THE LAST CHRISTMAS
Christmas in Laurens County in 1940
Christmas in Laurens County in 1940
The year was 1940. It would be the last Christmas before the war. It was a Christmas when Dubliners and Laurens Countians put their differences aside and celebrated the birth of Christ in its true form. A little commercialism could be found, but the main focus was the religious aspect of the 25th of December. Many were worrying about the impending war in Europe. More than a hundred local men and boys in the Georgia National Guard were training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina for a war they hoped would never come.
A county-wide celebration began on the courthouse square in the late afternoon of the 12th. Several thousand citizens gathered in downtown. Streets were blocked off for several blocks in all directions. Late shoppers were serenaded by the bands of Dublin High School and the Laurens County Marching Band seated on a specially constructed grandstand. Music filled the air - broadcast from loud speakers in the courthouse tower. The boys of Cadwell, Dudley, and Rentz vocational classes aided Georgia Power employees in stringing the lights on trees and the courthouse itself. A manager scene was constructed on the grounds. The lighting also included the traditional tree of lights on the Carnegie Library grounds (now the museum). Another part of the display of lights was a new neon sign placed on the steel frame of the river bridge wishing new comers a "Merry Christmas!" Later the sign was change to read "Welcome to Dublin" for west bound travelers and "Thanks, Come Again" for east bound visitors on their way out of town.
Dr. C.H. Kittrell, President of the Dublin Lions Club, served as the master of ceremonies. He hailed the gathering "as the most impressive Christmas display our community has ever had." Dr. Kittrell praised the unity shown by members of the community and its significance in the Christmas season. The Rev. Claude E. Vines prayed for world peace in his invocation. Bob Hightower, chairman of the event, praised the spirit of cooperation by the business and professional men of Dublin, except the five "scrooges" who refused to donate to the program. In all, Hightower and his associates raised more than fifteen hundred dollars. Rev. W.A. Kelley, Superintendent of the Dublin District of the Methodist Church, called for a renewed observation of the spiritual significance of Christmas. By then, children began tugging on their parents sleeves asking "when are they going to turn on the lights?" Mae Hightower made here way to the stage where she threw the lights, just at the moment of dusk. In eclectic voices the crowd filled the air with "oohs", "aahs", and "wows."
The second phase of the celebration came five days later. The ladies of the Dublin Garden Club, led by its president, Mrs. Carl Nelson, sponsored a city-wide outdoor Christmas lighting contest. Mrs. Howard L. Cordell, Sr. and Mrs. Marion Peacock headed the committees which were able to secure out of town judges to evaluate the fifty-four contestants. The judges made their decisions based on the suitability of the lights to the type of home, the size of the decorations in proportion to the size of the house, and the total artistic and color effect of the decorations.
Mr. and Mrs. O.L. Chivers, whose home still stands on Bellevue Ave. across from the Piggly Wiggly, won the first prize. The George T. Morris home, now home to the Chamber of Commerce, finished in a second-place tie with "Green Acres," the home of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Geeslin. Third place was awarded to Mr. and Mrs. James F. Nelson, Jr.
Rev. Ralph Gilliam led an impressive and inspirational candlelight service at Henry Memorial Presbyterian Church on the Sunday before Christmas. Participants in the program included Blanche Coleman, C.C. Crockett, Leah Kittrell, Charles Alexander, Sara Veal, Noble Marshall, and the music club of Dublin High School. The choir of the First Baptist Church presented a cantata at the regular Sunday morning worship service. Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus came to Buckhorn Methodist Church for an "Old Time" Christmas.
The third major event of that Christmas was a county-wide Christmas Carol program on the courthouse square, just two days before Christmas. A.J. Hargrove, the master of ceremonies, presided over a program which featured thousands of local school students. The children assembled at the school building downtown (now the City Hall.) One group, after another, formed on the school grounds and marched to the courthouse serenading parents, shoppers, and merchants along the way. At the courthouse they did an about face and marched back down the other side of the street. At four o'clock many church choirs assembled at the courthouse for the main part of the program which featured the traditional songs of Christmas, featuring soloists Mrs. Annelle Brown and Blanche Coleman.
An integral part of that Christmas in 1940 and each one since then has been the giving of gifts, especially the toys for the children. Smith's Jewelry had special last minute gifts for momma and daddy or for the special girl or man. Silverware sets sold from $15 to $150.00. Bill folds and belt sets were popular at two dollars or so. Bulova, Waltham, and Elgin watches were the most popular, all for less than forty dollars. A solitaire diamond engagement ring sold for $49.75 with the matching wedding duet for only $24.75. America's finest glassware sold from 25 cents up to $12.00.
Across the street at Lovett and Tharpe, shoppers could shop until 10:30 on Christmas Eve for the last minute gifts. For the boys, Daisy air rifles were a dollar, Wilson basketballs were two dollars and seventy-five cents, and Wilson footballs sold for a dollar and twenty-five cents. The Westfield bicycle, the top of the line, went for the sum of twenty-eight dollars. Tricycles were four dollars and wagons brought three dollars apiece. For the lady of the house, a husband could pick up a new Frigidaire refrigerator, range, or water heater for $120.00 and up. Tree light strings, the old-fashioned kind with larger light bulbs, sold for fifty cents to a dollar.
Santa Claus came that night. Toy lead soldiers, baby dolls, comic books, and tea sets, along with the requisite new sets of clothes found their way under the trees. For the last two decades the county and city had suffered through a long and dark economic depression. Things were beginning to change. As Charles Dickens said in his "Tale of Two Cities," "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times." Our country was about to enter into a world war that would change the course of the history of man forever.
That joyous season of Christmas had two sad postscripts. Homer Jordan and M.C. Kincey broke into McLellan's Department Store. The two men helped themselves to the contents of the store early on Christmas morning. Otherwise, Sheriff I.F. Coleman and Chief J.W. Robertson reported that the day passed quietly, the only Christmas in recent memory that they didn't have to lock up a few drunks." While all but ten local National Guardsmen returned home for Christmas, two Monroe Georgia soldiers were passing through Dublin on their return to Camp Stewart. Just as Sgt. Roger Malcom and James Peters passed under the Merry Christmas sign on their way to Hinesville, they lost control of their car and crashed into the bridge. Sgt. Malcom didn't survive. It was his last Christmas. Christmas is a time to cherish with your family and friends. Remember the true "reason for the season" and have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!