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Tribune looks at Christmas in GB a century ago
Old fashioned Yuletide
This display at the Barton County Historical Society includes some toys -– including dolls, teddy bears, wood building blocks and more – which kids in Great Bend in 1921 might have had received from Santa Claus. Other toys in the display date from around the 1950’s. - photo by Daniel Kiewel

Preparing for Christmas parties, traveling to see family, the Jolly Old Elf making the rounds, downtown stores advertising their wares, warm Christmas greetings, church Christmas programs, and a chill in the air. 

The more things change, the more they stay the same. This was Christmas in Great Bend a century ago.

In addition to the normal newspaper fare of the day, much ink was spent in the Great Bend Tribune the week of Christmas in 1921 telling warm, lighthearted stories of preparations by families, businesses and churches for the upcoming Yuletide holiday.

On Christmas Eve, Great Benders woke up to temperatures hovering around, and in some cases, below zero as a winter chill set in, but the Tribune noted, “It has been slowly and gradually warming up all day. and the indications are that Christmas day is going to be reasonably warm and bright and fine.”

While no citywide pre-holiday celebrations were mentioned in the pages of the paper, the Tribune observed that, “Christmas will be observed by every Sunday school in the city.”

Nearly every church in the city was planning some type of a Christmas program over the holiday weekend. In 1921, Christmas Eve fell on a Saturday, and Christmas Day was on Sunday, so the weekend would be chock full of Christmas programs. 

These programs of the time, according to the paper, would consist primarily of scripture recitations and songs sung by the children of each church, though the Congregational church would also feature, “a Steropticon picture, ‘Christ in Story, Picture and Song.’”

(A stereopticon is, according to Oxford Dictionary, “a slide projector that combines two images to create a three-dimensional effect, or makes one image dissolve into another,’ much like later view-finder toys.)

The Tribune observed one particular individual that would be kept very busy by this full slate of activity.

“Santa Claus will have a busy time, for he is scheduled to appear at practically every church. He will appear at both the Methodist and Presbyterian churches tonight (Christmas Eve). Advance information is that he will be laden with lots of candy and presents for every child in the Sunday schools.”

In addition to making the rounds at local churches, the Jolly Old Elf was already a common site in newspaper advertisements of the day, as advertisers pitched their products.

1920’s Christmas commerce

Kids in Great Bend in 1921 would have found such toys as teddy bears, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, dolls (including the new Raggedy Ann doll) and Crayola crayons, all of which came to popularity in the first two decades of the 20th century, in their stockings or under the trees. 

Oysters were popular culinary fare at local downtown markets around Christmas time. Though not so common nowadays, even current Tribune staff members recall oyster dressing being a popular holiday side during holidays past.

In addition to that, the South Side Grocery and Meat Market, which Great Bend Chamber records list as being at 619 Main (now home to Bookie’s Bar and Grill), advertised having everything needed “For Your Xmas Dinner.” While some items they advertised might seem familiar on modern holiday tables, many are definitely not as common today.

In addition to oysters, they offered a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, “fine Christmas candies,” and “nuts of all kinds.” They also offered poultry, both live and dressed, including turkeys, chickens, ducks and geese, along with pork, veal and beef.

And if you couldn’t make it to the store, have no fear. The proprietors proudly advertised that “We Deliver.”

If you wanted good buys on fresh meat, the Central Meat Market advertised pot roast for 14 cents a pound, steak for 18 cents a pound, and a rib boil for a dime a pound.

Downtown Main Street was hopping, and full of other last-minute bargains for eager Christmas shoppers.

Lishesky’s Dry Goods at 1307 Main, “Where Style Reigns Supreme,”, now home to Dry Lake Brewery, proudly told shoppers they would be open until 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve. The store sold everything from dolls to purses, to silk underwear, and fine ladies’ clothing “of fancy work, regardless of kind or pattern”  and “fancy or plain styles” all for one-fourth to one-half off the day before Christmas.

And they were not the only ones. 

Stores such as Marx & Berscheidt, Krause’s Smart Shop, Barricklow Drug Co., all in the downtown Main Street corridor, all offered child and adult clothing and toys at steep pre-Christmas bargains. Great Bend Hardware and Implement, instead, suggested getting your mother or wife an new electric iron, vacuum cleaner or kitchen carving set for Christmas.

Christmas charity

It wasn’t all about commerce in Great Bend, though. There was plenty of the giving spirit in people’s hearts, too.

The Tribune told of a group of men from the Presbyterian Church who would be delivering gifts of toys, food and clothing to poor families in the city Christmas Eve which had been collected by the church prior to the holiday. The Methodist Church was collecting donations for children’s homes in Nebraska and Wichita, and the Congregational church was planning on giving their collected gifts to foreign missionary groups. 

Though no other churches were specifically listed, the Tribune noted, “other churches in Great Bend are said to be preparing gifts for distribution in Great Bend.”

A story in another addition that week also noted the Salvation Army had collected nearly $6,000 in holiday donations for various causes, as well.

Christmas comings and goings

Then, as now, Christmas in Great Bend was a time to be cherished with family.

“It seems this Christmas that Great Bend was the stamping grounds for family reunions and most of them were not small affairs. It would be difficult to name them all but this we know, each was a joyous occasion and happiness was the key note,” read a piece on local Christmas celebrations in the Dec. 27, 1921 Tribune.

In newspapers of the day, it was commonplace for editors to note the “comings and goings” of local residents. This was especially common during the holiday season. The “Local Happenings” section during that week was full of those visiting family in Great Bend for the holiday season, and Great Benders traveling far and wide to visit family in a variety of other locales.

The paper noted visitors from as nearby as Ellinwood, Alexander and Galatia, and from locations as far flung as Chicago, Santa Anna, Calif., and Rome, Ga. 

Some Great Benders on the other hand, ventured out to Ellinwood, Hutchinson, Hillsboro, Ransom and various other places, mostly around the state of Kansas, to spend the holidays with relatives, as many of the briefs noted. 

With air travel in its infancy, and paved roads between destinations much less common, trips that can be done in minutes or hours now, often took a matter of days in some cases, as many of the briefs noted that Great Bend was simply a stopover spot for travelers headed to other destinations.

And finally

In the spirit of the season, we leave you with a greeting that adorned the front page of the Christmas Eve 1921 Tribune:

“The makers of newspapers, concerned as they are with the doings, manifestations, and thoughts of their respective communities and the world at large, and recording them in their more important aspects for the information, mayhap, the education of readers, are brought into an intimate sense of the spirit and meaning of Christmas. Would that we could express to you all the good that we see in the hearts of men and the increased brilliancy behind a few shadows of the light which has upheld the world for so many centuries. In the happy auguries we see for the future, there is every reason to be merry.

“Our Yuletide thoughts go out to the people of this community and our thanks are due the patrons and kind friends who have given us practical support or extended encouragement during the year. May this be the best Christmas you have ever spent, is our wish to all.”