of bringing in the Yule.” Children help the family bring in a “huge log”. On Christmas Eve the family gathers around the burning log to “sing carols and tell Christmas legends.” The halls are hung with mistletoe “under which the unwary are kissed soundly” and all join in the eating of a “rich and blazing plum pudding.”

Christmas is the “gala day” for children in Holland. They have a beautiful custom for ushering it in, “at midnight on Christmas eve, the men and boys dress in fancy costume, march through the streets in long procession, holding aloft a brilliantly lighted star, as they chant the Gloria in Excelsis. The little girls clad in white stand at the windows and bow to the star as it passes.”

One of the most lavish Christmas traditions can be seen in Germany. Church bells are rung on Christmas day to usher in the day and call everyone to early church. As the bells are ringing lights are quickly put in every window to light the way. After church the day is celebrated with a huge feast. The presents are “simple but in every home is a blazing tree hung with cakes, colored candles and gifts. It is a pretty sight to see the children march in to see their tree.” It is interesting to note that the German Santa, Kriss Kringle generally leaves a switch in the stockings to remind children to be good until his next visit.

     Servian children look forward to Christmas Eve when their father brings home a freshly cut young oak. He enters the house calling, “Good evening and a merry Christmas!” The children will gleefully respond, “May God grant both to thee and mayst thou have riches and honor.” They then shower the tree with corn and throw it in the fire to burn until Christmas morning. The day is greeted with pistol shoots.

   French children do not celebrate with a tree or stockings. They hang their slippers to be filled with treats. They also hang sheaves of grain along the eves of the house to feed the birds.

On Christmas Eve the children of Belgium “on Christmas Eve are dressed in gay colors and form a procession, which marches through the streets” they are led by musicians. Each child will hold a figurine of the Christ child or a crucifix.

 Throughout Russia work is suspended for a fortnight during the Christmas season. In the country side the boys dress like animals and they are led through the streets by a band of boys making dreadful music. The procession goes door to door where they are given food, drink and small amounts of money. 

After reading through the article I realized some of the traditions were familiar. I think that many of us can identify with some of the customs because at some point in the distant (or not so distant) past our families immigrated to the United States and brought with them traditions that allowed them to connect to their past. Some of these traditions have been carried on by each subsequent generation.  

Many of us have started new traditions but in some way we have carried on traditions from the previous generations. As you go about this holiday season take a minute to stop and share with your family where those traditions come from. 

From all of us at the Geary County Historical Society, we wish you a merry and safe holiday season!

These youngsters were captured on camera at 7th and Washington streets in 1900 being pulled on a sled behind their trusty mule. The children are identified as; Parker, Victor Parker, Schillito, E. Hall, M. Hall, N Wotling, B. Turner, Wotling, Grace Shillito, Harold Victor.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Learning Toys

For those of us who were born in the latter half of the 19th century, the Easy-Bake Oven was always a highly requested toy on Christmas lists. I remember, when I first received my Easy-Bake Oven (a hot pink toy that looked just like my parents microwave), I would spend hours and hours mixing the cakes and cookie mixes with water, pouring them into their little metal pans and carefully inserting them into the machine, and then watch through the tiny opening as my treats cooked, as if by magic, by the heat of a single light bulb.

            What I didn’t realize, as a young child of eight or nine, was that my Easy-Bake Oven was not an original idea, but had evolved from generations of little girls learning to cook at their mothers’ sides, not for fun as I did, but out of necessity.

            Toys like the Easy-Bake Oven, play irons and even dolls were created to teach young children, particularly young girls, how to become the perfect housewife. And, while we might associate the Easy-Bake Oven with hot pink or avocado green plastic from the 1960s and 80s, toy ovens actually have a much longer history than plastic.

