By Jack Gurner
Christmas is a very special time of the year and the North Mississippi Herald has always been a big part of Water Valley’s holiday season.
The Herald has provided information about Christmas activities throughout its 120-plus year history. And, the newspaper’s advertisements have shown local consumers where to go for gifts to make the season bright.
And, as much as things have changed over the years, much remains the same when it comes to the way we celebrate. A look back at some of the earliest complete issues of the Herald held in our archives provides a glimpse into our holidays past.
On the front page of the Dec. 7, 1934, issue is a cartoon depicting a jolly Santa offering the greetings of the season, “with lots of happiness and fun for you all!” But, in keeping with the hard times of the Great Depression, the New Year baby is shown hoping for a real “new deal” in 1935.
In that same 75-year-old newspaper is an advertisement for W. P. Moorehead, distributor of the Frigidaire line of refrigerators. The ad includes a photo of actresses Muriel Evans and Ruth Channing in skimpy Santa outfits that were surely a little scandalous for the time.
The Southern Bell Telephone Company was offering yuletide family reunions by telephone for as low as $.35 for calls 50 miles distant and $.50 for 100 miles.
Although there was no mention of the reindeer population, a small one-line story stated there were 344,000 head of mules in Mississippi that year.
On the front page of the next week’s paper, Editor Louis Barber praised the “electrically” decorated Railway Park. He also mentioned decorations at the public library and at private homes around town. He was particularly taken by the red light placed atop the standpipe, the City’s water storage tank.
All the December issues of the Herald in 1934 contained Christmas short stories, poems, and photographs from the news services of the day.
The wants of the children of the day were carefully written out and mailed to the North Pole with the Herald as an intermediate stop along the mail route. Several of the young men asked for bicycles and B.B. guns including Claude Slaughter of Oakland and Wesley Myers of Water Valley. Most of the letters mentioned just how good the writers had been that year.
In the Dec. 21 issue, the final paper before Christmas, the front page story is about the Junior Chamber of Commerce party for the poor children of the area. Shine Tyson arranged for Santa Claus to meet “the children who would otherwise be forgotten” at 2 p.m. in the Grand Theater.
Helping with the party were club members Earl Fly and Edwin Blackmur who promised a stocking for each child who attended. The regular price of admission was $.15 and $.25 cents, which went entirely to pay for the party.
In the final letters to Santa, Luella Beck (Fair) asked for a blackboard, tricycle and a little iron. “I have tried to be a good girl,” she wrote. Dorris Cain, 8, wanted a gun, harp, truck, and some apples, oranges, and nuts. He urged Santa not to forget all of the other little children.
Sixty Five Years Ago – 1944
The nation was in the grip of the second World War in Dec. of 1944. Very little mention of the upcoming holidays could find space in a newspaper that was filled with news of local servicemen and the War Bond drive.
A lone holiday ad for McLarty’s store at Main and Panola offered Christmas bargains and gift suggestions.
In the final issue before Christmas, a few holiday greeting ads could be found including Blackmur Café, Terry and Tutor Barber Shop, McCullar-Suratt Co., and the Rev. G. L. Gullett and Wife.
Along with the usual letters to Santa, the Herald also printed letters from men in service. William C. Turner, a prisoner of war held by the Germans, wrote to his sister, Mrs. Howard True. “Tell mother to take care of herself until I get back and I still love her more and more,” he wrote.
The youngsters of Water Valley were aware of what was going on that year. Bessie Faye Champion, 7, asked Santa to bring what he could. “And, I hope the soldier boys have a nice Christmas.”
Robert Williams, 9, also wrote that Santa should just bring what he could. “I know it is war times so please take care of our soldiers.”
Half A Century – 1959
Fifty years ago, Water Valley was seeing better times. The front page of the Herald’s Dec. 10 issue featured a photo of the new street decorations, four by eight foot Christmas trees with colored lights. They were made especially for the brand new “Great White Way” light poles that had just been installed along Main Street earlier in the year.
Plans for the Dec. 11 Christmas Parade were outlined in a story that touted it as the biggest in history. Parade Chairman Bill Hyde asked that the public not park any vehicles on Main between the Bank of Water Valley and the Blackmur Hotel after 6 p.m. And, everyone complied.
