LiveAuctionTalk.com Highlights Turn-of-the-Century Christmas in its Weekly Free Article Rosemary McKittrick’s column is one of America’s leading online sources for art, antique and collectible information. Visit the site and sign up for a weekly subscription.
News-Antique.com - Dec 10,2007 - Santa Fe, Dec. 10, 2007-- Jake Gusky never forgot the kids at Christmas. A century ago, Gusky, an orphan himself, started delivering presents to every child in Pittsburgh area orphanages. A horse-drawn sleigh would arrive Christmas morning and Santa would hand-deliver gifts.
A few old-timers remember Gusky's clothing store on Third Avenue and Market Street in the Old Allegheny section of Pittsburgh. When Gusky was stricken with pneumonia near the holidays in 1886, crowds stood in front of the newspaper office to read updates of his condition. He died soon after, and hundreds attended the funeral at his home on North Avenue.
Surprisingly, on the Christmas morning after Gusky’s death, Santa stepped out of his store as usual and into a carriage drawn by six horses. Another Santa followed in a sleigh, and behind that came 30 more wagons and carriages with gifts headed for the orphanages. Gusky had spent his final hours preparing for the holiday.
A hundred years ago, the celebration of Christmas in Pittsburgh was not that much different than today's holiday. Shop owners decorated their windows with tinsel and greens. The flashing lights may have been missing, but the flavor of Christmas was nonetheless present.
The smell of anise cakes and gingerbread men moistened the air outside the German bakeries in Old Allegheny. Inside, cases full of cookies decorated with St. Nick, angels, reindeer and Christmas trees waited for early morning shoppers.
F.R. Jackson, the wholesale liquor store on Federal Street offered a quart bottle of wine in a Persian cut-glass decanter for $1. Carnegie library in Old Allegheny served as the Christmas tree market. Pines imported from as far away as the forests of Wisconsin, and as close as the mountains near Somerset, Pa., sold for $1-$10. New buggy whips were available at Stockman's department store.
Boggs & Buhl's store on Federal Street advertised satin quilts for $2, and imported Jacquard slumber robes for $1. Housewives haggled as usual in German with the shop owners over the prices of merchandise.
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