            As early as the late 1800s, child sized stoves were available purchase. These stoves were miniature versions of popular models of their day, which meant they were made of steel or cast iron, stove pipe and a place to add real hot coals or burning embers inside. "Cooking can be done upon this range," proclaimed one ad from 1898. Yes, small children of the 1800s were playing with toys heated by actual coals and, in some cases, flames. A far cry from our carefully incased light-bulb units.

            In the 1927 Sears and Roebuck Catalog available to Geary County residents, two types of real-to-life toy stoves were available for little girls: The Fancy Large Nickel Plated Cast Iron Stove, complete with stove pipe, coal scuttle and draft damper; and the more modern Combination Gas Range and Stove with blue trimmings. The advertisement for the new gas stove read: “A new Stove, just like Mother’s” and it truly was, with four gas burners, iron skillet, dinner kettle and lifter. But there was a purpose behind the danger. Little girls were taught at a young age how to stoke a fire, safely cook with dangerous materials and then clean up after themselves through their miniature stoves.

With the rise of electricity in the 20th century, these toy stoves evolved, though they still relied on children being cautious enough not to burn themselves, or their house, with the heating elements that allowed children to boil a pot of tea, or cook a tiny cake. An article in the Junction City Union on December 17, 1930 recounted toys available in local toy departments including toy percolators, stoves, irons and washing machines that could be operated just like mother’s were in abundance. These stoves featured an electric cord that could be plugged into an outlet, hot coils, and a fully working oven, which could get up to 500 degrees.

These heavy-duty child-sized stoves fell out of favor when World War II required all steel production to go toward the war effort. Children were required to use their imagination during the sparse war years, and mud pies were back on the menu.  But by the 1950s, the war had ended, plastic had hit the market and mass production was starting to take off in the toy industry. Suzy Homemaker baking kits, with prepackaged mixes and plastic ovens took off, and while these still looked like the grown-up ovens of the 50s, they had lost some of the fire power of the earlier brands.

Still, Suzy Homemaker was too dangerous and in 1963, toy company Kenner introduced the world to the Easy-Bake Oven. Hands-off cooking and safety for junior bakers helped the company sell their new invention and children nationwide were able to slide their tiny creations into the stove from the side, without coming close to the heating element. The play cook stove evolved further in the latter half of the 19th century, and the design changed from a full size oven and range, to the popular microwave look in the 1970s and 80s. Each design evolved to allow little girls, and boys, to cook just like their parents.

Come into the Geary County Historical Society to see an early 1930s electric toy stove. Scorch marks and a worn stove top indicate that a child cooked on this tiny toy, perhaps boiling a pot of tea for her dolls. And, of course, the evolution of the toy stove wouldn’t be complete without a 1980s hot pink Easy-Bake Oven. Both can be found in the Playtime exhibit through 2014.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tis The Season

