"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Newspaper Clippings of the Christmas Day


"Brooklyn Eagle," December 24, 1931.  (All clippings via Newspapers.com)

Yes, indeed, it's time for Strange Company's annual look at the worst and weirdest the Christmas season has to offer!  

This item from the "Los Angeles Citizen News" for December 24, 1951, shows one sure-fire way to get coal in your stocking:

Dijon, France, Dec. 24--Santa Claus was burned in effigy on the steps of Dijon cathedral yesterday.  Two hundred and fifty children watched--and cheered.

A figure twice as large as life, wearing the traditional red costume and white beard, was hoisted to the wrought-iron grille at the door of the great Gothic church.

A young man in a top hat called out:

"Does Santa Claus deserve death?"

"Yes, yes!" roared the children and pelted Santa with orange peels.

A fire was set and Santa Claus perished in the flames.  Only his gloves remained.

Several French Catholic prelates, including Jules-Geraud, Cardinal Salinge of Toulouse, recently have denounced the "paganization" of Christmas, specifically assailing Santa Claus.

In other news, your Christmas tree wants you dead.  "The Guardian," January 19, 1971:

A housewife died from blood poisoning after she trod on a Christmas tree needle, but the cause of the poisoning was still unknown at an inquest in Stoke-on-Trent yesterday.  Mrs. Mary Allbut, aged 54, of Heath Street, Chesterton, Stoke-on-Trent, was treated by her 16-year-old daughter after she cut her foot on a pine needle from the family Christmas tree

Several days later her condition worsened and she was rushed to hospital where she later died.  At the inquest Dr. Charles Knappett, the pathologist, said she died from blood poisoning, but he was unable to pinpoint the cause until he had made further investigations.

He said he would study photographs of the infected parts of the body to try to establish the reason for the poisoning.  The city coroner, Mr. Frederic Halls, adjourned the inquest until the beginning of next month to allow investigations to continue.

Another killer tree appeared in the "New York World," February 16, 1909:

William W. Babbington, expert stenographer for Cord Meyer, former Democratic State Chairman, died today in the Long Island City Hospital from an infection of the left hand received while decorating a tree last Christmas.  His wife, Martha, is critically ill, and only awaits her husband's funeral, when she will be removed to the institution for treatment for the same affliction.

Babbington got his fingers covered with a chemical sprinkled over the tree.  Weeks after he noticed the injury had developed a felon.  An operation followed in which the bone of the diseased finger was removed.  Then came the blood poisoning.  Babbington courageously fought off his fate, and when his wife took ill he disregarded his own trouble and insisted on remaining at the side of Mrs. Babbington.

He was twenty-six years old and leaves three children.  He took part in several contests for stenographers and won several medals for his speed and accuracy.

I believe that nothing sums up my Yuletide posts better than those magic words, "Christmas tree detonator."  The Spokane "Spokesman-Review," December 23, 1946:

Pittsburgh, Dec. 22.--A small electrical attachment, believed to be a detonator, exploded while the Clarence Berich family was trimming a Christmas tree last night, seriously injuring 16-year-old Ronald Berich.

The boy suffered the loss of several fingers on each hand, and chest and abdomen wounds.  The father was burned slightly.

County detectives said the detonator, a copper tube with wires attached, had been about the Berich home for years ever since the father had brought it from a factory in which he formerly worked.  He said he didn't know what it was.

The father said he obtained the device when his son needed a heavier wire than he had at hand.  The explosion came when the boy connected a wire to the house electrical system.

The cards are out to get you, too.  The "Seattle Star," January 20, 1913:

New York, Jan 20--A Christmas postal card coated with mica and colored tinsel was declared today by Dr. Thomas F. Nevins of No. 249 Cumberland street, Brooklyn, to be responsible for the illness of Lewis D. Ryno, a letter carrier attached to the Flatbush branch postoffice.  It has been necessary to cut away part of the inside of one of Ryno's hands where infection had spread.

