December 2019 – Holidays

RCHS Facebook Posts from December 2019 – Holiday Fun & Traditions

Explore history with these snippets from past Facebook posts from the RCHS page.

Posts, event announcements, etc. have been edited for clarity and relevance.

Despite, or maybe because of, our long cold winters, Minnesota residents have always embraced winter and the joys that the season brings. We’ve always celebrated the holidays, creating new ways to make merry while honoring the traditions that traveled with us from other countries. This month, we’ll look at a few of the ways that folks in Ramsey County embraced, adapted to, and defied winter, celebrating the holidays from November through February.

Featured image: Holiday decorations at the intersection of Seventh and Robert Streets in downtown St. Paul.

Winter has always inspired creative ways of staying warm. Alice Olson, a teacher for over fifty years in Ramsey County, began her career in 1914 in a rural one-room schoolhouse on Hudson Road near Tanners Lake. She was nineteen years old, and her pupils ranged in age from five to fourteen. The school was heated by a wood burning stove, and one way that students kept toasty was to bring old whiskey bottles full of hot coffee to school, which were opened with a hilarity-inducing POP at morning recess! Learn more about Alice and her teaching career @
Image: Schoolhouse, known as the “Two by Four” or “Cracker Box”; Alice Olson with her class, third from left, back row; Alice Olson stands behind her class.

Musical chimney sweeps didn’t only exist in the world of Mary Poppins. Before their profession expired with the advent of oil and natural gas heating in the 1930s, chimney sweeps had to be employed to remove the flammable creosote buildup that resulted from burning wood and coal. Slunky Norton was a well-known chimney sweep in St. Paul, and with the help of Louis W. Hill, the head of the Great Northern Railway, Norton formed an anarchic band of Christmas buglers that rode a hook and ladder truck around town, burst into homes, delighted children, accepted festive beverages and apparently scared canaries to death.
Image: Landmark Center chimney.

In the mid-1930s, ice harvesting was still necessary to keep home and commercial ice boxes cold, despite the growing popularity of electric refrigerators. Lake Owasso, where the following took place, was the site of a major ice harvesting operation. Here’s a story from past Minnesota:  “One incident, which happened on the lake concerned a rough but sturdy and experienced worker named John…One day his space conflicted with that of a horse…The horse knocked him into the icy water. Not one to take an affront lightly, as soon as he was helped back onto the ice he went over and pushed the horse into the lake. After order was restored it was with a great deal of difficulty that he was persuaded of the need to go home and put on dry clothes.”

Farm workers at the James. J. Hill farm in North Oaks used a large sleigh to transport ice blocks harvested from Pleasant Lake. Notice the elk – James J. Hill protected a captive elk herd on his farm at a time when Minnesota’s elk population was nearly decimated. In 1913, elk from the Western U.S., along with some of Hill’s herd, were relocated to an enclosure at Itasca State Park. In 1935, the captive elk were transported to northern Minnesota to start a breeding population. As elk from Manitoba began migrating across the border in the 1980s, the population from this ”nuclear herd” has slowly increased.

There is nothing new about holiday shopping promotions. As early as the 1850s and extending into the 20th century, St. Paul retailers advertised Christmas gifts in local newspapers, ranging from gift books, watches, pocket knives, rings, furniture, cameras, dolls, and toy wagons. William Dahl, who had a book and stationary store on Robert Street in downtown Saint Paul, ran an ad in the Saint Paul newspaper for “SPLENDID GIFT BOOKS” with titles like “Friendship’s Token,” and “Leaflets of Memory.” Creative promotions were also employed, such as an 1895 Ideal Sewing Company holiday promotion that would give away 10 sewing machines to “lucky little girls”. Companies also featured sales, easy credit and deferred payments, such as Schuneman and Evan’s department store running an ad in the Saint Paul Sunday Globe for December 15, 1895 that among other things, offered a “real diamond ring” for $1.98.

In addition to the print books advertised by William Dahl, (which included additional titles as “Affection’s Gift”) autograph books with sentimental sayings were very popular gifts up through the 1930s. And such sentiments were not just for Christmas. Sentimental and idealized cards were created and mailed for almost every holiday featuring florid poems, flowers, angels/cupids, wistful children, dogs, and other emotional images popular to the Victorians. Valentine cards were often extremely sentimental, and one of the images featured here is of a Thanksgiving card featuring an idealized landscape and a sentimental poem. Enjoy these Victorian cards from the past for a little extra holiday fun!
Images of postcards and greeting cards from the RCHS Collection.

We know that many of our Christmas traditions were made popular by Prince Albert and Charles Dickens in England, but it is interesting to see that they weren’t codified until later. Many credit Clement Clarke Moore and his poem, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” (also known as “The Night Before Christmas”), and the Coca Cola company for making popular the current image of Santa Claus. This early postcard shows a very different image of Santa Claus, in a rather somber-looking outfit passing out toys to two Victorian children. The other postcard shows a Victorian Father Christmas, in a more traditional outfit, looking like he could use Rudolf and the rest of his team!
Postcards from the RCHS Collection.

Have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve from Ramsey County Historical Society and cheers to another year of preserving our past, informing our present and inspiring our future!
Postcard from the RCHS Collection.

For more images from the RCHS Collection, see our images collection database.

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