Tis the Season….words we all hear frequently during the Holidays.  This too familiar phrase is applied to snow, shopping, the holiday spirit, the flu, and sometimes, as any police officer will tell you, crime. During the holidays the rate of theft and other crimes rises because the level of desperation people feel increases with the pressure to buy, buy, buy.
Littered across the papers from previous Christmases are articles on the crime that increases this time of year. While searching our news scrapbooks for interesting articles I came across several that just made me shake my head and sigh.  On December 14, 1959 a leather bag containing $600-$700 was stolen from the Flame Club.  Right below that is an article from December 15, 1959. This one stated that someone broke into the pool hall and pried open the back of the music box then the coin box within stealing all the quarters. Next to those is an article also from the 15th about four teens who stole ten cases of Ice Cream Bars, something I know we all want in December.  These same youths admitted to stealing a blinker light owned by the state highway commission, and admitted to two separate thefts of beer.
After being thoroughly depressed by these articles I turned the page only to discover more articles of the crimes committed during the 1959 holiday season. After reading about multiple fires, not all crimes but still equally depressing, I came across an encouraging story.  Couched at the bottom of the page amidst the stories of burglary, fires, arrests, and stolen hubcaps was the article that caught my attention. 
“Wallet is Returned,” is the simple, small headline of this article.  It seems on December 21st a woman shopping downtown for Christmas lost her wallet.  According to the article, the wallet contained $19 and some papers.  While this may not seem like a major loss to some of us now, $19 bought a lot more in 1959 and the woman was distressed to discover it missing.  Luckily for the owner, the wallet was quickly recovered.  It seems that Leslie Chaves discovered the wallet while shopping downtown, and being an honest young man of seven he gave it to his mother who turned it in.  The police returned the wallet to its owner that afternoon. 
The paper commented on this charity stating, “It’s the Christmas season and it’s appropriate that one’s faith in his fellow man should be restored.”  After reading only one charitable article in two pages for December 1959 I was starting to feel like maybe kindness is appropriate but rarely shown.
I turned the page again and instead of depressing articles about fires and robberies was a large, front page picture about the Salvation Army Christmas toy drive.  The photo shows a row of bicycles restored and painted by the firemen of Junction City with four men in the background behind a table piled with toys. This is what “Tis the season” should refer to.
For years now the Salvation Army and other community groups have collected toys for the needy families in Geary County and beyond.  This picture is repeated over the next several years as the generosity of people and the fire department was documented.  Back then it wasn’t only new toys that were collected; toys and bikes that had already had one child love and use them were repaired and painted by the fire department and made new for another child to cherish.
This tradition continues today in Geary County.  While the toys are usually brand new the sentiment hasn’t changed.  This is the time of year, the season, when people give generously to others by providing toys and food for those that cannot supply it themselves.  So the lesson from going through the scrapbooks is that while crime may rise this time of year it is thankfully balanced out by the good deeds people do for each other.

Photo caption: TOYS READY FOR SANTA’S PACK- Toys which Junction City firemen have repaired and repainted were being distributed today by the Salvation Army to the parents of children who will receive them as Christmas gifts. Capt. Carl Amick, Salvation Army officer, said approximately 250 children will receive gifts because of the generous response of the community and the efforts of the city firemen’s services. At the left is Heath Howery, assistant chief, and Delbert Johnson, chairman of the Salvation Army Advisory board is at the right.

Letters to Santa

With the holidays just around the corner the post office is seeing more mail than usual. Many of those letters are addressed to the North Pole for a very special man by the name of Santa.

            Children have been sending letters to Santa for years but it was not until 1912 that the Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock approved postal employees to respond to the letters. This program became known as “Letters to Santa”.

According to the United States Postal Service website  “hundreds of thousands of children of all ages send letters to “Santa Claus, North Pole, Alaska,” every year. Unless these letters have a complete Alaska address, they stay in the area where they were mailed.” Postal “elves” sort through the letters for ones that show serious need. These are then available for “adoption” through the USPS.

Looking through past issues of the Union newspaper there are many “Letters to Santa” that were published throughout the years. It is entertaining to read the children’s letters and to see what the popular toys were over the years.

Dear Santa,

My name is Margaret Virginia Folck but they all call me Jinney and I am 4 years old. I want you to please bring me a doll that goes to sleep and a buggy, some dishes and a little stove also a Christmas tree and lots of candy and nuts. I’ll be a good girl till you come.

December 1920

            Dear Old Santa,

            My little sister and I know you are a very busy man now and are going to write our letter together. My sister wants a dolly with brown eyes that goes to sleep and with long curly hair, a dolly buggy, a wrist watch, a pair of roller skates and a pair of shoes. I want a bb gun and a pair of shoes and don’t forget lots of candy and nuts. We wish you the happiest Xmas you have ever had. Your little friends,

Louis and Dorothy Miles, December 1920

             Dear Santa Claus,

            I am a little boy and I will be 7 yrs old the 23rd of this month. I would like to have a cowboy suit, tricycle, wagon, a big red ball, Mickey Mouse, a tool chest, train, typewriter, football and a drum. Wishing you a Merry Christmas. Please don’t forget to bring me some candy, nuts, and fruit.

