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Cudmore: Christmas in Amsterdam through the years

Cudmore: Christmas in Amsterdam through the years

Focus on history

Amsterdam retail sales records were broken in 1902’s Christmas season. The post office handled so many packages and letters that employees had problems finding places to stand to do their jobs.

Newspaper carrier boys were guests of the Recorder publisher that Christmas afternoon, boisterously enjoying the melodrama “A Hidden Crime” at the East Main Street Opera House.

Fulton County children wrote letters to Santa addressed to the local newspaper over a hundred years ago. Historian Peter Betz found that ice skates and sleds were the most desired gifts.

In 1918 70 soldiers from an Army truck train were entertained at Christmas dinner at the Amsterdam YMCA by the Red Cross. The Great War had ended the previous month.

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. In winter, children of New East Main Street School in Amsterdam prepared a Christmas tree for the Sassafras with food for the birds.

The first Mohawk Carpet children’s Christmas parties took place at the National Guard Armory on Amsterdam’s South Side. The armory today is the Amsterdam Castle boutique hotel. The 1934 children’s party was held at the former Junior High on Guy Park Avenue. More than 1,200 attended. By 1939 the party had relocated to the then Rialto Theatre on Market Street.

A December 1942 photo showed Amsterdam’s East Main Street. Cars were parked diagonally; decorations strung over the street. A soldier was in the foreground.

During World War II Mohawk Carpet sent gift boxes to each of the mill’s soldiers. The 1943 box included candy, playing cards and a greeting card from company president, Howard Shuttleworth.

The city had a Christmas parade in 1947 featuring a balloon train. A picture shows parade watchers spilling out onto East Main Street to view the engine.

The Mohawk Mills Chorus, predecessor of today’s Mohawk Valley Chorus, appeared on NBC television in 1949 singing Christmas tunes with Roberta Quinlan on her Mohawk Carpet Showroom program.

Joseph Tralka, organist and choir director at St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church years ago, earned a modest salary. He made extra money with door-to-door sale of Christmas wafers, a traditional perk for church organists.

One of the Amsterdam sights during the industrial heyday was the lighted outline of a Christmas tree on the Clock Building on Prospect Street, then headquarters of Bigelow-Sanford Carpet.

The matrons at the Children’s Home orphanage at 81 Guy Park Ave. in the 1950s asked each child to list three things wanted for Christmas. One former resident remembered getting paper dolls and white socks.

In the 1950s Amsterdam held a Christmas Festival at Coessens Park in the East End, organized by Mayor Thomas F. Gregg. Santa talked to children and animals were brought in from an Adirondack tourist attraction.

At midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, all main lights at the primarily Lithuanian St. Casimir’s Roman Catholic Church on East Main Street were turned off, smaller lights turned on. A parishioner recalled that with the smaller lights and candles, the church looked magical. The church today is a Buddhist temple.

The Christmas Eve service at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church on Division Street was so crowded years ago that ushers set up extra chairs in the aisles to accommodate everyone.

Amsterdam wrapped up its bicentennial in 2004 with City Hall display of a Christmas tree with ornaments made by students. Several windmills on the tree paid tribute to Dutch heritage. One large windmill had holiday greetings in English, Italian, Polish and Spanish.

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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