Saturday, December 26, 2015

Old New Year Traditions

Happy New Year from the Geary County Historical Society! As we make the transition from celebrating Christmas to welcoming the New Year, we all have different traditions our friends and families like to do every year to help welcome and say goodbye to the previous year. Many hope to improve on their health and situation by making New Year’s resolution for a better new year. Perhaps the most common way to bring in the New Year is by having a party on New Year’ Eve. Most of the world welcomes in the New Year by throwing a big party and counting down the old year. This however might not have always been the case. In a few early reports in the Junction City newspapers, it seems as though Geary County celebrated the arrival of the New Year on New Year’s Day instead of New Year’s Eve.
One of the more common traditions that took place on New Year’s Day at the turn of the century was that it was customary to have one’s house open in an “open house” setting for different people to visit your home. An article from January 2nd, 1895, the Daily Sentinel, an old and now defunct newspaper in Junction City, detailed an account of what a typical New Year’s Day, with these open houses, would be like in town: “The pretty old custom of keeping [an] open house on the first day of the year has been revived, and on New Year’s day of ’95 there were score of callers and many gracious hostesses all over town.” This tradition doesn’t seem like one that is celebrated often in our community now.
These open houses would be fully decorated and the women hosting and attending these parties would be dressed in their best attire, ““The ladies were very elegant reception gowns. Mrs. Humphrey was gowned in black and satin and brocade velvet. Mrs. Greene, black noire and real lace. Miss Eleanor Humphrey, black silk skirt with a fancy blue silk waist.” The article continues, “The refreshments were daintily served from small tables in the back parlors and consisted of ices, cakes, tea, cocoa, coffee and wafers.” From these early accounts of New Year’s in Geary County, it seems that the bigger celebrations took place on New Year’s Day and not New Year’s Eve.
            These “open houses” were not the only things that seemed to happen around town in Junction City. The Union of January 3, 1880 reported that observances ranging from evening parties and pranks to New Year’s Day open houses took place that year.  A detailed account outlines the transformation of Washington Street by pranksters:
            “Last Thursday—New Year’s Day—was generally observed in Junction City.  At midnight prior to the day, bells were rung, guns fired and beautiful music was discoursed by a portion of the Fort Riley band.  In the morning a strange sight greeted people who appeared on the streets.  Washington Avenue, between the grange store and Brown’s Harness Store was completely blockaded with wagons, carts, buggies, hacks and vehicles of every conceivable appearance and description.  Prominent among then was the bus of the Pennsylvania House, on the top of which was a barrel standing on end and supporting the carved Indian sign from Miller’s cigar store.  On the wooden awning of Mrs. Mead’s millinery store was one of the buggies of Porter Bros. Drug Store.  A cow was found tied to the door of the grange store and Old Bill’s savage yard bulldog was secured to the doorknob of Hout’s billiard hall.  Under the words, “Our Saloon” on Fritz Overhoff’s was G.W. Meddick’s law shingle.  Mrs. Blue’s Millinery store was converted into a boot and shoe store and a restaurant.  A small building (privy) hauled from the rear of Purington’s blacksmith shop stood in front of the opening to the yard of the Allen House and sported Pershall’s hotel sign.”
These open houses diminished over time and it did seem that at the turn of the century, there are recorded events that took place on New Year’s Eve. In the January 5th, 1924 edition of the Daily Union reported,” One of the events of the holiday season was the watch party given on New Year’s Eve by Miss Josephine Caspar and Mr. Geo Caspar, at which 20 guests enjoyed  an evening at cards and dancing.”
So no matter what traditions you and your loved ones practice on New Year, make sure you stay safe and we hope to see you next year at the Geary County Historical Society!

This picture was taken at a 1898 party at the Rockwell residence on New Year’s day during an “Open House.”

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Brief History of the Christmas Tree

We are less than a week away from Christmas and for most of us, the Christmas spirit is high. Putting up the family Christmas tree usually marks the beginning and for many, the peak of the Christmas festivities. The Christmas tree has not always existed in the form we know it today.  Two weeks ago, we took a look at the history of Santa Claus, and just like the myth of Santa Claus, the modern Christmas tree has been influenced by many traditions and combined with many cultures, specifically from the Germans. This week we are going to take to take a briefly look into the history and evolution of the modern Christmas tree.

The exact start of the use of an evergreen tree is not known. One of the first cultures to use evergreen trees during winter celebrations were the Romans. In the Roman tradition of the Winter solstice, Roman citizens would decorate their homes with evergreen braches during this time of the year because it meant that at last the sun god would begin to get well. Evergreen branches reminded them of all the green plants that would grow again when the sun god was strong and summer would return.

Early Christian celebrations with a tree were forbidden as many in the clergy had seen  the use of a Christmas tree would take attention away from Jesus and his birth. However, this quickly changed as Christians during the Middle Ages began to accept a tree for Christmas celebrations.  A legend had grown that said “…when Christ was born in the dead of winter, every tree throughout the world miraculously shook off its ice and snow and produced new shoots of green.” This is used as an explanation as to why trees were used for Christmas by Christians.

It was not until the renaissance, however, that there are clear records of trees being used as a symbol of Christmas. Some of the earliest records start in Latvia in 1510 and Strasburg (Germany) in 1521. These early trees were not known as “Christmas trees” but “Paradise Trees.” These trees were in referenced to the “Tree of Life” and the Garden of Eden which were added to the German Mystery or Miracle plays celebrated the feast day for Adam and Eve and many Christians on December 24th. The clergy would then decorate fir trees with fruits for the play. This tradition followed many people home and many Christians started to decorate their own trees.

