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Christmas 1941: Decorations And Defense

A follow-up to last week's column focusing on Lynnfield news reports from Christmas 1941 - just days after the Pearl Harbor attack plunged America into World War II.

Last Sunday, - a strange moment in history when locals were preparing for Christmas and one of the most momentous wars in history at the same time.

Today's followup focuses primarily on the Dec. 25, 1941 issue of the Village Press, which led with the large banner headline "A Merry Christmas To You All" at the very top of the page - followed by "$5,000 Voted For Defense Purposes" as the actual lead story/headline.

In a front page editorial, the paper declared that "We must still be willing to fight, work and sacrifice to be sure of enjoying Christmas in 1942 and 1943 as we can in 1941."

A special town meeting happened to be at Christmastime that year, and one telling quote from the newspaper finds that some things never seem to change: "The special town meeting was poorly attended Monday night. Approximately 40 were present."

At the town meeting, moderator Joseph Smith reportedly spoke in his capacity as a voter to ask Board of Selectmen Chair George Peavey "if he thought it was necessary for a town of this size to have such a large appropriation for defense, especially when taxes and living expenses were so high." The report on the town meeting also noted that another official, Everett Webster, wanted more funds to help pay for things like portable radios, helmets, and 24-hour coverage of the police desk.

Elsewhere, the paper noted that 42 town residents attended the first A.R.P. (air raid precaution) school, but "only 16 attended enough classes to be called 'trained.' This was less than half of the number deemed necessary for Lynnfield at the time, although another 51 town residents had just signed up for a second A.R.P. school, consisting of four consecutive Sunday classes at the former town hall.

Also During Christmas Week, 1941:

-Women directed by Mrs. George Robinson were answering phones at town hall, reports the paper, staffing two-hour shifts between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

- In their meetings at the former Chemical Hall, local Boy Scouts were being trained in First Aid with an eye on responding to local wartime emergencies.

- Cpl. Arthur Russell, son of Mr. and Mrs. William Russell of Beaver Ave., was home on furlough from Camp Edwards.

- The paper reported that "Many of the women folk think it would be a good idea to have extra police protection now that their men folk are all working on night shifts."

- Local American Legion members led by William Ewell "went to visit 38 war veterans and 9 women at Danvers State with goodies and entertainment."

I'll also note that the local war nerves did not just manifest themselves immediately after Pearl Harbor - they were building for quite some time. While scrolling through the old microfilms, I saw a headline from a September, 1940 issue of the Village Press which spoke of plans to install an anti-aircraft battery at the junction of Routes 1 and 128.

Other Assorted Items

- Whoever wrote the paper's "Man About Town" column was definitely pretty quirky, which I can relate to considerably. In the Dec. 25, 1941 edition, the anonymous columnist reported that "Howard 'Smoke' Knowland knows the locations of the town's hydrants better than some of our pets do." Two weeks earlier, the same columnist offered this nugget: "Last week, Charlie Jones lost his teeth. Now, George Peavey is missing his."

The man about town also reported that "Christmas decorations are very prominent in town this year."

- At the nearby Wakefield Theatre, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour were starring in "Caught In The Draft," while a rising young actor named Ronald Reagan could be seen in "International Squadron."

- Due to heavy Christmas mail, local Post Office employees worked until 9 p.m. one night to sort and box all the mail.

- Lynnfield advertiser L.H. Twiss probably was dismayed to see that one of this week's typos in the paper referred to his wreath and Christmas tree business as "L.H. Twss."  Speaking of Christmas trees, Ralph Cox was also selling them on Main Street. Fortunately they spelled his name correctly.

- The Christian Endeavor Society reportedly spent "considerable time" preparing for its Christmas Eve caroling event.

- George Roundy Co. had an ad that included Nanking brand Chinese food items - including chicken chow mein for 29 cents, chop suey for 25 cents, and soy sauce for 10 cents.

-"Get your Christman fruit cake at the 1752 house in Wakefield," declared another ad, noting that the stuff was "made from an old New England receipt." (that was their typo) 

-I'm not sure why, but the newspaper ads from this particular month seem to show almost no Lynnfield merchants, and there seemed to be a fair number of them - perhaps even more of those in general back then than there are today. Instead, most of the ads appeared to come from Lynn, Wakefield and other surrounding towns.

- In another important piece of local news from Dec. 1941, a heavy fire caused considerable damage to the Lynnfield Conservatory. The fire started when a night watchman accidentally "kicked over a can of kerosene while changing the oil gun that supplied heat."

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