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Out of the Morgue
Christmas traditions and civil rights demonstrations of 1955
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According to the front page caption on the Dec. 4, 1955 Great Bend Tribune, Santa led the singing of Jingle Bells when these wide-eyed youngsters entertained Barton county 4-Hers at the annual Christmas party at the Hoisington auditorium Saturday night (Dec. 3) The gala affair drew a big crowd of young people who had a lively time square dancing, singing, playing games and watching a Christmas film. The party was sponsored by the Hoisington Chamber of Commerce. - photo by Tribune file photo

Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.

This week, we dig into the “you never know when a small story will become a big one” vault.  A search of On This Day In History pulled up Dec. 5, 1955, the day Rosa Parks was arrested for violating a Montgomery, Ala., city ordinance when she refused to leave a section reserved for white passengers.  The story amounted to about three column-inches on page 17 of the Tuesday, Dec. 6, 1955 edition of The Great Bend Tribune.  After reading the story, we have to question the date cited at On This Day.  
“The woman was taken off a bus and jailed last Thursday night...” it was reported.  That was Dec. 2.  
“J.H. Bagley, manager of Montgomery City Lines, estimated this morning that 75 to 80 per cent of the Negroes who normally ride buses to work joined the boycott.  Several thousand Negroes use the buses on a normal day.”  
Since then, segregation is no longer allowed thanks to the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
Meanwhile, the bigger civil rights story that day was out of Atlanta, where Georgia Tech students burned Georgia Governor Marvin Griffin in effigy hours after he urged that state schools not be allowed to engage in contests with teams with Negro players on their rosters or where segregation was not required among spectators.  This would mean the team could not play Pittsburgh in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.  A regent at Georgia Tech, David Rice, an Atlanta construction contractor, termed Griffin’s proposal “ridiculous and asinine.”
It was also reported that the number of farms in the United States had declined by 600,000 between 1950 and 1954.  
“The report said it was the smaller farms, for the most part that went out of existence in the first half of this decade.  Nearly half the decrease was noted in farms of less than 40 acres, and about two-thirds was in farms with annual production valued at less than $1,200.”  
The high point in the number of farms had come in 1935 when the Census Bureau recorded 6,812,350.  The number had dropped in each census since.  In Kansas, the decline from 1950 to 1954 was 8.5 percent.  According to the Census of Agriculture, 2012, the number of farms in the United States is now hovering around 2,109,363.

Turning the lights on
All around the area, cities celebrated the holidays with their own celebrations of lights.  Contests for lighting and decorations were held in almost every locale.  
In Claflin, “Santas and bell, all made of unbreakable plastic and lighted from within, have been placed around the street poles and will be paid for by the Lions Club.  The Clarion reports the club is also sponsoring a home decorations contest with $7.50 for first prize, $5 for second and $2.50 for third.  
Contrast that with Lyons, where “Santa is really getting up in the world these days.  The jolly old elf will circle the town Dec. 10 in an iron bird and land at the west edge and then enter the town on a red fire truck.  He’ll start ladling out candy and goodies soon after.”
In Ellinwood, there would be cash awards for Yule decorations too.  “Prizes are being offered for store and home Christmas decorations with the Legion and VFW to sponsor the awarding of gifts, says the Ellinwood Leader.  Awards will be made a week before Christmas with out-of-town judges being named.  Prizes of $15, $10 and $5 will be given for store windows and home owners will reap $25, $15 and $5 for their efforts.  Already the bank has erected a large, illuminated sleigh and reindeers and other stores are following in like manner.”
In Great Bend, the Jaycees sponsored the Christmas Home Lighting Contest, with judging happening on Dec. 19.  No specific cash prizes were named, but first, second and third prizes would be given in both religious and secular displays.  Only outdoor home decorations were to be considered.  
Great Bend had a great show of youngsters for something other than the lights, it turns out.  It was reported that 4,200 of them showed up over a two-day period to take a ride with Santa Claus in his sleigh.  
“Bill Fryberger, chairman of the Chamber Christmas committee, gave particular credit to Boy Scout troops 117 and 110, and the Drum and Bugle corps, members of which sacked 5,000 bags of candy for Santa to distribute.

Earth moving decisions
The Great Bend City Council voted to take the initial steps to complete a flood control program for both Dry and Wet Walnut creeks, calling first for an engineering survey. The action was taken after Mayor J.E. McMullen reported an unexpected balance in the flood control fund, enough to fund the survey with seed money left over.
Initial opinion of the city engineer was that an overflow channel was needed from Wet Walnut into the Arkansas River.  Channels would need to be scraped, hairpin turns straightened, and dikes created among other steps.  
It would be decades, nearly 40 years, later before the Arkansas River Flood Control project would be completed around Great Bend.  
Work also started on the development of the park area west of Eisenhower school.  Plans called for a ball diamond, but first brush needed to be burnt and the area graded.  

Just for fun
Santa Claus letters ran daily in the Tribune this week.   Apparently the Betty Crocker baking set was a hot item in 1955

Dear Santa:
I am a little girl just about 4 yrs. old.  I have been real good and help my mommy work all the time. Would you please bring me a walking doll, a Betty Crocker baking set, and a sewing machine so I can sew when mommy does.
Please don’t forget daddy and mommy, my grandmas and grandpas, and all the other little girls and boys.  
We’ll have some cookies and a coke for you under the Christmas tree.
Your little friend,
Ravonda Faye Brack,
Otis, KS

Dear Santa:
I was trying to be good.  I think I have been very good.  My name is Patricia Jane Bigham.  I want a Betty Crocker cake mix set, a rocking horse.  I am five years old, so get me a big horse.  I want house slippers and a Nina Ballerina doll and some new Ginney doll clothes.
Sincerely, Patricia Bigham
2214 Washington
Great Bend, KS

The tradition continues.  Coming up on Dec. 13, The Great Bend Tribune will share present-day letters to Santa.