Christmas Eve a Century Ago: Jingle Bells and Mortar Shells

On December 24, 1917 two very different events were much on people’s minds: Christmas and war.

America had been at war only nine months, and the Christmas Eve edition of the Star-Telegram was devoted to both a holiday that brought “tidings of comfort and joy” and a war that brought angst and sacrifice to readers on the home front and put many of their friends and family members in mortal danger “over there.”

A Star-Telegram editorial applauded a suggestion that all Americans pause at 9 a.m. Christmas morning to sing “America.” “Let us consecrate ourselves anew,” the editorial said, “to the holy cause for which the nation has taken up arms.”

“Sacrifice and self-denial will be required of us all.”

Indeed Americans coped with shortages on the home front as food and other resources were diverted to the war effort. Coal and gasoline were rationed. Americans were urged to reduce waste, to use substitutes, to plant “war gardens” (three million had been planted by Christmas 1917), to can food, and to voluntarily observe “meatless Tuesdays” and “wheatless Wednesdays.”

Even the railroads had to tighten their (cotton) belts: Due to wartime shortages, the Cotton Belt railroad suspended two of its trains to Memphis.

By Christmas 1917 many Americans were fighting in France, where the War Department was serving “Christmas turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes and mince pie” to every American soldier and sailor.

For the man who has everything, including dog tags: A timely gift suggested by the Star-Telegram was a combination diary and English-French dictionary for those American soldiers and sailors fighting in France.

Fort Worth residents didn’t need to read the newspaper to be reminded of the war. Fort Worth had been founded as a military installation, and in 1917 it was once again a military center. Tens of thousands of American soldiers and British Royal Flying Corps cadets were stationed at Camp Bowie and at the three airfields of Camp Taliaferro. The Star-Telegram kept readers informed of news from the base with its “Under the Tents at Camp Bowie” column.

Fort Worth adopted the doughboys and RFC cadets as sons, entertaining them in residents’ homes, providing them with both luxuries and necessities at the base.

And the soldiers gave back to the community. For example, on the day after Christmas 1917 motorists cheered as they passed soldiers who were filling potholes on still-unpaved Arlington Heights (Camp Bowie) Boulevard.

Fifty-six cadets of Camp Taliaferro were recommended for commissions as first lieutenants.

Training was dangerous for cadets at the three airfields. RFC cadet A. R. Harrison of Canada was killed in a crash near Barron Field in Everman just before Christmas.

Also just before Christmas two cadets were killed when their planes collided. The two men were buried in the RFC section at Greenwood Cemetery. Eden was later reburied in Maryland.

The Christmas Eve classified ads remind us that early in the twentieth century dozens of automakers competed. Most, such as those listed in these classified ads, flivvered and fizzled.

Edgar A. Guest, known as the “people’s poet,” wrote eleven thousand poems, which were syndicated in three hundred newspapers.

The Star-Telegram’s Goodfellows had begun helping the needy in 1912.

Haltom’s jewelry store was in the Fort Worth Club Building at 614 Main Street.

Men in uniform were featured in this ad by King Candy Company.

Kress was located at 901-905 Houston Street in today’s FedEx Office building.

Fort Worth Power & Light Company sold not only electricity but also products that used electricity.

Stripling’s department store would expand until it covered a city block. It would be imploded in 1979 to make way for the Renaissance Worthington Hotel.

Love flourished even in time of war. Margaret Tandy, daughter of East Side civic leader George Tandy, was married at her father’s home on Tandy Lake on the interurban. Just north of the lake was a street named for Margaret.

The Victor Talking Machine Company offered serveral models of Victrola ranging in price from $20 ($380 today) to $325 ($6,200 today).

Mercifully, Christmas 1917 was America’s only Christmas of World War I. It was also the first time the city’s Christmas tree—a “giant cedar”—was erected in Burnett Park.

In fact, at Christmas 1917 work had not even started on landscaping of the park, supervised by landscape architect George Kessler of St. Louis.

Only in March of that year had Samuel Burk Burnett bought and donated to the city the block for Burnett Memorial Park to honor his family, members of whom had been born and raised in two homes that once occupied the block.

(Meanwhile that March at the Coliseum up in Niles City not even war could stop a Cowtown tradition as the Stock Show opened and East met West with the Pageant of Queen Scheherazade.)

Merry Christmas, y’all.

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