On this page we will look back at life in the city during the war years. Here we will provide the visitor with the stories making the news, what was happening in sports and entertainment, city politics, the social scene and the prominent people at the time. So, check back often for new editions.
To share your family or neighborhood stories, please email PhillyWWIyears@gmail.com
‘TWAS THE WEEK BEFORE CHRISTMAS IN PHILADELPHIA – 100 YEARS AGO
The week began with snow. Over 4 inches fell from Monday through Thursday. That was followed by an unexpected and usual thunderstorm on Friday. The temperatures were in the mid-20s to start the week but would rise to 40° by Christmas Day. But nothing the weather could do stopped Holiday shoppers from making their rounds. Philadelphians spent over $50,000,000.00 on gifts, food, candies and cakes during the 1916 Christmas season. The city’s department stores garnered the bulk of the spending accounting for $27,250,000.00 of the bounty.
The heavy holiday street traffic resulted in the police department assigning 26 policemen to act as “traffic pilots” in the area bounded by Market and Chestnut Streets and 8th to Broad Street. These policemen were specially designated to assist children and the infirm to cross the streets so that no harm will befall them from the heavy trolley, automobile and horse drawn wagon activity crowing the streets.
In entertainment that week the great Sarah Bernhard was appearing at the Metropolitan Opera House and D.W. Griffith, the director of The Birth of a Nation was in the city for the opening of his latest spectacular motion picture, Intolerance at the Chestnut Street Opera House. In sports, boxing fans could take in full cards of fights on Christmas Day at the Olympia, National, Ryan and Nonpareil arenas. Baseball fans read about the home run exploits of Yankee slugger Wally Pipp. Pipp led the American League in home runs in 1916 with 12, knocking out more round trippers than Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Joe Jackson combined. In the Eastern League of professional basketball the DeNeri team of South Philadelphia was sold to owners who intend to move it to Allentown.
Residents also learned that the season was not happy for everyone. Particularly those who had recently lost loved ones and missed them desperately. That was the case of Egbert Steinhauer, a Lieutenant in the Fire Department. Lt. Steinhauer could no longer bare the grief he felt over the loss of his beloved wife Kate two years prior and in his anguish took his own life. His body was found lying on her grave in Mount Moriah Cemetery. Mr. Steinhauer was known to visit the grave every Sunday and linger for hours quietly speaking to her. A pistol was found beside his body.
But for most, Christmas was a time of joy. A time to gather with family and friends for religious services, parties and feasts. Concerts were held in music halls and at social and fraternal organizations. In the Catholic and Protestant churches of every neighborhood voices young and old were heard proclaiming in song the birth of the Savior. Over 175,000 public school students participated in Christmas festivals presenting their own concerts for proud parents and teachers. One of the most moving events involved the 2000 young ladies of Girls High singing a beautiful rendition of “Adeste Fideles” followed by other hymns in French and German.
Even the crews of the interned German ships Eitel Fredrich and Kronprinz Wilhelm were in a festive mood. They had completed their village on the grounds of the Navy Yard at League Island and would hold Christmas services in their new chapel. These sailors also received Christmas gifts and food for a fine Christmas meal from the city’s German community.
Throughout the city charitable organizations and the city’s most prominent residents planned parties and dinners for the less fortunate. Poor children were especially in the thoughts of many and parties for those little ones took placed almost every day. For example Mr. and Mrs. E.T. Stotesbury hosted a gathering at Starr Gardens Recreational Center, 6th & Locust Streets, and distributed gifts, food and Christmas trees to all that attended. The United States Navy also entertained children at the Navy Yard. On Christmas afternoon the poor children of South Philadelphia were given a party by the officers and sailors of the battleship South Carolina and other warships in port.
GET YOUR COPY OF PHILADELPHIA: THE WORLD WAR I YEARS BY CLICKING ON THE LINK BELOW.