Christmas Eve a Century Ago: Diamonds, Dirt Roads, and the “‘Santa Claus’ Riot”

As Christmas drew nigh one hundred years ago today, readers of the Star-Telegram read these articles and ads:

On the front page the United States revoked licenses to export arms to Mexico, two American sailors jailed for assault in Mexico were expected to be released, circus mogul John Ringling passed through town, and a U.S. Supreme Court justice issued a stay against a law shutting down pool halls in Texas.

The Crazy Well Water Company of Mineral Wells marketed a laxative for children. The concoction was also good for adults suffering from Bright’s disease, rheumatism, and liver and stomach ailments.

In 1906 the Pure Food and Drug Act had cracked down on fraudulent claims made by patent medicines. But in 1919 manufacturers were still selling plenty of snake oil. For example, Hobo Kidney & Bladder Remedy was made from herbs discovered in the piney woods of Louisiana by a “nameless tramp.”

A year later the government declared that Hobo’s panacean claims were fraudulent. Although Hobo Kidney & Bladder Remedy, unlike many patent medicines, did not contain alcohol, the government determined that “the gift from Nature’s storehouse” also did not contain ingredients capable of giving the remedy the “marvelous power” claimed by the manufacturer.

Fort Worth Power & Light Company was selling just what every woman yearned to find under the Christmas tree: a vacuum cleaner.

“After sweeping, brushing, dusting—then what? Hours of pleasurable recreation or hours of fatigue? The answer is known to every housewife. Those who are harnessed to antiquated methods reap exhaustion—weary minds and bodies. But those who clean the Premier way find extra hours for amusements and social enjoyments.”

By Christmas 1919 the war had been over a year, and the three airfields of Camp Taliaferro had been demobilized. At Benbrook Field (also called “Carruthers Field”) “famous flier” Earl C. Cochrane would give a flying exhibition, and people would be able to “take a ride in the clouds” in three airplanes flown by “expert pilots who know their business.”

Some soldiers returned from the war with European brides. The Red Cross Home Service sent a card to each bride to mark her first Christmas in America.

In 1919 George W. Haltom’s House of Diamonds was still located in the 1916 Fort Worth Club Building (today the Ashton Hotel) at 6th and Main streets. Haltom’s big clock on the corner was one year old.

In 1919 if Christmas shoppers had the money, Haltom’s had the diamonds. But for north Texans taking a holiday trip by automobile, unpaved roads were still as common as dirt, even between large cities such as Fort Worth, Waco, and Wichita Falls.

Among the now-defunct flivvers being driven on those dirt roads were Mercers, Maxwells, Hudsons, Overlands, Jefferys, and Kellys.

The Majestic Theater continued to present live entertainment as silent movies gained in popularity.

In the classified ads employers were hiring. F. N. Smith of Quanah wanted a blacksmithPeters brothers wanted “40 colored boys to shine shoes.” And Western Union wanted “live-wire schoolboys with wheels.”

At the county orphanage the children’s Christmas was a little bit sweeter because boxes of candy traveling through the mails that ended up in the dead-letter headquarters in Fort Worth were distributed at the orphanage.

In New York City a “‘Santa Claus’ riot” ensued at the Seventy-First Regiment Armory when sixteen thousand children showed up to claim only seven thousand gifts.

John Philip Sousa and his “world famous band” had marched into town for two concerts.

What would Christmas in Cowtown be without the Goodfellows fund? Established by the Star-Telegram in 1912, the fund has become one of this city’s oldest traditions. In 1919 the Goodfellows fund helped Santa deliver gifts to more than five hundred needy families.

Finally, although it’s been said many times, many ways, to quote Sanger’s of a century ago,

“merry, merry Christmas to all”


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