Christmas 1913: Time of generosity, mayhem and a fire

Children give thanks underneath a Christmas tree in this undated photo. | Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County
Posted: Dec. 22, 2019 12:10 am Updated: Dec. 22, 2019 1:01 am

Christmas week in Quincy was a busy season a century ago with the hustle and bustle of shopping, school and church programs, mailing and receiving Christmas cards and packages.

On Monday, Dec. 22, the municipal Christmas tree was placed in the southeast corner of Washington Park. A crowd of 500 people gathered in the park at 9 p.m. to kick off the Christmas season in Quincy. Light snow fell as Chaddock cadets sang from the bandstand, joined by older singers on the balcony of the Newcomb Hotel. For more than an hour, the throng enjoyed the snow, bright lights and pleasant voices of singers.

On the first three days of the week, a special train chartered by Louisiana, Mo., merchants ran between Quincy and Louisiana, leaving Quincy at 8:40 a.m. and departing Louisiana at 5 p.m. Passengers, presumably laden with packages, were back home by 7:10 p.m.

Not to be outdone, Quincy merchants filled pages of the city's newspapers with ads. Unbehaun's Piano Store, at 430 Maine, offered Oriental rugs in addition to pianos. A. Basse Jeweler, 518 Maine, featured parasols and umbrellas with gold-filled handles priced at $3.50 and higher. Ware & Wayland Co., on the west side of the park, held a sensational sale on 25 styles of rocking chairs for $8.50, a $1 to $4 reduction.

For those seeking a bit of liquid holiday cheer, Hagen-Rundle, at 508 Hampshire, offered a gallon of Old 76 rye or bourbon for $3, and four quarts of Hagen Bourbon or Rundle Rye for $4 each. Quincy's Ruff Brewing Co. promoted its beer as "wholesome: full of life and buoyancy. It drives dull care away and paves the way for the enjoyment of a good meal, or a good night of sound, restful sleep."

A farmer who rented in the bottoms south of Quincy brought his wife and three children to town several days before Christmas. They stood on the sidewalk looking in the windows of a big store. The children looked at all of the wonderful things of toyland. The parents eyed warm garments they wished they could buy for their youngsters. A man approached, and after talking to the children, gave one of them a dime, perhaps the first dime the youngster ever had. Seeing the appreciation and surprise, he took the children to a store and bought for them complete outfits of good, warm clothing as well as a few extras to brighten their Christmas. The stranger must have seemed like Santa Claus to the children, but he was in fact Milt Cabell, engineer at the post office.

As busy Christmas shoppers hurried in and out of Kespohl-Mohrenstecher's, W.T. Duker Co., and the Model Clothing Co., a shocking scene unfolded nearby. Curiosity turned to amazement as a big, mysterious empty dray wagon backed up to the curb at 512˝ Hampshire. Sheriff Joe Lipps and three deputies appeared and carried from the building roulette wheels, playing cards, and a poker table and chips. The dray wagon did not tarry, but moved on to 601˝ Maine, where officers repeated their performance. Cheering crowds followed as they completed their mission with the alleged owners of the gambling dens in hand. The wagon proceeded to the courthouse where its contents were dumped in the county jail.

The wrong-doers found they had arrived in time to be beneficiaries of a most worthy Christmas gift. The Rev. J.B. Rogers, pastor of First Baptist Church, placed Bibles at the disposal of prisoners in the jail at the city hall, county jail and house of correction. It was hoped prisoners might show remorse and repentance for wrongdoings and find redemption during the Holy Season.

The first real snow of winter fell early in the morning two days before Christmas. One observer reported that 4˝ inches "fell as gently as dew." It did not hinder the Christmas programs in each elementary school later in the day. Reports were uniformly positive that each program was outstanding and that each student mastered his or her role to perfection.

The School Children's Aid Society distributed Christmas baskets to 405 children who came to Webster School from all over town. Volunteers were on hand with automobiles to convey the little folks home to enjoy their holiday vacation until school resumed Jan. 6.

Christmas Eve was free of snow. That evening, the house of George Saalig, at Eighth and Vine (now College Avenue), was destroyed by fire. No alarm was turned in, and the conflagration was subdued with one bucket of water. The house was only a toy one in the display window of the Saalig Grocery Store. The fire discovered by Officer Riley as he walked past the store on his beat evidently was ignited by an electrical light wire and quickly extinguished by Riley and Saalig. It was reported that Old Santa had tumbled out of the 18-inch house before the roof caved in.

Christmas Day was quiet in the Gem City. Stores, banks and the library were closed. The post office general delivery window was open until 10 a.m., and there was but a single delivery of mail by carriers.

One drunk was arrested for having imbibed too freely.

As the Newcomb Hotel was serving a 75 cents-a-plate Christmas dinner from 6 to 8 p.m. with music provided by Weiler's Orchestra, county jail prisoners enjoyed a sumptuous Yuletide meal hosted by Sheriff Lipps--with no music.

Across town, firefighters of Engine House 2 hosted dinner for 25, including Mayor W.K. Abbott, City Attorney E.P. Allen and ex-Mayor John F. Garner. The featured entree was "spanferkel," or roast pig. The pig was done to a turn, and its brown head made a noteworthy centerpiece for the long table.

Christmas week ended with Mayor Abbott offering a public letter in which he encouraged fathers to make a special effort to win the confidence and comradeship of their sons, even though it might seem to require time that could be devoted to business pursuits.


Phil Germann is a retired executive director of the Historical Society, having served for 19 years. Though he no longer lives in Quincy, he is remembered as a former history teacher, local historian and speaker, a member of several history-related organizations and a civic volunteer.



"405 Children Provided For." Quincy Daily Journal, Dec. 23, 1913, p. 12.


"Big Crowd Greats the Singers." Quincy Daily Journal, Dec. 23, 1913, p. 12.


"Brevities." Quincy Daily Journal, Dec. 23, 1913, p. 4.


"Firemen Give Fine Dinner." Quincy Daily Journal, Dec. 26, 1913, p. 8.


"A New Year's Message from Mayor Abbott." Quincy Daily Journal, Dec. 27, 1913, p. 1.


"Prisoners To Be Provided With Holy Scriptures." Quincy Daily Journal, Dec. 22, 1913, p. 3.


"Sheriff's Force Makes A Raid On Gamblers." Quincy Daily Journal, Dec. 23, 1913, p. 1.


"They Found Santa Claus." Quincy Daily Journal, Dec. 22, 1913, p. 7.


"Toy House With Old Santa On Top Destroyed By Fire." Quincy Daily Journal, Dec. 27, 1913, p. 8.