Albert Leas first wartime holiday

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 23, 2007

By Ed Shannon, staff writer

&8220;War shall pass, but the spirit of Christmas will abide. We must not let our hearts dry up because the world is in woe. The Christmas Spirit of today needs special emphasis.&8221;

These comments were expressed in several Tribune ads placed by the Geo E. Brett Co. in December 1917 during World War I.

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Nine decades ago the Brett department store was located at the southwest corner of Broadway Avenue and Main Street. Also, nine decades ago the citizens of Albert Lea were certainly more aware of a brutal war involving the United States and many nations which was being fought mainly in Europe.

Albert Lea residents had actually gone through several wartime Christmases in the early 1860s with the Civil War or War Between the States. However, that earlier war seemed to be more remote because of inadequate communications and very slow mail. By 1917 the telegraph and daily newspapers were providing more up-to-date news about the war&8217;s events.

By Christmas 1917, many men from Freeborn County were in the military services and involved with training and in transit or already on duty in Europe. (The nation had become a participant in World War I just nine months earlier.) Yet, for their relatives and other citizens in this area there was still the challenge to prepare for a new Christmas observance.

Gust. Manos, proprietor of the Albert Lea Candy Kitchen and Palace of Sweets, 245 S. Broadway Ave., placed a Tribune ad which said he had candies for sale at 25 cents and up per pound. Also available were Christmas boxed candies, candy canes, fancy Christmas boxed cigars, and all kinds of fruits and nuts.

Wangen&8217;s Cash Store on what was then known as Newton Street added a Scandinavian touch to Christmas meals with two pounds of old style lute fisk (spelled with two words) for a quarter.

P.A. Nelson & Son, 118 S. Broadway Ave., was advertising

Florida and California oranges for 50 cents a dozen. Mixed nuts were 18 cents a pound and 23 cents a pound minus the peanuts. Under the category of miscellaneous for Christmas dinners at the Nelson store were mince meat, cranberries (18 cents a pound), citron, something called chow chow, and lutefisk (spelled with one word) at two pounds for a quarter. Old Dutch Coffee was 35 cents a pound and Christmas trees were available for 25 to 75 cents each, depending on size.

Another place selling Christmas trees for a quarter and up was the Thurston & Carlson grocery store. An interesting detail with their Tribune ads was the notation that 321 was their number with &8220;both phones.&8221;

In 1917 Albert Lea was served by two separate phone firms – Tri-State Telephone and Telegraph Co. and Northwestern Telephone Exchange Co.

Thus, most firms and even a few homes had two telephones so as to receive calls made thru either exchange or switchboard. In some cases the numbers were the same for both firms, and sometimes the numbers were different. A few years later the Tri-State firm was taken over by what soon evolved into Northwestern Bell.

Albert Lea&8217;s major department store, Skinner-Chamberlain, 225-237 S. Broadway Ave., was the prime source for all types of clothing, furniture, toys, novelty items and other possibilities for presents.

This store also had a grocery section on the main floor. One of the firm&8217;s Tribune ads said, &8220;A goose for Christmas conforms to the established and recognized custom the same as turkey for Thanksgiving Day. We are promised a fine lot of plumb and fat geese. Reserve yours today, per pound, 22 cents.&8221;

A pre-Christmas ad in the Freeborn County Standard weekly newspaper placed by the C.E. Nelson Dry Goods Co., 244-246 S. Broadway Ave., was promoting their basement toy department. For the boys there were electric trains priced from $3 to $5, drums, games, construction toys, and sleds on sale for $1.50 to $2.00. For girls the emphasis was on dolls and doll furniture priced from 29 cents to $3.25.

The calendar for 1917 shows that Christmas came on a Tuesday, the same as this year. Albert Lea&8217;s Broadway Theatre was showing a double feature starring Mary Pickford in &8220;Rebecca of Sunnybook Farm&8221; and &8220;Roping Her Romeo.&8221; There was also a two-reel Sennet comedy. The admission prices were a nickel and 20 cents, including the patriotic tax.

To emphasize the real situation faced by the American people 90 years ago, the Tribune ran the following editorial in the Dec. 24, 1917, issue:

&8220;Our First War Christmas and What It Means to Us

&8220;Christmas, acknowledged by nearly all of the civilized world to be the most important day of the year, is here again. But what a different Christmas it is. We might say that the world is at war. Nations that are not actually engaged in warfare are greatly affected by it.

&8220;How can Christmas mean as much to us under these conditions as in times of peace. Ah! It has a greater meaning than ever before. On this day when we commemorate the birth of Him who gave His life for all mankind to make it a better world, does it not seem right that we should turn our thoughts to His teachings, to His life of self-denial and unselfishness.

&8220;Our soldiers, God bless them, are leaving their homes and loved ones, and will give their lives if need be so that democracy and liberty shall not perish from the earth.

&8220;It&8217;s a glorious ideal that they are fighting for and when the roar and the smoke of the battle is still and cleared away, a new list of heroes will be born.

&8220;So let us on this Christmas Day be imbued with the spirit of kindness. Let us do what we can to make some more cheerful, more happy. In this way only, can we absorb to the fullest extent the spirit of self-denial and unselfishness and make a Christmas that will mean more to us than any other.

&8220;As a business institution serving the people we have this to say:

&8220;This year&8217;s Christmas shopping has many conditions that require a sincere application of &8216;give and take&8217; policies, and we wish to thank all of you for the patriotic spirit you have shown. As an illustration of this spirit on your part we mention our suggestion &8216;shop in the mornings.&8217;&8217;

&8220;The way you responded indicates that your thoughts are in keeping with the times and that you are ever ready to extend your co-operation. This year your store, through your co-operation, enjoyed a much heavier morning business than any past holiday season. We believe this accounts in a large way for the maintenance of our usual holiday service, even with larger crowds of happy Christmas shoppers than of former seasons.

&8220;As time goes on and the war continues to change conditions it may be necessary to ask for more of your co-operation, which we trust will be cheerfully given.

&8220;Again we thank you and extend Heartiest Greetings.&8221;

Since that time the nation has encountered wartime Christmases during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.