Yule tales of yore in Rug City

Amsterdam retail sales records were broken in the 1902 Christmas shopping season, according to a new

Amsterdam retail sales records were broken in the 1902 Christmas shopping season, according to a newspaper account.

Receipts were up for department stores, dry goods and clothing. Back then, the day before Christmas, not the day after Thanksgiving, was usually the busiest shopping day. But Amsterdam merchants in 1902 reported a week’s worth of banner shopping days leading up to Christmas.

The post office, then at the corner of East Main and Church streets, was extremely busy. So many packages and letters crowded the postal facility that employees had problems finding places to stand to do their jobs.

On Christmas day, the Salvation Army fed 500 poor people. Amsterdam Recorder newspaper carrier boys were guests of the publisher Christmas afternoon, seeing the melodrama “A Hidden Crime” at the East Main Street opera house.

The boisterous boys occupied front rows and aroused attention before the play started, but the newspaper reported the lads settled down to watch the show.

“The hearts of the auditors kept going bumpety-bump through the nearly three hours of the play.”

In 1918, 70 soldiers in charge of an Army truck train were entertained at Christmas dinner at the YMCA in Amsterdam by the Red Cross. In 1920, Amsterdam police enjoyed a Christmas tree and supper at police headquarters. In 1924, there was a Christmas concert at the Rialto Theater on Market Street.

The Sassafras Bird Sanctuary opened in 1931 and was a popular spot in spring, summer and fall for several decades. In winter, children of New East Main Street School prepared a Christmas tree for the Sassafras with food for the birds.

One of the sights in Amsterdam during the heyday of carpet manufacturing was the lighted outline of a Christmas tree on the front of the Clock Building on Prospect Street, then headquarters of Bigelow-Sanford carpets. The building is still there.

A December 1942 photo of downtown Amsterdam brings back memories of the city’s Main Street. The photo was used by the late Tony Pacelli in his 1980s book, “Past and Present.”

A roving photographer took the shot, which shows the late Ralph D. Orsini standing in front of S.S. Kresge’s at the intersection of East Main and Railroad streets, waiting for his wife, Mary. The Kresge building was a two-story, brick structure constructed in 1925.

There is no snow, but the street is full of shoppers, warmly bundled in coats and boots. One woman is wearing saddle shoes. Men and women are wearing hats. A large Styrofoam snowman with a straw hat is in Kresge’s window, with smaller snowmen in front.

Cars are parked diagonally along the curb, and there are Christmas decorations strung across the street. This is wartime, and a soldier is in the foreground.

Amsterdam had a huge Christmas parade Nov. 22, 1947, featuring a large balloon train. The parade was covered in the Mohawk Carpets employees’ publication, Tomohawk, that year.

A picture shows a large crowd spilling onto East Main Street, craning their necks to get a view as the engine of the balloon train passed in front of Lindsay’s Shoes. It looks as if the train barely cleared the Christmas decorations hung across the street.

The parade began at Coessens Park in the East End and traveled down East and West main streets.

In the late 1950s, Amsterdam held a Christmas festival at Coessens Park. Thomas F. Gregg, mayor from 1958-60, organized it. Santa Claus talked to children, and animals were brought in from an Adirondack tourist attraction.

Gregg was a butcher who operated a shop on what was then Railroad Street.

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected]

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