Your little friend,

Donnie Gene Hill, December 1936

            Dear Santa Claus,

            Would you please bring me an Indian Suit, Streamline Train, a violin and a game. I would like for you to bring me some candy, nuts, and fruit.

Your little friend,

Jimmy Dodd, December 1936

            Dear Santa,

            I want a cowboys suit and a pair of boots, a hand car, candy and nuts. That’s all this time. I’m five years old and go to afternoon kindergarten at Washington School. Your old friend Jack Fluke. P.S. Please bring my little brother Joe a play black Scottie dog and anything else a boy one and a half years old would like.

December 1941

            Dear Santa,

            Please bring me a doll that laughs and cries a new coat and snow suit.

Barbra, December 1941

Maybe things haven’t changed that much over the years. Remember the gifts that gave you the most joy to find under the tree. Toys like trains, bicycles and dolls are still popular gifts. Children still write letters to Santa today. Not all parents can afford to provide the things their children want for Christmas. This is your opportunity to play Santa for underprivileged local children.

The museum is accepting donations of unwrapped toys for the 2013 Annual Toy Run until December 20th. We cannot accept stuffed animals due to allergies.  These toys will be taken to City Cycle Sales where they will be distributed to children in the USD 475 area. While you are at the museum venture upstairs to the auditorium and view the new “Playtime” exhibit. This interactive exhibit features toys from the turn of the century to current toys.

All donations of toys and monetary donations are welcome. Any donation over $10 or a toy of $10 value will be eligible for a 15% off coupon at City Cycle Sales for the purchase of one part or accessory.   

The museum is open Tuesday- Sunday from 1-4pm. Please contact the museum at 785-238-1666 with any questions.      

December 1955: Here he comes kids! It’s the jolly old fellow himself, headed for the chimneys of Junction City’s homes with a load of toys for good girls and boys. Here, he approaches the rooftop of the C.W. Flower home at 405 West Seventh Street. Photo courtesy of North Pole Photo Service. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

How To Carve a Thanksgiving Turkey...

As I think back on family holidays they are never the calm orderly affairs you see depicted on TV or in movies. In fact it’s more like a three ring circus when we all get together. The first Thanksgiving my husband met my family was the year that my cousin decided to fry a not completely thawed turkey. It should be sufficient to say that it didn’t end well. The fire department will be happy to know that he now has frying a turkey down to an art.    
I got a good laugh out of this humorous account of “How to Carve a Turkey” that was published in a Junction City newspaper in November of 1877. This seems much closer to my experiences than the happy holidays depicted in the pages of those magazines in the checkout line at the grocery store.  With the stress of the holiday season upon us maybe a good laugh is just what you need as you think back to the first time you met “the family”.     
            The article begins, “in many households the prospective son-in-law would be called upon to carve the turkey, the “old man” observing with a fiendish leer that he cannot do better than to learn now, so that when he has a house of his own he can do the honors. Invariably there is no escape, and as the victim has to yield, he may as well do so gracefully.”
It was suggested to the “prospective son-in-law that he would do well to observe, after careful examination, that the carving knife was dull, thus insuring a safe retreat in the event of disaster, a thing that a “good general” always makes provision for.”
The next aim would be to make the guests so fearful that none would again ask you to perform this task. “First, you should ask who cooked the bird whereupon your future mother-in-law will reply that she did so. As this is an ideal opportunity to put the lady down, you should state that the bird is quite tough and overdone.”
“With a little care one can hack the bird so that he looks like the ruins of a nitroglycerine explosion. Once dismembered you should be sure that you have garmented the tablecloth with grease in at least seven different places.”
“If the dish is at all greasy, you can, with a little nerve, and plenty of leverage, send the bird flying through the air to a distance of several feet so that it lands in the lap of a lady. If you do this, do not mar the effect by apologizing; merely ask for the bird back.”
“An expert can also, while breaking up the carcass, send a shower of dressing over the entire party. By judiciously following these rules you would be certain to inspire your hosts with such terror” that they will never again ask you to carve the turkey.
No matter how your holiday turns out remember the best part of the holidays is the family and the stories you will have to tell your friends. From all of us at the Geary County Historical Society have a safe and happy holiday!    

