1920 celebration

1920 celebration

New Year’s Day, and January in general, though arbitrary times as far as the earth is concerned in its revolution around the sun, have long been viewed by humans as a new beginning.

As we struggle to maintain our newly avowed fitness goals, let’s take a look back at January 1920.

“There will be no unusual welcome to the New Year here ... and if past similar events be taken as a basis for prediction, there will not be a great deal of noise,” declared the Daily Star on Dec. 31, 1919. New Year’s Eve was traditionally a loud affair, marked by fireworks, bells and whistles. But the last few years of war and influenza had apparently taken their toll.

The year 1919 in particular had been a rough one for the nation. If labor strikes, race riots, mail bombs and the third wave of the flu weren’t enough, there was Prohibition, with its ensuing problems already making themselves known. “Beat it, 1919, you peace faker, bolshevist, sugar profiteer, wood alcohol fiend, bankrupt, hypocrite, and universal knocker!” quoted the Star.

But apparently people had had enough. On Jan. 1, 1920, the paper reported that people “forgot all about tolling any requiem mass over the departed [year],” and that “bells clanged joyously, cannon cracker-boomed, and noisy celebrators added their cheer to the general confusion. Sky rockets and star shells lighted the sky in many parts of the city,” and after private watch parties ended, “a considerable crowd was on the street.” They were ready for the Roaring ’20s.

Notably absent from the paper was any mention of self-improvement —no “new year, new you” slogans to be found—and notably present were evening church services of thanks and rededication on Dec. 31.

There were some community events, including a dance on New Year’s Day sponsored by the newly formed Cotillion Club and held at Feuerherd’s Confectionery on Caroline Street; music supplied by the Wooding Orchestra. The Opera House offered two comedy shows on New Year’s Eve, one at 8:30 and a special, well-attended midnight matinee.

The new year was also a leap year, and the paper reminded readers of the tradition in which “ladies are granted the privilege of seeking their soul mates, rather than waiting to be sought by the men.” This continued the entire year, though Feb. 29 in particular was a day in which ladies were entitled to pop the question. They were also expected to pay for their dates at dances, apparently, because the Cotillion Club announced an exception to its usual leap year custom, requiring the men to pay due to a delay in mailing out invitations.

School resumed on Jan. 5, but some students returning to the Normal School (later Mary Washington) were delayed. Ice on the Rappahannock prevented students who lived downriver from returning via boat. In fact, the steamer Dorchester, on its way back to Baltimore, was trapped in the ice two miles from the city after rounding “The Bend.” The cold was good news to many, though, who were able to lay 5 inches of “splendid ice” in their ice houses.

Freezing temperatures also didn’t stop civic participation. Judge Chichester set off to King George to hold the January term of the circuit court, where participants huddled around a wood-burning stove. Capt. G.M Harrison held the first reunion for veterans of the Great War at the Princess Anne Hotel.

And Fredericksburg launched its first repurposing of the Renwick Courthouse on Jan. 6, a community center located in the north wing. Upstairs was a gymnasium for basketball, volleyball and indoor baseball, and downstairs was a lounge area with tables for games, books and magazines, and a piano. There were also showers. One of the main purposes of the center was a resting place for visitors from the nearby counties who came to town to shop.

One more thing 2020 has in common with 1920: It was a census year. The 14th census of the U.S. began unusually early, with enumerators heading out Jan. 2 and canvassing for two weeks, or until the job was done. The idea was to have statistics in place for the primary elections. Another first for that census: women enumerators.

A few questions from the 1920 census that won’t be on yours: What country were your mother and father born in? Are you able to read and write?

Apparently, people were dodging census takers, because a week later the Daily Star issued stern warnings to these evaders. It reminded people that the number of postal workers and representation in Congress depended on the results. It seems that the main fear was increased taxes and a military draft.

An editorial from the Daily Star on New Year’s Day, however, looked back on the previous year as one in which many of the nation’s problems did not touch Fredericksburg in any significant way. It was a year, said the paper, in which churches and benevolent groups had gone over the top to help others, and “of which any community should be pleased and proud.”

Wendy Migdal is a freelance writer in Fredericksburg.

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