Looking Back to Christmas a Century Ago

by Drew Desmond, Secretary, Prescott Western Heritage Foundation

The Christmas of 1920 was one of goodwill with special attention given to the children of the city and the still recuperating World War 1 veterans at Whipple. It was both old-fashioned and heartwarming.

The municipal Christmas tree program on the Plaza began at 7:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve “replete with Christmas carols and a short religious service,” the newspaper reported. The Courthouse was “appropriately decorated and lighted.” 

Since 1917, charity baskets were provided to the needy families the city. In 1920, 42 families had their Christmas brightened “by the distribution of large baskets of goodies and supplies,” according to the paper. It was the Chamber of Commerce who made sure that “no family in the city lacked for a Christmas dinner and other good things.”

The holiday was also celebrated with many parties and celebrations. The Mile Hi Club held a Christmas tree party at the Blue Triangle Center on North Marina Street.

“Each Mile Hi member (was a) hostess to a brother or sister adopted for the day to share in the pleasures and excitements of the tree,” the paper described. Candy, apples, dolls and toys were distributed to needy children.

Santa’s “first official visit” to the city was to the Red Cross community home. There he met over 100 guests from Whipple Barracks and the city. The large room was “tastefully decorated in red and green with streamers, pine branches and dainty red candles,” the paper reported. The Christmas tree was “loaded with gifts” as Santa and Mrs. Claus called the recipient of each gift forward. A luncheon that included “many varieties of cakes and candies” was served followed by an informal music program. 

Those who performed at the Red Cross hall then went to the Whipple hospital to repeat their performances to each of the bedridden — much to their joy.

The Forest Service also made sure the veterans at Whipple were not forgotten, providing a free Christmas tree for each ward and each occupied room.

On Christmas Day the American Legion arrived at Whipple with four young female “fairy spirits” who brought a tree, Christmas cards, and a promise from the Legion of future transit to anywhere in town patients wished. In the afternoon, a comfort bag that contained a box of candy, a writing tablet with envelopes, a bonbon snapper and a pack of cigarettes was distributed to each patient. 

The benevolence did not stop there, however. One desperate “letter to Santa” was written by an adult and addressed to Judge John J. Sweeney of the Superior Court. Sweeney was the Exalted Ruler of the local Elks “who dispensed a great deal of cheer in the community in a quiet and tactful way,” the paper said. This “Santa Claus answered the letter promptly with a goodly supply of Christmas dainties” as well as a “crisp $5 bill (nearly $70 today), with which to purchase whatever it was that Santa might have overlooked.”

One poignant story involved an octogenarian who was caught stealing potatoes from a sack stored in the garage of the Courthouse Christmas Day. “Hearing suspicious noises coming from that part of the building,” the paper reported, “Deputy Sheriff Payne pussy-footed down the stairs and into the basement just in time to see the would-be burglar filling his pockets with choice spuds from the sack.

“What’s the idea?” asked the deputy.

“I’m hungry!” the old man replied.

“After a conference in the sheriff’s office it was decided that the old man was indeed hungry.

“‘Your discharged,’ the sheriff said, ‘Take the potatoes as a gift and beat it. Merry Christmas!’”

SOURCES: Weekly Journal Miner and Prescott Evening Courier,
Dec. 22-29, 1920

Photo: Birdseye postcard of 1920 Prescott / Courtesy Tim Gronek