Willoughby: 1908 Easter in Aspen — creeping commercialism | AspenTimes.com

Willoughby: 1908 Easter in Aspen — creeping commercialism

Tim Willoughby
Legends & Legacies
Lily Elsie in the 1907 London play the Merry Widow.
Public domain photo

Chain stores put out their holiday merchandise long before the date – Easter no exception. And now that Easter is over, the unsold merchandise is moved to a sale area, and the next holiday stock is put on the shelves. But even in 1908, commercialism for a religious holiday was evident.

More than a month before Easter in 1908, Cooper’s, a stationary-general merchandise store, began advertising their Easter cards that they sold two for 5 cents ($1.30 in today’s currency). Richard Belson, known as the candy man, a salesman for the Nevin Candy company in Denver, made the rounds pushing a line of Easter candles.

The Aspen Dry Goods store advertised Easter suits, Easter Oxfords, and Easter neckwear three weeks before Easter. Kay’s, a clothing store, advertised a special sale of wash silks at 64 cents/yard, appropriate for those sewing items for Easter. J. A. Eddy, a clothing dealer on Mill Street who sometimes referred to his business as the “live and let live store,” suggested, “Get ready for Easter,” selling silk waists and shoes.

One of the big topics concerned hats. It began with a report from Muskogee, Oklahoma, about a minister who pleaded his congregation to not wear “Merry Widow hats.” In 1907, an English actress, Lily Elsie (see photo), wore a rather large hat for an operetta that was broad brimmed with numerous feathers and created a fashion buzz. That led the Ministers’ Alliance to release an edict “to get concerted action to persuade the women of their congregations to go bare headed to church on Easter Sunday, or else not wear Merry Widows. They were worried that would drive men, who were not regular church goers, away.”

Aspen did not seem to follow the trend. A few days before Easter, The Aspen Times weather report stated, “It will be a pretty day next Sunday to allow the women to wear their pretty Easter hats, it will be appreciated at least by those who have new hats.”

Mrs. Bruin, whose shop was called Spring Millinery, offered “a captivating, fascinating display of elegance and fashion in pretty hats.”

Fashion finery for women became an Easter focus. The Aspen Times added to the preparation publishing the following joke: “Knoster: Has your wife planned her Easter gown? Bocker: Yes, she wants what ‘they’ are wearing, but not like anybody else’s.”

In spite of the commercialism, Aspen’s churches offered special services, described in an almost competitive manner. The first notices were about choir practices. First Presbyterian Church — Christ Church — began rehearsing over a month before Easter. It included a children’s choir.

The Methodist Church spruced up their church: “The church has been beautifully decorated with flowers for the occasion, and the committee has spared no pains in arranging everything to the best advantage.”

The Episcopal Church rehearsed their choir, as well.

St Mary’s went all out. Under the direction of Mrs. Atkinson – wife of one of the owners of the Little Annie Mine and a major freighting business – promised, “The music this year will be superior to anything heard previously, as it is well known that the choir at St Mary’s Church has always, on solemn occasions, given the people of Aspen some surprisingly fine music.” It included an orchestra, the choir, and an organ.

The Easter celebrations ended with the Retail Clerks’ Union hosting the 15th annual ball featuring Harrington’s Orchestra, which they said would “make for a jolly good time.” It was billed as “the principle event of the dancing season and coming as it does at the close of the Lenten season, is doubly appreciated by all those who come to dance.”

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.