It's beginning to look a lot like a Strange Company Christmas! As always around this time of year, I do my best to put in your stockings some Yuletide murder, mayhem, family brawls, and, of course, Bad Santas.
I love how everyone gets into the Christmas spirit. Even those of us who don't wait for Santa to bring them gifts, opting instead for the DIY method. From the "Scott County Kicker," January 10, 1914:
Kansas City--"Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year," shouted back a trio of robbers, as they left the jewelry store of John Mufich after rifling the cash register and filling their pockets with watches, in Kansas City, Kan. Persons passing on the street who heard the greeting knew of nothing unusual happening until the excited jeweler appeared and called for officers. The robbers had disappeared by that time.
The men entered the store, within a block of a police station, and while one kept the proprietor covered with a revolver the others robbed the place. Mufich's loss amounted to several hundred dollars.
|"Evening Public Ledger," December 24, 1921|
Thus proving there is such a thing as too much Christmas cheer:
|"St. Louis Post-Dispatch," December 25, 1900|
This item from the "Washington Times," December 26, 1907, seems to have wandered in from Strange Company's annual 4th of July celebration.
Greensburg, Pa., Dec. 26--Paul Caril was blown to death while trying to celebrate the holiday season. He ran a wire from a telephone battery to some dynamite in a can. The explosive was prematurely set off.
I don't know what screams "18th century" quite like this story from the "Norwich Mercury," January 14, 1727:
Sherborn, Jan. 9. A Company of merry People getting together this Christmas in our Neighbourhood, amongst other Diversions, they must needs play a Game at Matrimony, and accordingly suffered themselves to be married to one another; Tho' this was but in jest, and defin'd as a meer Frolick, one of the young Ladies of a good Fortune was the next day demanded by her Husband, and being informed that the marriage was good in Law, the same was consummated. The rest of the married Folks, we hear, have made their Escapes, some for fear of being taken by their Wives, and some to prevent falling into the Hands of their Husbands.
Well, never mind the fun and games. Let's all settle down to dinner, and...
Oh, wait. "Pittsburgh Dispatch," December 27, 1890:
Albuquerque, N.M., Dec. 26--Yesterday afternoon Samuel McCowan, a city prisoner, was stabbed to death by James Mullen, the jail cook.
While the prisoners were eating their Christmas dinner McCowan objected to the cooking, at the same time dashing a handful of salt into Mullen's face. A fight ensued, during which McCowan was stabbed in the heart with a butcher knife in the hands of Mullen. The murdered man was a bully and was arrested as a vagrant.
OK, forget food and entertainment. It's time to decorate the tree!
Uh. "Philadelphia Inquirer," December 23, 1981:
Police officers struggled with a young man and his mother in West Philadelphia yesterday afternoon, police said, after the man had gone on a rampage in the apartment of his upstairs neighbor in a quarrel over Christmas-tree ornaments.
David Pearsall, 18, of the 5400 block of Sansom Street, forced his way into the second-floor apartment of Louise Jaminson, 25, who he said had stolen the ornaments, police said. Pearsall damaged some of Ms. Jaminson's furniture, overturned her Christmas tree, smashed holiday decorations and brandished a knife and a gun, police said. He was choking Ms. Jaminson on the front porch when officers arrived at 1:35 p.m., police said.
When the officers attempted to break up the fracas, Pearsall's mother, Gwendolyn Colburn, 35, jumped on the back of one of the officers, police said. Both were charged with assault on a police officer. Pearsall was also charged with burglary, assault, and weapons offenses.
Obviously, the problem is that too many people spend Christmas at home. They all need to celebrate the holiday at a place of worship, where they can get into the true spirit of the...
