Christmas in Laramie – 100 Years Ago

As Christmas 1916 approached, the citizens of Laramie were wrapping up a year of mixed blessings.

They had reasons to be concerned about the international situation. The Great War was raging in Europe with the Battle of Verdun alone tallying over 300,000 dead in the 10 month long struggle. German U-boats were again attacking American shipping. US entry in the war was looking more likely.

Closer to home, the Wyoming National Guard had been called up and sent to the Mexican Border to deal with Pancho Villa. The men were encamped at Deming, New Mexico, to provide support for General Pershing’s force south of the border. Laramie doctor E. M. Turner was noted as the captain in charge of the medical detachment.

The Gentleman Bandit, Bill Carlisle, had robbed three trains in April and was finally caught in May and sentenced to life in prison (later paroled, becoming an infamous and respectable Laramie motel operator).

There was also good news. Edward Ivinson donated a sizeable sum to Albany County that would pay for the complete construction of a modern hospital. He also donated enough money to complete the construction of St. Matthew’s Cathedral.

Overall, residents were eagerly anticipating the Christmas season. Plans were announced on December 13 for a community wide celebration. The centerpiece was to be a large Christmas tree placed on the corner of Third and Thornburgh Street (now Ivinson Avenue).

The committee, headed by UW Professor Ruth Adsit, involved the town’s churches and the city government with Mayor Shoemaker responsible for obtaining the tree. The Mayor met with Supervisor Duthie of the Medicine Bow forest reserve and President Green of the Colorado, Wyoming and Eastern Railroad to select and transport the tree to town. Manager S.E. Sanderson of the “Intermountain Railway Light and Power Company” (as the city’s electric plant was then called) would furnish the men to provide the power to light the tree.

The committee also enlisted city churches for a Christmas Eve program and the newspaper for collection of items for those in need. The newspaper announced, “Of all the holidays that grace the calendar, none is so largely beloved as the Christmas season. It is a time of all the seasons of the year, when men lay aside all differences of opinion, forget the past and seek to enter upon the merry spirit of the day.”

As the week progressed, the tree arrived in town and was erected at its appointed place. The paper said it was selected “with a view to giving the greatest pleasure in its shapeliness.” It was to be lighted only on Christmas Eve and Christmas.

Local churches also planned Christmas programs. The First Methodist Episcopal at the corner of 5th and Thornburgh planned to celebrate with the “Gifts of the Wise Men” on the morning of the 24th. St Matthews, on the same corner as the tree, planned both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day programs centered on music. Programs for eight other Laramie churches were listed in the paper.

Laramie’s Associated Charities with president J.R. Sullivan announced a drive to collect toys, clothing and cash for those less fortunate in the city to add a “little Christmas cheer” to their holiday.

At least four couples were married on the day before Christmas. The wedding of Miss Caroline McCollough and Mr. Samuel Faes was celebrated in the home of her parents and the young couple departed immediately for a honeymoon in California.

People venturing to Laramie for the holidays from remote ranches became local social news. Among the visitors were sheep rancher Robert Homer from his elaborate Castle on the Prairie, Lou and Ralph Bath from their place on the Little Laramie, and Fred Bamforth “battled deep snow drifts to travel the 14 miles from his ranch east of Laramie”.

Other townsfolk traveled out of town for the holidays. President Green of the railroad went to Fultop, Illinois, to visit relatives. H.O. Punshon. Secretary of the Laramie Chamber of Commerce went to Denver at the end of the week to spend the holidays with his parents. Mrs. T. C. Tegner and son Will and John Burke also traveled to Denver for the holidays.

Schools in the area were also in the Christmas spirit. Townspeople were awakened by 20 girls from a UW dormitory so caught up in the season that they got up at 4 a.m. and made the rounds of town singing carols. A local primary school held Christmas programs. Especially noteworthy, and covered in depth by the Laramie paper, was the 7th grade performance of Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” in the UW auditorium.

Local merchants also got into the spirit of the season. A full page of Christmas wishes was published in the paper on the evening of the 25th. Laramie Grocery, W.H. Holiday Co., New Method Laundry, Laramie Furniture, Corthell and Corthell law firm and five others sent greetings to the community.

The community celebration was capped off by the lighting of the tree. Weather in the town was fitting on Christmas Eve. Light snow had fallen, though temperatures fell to minus 13 by the morning with brisk wind out of the north. That did not stop 500 people who turned out to see the red, white and blue lights on the tree illuminated. Children (about 200, the paper reported) were given bags of candy and nuts. Those assembled were led by a choir in singing Christmas carols.

The celebration was capped off in the true Christmas spirit when members of the Associated Charities visited 15 local families and provided them with bundles of food and clothing.

Kim Viner

Caption: Christmas at a time of war; artwork showing Allied and German troops pausing to gaze at a mother and children as bombs explode and doves of peace fly off. The US had not yet entered the war when this image appeared on page one of the December 23, 1916 issue of the Laramie Republican (which later merged with the Boomerang). Photo courtesy of Wyoming Newspaper Project