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It was a peaceful Christmas in 1918

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  • It was a peaceful Christmas in 1918

    Freeborn County had much to be thankful for on Christmas Day 90 years ago.

    In December 1918, most of the world was finally peaceful after four years of warfare, which had ravaged a good portion of Europe, plus parts of Asia and Africa.

    In December 1918, many young men from the communities and rural areas of Freeborn County had either volunteered or been drafted for military service. There were still empty places in the churches and at family gatherings at Christmas time, but the reports of dead, wounded and injured servicemen had finally stopped. And when World War I ended on Nov. 11, 1918, the tally of losses for Freeborn County totaled 60 men and one woman killed in action, of wounds or injuries, or diseases such as influenza.

    And on Dec. 12,1918, the weekly Freeborn County Standard surprised its readers with an early present ? an advertising supplement which had a colorful cover showing Santa Claus on his appointed rounds.
    A total of seven firms paid for this supplement with their advertising messages. Now, after 90 years, these firms no longer exist or have evolved into business institutions with different names.

    Two ads featured the Christmas gift suggestions from the American Gas Machine Company. This firm, which was then mainly located at the present site of the City Center, featured the Kiel Oscillator Vacuum Washer: This household appliance had won the approval of Good Housekeeping Magazine and came with both hand and foot controls.

    Another American Gas Machine advertisement offered five more gift suggestions for the Christmas shopper in 1918. One was the American Beauty Parlor Lamp (fueled with regular gasoline). Another handy Albert Lea-made product was the American Self-Heating Flatiron. An always handy present suggestion for the rural resident was the American Ready-Lite Lantern, also known as the ?Dark Chaser,? and guaranteed to be wind and storm proof.

    For the sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts, the firm suggested either the gas-powered American Folding Kampkook, or the American Jiffy-Kook which was described as ?being a ?handy little heater.?

    Evens-Fonda and Company called itself ?The Christmas Store? arid featured men?s suits priced from $20 to $45. This firm at that time was part of a 22 store system of clothiers and shoemen.

    Other advertisers in this special Standard supplement were the First National Bank, Minnesota Gas and Electric Company, Freeborn County State Bank, Citizens National Bank, and the Western Grocer Company which featured a product called Chocolate Cream Coffee.

    Prior to Christmas, Skinner-Chamberlain and Co. ads in the Tribune featured a patriotic item called the Victory Candle This candle was 22 inches high, sold for three dollars, and was supposed to be lighted and placed in the window as a ?Christmas tribute to our boys? in uniform.
    In 1918, Albert Lea?s largest store had a grocery department. Skinner?s had soaked lutefisk for 13 cents a pound and lingonberries for a quarter per pound. A one pound can of plum pudding cost 45 cents.

    For Christmas time entertainment the Broadway Theater was showing the ?appealing heart interest? film called ?Pals First? starring Harold Lockwood. Also on the program was a filmed war review and a comedy.

    In the Dec. 24, 1918, issue, the Tribune?s editorial page had a five stanza poem by Edgar Guest called ?Christmas,? comments wishing the readers holiday greetings, and an answer to a controversy about the first community Christmas tree in the nation which reportedly had started in Albert Lea six years earlier.

    This editorial said, ?... We have heard many times that the first Community Christmas tree was erected in (New York City?s) Madison Square, but the very same year (1912) at the very same time Albert Lea had its first Community Christmas tree. Even the twin city papers gave Albert Lea the credit for the first tree of its kind ... with all due respect ... for New York City, we want to defend our right to claim the first Community Christmas tree west of the great metropolis.?

    The Freeborn County Standard reported in its Dec. 26. 1918, issue that ?The proprietors of the retail establishments are more than satisfied with the trade and predict that it will usher in an era of prosperity.?

    However, because of shortages created by World War I and weather conditions during December, the stores had some real problems meeting the demands of customers for gift items.

    The first part of the month was wet which created poor travel conditions on the then unpaved rural roads. Then a snow storm just before Christmas created difficult travel conditions of a different kind.

    The Standard said, ?There was a huge demand for toys. Foht?s store had the only big stock and it was completely sold out. All stores did great business. Several merchants said (on Christmas Eve) that if roads had been even passable, the shelves of the stores here would have been completely emptied.?

    The Standard also said Christmas had been made better for others by the City Relief Society, the Elks Lodge, and the Salvation Army for 30 families and 80 children in Albert Lea with food baskets and gifts.

    "The next major advancement in the health of American people will be determined by what the individual is willing to do for himself"-- John Knowles, Former President of the Rockefeller Foundation