1923: “Happy New Year” a Century Ago

What did readers of the Star-Telegram read on the first day of the new year a century ago?

For starters, the front page was plastered with headlines about violence, crime, and death: “Two Instantly Killed,” “Marriage License Found on Dead Man,” “Plane Crash Is Fatal,” “Youth Is Kidnaped,” “Girl Is Shot,” “Two Fires at Beaumont,” “Man Nabbed with Her is K. C. Bank Bandit,” “Robber Again on Way to Prison,” “Prisoner Leaps 18 Feet to Ground,” “Three Killed, Two Hurt,” “Attack on Rail Workers,” “Train Kills Students,” “Gunshot Victim.”

But the inside pages show that there also was music in the air. In 1923 WBAP radio had been on the air only eight months, had not yet adopted a country music format. Rather, WBAP presented music by the likes of Strauss and Liszt, soprano and piano solos, quartets, musical readings, and the Fred Wagner Hilo Five Hawaiian Serenaders, who performed, among other songs, “Yaka Hula Hike Dula” (say that ten times fast, Bill Mack!).

And six times a week WBAP presented a bedtime story from 7:15 to 7:30 p.m.

On January 2 Jimmie’s Joys, featuring future crooner and movie actor Smith Ballew on banjo, would present a dance concert on WBAP. (Meadowmere Country Club was located in Arlington Heights.)

Another group featured on WBAP radio was the Girls’ Mandolin Choir of the Knights of Pythias Home in Weatherford.

And there was entertainment in the theaters. The Majestic Theater was presenting “big-time” vaudeville, including Niobe Morris’s baboons and collies. On the Majestic screen, John Barrymore starred in a Sherlock Holmes movie.

The Palace Theater, the first of the Show Row threesome, was presenting The Man Who Saw Tomorrow. Bonus entertainment was Haywood Thompson, the “mental marvel” who “drove an automobile, blindfolded, to Dallas.” In fact, Thompson claimed to have made more than 350 “blind drives” “without so much as scratching a fender, touching a pedestrian, or violating a traffic law.”

In 1923 veterans of the Civil War were in their eighties, but many were still active in “camps” (branches) of national veterans organizations.

In 1923 Baird’s Bakery was located at 1400 West Terrell Avenue at 6th Avenue on the near South Side.

Stripling’s Department Store was selling BlueBird electric washing machines for $120 ($2,000 today) and Davis sewing machines (foot- or electric-powered).

At The Fair, fashions for women.

And at the Florsheim Shoe Store, fashions for men.

The city still picked up garbage in mule-drawn wagons.

New Year’s “dinner de luxe” at Joseph’s Café downtown was $1.50 ($25 today).

The Katy railroad was offering eight-and-one-half-hour service to San Antonio with only three stops between.

The Knights of Columbus were offering scholarships to vets for evening classes at the college founded on Hemphill Street by pasta prince John B. Laneri.

According to the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, in 1922 Texas led the nation in lynchings—fifty-one African Americans and six whites. The Ku Klux Klan was very active in Texas in the 1920s.

In 1923 Prohibition entered its fourth year. Just after midnight on New Year’s Day a Prohibition officer was monitoring a dance hall for “hip pocket liquor” when he saw a couple kissing. The officer deemed the couple’s PDA to be excessive and told them to cease and desist. The boy broke his clench long enough to insult the officer. Later, after the couple took a turn around the dance floor, the boy again insulted the officer. This time the officer arrested the boy, triggering a “free-for-all” as other dancers piled onto the Prohibition officer and two other officers. In the chaos one of the officers lost his pistol. One officer placed a riot call to police headquarters. That melee was quelled, but fights at the dance hall that night became so frequent that the hall closed early.

Just after midnight on New Year’s Day constable A. B. Carter raided a still at Lake Worth and arrested three men.

Robert Michael Nolan began his sixteenth year as pastor of St. Patrick Church.

Fort Worth’s first Piggly Wiggly store had opened in 1918.

Fort Worth’s dealer of the REO (from “Ransom E. Olds,” father of the Oldsmobile) passenger car and REO Speed Wagon truck promised to “devote the major part of our effort to sales and service in Fort Worth” in 1923.

Late-model Fords were selling for $175-$335 ($2,900-$5,500 today). Note the makes—Essex, Oakland, Atlas—that have fallen by the roadside.

Southwestern Bell Telephone Company depicted its operators as “weavers of speech.”

Fort Worth’s first birth of the new year was reported by All Saints Hospital.
That “fine boy” (William Russell Jenkins) would attend Poly High School, become a surgeon, would be instrumental in the founding of Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, and would die in 2010.

Happy New Year.

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