Christmas 1941: A Surreal Time For Lynnfield

A look at what a former Lynnfield paper was talking about 70 years ago in the days between the Pearl Harbor attack and Christmas, 1941 - from restricting long-distance calls to police not patrolling during school hours because of air raid concerns.

Earlier this month, Americans marked the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks, including this website, which ran an .

The attack immediately set off a massive war mobilization/homeland defense effort, and Lynnfield was no exception. A look at the former Village Press weekly newspaper from Dec. 18, 1941 offers some interesting, and at times surreal, insights into what it was like that year, preparing to celebrate Christmas while also gearing up for total war.

In late November, this website ran a well-read similar column . And next Sunday, Christmas Day, there will be a third column along these lines - mainly because on my last visit to research this material at the , I came across too much interesting material to fit into a single column.

The first issue of the Village Press to come out after the attack was dated Dec. 11, 1941 and bore the headline "War Affects Police Department." Then-Police Chief Webb was in the hospital at the time, and chiefs from across the state had met to discuss emergency measures with war looming.

"Heretofore, the officer has patrolled the town in the cruiser, but henceforth he will remain inside the police station at least during school hours. This change has been brought about because of the alarm expressed by many of the townspeople relative to air raids," stated the Dec. 11 edition of the paper. The paper also noted that town police kept their radio always tuned in during the day to keep aprised of any air raid alarms.

A page 1 headline from Dec. 18, 1941 declared, "Town May Open 2nd Defense School," which was actually a training program for the dozens of air raid wardens deemed necessary at the time. A number of the town's women were also recruited as emergency phone wardens to work two-hour shifts at a time to be able to quickly receive and pass along any emergency communications. Town defense efforts also included plans to establish auxiliary police and fire forces.

Arrangements were made as well for busing town children home in the event of an air raid.

"John S. Caldwell spoke at yesterday's meeting, outlining the A.R.P. (air raid precautions) setup and describing incendiary bombs and how to handle them," noted another article, probably marking the only time ever the phrase "incendiary bombs and how to handle them" was ever used in Lynnfield media.

A full-page ad from New England Telephone and Telegraph Co. warned that "Long distance telephoning must be restricted this Christmas" to keep the lines free for war-related communications. New England residents were asked not to call the Canadian Maritime provinces, anywhere south of New York City, or anywhere west of Chicago.


- Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Smith reported that they had received a telegram from their son Sumner, who was stationed in Manila, The Phillipines, with the Army.

- Mr. J.E. Harriss sent a lengthy letter to the Dec. 18 paper describing his time stationed in England, where he had already been for three years at the time. At this point, the Battle of Britain was about over, and Harriss alluded to it in his letter, among many other things: "War birds still hover overhead, but they have become fewer and fewer," he wrote.

I believe that J.E. Harriss may have been the father of Donald Harriss, who was well-known in Lynnfield for many contributions to the town during his lifetime. A check of the 2010 obituary of Donald Harriss finds he moved to Stafford, England with his family at age 11 in 1938 - three years before 1941.

- Boy Scouts from an unidentified (by way of typo) troop in Lynnfield met at the Center School Meeting House to "discuss the duties of members who may be called to war."

- At the Couples' Club Christmas Dance, organizers announced that more air raid wardens were needed.

- "A telephone will be installed in the South School, which has not had one previously," reported the paper. "The phone at Center School will be moved from the basement to the first floor."

- The executive board of the Centre Club planned to distribute Christmas boxes to soldiers, most likely the ones waiting for deployment at Nahant.

It Also Happened To Be Christmastime...

Along with all of these war-related items, the newspaper also carried a fair share of Christmas-related items - sometimes mixed in with a wartime context. 

"Joe Poeton has certainly stole the show again for Christmas decorations. Red, white and blue victory signs which he and the boys erected can be seen a long distance on the Pike," said the paper's "Man About Town" column.

I'm not sure if this was a pre-existing marketing idea since war tensions had been high for several years at this point, but Reading Municipal Light Department had an ad announcing "A time for practical gifts," including waffle irons, washers and oven ranges. The Wood and Metal Furniture Co. adopted a similar tactic, including coffee tables for $4.95 and up, and lounge chairs for $39.75 and up.

Of course, RMLD also had an ad in one edition that month that can be described as very much a product of its time - the ad showed Santa standing next to a refrigerator declaring "There's a gift she'll open every day!"($40 down, 18 months to pay - the husband helping out in the kitchen? Priceless.)

-Ralph Wilkinson, owner of the Ship's Haven restaurant, donated turkeys for an apparent event featuring turkey bowling. His restaurant's ad in the paper reminded readers, "Remember! Good Food is Good Health!"

-L.H. Twiss on Salem Street was advertising Christmas trees and wreaths. No word on whether he kept on advertising after the paper spelled his name "Twss" a week or so later.

-At the nearby Wakefield Theater, a new movie called "The Maltese Falcon" with Humphrey Bogart just happened to be playing.

-"Many carols" were reportedly sung before the Centre Congregational Church's 10:40 a.m. service the previous Sunday.

-"Centre Club Chair Mrs. Anne Harding had Peabody magician Val Evans and reader Ruth Marie Burke of Lynn as entertainment at the Centre Club Christmas Party."

Editor's Note: A follow-up column to run on Sunday, Dec. 25 will take an additional look at this particular time in Lynnfield History. In a preview of things to come, a large banner headline at the very top of the paper declared "A Merry Christmas To You All." A couple of inches below that, the top headline was "$5,000 Voted For Defense Purposes."

OLD TOWNIE December 18, 2011 at 04:32 PM
Joe Poeton (Josiah) ran the Jenney Gas Station on Route 1 at Salem Street. He was also the fire chief until the mid 1950's. On a sad note, Mr. & Mrs. Poeton lost a son during the war, he was Army pilot Richard Poeton.
Steven December 18, 2011 at 05:47 PM
Bill, I believe that J.E. Harriss was Donald Harriss' brother who was later killed in the war. I will check on that and let you know. Steven Richard - Lynnfield Historical Society
William Laforme December 18, 2011 at 06:04 PM
Thanks everyone - and Steve, I was just assuming it was his father because the math seemed to add up, but I would be very interested in hearing what you find out. - Bill Laforme
M.D. January 01, 2012 at 06:21 AM
Bill and Steve, There was a J.E. Harriss and a J.E. Harriss Jr. (Father and son). I think that was the confusion. John Jr. went reported missing in 1944, during WWII at the young age of 21. John Sr. lived until 1987.
Gerry MacDonald January 02, 2012 at 01:19 PM
Great follow up to 1941


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