Thursday, December 17, 2009

Advent Calendar: December 17

December 17:
Christmas in Evanston, Illinois, 1929-1951


Prompt: Grab Bag/Author's Choice. Please post from a topic that helps you remember Christmas past!


I showed my dad (almost 81) the list of prompts for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, then had a hard time keeping up with my notes on everything he remembered!

Dad is the grandchild (or great-grandchild) of German immigrants on both sides, and he can remember real candles on some of their Christmas trees. He knew people that strung popcorn and cranberries alternately in garlands. He also remembers beautiful glass ornaments from Germany on theirs and his parents' trees.

Besides the Streuselkuchen I mentioned in the holiday foods post, he remembers prune and raisin coffee cakes, stollen, and eggnog. His mother, Elizabeth Massmann Pape (my Nana) also made tons of Christmas cookies, including pfefferneusse, which he remembers being rather hard to bite into. They'd have 10-12 boxes of different kinds of cookies, including cut-out and iced cookies and ones with baked-in goodies. Dad remembers helping as there were extra cookies for the helpers! His favorites were chocolate ones dusted with confectioner's sugar.

Because my Grandpa (Paul Robert) Pape was an insurance broker, Nana (Elizabeth Massmann Pape) sent out a lot of Christmas cards, and they received a lot too, which were put on display. Likewise his parents would have a holiday party for these customers, and Nana would hold one for the relatives too.

He remembers they had outdoor decorations, but mostly just around the door. The weather wasn't always conducive to putting up a lot more than that.

He remembers visiting Santa Claus in department stores, but as mentioned in other traditions, Santa also came on St. Nicholas Day. Dad said his Grandma (Elizabeth Dienes) Massmann used to go to Hibbard, Spencer & Bartlett for toys and other gifts - Dad worked for them one summer.

As for holiday travel - Dad remembered Christmas in 1951, when he was a navigator cadet at Ellington Air Force Base outside Houston. The Chicago area received tremendous snowfall that December and getting there for Christmas was going to be a problem. He said Colonel Lee released planes, and two were going to the Chicago area. He managed to get into O'Hare (this was back when it was being used by the Air Force and wasn't the commercial airport it is today) when all other Chicago area airports were closed.

Mom likes fruitcake - Dad does to a point. One of his summer jobs was working for Casey's Fruitcakes in Evanston during World War II. An exact amount of dough had to be put in cans in which the cakes were baked, sealed, and then sent to servicemen overseas. He said the amount of dough had to be just right in terms of weight.

As mentioned earlier, Nana's birthday is December 23. Dad said she insisted on having a separate birthday party and presents, not combined with Christmas. He and his four siblings would pool their money on shopping for their parents' gifts, with his older sister Betty usually purchasing Nana's, while he and his brother Bob would get Grandpa something like fishing line (or a new reel when they were older).

I'll save Dad's other stories for later. The photo at the top of the post is of a postcard of the Evanston City Hall (a hand-colored photograph) that I bought in an antique store in Granbury, Texas. It's undated, and it's hard to read the postmark (in Chicago, Illinois), but my son thinks it says 1907. That would correspond with the type of postcard it is (undivided back with some writing space on the front, which were made December 24, 1901 through at least March 1, 1907) and the one-cent Franklin stamp on the back (which was introduced in February 1903). Postcards could be mailed for one cent until 1952 (except November 2, 1917 - July 1, 1919, and April 15, 1925 - June 30, 1928 when the rate was also two cents). You can see the building in the backgrounds of this 1902 photo of the Rood Building housing the Lord's store next door, and this supposedly 1896 photo of Fountain Square in Evanston (actually taken 1893-1895 based on the location of Lord's), but I haven't been able to determine if it still exists today.

This is post 17 in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories hosted by Geneabloggers.com

ETA: Karen Hansen, Adult Services Librarian at Evanston Public Library, answered my query. "According to Evanston: A Pictoral History, the city broke ground for the City Hall building in 1891. In 1946, the building in your postcard was sold and the former Evanston Country Club building was designated as the new City Hall. The old City Hall was razed shortly afterward during the same year. So...the building would have existed at least for part of the time your father lived in Evanston. I hope that helps you fill a gap in your family history!" Thanks also to digital image expert Jennifer Lafleur for additional links to images and articles.

ETA2: Debra Gust, Image and Licensing Specialist with the Curt Teich Postcard Archives at the Lake County Discovery Museum in Wauconda, Illinois, wrote to me, "This is a very early Teich card, the number on it is 94. Because of the undivided back we know that it was printed sometime before 1907, but I cannot give you the exact year. The one we have in the collection was postmarked 1905."

© Amanda Pape - 2009

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