Christmas in Dubuque A Hundred Years Ago
Dubuque at Christmas, 1921
The Christmastime weather in Dubuque was cold in 1921. High temperatures were in the twenties in the days before, and the Christmas day high was 21 degrees. There had been plenty of snow for sledding, enough that the City Manager issued a reminder to homeowners to clear walks and spread ash or sand. Upstream, the cold weather had caused a large ice gorge which was slowing the river’s flow. Concerns about further restriction of the current had a crew from Dubuque Electric Company using dynamite to keep water available for power plant use. With schools closing for the holiday break, a series of coasting accidents followed. In response, Dubuque police banned sledding on 21 different city streets including Dodge, 14th, and Hill.
Holiday Hustle & Bustle
Prohibition was the law of the land, and courts in Dubuque that week were busy with alcohol-related issues. Businesses at 113 Main Street and 557 Central Avenue were each fined $100 after owners pled guilty to illegal alcohol sales. One man, a reported “hootch hound” told the judge he didn’t think he could leave the stuff alone, so he was given a 30-day jail term “to ponder.”
Shoppers kept the downtown streets busy. Retailers offered lots of last-minute gift suggestions. Buechle’s Jewelry Store at 1042 Main Street was offering surprise boxed jewelry items for a dollar each. Baumhover’s shop at 9th and Main was selling imported silk neckties for $1.29, and dolls ranging in price from 15 cents to $1.25. Baumgartner’s, at 922 Main, was selling sleds starting at $1.59. Lots of people showed appreciation for Dubuque’s only traffic cop in the midst of the holiday commotion. He was described as being “loaded down with gifts” from passing motorists.
Warm Hearts at the Holidays
As Christmas approached, The Dubuque Salvation Army announced a commitment to serve every poor and needy Dubuque family a “real Christmas dinner with all the trimmings.” Another large-scale Christmas project to benefit needy Dubuquers was led by the daily newspaper.
Executives with The Dubuque Telegraph Herald led the way in organizing a major community Christmas toy distribution for needy local children. The newspaper reported a group of “Goodfellows” worked late into the night in the Telegraph Herald basement dividing up a full ton of candy into 2000 bags, then placing an orange in each sack before they were shipped out. Later The Dubuque Saratoga Club added popcorn balls to each, and all 2000 bags were organized at The Majestic Theater (now 5-Flags Theater). A list of more than 100 different business and organizations identified as candy providers was published in the paper.
Tickets were distributed to area children identified as in-need through schools and other local organizations, and kids aged 12 and under were invited to a Christmas Eve Day program at The Majestic. The kids, sacks full of sugar in hand, were treated to five reels of western movies.
A large “Kiddie Tree” was brought in by a Boy Scout Troop and put up on the theater stage. A collection of toys donated by the public was arranged on and around it. Santa himself arrived to push the button that turned on the tree’s lights at about 4:00 PM. 30 firemen in uniform were on hand to assist as the children were ushered across the stage, each allowed to pick a toy to take home. Several officials involved marvelled at the orderliness and organization of the event. The Theater manager found it hard to believe that the day came off without a single mishap.
A hundred years later, we hope you’ll find a way to bring joy into our world at the holidays.
Sources: Dubuque Telegraph Herald archive, Encyclopedia Dubuque, US Library of Congress.