Willoughby: Aspen Christmas in 1923
Legends & Legacies
My parents didn’t pass on any stories about the 1923 holiday season. They were in high school that year, so it seems they would have told me about the parties, mistletoe, broken hearts and how they carried on. But they had a right to their privacy. So I gaze into that Christmas through the kaleidoscope of the Aspen Democrat newspapers of 1923.
Downtown Aspen offered vibrant options for shoppers with stores advertising their specialties and sales. F.S. McKee had been the major jeweler for decades. Folks called the proprietor “Doc,” because he sold prescription glasses. He featured diamonds for Christmas, and year after year he advertised a closeout sale.
Another decades-old establishment, Aspen Drug Co., offered free advice. Their “Christmas suggestions” included ashtrays, safety razors, leather handbags and toilet water. For sheer variety, Tomkins Hardware offered something handy for anyone. It featured Christmas tree lights, Navajo rugs and blankets, electric percolators, toasters, Kodak cameras and Pyrex ware. It was the only store that advertised toys.
Kobey’s, the store where my mother worked right after she graduated, advertised clothing at bargain prices. You could buy your sister a silk blouse for $37 in today’s dollars, women’s fine hose for $3.20, and men’s silk socks for $8.30. For the Christmas rush, Kobey’s opened in the evenings.
The People’s Store, owned by Charles Evans, featured more expensive ladies silk dresses for $112. For men it advertised neckties, suspenders and handkerchiefs. The aptly titled Christmas Store pushed affordable ties and hosiery, and also carried sport coats, sweaters, shirts and shoes.
Even the undertaker got into the spirit. L.L. Wilkes advertised “practical Christmas gifts for each member of the family.” Among his furniture offerings, I hope he did not promote a casket.
The ad by Cooper Book and Stationary held emotional appeal. “It is better to get some one thing that will give permanent value and enjoyment to the whole family than to buy a lot of ‘jim-cracks’ which will give pleasure to one person for a day or two and then will either go into the rubbish pile or be in the way.” I’ll buy that! Cooper’s sold musical instruments that anyone could play: phonographs and records.
When the shopping was done it was time for celebration. Each of the elementary school classes presented a Christmas program. The junior high also offered holiday fare.
Closer in the holiday run-up, two days before Christmas, hunters who had to provide for a big family would participate in the Savage Ranch Turkey Shoot. The Sunday event served free lunch, but ticket prices bought a chance to bag Christmas dinner from a choice of 12 turkeys, nine pigs and eight Plymouth Rock roosters. The newspaper provided no details of how the shoot worked back then. But today, many turkey shoots use paper targets.
A frenzy of festivities took place night and day. The Community Ladies’ Aid held an annual Christmas Bazaar at the Jerome, a luncheon with the option to buy handmade gifts and other items.
The countdown to Christmas ended with services at the Community Church, led by the Rev. Frederick Sager, which held a special service for Aspen Mountain Commandary and the Knights of Templar. Mass took place at St. Mary’s with the Rev. Father McSweeney. Or you could attend the First Church of Christ Scientist. Masters of logistics could attend all three.
Ashtrays may not make it to the top of most Christmas lists this year, but diamonds remain a sure thing. School programs may be secular, yet hearing kids sing still lifts our spirits. Turkey shoots may look better on paper than they did in 1923. And musical instruments have definitely changed — have you mastered the playlist? These transitions have taken hold slowly, with years to adjust. So, Christmas 2018 looks just right.
Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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