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.”