Oh, never mind. The "Salt Lake Tribune," December 26, 1908:
Louisville, Mo., Dec. 25-George Rider, a prominent farmer, was stabbed to death by Edgar Parrish in the midst of a Christmas celebration in the Christian church here last night. The trouble started at a box supper at a country church near Louisville a few nights ago, when Parrish claimed he defended several young women who refused to permit Rider to treat them. The Christian church was crowded last night when Rider entered. Rider saw Parrish near the door and started toward him. Men and women interfered, but he attacked Parrish, who then stabbed him. Rider fell dead at Santa Claus’ feet, just beneath the giant Christmas tree.
In related news, the "Richmond Times-Dispatch," December 27, 1903:
Bessemer, ALA., Dec. 26.-Information has reached here from Cedar Bluff of the killing of John Parsons by A.J. Lockhart, at a Christmas tree given at a church. Lockhart, who is a peace officer, was acting as Santa Claus. It is alleged that Parsons became disorderly while the exercises were in progress, and Lockhart halted the proceedings and ejected him. When the affair was over, Parsons attacked Lockhart with a knife as the latter left the building. Lockhart drew a pistol and shot parsons to death, after having himself been cut in several places.
Yes, indeedy, it's time for my favorite part of every Christmas: When Santa gets drunk and spends Boxing Day in a cell. The "Port Huron Herald," December 17, 1904:
Grand Rapids, Mich. Dec. 17.--"Please don't take Santa Claus to jail," cried a score of childish voices to a group of vigorous policemen on Monroe street, in the heart of the business district, late yesterday afternoon.
But the childish pleas availed naught and Santa Claus, with his long flowing whiskers awry, his robes torn, and so drunk that he was unable to keep his feet, was hustled along to the police station, followed by a howling mob of a thousand or more youngsters.
This particular Santa Claus was the employee of a department store here who had been sent out to advertise its business by distributing small toys to the children who gathered about him. He created plenty of amusement until, the afternoon growing cold, he sought the cup that both cheers and warms.
At each successive saloon that he reached he imbibed freely, and it was not long before his intoxicated antics drew a huge following of little folks. Some of them tormented him, others jeered him, but not a few, still clinging to the childish belief that Santa Claus was a real personage, looked on in real awe and sorrow.
When the street became so black with children that traffic became congested, the police took a hand and hustled Santa to jail, where he is now sobering up. His name is Elmer Clark.
Vanderbilt, PA, a town that sure knows how to get into that whole "peace on earth and goodwill to all" thing. The "Pittsburgh Post Gazette," December 22, 1906:
Connellsville, PA., Dec. 21--Santa Claus started out yesterday to advertise a Dawson firm. He met with enthusiasm everywhere but in the new town of Vanderbilt, where the lone and ambitious policeman placed Kris under arrest, declaring his sleighbells and tooting horn made too much noise.
The prisoner was released with instructions to blow his horn and jingle his bells elsewhere. Dawson and Vanderbilt are rival towns, located on opposite banks of the Youghiogheny river.
Of all the bizarre Christmas stories I've found in the old newspapers, this one stands out.
And not in a good way. The "Louisville Courier-Journal" for December 28, 1905:
A shroud, bearing a card wishing him "A Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year," was the Christmas present received Sunday afternoon by Benjamin Moellman, of 544 East Madison street, and the next morning he died. His death came within thirteen hours after the grewsome gift was delivered at his door by an unknown messenger sent by an unknown donor.
Benjamin Moellman was seventeen years old, and had been ill of heart trouble for a long time. He was the son of August Moellman. The shroud, the black box in which it was packed, and the card were burned by the boy's father.
The shroud was delivered to young Moellman's father Sunday evening about 6:30 o'clock by a small negro boy who waited for no answer and took no receipt for delivery.
The shroud was in a small black box about six inches square, and neither the box nor shroud bore any name of maker or dealer.
The father opened the box, and the boy was spared the feelings which would certainly have followed the receiving of such a suggestive Christmas present.
Mr. Moellman said nothing to any member of his family as to the contents of the package, and told only his brother-in-law, John Uhlen, who makes his home with the Moellman family.