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Toy Craze...

           Every Christmas we see the same pattern: some toy, whether an undefinable creature named “The Furby,” or a gaming console like the Wii, becomes a national craze. People beat each other over the head just to be the parent that brings home that coveted toy for their child on Christmas morning.  These toys change from year to year. In 1964, G.I. Joe was the hottest toy around; in 1977, the Star Wars action figures received the attention, and in 1983, Cabbage Patch Kids became so popular that people would going so far as to bite each other in the isles just to own one. But before Joe, Vader or Tickle-Me Elmo, there was Shirley Temple.
 The first doll to become a “Christmas Craze” was first developed in 1934, in response to the Shirley Temple fan base. The first celebrity-driven doll was manufactured by The Ideal Toy and Novelty Company when Temple was 6 years old, in the third year of her movie career.  The demand for both the “true” Ideal Shirley Temple doll, and the more generic versions, with her trademark ringlets and dimples, hit its peak when Bright Eyes hit theatres three days before Christmas in 1934.
                Ideal Shirley Temple dolls were so popular that they sold for nearly $4.50 in their premiere year, nearly $3 more than the generic Shirley Temple look-a-like dolls that department stores sold for $1.80. The craze to have anything Shirley, but particularly a name brand Shirley doll, was overwhelming and Ideal Toy Company made over $45 million in the first seven years of production. This was an unheard of figure for the time. Other stores latched onto the hype and offered Shirley Temple look-alike contests, set up Shirley Temple displays in the lobbies, sold songbooks, coloring books, paper dolls, and anything else someone might want to buy that was linked to “The Little Curly Top.” Mothers even began to style their daughter’s hair and clothing after Shirley, so hair ribbons and clothes became produced with official “Shirley pins” on them.
                In Geary County, girls and their mothers became a part of the Shirley Temple toy craze. In December of 1935, Shirley Temple was still a best seller. While there was no rush on stores, as there had been in 1934, she was still a sought after toy for many young girls. And Junction City was not immune to her tiny dimpled charm. In the December 23, 1935 edition of the Junction City Union, a section called “From Santa’s Mail Box” was published, and in Santa’s mail box were the letters children wrote to Santa asking for their most important Christmas wishes.  Among those wishes? Shirley Temple.
                In their letter to Santa, Betty and Beatrice Childers of Fort Riley said, “We are two little girls 6 and 4 years old and we have been real good. We each want a Shirley Temple doll.” Ida Mae Schooler had a similar Christmas wish.  Perhaps she already had a coveted Shirley Temple doll because she didn’t ask for one. Instead, she desired the Shirley Temple accessories that had been introduced to the Christmas market in 1935. She said, “Dear Santa Claus- Please bring me a baby doll, teddy bear, bicycle, toy horse, Shirley Temple dress, Shirley Temple ribbon…”  Even grown women were not immune to Shirley’s charm. In 1937, following the release of Shirley Temple’s version of Heidi, Catherine Unfried bought her very own Shirley doll. Not for children, as she only had one son, but for herself because the 32 year old housewife was caught up in the national phenomenon that was Shirley Temple.
                Make sure you stop by the Geary County Historical Society to check out the Playtime Exhibit, featuring the 1937 Shirley Temple “Heidi” doll, among other popular toys from the past century! Open Tues-Sun, 1-4PM.

For more information about the Shirley Temple doll craze:
Cross, Gary. Kid’s Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood. Cambridge, Presidents
and Fellows of Harvard College, 1997.
For more information about Christmas crazes of the past:
Hartlaub, Peter. “12-Must Have Toy Hits from Christmases Past.”