December 9, 2013
December 9, 2013
The Coming of Christmas
By Barbara SchockEarnest Elmo Calkins was born in Geneseo, Illinois, March 25, 1868. His great great great great grandfather, Hugh Calkins, came to the Colonies in 1640 from Wales. His descendants lived in Massachusetts and Connecticut before settling in Illinois.
Earnest graduated from Knox College in 1891. During his college years he learned to set type and worked for both Galesburg newspapers as a printer and reporter.
He worked in New York City for several years and returned to Galesburg in 1893. While working for the Galesburg Evening Mail, he organized a company which provided advertising copy to local stores.
Carl Sandburg recalled in his autobiography, Always the Young Strangers, that Calkins had created an ad for the Glenwood Ice Company which was very clever. It seems one May a cold spell followed a very warm period of weather. The Glenwood ads explained that the ice company had opened its doors and caused the cold wave.
In later years, Sandburg and Calkins reminisced about their days working for the Glenwood Ice Company. Of course, Carl had vivid memories of the aches and pains he suffered from cutting blocks of ice from Lake Rice and storing them between layers of sawdust.
Calkins went on to start his own advertising agency in New York, one of the first of its kind. He wrote several books, including They Broke the Prairie, a history of Galesburg which tells the interesting story of the town from the first settlement.
This is how E.E. Calkins described the development of Christmas traditions in Galesburg during the nineteenth century.
“Sometime between the stern regime of President (Jonathan) Blanchard, when college classes were held on December 25 the same as any day, and the Eighteen Eighties the celebration of Christmas became a fixture in the puritan town of Galesburg. The public revolt was in 1871, when the young people of Old First Church announced they were going to have a tree for the children of the Sunday school and did so without breaking any bones. But before that, Christmas was a modest festival in most homes. The observation of the day may have been brought by the Swedes, who shared a hearty participation in the day with the Germans. Stockings were hung up on various projections, or tacked up behind the base burner, for there were no fireplaces to help keep up the tradition, and an orange was such a novelty it was deemed a worthy present, along with a striped peppermint cane, a bag of peanuts, and one or two needed and useful articles, such as stockings or mittens, knit by mother or grandmother. The mittens were tethered to one another on a long cord, so that if one were lost, both must be. By 1880 there were Christmas windows in the stores and signs reading ‘Holiday Goods.’”