Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Kewaunee County Christmas: 1941

On Friday December 5, 1941, Kewaunee County residents were preparing for Christmas. The "Christmas Season" had not yet started, but folks were thinking of it. It would be another year before the Bing Crosby-Irving Berlin hit White Christmas, however there was a lot Christmas music to be hummed and sung. Although the political situation and the war in Europe was in the minds of most adults, generally things were upbeat in Algoma.

Algoma Businessmen were encouraging all to participate in the second annual lighting contest, offering prizes of $5 as first prize, and $3 and $2 to 2nd and 3rd place. That kind of money was quite an inducement following the ravages of the Depression, and the businessmen knew there would be incurred electrical costs for such participation.  Lighting was just getting off the ground when, two years later, residents were asked to reduce their use of such lights.. A cadre of local men used the Dug-Out as a place to fashion street decorations, further adding to the city’s Christmas 1941 celebrations.  Algoma High School Dance Band played for a hop at the Normal School that weekend, a party that also included a play. It was the day the elementary school announced characters for the musical Hansel and Gretl. Mr. and Mrs. Claus were checking prices two or three times and found Kohlbeck’s advertising leather jackets for $6.95 and up. Hansen’s gloves were nearly 3 dollars though.  Heine Wiese sold Wembley ties for $1.00. Wiese's ties did not wrinkle like the 50 cent sellers. The future was in Algoma! Katches had all one could possibly want, including a visit from Santa the next day, December 6. Fashionable women could opt for a new hairdo at Marione’s  and get it for under 4 bucks. The state even had money in the treasury and roads would be improved.

The downer was that the State Draft Chief was in Kewaunee County attempting to improve selective service, however there was also a military-related upper: R.J. Ihlenfeld was given a government award honoring his late grandfather, Cavalry 2nd Lt. John Ihlenfeld, for his service at the Battle of Vicksburg. Late though it was, the award meant much to the Ihlenfelds.

It was Algoma 20 days before Christmas, and all was well.

The unthinkable happened only 2 days later, on December 7, a day President Franklin D. Roosevelt said would live in infamy. Pearl Harbor was attacked. But when the Record Herald came out on the 12th, there were no screaming war headlines. The front page carried an article about men serving in the Pacific and another article about 1-A men leaving for their physicals. It carried an article saying war bond purchases skyrocketed during the week, that county Civilian Defense was seeing volunteer activity, and that Red Cross was raising money.

To read the paper, it almost seemed Algoma was oblivious to war in the Pacific. Countless men had been drafted within the previous year or two, and the Plywood had gone to a war time production that figured in Lend-Lease.  Maybe city residents were listening to their radios and Gabriel Heater provided all the news. Who knows? But things changed when the December 19 paper reported Kewaunee County’s first casualty. Radioman 3rd Class Joseph Muhofski was a seaplane crew member killed near Hawaii. In an article announcing his death, the paper noted that Joseph’s parents received a Christmas gift from him the following day. The Record told readership that Algoma was one of the Wisconsin places showing war movies. 200 attended. It didn’t forget to remind patrons that carrier boys would be collecting before Christmas Eve while stressing how fast the boys worked to provide such conveniences.

Christmas went on, and the following day the paper noted the death of Irving W. Elliot, Kewaunee County’s last Civil War veteran and Wisconsin’s oldest Mason. The same paper carried what was felt to be the last picture of draftees as there was an information clampdown regarding quotas, calls to service and photos, although eventually the pictures returned to the paper. American Legion Auxilary purchased a mobile hospital unit, and the scouts were praised for collecting toys for needy children.

The U.S. got a war for Christmas 1941. Perhaps so few were touched by it before December 7 that they just didn’t give it a lot of thought. There was no "Peace on earth, goodwill to men" to men that year, and yet, Christmas was celebrated in Algoma as it always was.

Christmas 1942 was far, far different, however, that's another story.

Sources: Algoma Record Herald, Images: The postcard comes from the Kannerwurf, Sharpe, Johnson and the painting is is from NLJohnson. Both are copyrighted and used with permission. The photo of men departing for their physicals was found in Algoma Record Herald.

1 comment:

  1. Dear HistoryLady1, I always enjoy these posts and share them with my husband and his family. My family was from Racine and my husband's from Algoma. Our father's served in the Pacific front, not together, but in the same places at different times. One of the few times, either spoke of the war....was to each other. I learned more about my dad's service listening to that conversation then any other time.