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Column: Some memorable downtown nights from years long ago

Editor's note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run "Isn't That Something" columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and...

Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared Feb. 24, 2007.

WORTHINGTON - Talk turned to things we used to see that we seldom see any longer. I thought of Worthington’s downtown business district at night - 10th Street, 11th Street, Ninth Street. The cross streets, Second Avenue, Third Avenue.

I don’t often go there in the night hours any longer, but I have spent many hours in downtown Worthington after dark. That was my Ground Zero: the Daily Globe office.

We would come and go to City Hall, to city council meetings and planning commission meetings, to the courthouse and the Daily Globe on election nights with returns flowing in.

It was a most rare night when you did not see people along the sidewalks through all the dark hours. That’s where the old police station was, the county jail and the sheriff’s office. Hotel Thompson and the Adams Hotel. The YMCA. The State Theater. The Grand Theater.

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For many years, the bus station was in the old depot cafe. Meier Brothers and then the Long Branch kept things stirring. The popcorn stand was there, as well as Mrs. Pederson with her popcorn wagon and that Worthmore ice cream store we talked about not long ago.

Then - most of all - Campbell’s Soup. Workers coming and going through all hours.

Even on Christmas Eve, a policeman would go from business to business checking that doors were locked. Someone would drive to the Post Office, still looking for another Christmas card. Someone would walk a dog. On New Year’s Eve, there were parties in the theaters and the steam whistle at the power plant sounded for midnight.

You were almost never alone in the downtown.

There were exciting nights, nights when the crowds were huge. VE-Day and VJ-Day. The night of the World War I armistice.

I thought of the torchlight parades that moved through the downtown on the eves of Turkey Day for several years. In more recent years there have been the carnival and the carnival lights, the beer garden on Turkey Day eves.

I thought of stories of the Saturday nights when everyone went downtown to shop, to get their groceries.

I don’t remember those nights well. Legend is that some people drove downtown and parked their cars on a Saturday afternoon, maybe at a curb near the hotel, so that they would have ringside seats for watching the crowds and antics of Saturday nights. Sidewalk traffic would tend to flow one direction and then the opposite direction. You could almost not move against the flow - you had to go out in the street to get around oncoming crowds.

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Friday nights, in their turn, were nearly the same.

There were two nights all of us missed, I believe. Oh - I know we did. There were two nights in downtown Worthington that I think shaded all the others.

One was the night of Sept. 11, 1913. You know what that was? That was the first night there were electric lights in the downtown.

The Nobles County Times said, “Worthington’s Main Street Handsomely Illuminated, Turned into Way of Light.”

The paper reported, “The town was out to see the sight. … The soft light from one hundred and fifty lamps illuminated the street … there were ‘Ohs’ and ‘Ahs’ as people gazed upon the fairy scene …”

Wouldn’t you like to have been there to see that?

The other great night was a spring night, an April night, 17 months earlier when the Hotel Thompson had its opening.

What we could have done - we could have bought tickets to the banquet in the all-new Thompson dining room that night. They had oyster cocktail, celery and radishes, Parker House rolls and cranberry marmalade, roast bronze turkey, giblet dressing - oh, Neapolitan ice cream, angel food cake. Plus fruit.

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That night, the paper said, there were “traveling men from all over the Northwest.” People crowded downtown just to have a look, to walk through the lobby, to climb the grand staircase, to get a peek into one of the guest rooms - to see the hotel’s lights. The Thompson, finest hotel between Mankato and Sioux City and the newest hotel in all the region, had electric lights ahead of the rest of the business district.

The night the hotel opened and the night the lights went on. People saw some great things.

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