Monday, December 17, 2007

A Christmas Carol: Sacramento Style

150 years ago, Sacramento celebrated its seventh Holiday season as an incorporated city. A great window into the state of the city at that time is the Sacramento Bee. The full run of the paper (back to 1857) is held at the Sacramento Public Library’s Central Library. Central also holds the Sacramento Union (back to 1851), the Sacramento Transcript (1850-51), Daily Democratic State Journal (1852-1857), and the Placer Times (1849-50), Northern California’s oldest newspaper. Papers are viewable and microfilm and patrons may make copies for ten cents a page. Here are a few Holiday snippets from the December 1857 Sacramento Bee; not quite the world of Charles Dickens, but then again, not that far off either:

Just days before Christmas 1857, Sacramentans were treated to the spectacle of the Aurora Borealis. At around 11 o’clock, the phenomenon “presented a magnificent appearance, enveloping the sky in a sheet of brilliant red…” Lasting twenty minutes, the display pulled sleepy citizens from their homes and “created no little consternation in the minds of those not accustomed to the display.” (“Aurora Borealis,” December 17, 1857).

It did not take long for settlers to grasp the immensity of the Central Valley’s agricultural value. This must have made the local Holiday table an amazing sight. A particularly germane passage comes from the Christmas Day issue of the Bee that describes the City Market of “K” Street, where the display of “meats, poultry, vegetables, etc. was superb, and attracted large crowds of citizens.” The stall of Marzen, Burnes & Co., was said to have “excelled all others…with artistic skill…beets, turnips, celery, radishes, potatoes, cabbage, spring onions, lettuce, carrots…such as would astonish our Atlantic friends too (sic) see on a Christmas at their markets.” (“A Grand Display,” December 25, 1857).

Further spectacle was recorded in the Bee under the headline of “Christmas Tree Festivals.” The article describes Reverend Benton’s Sixth Street Church, Reverend Grober’s on Seventh, Reverend Hill’s on Eighth, and Reverend Deal’s on “H,” as serving venue to “Christmas trees laden with gifts of every description.” The article goes on to say that “many hundred prizes were given to the Sabbath School children, all of whom, of course, were perfectly delighted.” (December 25, 1857).

What were the antebellum Holidays without the flow of spirits? Local saloonist, John Zwicker of the Wiener Coffee Hall on Third Street, did not forget the importance of patronage, as he supplied the Bee staff with “delicious egg nogg (sic).” The editors went on to drink to “his health in bumpers, and wished him four score and ten returns of a merry Christmas.” (“Did Not Forget Us,” December 25, 1857).

Holiday charity was even extended to those having ended up in the city’s chain gang. “roast duck, plum pudding, pound and fruit cake, egg nogg (sic), etc.” were provided by a fellow named Sands who, as the Bee said, “insure[ed] him forever against the incursion of thieves, for he never forgets the unfortunate, no matter how busy he may be.” (“A Rare Treat,” December 26, 1857).

Happy Holidays and thanks for using the Sacramento Public Library!

No comments: