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1918: the year Christmas stood still

Several events and circumstances converged to make Christmas in Adair County a subdued affair a century ago this week.

by Jim The Great War had ended almost eight weeks earlier but the effects lingered: shortages of staple supplies and some foodstuffs still existed; there were many empty chairs across the county of the young men and women not yet returned (and of too many who would never return); and influenza held much of the world, including Adair County, in its deadly grip.

A somewhat mild wave of influenza swept the states in the spring of 1918 but subsided within a few months. The second wave started in the northeast in August 1918 and quickly built to pandemic level, spread rapidly by the never-ceasing flow of soldiers going from base to base and traveling home on furloughs.

Around the middle of October that year, all public meetings, including church services, were banned in Columbia. The December 25th News noted in passing, "It has been two and a half months since religious services were held in the churches of town," and at the Lindsey-Wilson Training School, students who lived off-campus were forbidden to attend classes. Even the post office severely curtailed hours, opening but briefly each day to allow patrons access to their incoming mail.

Hundreds of Adair Countians fell victim to this rampant scourge and dozens died. The November 20 edition of the paper reported that within the space of few days, five members of the W.E. Wilson family near Milltown -- his wife, three children, and a sister-in-law -- were taken.

The first issue of the News following Christmas, traditionally peppered with mentions in newsletters from across the county of holiday socials, religious observations, and New Year's Eve watches, held no such reports in early 1919. (The public meetings ban, however, was lifted in time for the churches to hold services beginning shortly after the new year began.)

Only a handful of merchants offered Christmas wares via the News. These included L.E. Young, Jeweler; Nell & Cheatham, a "big box store" of the day, recently relocated to their new quarters in the Walker Building, next door the Bank of Columbia; and the McLean Brothers, in a front page "card" in the edition dated December 25 (likely published on the 23rd). An image of the latter is below.

This story was posted on 2018-12-25 10:28:25
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McLean Bros. Ad, 12-25-1918

2018-12-25 - Columbia, KY - Photo courtesy Jim.
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