This custom really did not take a hold in the United States until the 18th and 19th century when there was an influx of German immigrants into the United States. The idea of gift giving under the tree was brought over by German immigrants. Before the influx of German immigrants, many 19th century Americans saw the Christmas tree as a novelty idea. The first mention of the Christmas tree in American literature was in a story in the 1836 edition of The Token and Atlantic Souvenir, titled "New Year's Day," by Catherine Maria Sedgwick, where she tells the story of a German maid decorating her mistress's tree.

The same poem that brought us a modern version of Santa Claus, Clement Moore’s 1882 A Visit from Saint Nicholas, which was later retitled The Night before Christmas, also helped popularize the image of the family opening up presents under the tree on Christmas morning. During the Victorian era, candles were added to the tree to help represent the stars of the night winter sky. Before that period, it is widely believed that Martin Luther, the famous protestant reformer was the first to add lights to the Christmas tree. These candles are the predecessor the lights we use today (the electrical lights are less of a fire hazard, which came about in 1895 by an American telephonist, Ralph Morris.) The addition of lights coincided with the arrival of German ornaments which made their way from across the ocean to American trees.

            Bringing the history of the Christmas tree closer to home, pioneer families in Kansas knew a very different Christmas than we know it today. From an undated early Union article, the author tells us, “Only a generation ago the pioneers in Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa only knew a Christmas spruce, balsam or pine tree as a wonderful object. So rare it was.” The article goes on to explain that the willow trees for many along the banks of Prairie rivers were used as early Christmas trees. These accounts were recorded in the Daily Union from around the turn of the century. As more and more people started to come to the Kansas, Christmas trees became more readily available, as they were being brought from the east coast and used by the pioneers and their families.

            The Christmas tree gained popularity over the next hundred years and has become one of the staple traditions during the holiday season.

The picture accompanied is one of the earliest renditions of an American Christmas tree which was explained in Catherine Maria Sedgwick’s short story, “New Year's Day." Credit to American for the picture. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Goldie Gorman Webster Part 3

Goldie Gorman Webster moved to Junction City as a young girl at the turn of the 20th century. Years later, she recalled her memories of those early years in Junction City. In this third part to our Goldie Webster memories series, Goldie remembers the businesses of Junction City that she and her sister, Sylvia, visited with their parents:
“We had two laundries in our area.  One owned by the Schmoldt family was on west l4th street. One daughter, Helen, later became Mrs. Roy Luke.  Kaufholz Laundry was on east l4th street.  There was a monument business operated by DeArmond and Root.  It was on the west side of Washington street.  We passed it each time we went uptown.  Seemed sort of spooky to me when I was younger, since gravestones were displayed near the street. There were two hotels in the north end.  The Pacific Hotel, operated by Charles and Martha Fox was on Washington between l0th and llth.  It later became the Hamilton Hotel. The Bartell Hotel was in the main part of town, had a cab service of its own. It hauled customers to and from the station.  Sam Brazil was the cab driver.  Mr. Fox had no cab, but he met the trains and carried customers baggage to the hotel himself.
            The little Free Methodist church was there when we came.  It is still there, remodeled and enlarged.
            Charles Ross had a grocery and meat store on Washington street.  His family lived in the rear of the store, and on one side of the store his sister, Haidi, had a small dry goods and millinery store. Mother always bought our Easter bonnets from Miss Ross.  She would plant a hat on my head and say, "Turn around and let your little sister see how nice you look in that hat." I always opted for the plain sailor style of hat, with a black velvet streamer hanging down the back. The flowery hats were for my little sister. She was the type for flowery hats, having beautiful blond curls and blue eyes.  I, of the mousy colored hair, was not the type for flowered hats. I always had a rubber band on my hat that fit under my chin.  In case of wind, the band kept my hat from sailing into the bright blue yonder.
            Stanleys had a newsstand on Washington street. The neighbor kids were George, Dorothy and Ruth Edwards. Their father was a trainman on the Union Pacific. Reed & Elam, mentioned earlier, had the grocery on West 7th. One hot day our mother took me and my little sister up town to the store. We walked. While we were in the store, my little sister saw a basket of shiny buttons. She helped herself to one card and put it in her apron pocket. After we went home she took the card out and my mother saw it. She was told that was wrong. Mother then explained that the buttons were for sale and not for little girls to carry away. After further counsel, we put our bonnets back on and trudged to the store. Little sister said to mother, "Mr. Reed had so many that I didn’t think he would care if I just took one pretty one." She was tearful but made her apology as required. The matter closed, but never again did little sister help herself to the property of another.
            E. H. Hemingway had a dry goods store on the east side of Washington. Once a year he held a nine cent sale of dry goods. Yardage was sold at 9 cents a yard for some of it. Other yardage was also on sale. This sale always drew a large crowd. Before the store opened lines of ladies stood outside, waiting to get in the door. There was a mad rush when the door opened. Sometimes the ladies selected bolts of material, clutched them in their arms, and hauled them around waiting to be waited upon. Someone else would want some the same cloth and there would be a hassle over it. Children were pushed up against the wall where they had a good view of the melee.
            There were saloons on the east side of Washington street. We were never allowed to walk on that side from 10th south. Father said it was not a fit street for children and ladies to travel. Too many drunks were to be seen coming out of the places. I once, curious to know what it was all about, ventured onto that side. It smelled awful and I never went again. There were other stores on that side but they were for adults so we were told.

Look for more of Goldie Webster’s memories in future articles, or stop by the Geary County Historical Society to experience other histories. Do you have experiences growing up in Geary County that you would like to share? We want to hear your stories!  Give us a call at 785-238-1666 or email us at Museum open Tuesday-Sunday 1-4pm.