LIMA — As the days grew darker and colder and Lima revved up for the revelries that would mark the end of 1920, the Lima Republican-Gazette delivered some bad news: Turkey was probably off the table for the holidays.
The price of the traditional table centerpiece — 75 cents a pound — “is virtually prohibitive for the average man,” the Gazette declared on Christmas Eve. “Aside from this the bird appears to be as scarce as the Indians who first feasted upon it.”
A century ago, another holiday staple, booze, was simply prohibited.
Nineteen twenty had been a momentous year and it was finishing with a flourish. In April, the Spanish flu pandemic burned itself out after leaving about 675,000 Americans dead in a country of a little more than 106 million people. That November, thanks to ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, women voted in the general election for the first time. Lila Gamble, who lined up to vote a half hour before her polling station at Market and Kenilworth opened, is believed to be the first woman in Lima to vote. In December, another milestone was reached when, Ruth Callahan, a clerk in the sheriff’s office, was appointed Allen County’s first female deputy sheriff.
At the beginning of the year, the 18th Amendment, Prohibition, went into effect, although those with a taste for booze seemingly had little trouble finding it. One such person was Ben Arnton, who served as the subject of an O’Henry-esque tale by a Gazette reporter printed the day after Christmas.
“Incidentally and for the benefit of the hurried reader,” the reporter wrote, “this tale isn’t about anything that matters much. It’s just the story of a man to whom Christmas is a day of sorrow.” According to the reporter, Arnton, a “traveling man,” returned home one Christmas several years earlier after an absence of several months to find his wife had run off with his best friend and taken the children with her.
“I have wandered from one end of this country to the other, searching for my wife, my family, my lost happiness — the happiness which was mine till that Christmas Day,” Arnton told Lima police Detective Willis Kipker, who found the wanderer “drunkenly, staggering down Main Street,” according to the reporter.
Kipker, who served as Lima Police Chief in the 1920s, was so moved by Arnton’s tale of woe he took him to his home for Christmas dinner. “And so, the odd pair, the detective and the wanderer, went home to Christmas dinner and the warm fireside and all that makes Christmas mean so much to us,” the reporter concluded.
Because of Prohibition, those who lacked Arnton’s access to alcohol were doomed to wander soberly on New Year’s Eve. “Well, the old town ‘won’t be what she used to be’ on New Year’s Eve,” the Gazette bemoaned. “Yes, Lima will christen Kid 1921 dismally but resignedly with ginger ale or some equally impotent concoction.”
At least, if those resigned individuals found themselves toasting the new year with a glass of ginger ale in downtown Lima, they would do it under improved lighting.
“Agitation for better lighting which started a year ago with formation of a citizens’ committee, was ended last night when current was turned into the boulevard lighting system on Main and High streets,” the Gazette reported Dec. 9. “At dusk two ‘great white ways’ penetrated the business district.”
Lighting was better than in the history of Lima. The first link in the lighting system, which eventually would include all downtown as well as areas of Market and Main streets, extended from the Public Square north to the Pennsylvania Railroad and had been turned on that spring.
Meanwhile, a rumor that “each light post in the new boulevard system is a potential electrocution station,” was quickly squelched, according to the Gazette. Councilman John Reed, an electrician, told the newspaper on New Year’s Day 1921, “If it is desired, I will hug, kiss and stick my nose against every one of these ‘electrocution’ stations.”
No doubt due in part to that new lighting, downtown retailers like the Leader store, Feldman’s and Bluem’s reported a boom in Christmas sales. “Statements from practically all Lima’s merchants yesterday declared that the 1920 Christmas season has been one of the best in history and volume of sales far exceeds that of 1919,” the Gazette reported on Christmas day.
One present that would not fit under the tree was a new automobile. “This morning early,” the Gazette wrote, “automobile agencies will deliver a string of brand-new cars to specified street numbers as a Christmas present to milady from ‘dad.’” One of those dealers, the Lima Motor Car Co., announced it would be moving into a new building at 545 W. Market St. Today, the much-remodeled building is the home of Perry Pro-Tech.
While the car dealer was opening, a fixture in the middle of the Public Square was closing. On New Year’s Eve, the Gazette wrote that the Ohio Electric railway transfer station had been condemned by the board of health and was ordered removed within 60 days.
The downtown area also got a new entertainment venue when the Elks Club built an extension to its home at North and Elizabeth streets. “There were large festivities in the Elks’ home last night, when the six new bowling alleys were opened,” the Gazette reported Dec. 30. “The alleys were kept busy all evening and more than 100 games were rolled.”
Sport of another sort was announced for New Year’s Day at Memorial Hall, a boxing program sponsored by the Spanish American War Veterans. “The veterans haven’t overlooked the power of attraction held by the Lima pugilistic artists, and as a result are priming both Babe Bream and Don Baxter for two affairs on the card,” the Lima Daily News reported Dec. 29.
The News pronounced the exhibition bouts featuring the Lima fighters the most entertaining of the evening. The main event, between fighters from Detroit and New York, “went 12 rounds with no casualties, except to the peace of mind of the spectators,” the newspaper wrote.
Many residents found a better deal at the downtown movie theaters, watching Douglas Fairbanks in “The Mark of Zorro,” which opened at the Lyric Theater on North Main Street on Christmas Day, or Buster Keaton in “The Scarecrow” at the Sigma Theater in the northwest corner of the Public Square. At the Faurot Opera House at Main and High streets, a ticket costing from 50 cents to $1.50 was good enough for a Christmas Day performance of “The Gumps,” with 20 song gems and “dozens of pretty dancing girls.”
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.