The parade was postponed because of rainy weather and didn’t take place until Monday, Dec. 14. At the end of the parade was Santa Claus riding on the Hardin’s Bakeries Float. If memory serves, Santa’s helpers tossed miniature loves of bread from the float that tasted so much better than the regular size loaves.
The grand prize winning float was the PTA “Visions of Sugar Plums” with the clothing workers union taking second and the Junior Auxiliary, third.
The list of youngsters whose letters to Santa were published in the Herald included Kathy Dunn, Joe Pullen, Willie Pullen, Dean Tutor, Skipper Crews, Van Hedges, Rickey Boatright, Morris Surrette, Rose Abernethy, Tommy Smith, and Joe Smith.
The Christmas edition of the Herald was published on Christmas Eve and the front was printed in red and blue ink. Like our modern issues, the issue included greeting ads and photos from the Christmas parade.
The front page of the paper, printed in blue ink, featured a photo of the downtown bandstand with a church choir scene complete with pipe organ.
Winners in the lighting contest, sponsored by the Garden Club, were: Overall house front; Mrs. Paul Parker, first, and Mrs. Rayford Edgar, second. Picture window; Mrs. Pat Cox and Mrs. Fred Hedges. Outside tree; Tom Myers and N. L. Milstead. Door front; Mrs. Bill Hyde and Mrs. Herman White. Inside tree; Mrs. E. L. McVey and Mrs. A. C. Holloway. Unique decoration; W. S. Tyson and Mrs. Bill Trusty.
Twenty Five Years Into The Past – 1984
Water Valley merchants announced in the Dec. 6 Herald that they would be staying open until 9 p.m. following the Monday night, Dec. 10, Christmas parade. The later hours were part of a special promotion offering lower prices on some items and free gifts. The paper included a four page circular with ads for the 29 businesses participating.
An advertisement from the Bank of Water Valley listed the hundreds of lines of brand name merchandise carried by merchants. The ad stated that over $750,000 dollars in merchandise sits on Water Valley grocer’s shelves. Shop locally was the theme.
In the next issue, Dec. 13, a photo of the downtown bandstand showed decorations by the Southern Living Garden Club. The display was entitled “Santa’s Workshop” and featured the jolly gent’s home, workshop and sleigh.
The front page of the Dec. 20 Herald listed a number of special services planned for area churches. In the greetings section, students from the Deborah Kaye School of Dance were shown wrapped up as Christmas gifts for the annual parade. In the photo were Amanda Brown, Jennifer Whitehead, and Nakisha Rockette.
Leading the WVHS Band was Drum Major Kim Herring (Jones) and leading the Elementary group was Margaret Hill (Higdon).
Among the youngsters writing to Santa were Veronica Egerson, Alicia Marshall, Brandon Wrenn, Michael Ray, Christina Ray, Renee Holland, Kristy McMillan, Tiffanie Butts, Heath Horan, Michael Rhyne, Angela Weeks, Beau Nelson, Brian Morris, Paul Erich Lassen, Ron Eubanks, and Bennett Crow.
One youngster named Shan promised Santa a real treat. “P. S. I will leave you some turkey and fish.”
A Decade Ago – 1999
A photo on the front page of the Dec. 9 Herald showed Christmas Parade Marshals Doris and Brownie Crawford riding with Linda Shuffield and her brother, Charlie, in his red convertible.
Members of the WVHS Humanities Classes participated in “Operation Graduation.” During the ceremony, World War II veterans whose education was interrupted by military service received high school diplomas. Some of the men honored were among those whose names appeared in the holiday time Heralds in 1944.
Members of the Town and Country Garden Club were pictured in the Dec. 16 Herald helping decorate the Christmas tree at the Yalobusha County Nursing Home.
In the Dec. 23 Herald, Santa Claus is shown riding in the Christmas parade with “Miss Ludie” Appleton. Frances and Pee Wee Sartain are shown in their 1955 Buick.
Decorations pictured included those on the homes of Mayor and Mrs. Larry Hart, Mr. and Mrs. Bobby Clark, Mr. And Mrs. Kenny Taylor, Mr. and Mrs. Don Holloway. On the last page of the greeting section is an ad for Mechanics Bank showing all their employees, “Wishing you peace and harmony at Christmas time and throughout the year.”