Merry Christmas to all - from Bigelow, 1899WORTHINGTON — There were 224 people living at Bigelow on the last Christmas of the 19th century. Monday, Dec. 25, 1899. Those 224 people lived largely to themselves and to one another.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — There were 224 people living at Bigelow on the last Christmas of the 19th century. Monday, Dec. 25, 1899. Those 224 people lived largely to themselves and to one another. There was a winding, fair weather buggy trail to Worthington and a winding buggy trail to Sibley. The real contact with the world beyond Bigelow was the railroad. Trains brought mail and newspapers, freight, salesmen and visitors.
There was a newspaper in Bigelow of that day — the Minnesota Signal. The Signal made a notable record of Bigelow’s Christmas celebration. A 19th century American prairie Christmas barely can be compared with what has come to be near the eve of this eighth Christmas of the 21st century.
Backdrop for that Christmas of 108 years gone by was the grand opening of Modern Woodsmen’s “magnificent new hall,” albeit a wood frame building, on Bigelow’s main street. Mid-December brought a public open house at the hall to which 250 people crowded for the Inaugural Banquet and Ball. Everyone ate and many danced; music was by Toce Demineco — Toce the Harpist.
With that, the Christmas season was begun. Things began to bustle.
On Dec. 22, Shroeder’s Restaurant announced a “fine lot of candies and new mixed nuts, fresh oysters and fruit.”
That same day, The Drug Store announced its selection of Christmas gifts:
Albums, clocks, shaving sets, perfumes, smokers sets, toilet soap, collars, snuff boxes, dolls with moving eyes, toy rocking chairs, toy chairs, toy bureaus and secretaries, kaleidoscopes, toy books, mouth organs, China cups and saucers, shaving mugs, ABC plates and climbing monkeys and sailors.
Mrs. L.M. White went to Shroeder’s for oysters. That night, “Mrs. White entertained a large number of community residents at an oyster supper at her home.”
The C StP M&O Railroad announced special holiday fares. Buy one round-trip ticket within a 200-miles radius of Bigelow and get a second ticket for one-third fare. Offer good Dec. 23 to (return trip) Jan. 2.
Then came the much-anticipated day. Christmas was not a total holiday but “business was practically suspended.” The town “was given over to entertainments and amusements of a holiday nature. Many had friends and relatives visiting them, other homes were made happy with family reunions, while the youngsters enjoyed themselves skating and at other sports.”
Not everyone remained at Bigelow. “F.N. Wood took Christmas dinner between trains with his parents at Heron Lake.” W. C. Wyatt joined his family at Sheldon.
Bigelow’s community celebration was observed on Christmas night when “the Sunday School held a Christmas entertainment … in Woodman Hall.” The front of the hall was decorated “with evergreens and holly” and the building was filled “to overflowing.” It was believed 300 people were present.
“On one side of the stage there was a huge cannon.” At the center “was a large Christmas tree, supported on either side by two smaller trees. All were piled with presents.”
There were “songs and recitations and a military drill by members of the Sunday School.”
And then — grand finale — “Old Santa” emerged from the mouth of the cannon “drawing an immense sack with bags of candy and nuts for all the little folks.” Once the treats were dispensed, Old Santa “disappeared the way he came.”
“After the exercises were over on Christmas night, the young people cleared the floor and proceeded to have a social dance, climaxed at midnight with a Cake Walk.”
Topics of conversations from that Christmas Day were reported:
l “The diphtheria scare at Madelia is abating. Churches were open again on Sunday.”
l “There is a woman at Redwood Falls — Mrs. William Simmons, a poor woman with a large family — who had $270 (the savings of years) destroyed by mice. Mrs. Simmons had her money in a roll in a trunk. Mice nested in the roll. The bank sent the tattered remains to a sub-treasury office in New York. It is hoped they will replace the bills.”
After midnight the chatter and the laughter faded. The crowd dispersed. Soon all was calm, all was bright. There was a distant train whistle.
Christmas at Bigelow.
The last Christmas of the 19th century.
Oh — as one the recitations had it even then, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.