Members of the family could assign no reason for such a present being sent to the sick boy, as he had not an enemy in the world, they said. It affected his father so that he has not been able to attend to his duties in his grocery store at Hancock and Madison streets since he received the package.
John Uhlen said last night:
"The boy had been sick for three or four years with heart trouble and seriously ill for over three weeks. The shroud was delivered to Mr. Moellman, Sr., in a small black box. The negro boy left at once and nothing on the inside or outside indicated where the shroud came from.
"Mr. Moellman opened it in the store. The box, shroud, and the card, which had written on it, 'A Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year,' were burned in the stove and none of his folks, mother, sisters or brothers were told about it until after the boy had died and had been buried.
"It was spread in the neighborhood and they found it out in that way. His mother and father both are prostrated with grief. The boy died in less than thirteen hours after the shroud was received."
The funeral services were held at the family residence at 544 East Madison street yesterday morning at 9 o'clock, and the body was buried in St. Michael's cemetery.
As you longtime readers of this blog may have surmised, it takes quite a bit to make my jaw drop, but this anonymous "joker" managed to do just that. As a side note, a few days later, the "Courier-Journal" reported that someone had stolen crape placed outside a door where there had been a recent bereavement, and hung it on a house where everyone was very much alive. This house was in the same neighborhood as the Moellmans, leading to suspicions that the same diseased sense of humor was responsible for both incidents. I have not been able to find if the perpetrator was ever discovered.
Let us end this Yuletide tribute on a bright note. Christmas is not just a holiday, it's an alibi! The "Arizona Silver Belt," January 17,1908:
One of the most peculiar pleadings set on record in the district court of Cochise county for some time was placed on file yesterday in the affidavit of Thos. McCalish who was applying to the court for a writ of habeas corpus, says the Bisbee Review. The second paragraph reads as follows:
"Petitioner further alleges that he was on or about the 26th day of December influenced by the occasion of the anniversary of the birth of our Lord, the Saviour, to an unusual feeling of keeping peace on earth, and good will toward all men; so that in response to the general impulse that pervaded the good people of the village of Fairbanks, toward generosity and charity to all mankind, and being full of the milk of human kindness, did unwittingly and without premeditation or intention absorb and imbibe certain brands of Fairbanks libations at the numerous and repeated invitations of his friends and neighbors, to such an unwonted enthusiasm and exhilaration; whereupon, a certain peace officer not having the fear of God in his heart, and being influenced and moved by a desire to show his authority and subdue the enthusiasm of this petitioner did arrest and take this petitioner before the said justice of the peace on a charge of disturbing the peace.
"Petitioner admits that he was slightly intoxicated at that time, but denies that he was disturbing the peace in any manner, and further alleges that immediately after being brought before said justice of the peace was assaulted and knocked down with a six-shooter then and there held in the hands of said justice of the peace, and was thereupon without any further proceedings promptly sentenced by said justice of the peace to pay a fine of two hundred dollars or in default thereof to be imprisoned in the county jail at Tombstone for a period of two hundred days. That being unable to pay said fine, he was by said justice committed to the custody of said John F. White, sheriff, with whom he now abides.
"Petitioner further alleges that said sentence is in excess of and beyond the jurisdiction of said justice of the peace to impose under the law, and therefor alleges that the same is void."
It is needless to say that the writ was granted when the case was called before Judge Doan and the prisoner went on his way rejoicing, and resolved that he will not hereafter spend his future Christmases in the village of Fairbanks, as he believes that the officers of the settlement do not possess the proper friendly feeling toward all humanity that they should have at that time of the year.
Bravo, Thomas McCalish! I'll be drinking a toast to you this Christmas, in memory of a man who showed the true Strange Co. holiday feeling.
May all of you enjoy the holidays this year! Even if you don't choose to celebrate them by getting arrested, blowing up dynamite, or stealing mourning crape.