And sometimes, people spread lethal Christmas cheer in the direct, old-fashioned manner.  The "Sacramento Bee," December 25, 1916: 

Deming (N.M.) December 25--A Christmas card with the name "Shorty" on it was the only clue to the identity of the person who sent a bottle of poisoned whisky to Private George Mosley of Company M, Second Arkansas Infantry, encamped here.  Private Mosley died at the base hospital yesterday and Sergeant Byron Montgomery of Company K of the same regiment was critically ill at the base hospital after taking a drink from the same bottle, according to officers here.

[Note: as far as I can find, this murder was never solved.]

...And the "Sheffield Independent," January 7, 1871:

The family of Mr. Harrison, butcher, Cambridge were all seized with illness after partaking of a turkey on Christmas day, and it was discovered that the food contained poison.  Mr. Geo. Harrison and one of the Misses Harrison lies in a dangerous state, and others are more or less seriously affected. 

Pennsylvania, celebrated the Christmas of 1899 in an energetic and exciting fashion.  The "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette," December 27:

A strange accident happened in Donegal township, Butler county, on Christmas eve.  John Donlew, who lives near his son-in-law, William Grimes, undertook to play Santa Claus for his grandchildren, and all the presents that were to be made in the two families were to be hauled to the Grimes house early yesterday morning.  The mock heads of two reindeer which had been used at a church entertainment were rigged up over the heads of the horses, the bundles were put into a light wagon and Mr. Donlew started on his trip.  He was dressed as Santa Claus and was wrapped in a heavy blanket.

Two of his nephews about 3 o'clock in the morning started from their home near by to go hunting, and as they drew near the Grimes homestead they saw the strange looking rig coming up the lane that led to the house.  They forgot all about Christmas night, but as there had been several robberies in that neighborhood they at once supposed that the man in the rig intended to break into their uncle's granary.  One of the boys fired his shotgun, which was loaded with bird shot, at the wagon, and the next minute there was a shriek and the two horses went up the lane at the top of their speed.  They finally ran into a fence, smashed the rig, and the bogus Santa Claus was thrown out. 

As soon as possible the two nephews, who by this time had recognized their uncle's voice, reached his side and he was picked up for dead.  As it was he had one leg broken and his back was full of bird shot, while there were several shot sticking in the sides of the horses.  The man was carried into his son-in-law's house and his injuries attended to.

Not half an hour after this occurrence Willie Manifrew, son of a farmer, came running to the Grimes house with the information that his brother Johnny, a boy of ten years, had rolled off the roof of their two-story house and that they wanted some of the Grimes boys to go for a doctor.  He said that about 4 o'clock he and Johnny awoke and had gone downstairs to see if Santa Claus had brought anything, but he had not.  The two then talked it over and Willie and his brother decided that Santa Claus was sure to come between that hour and daylight.  They then made up their minds to get out on the roof and see Santa come down the chimney.  They had only been there a few minutes when Johnny yelled, "Thee he comes," and in his excitement slipped on the icy roof and rolled to the ground.  When the doctor reached the house he found that no bones were broken, but that the boy had had the wind knocked out of him and was badly jarred, and that there was no reason to fear that he would suffer any serious consequences.

I'd say it's about time for a romantic interlude.  A Christmas wedding!  What could be more "Hallmark holiday movie" than that?  "The Day Book," December 26, 1912.

Taylorsville, Ill., Dec. 26.--John Belder, a carpenter, got on a Christmas drunk. Then went to the wedding of his stepdaughter, Miss Elsie Bates Ora Redfern, and started shooting up the place to satisfy a grudge against his wife. Chased wife out of the house, wounding her as she ran. Then returned, to "get" the bride and groom. Shot and seriously, wounded Mrs. Emma Fisher, then shot through door of room where bride and groom hid themselves. Did not kill them.  Police surrounded the house and Belder was seriously wounded by a bullet from one of the cops. Arrested. Both of the wounded may die. 

Miss Redfern was married shortly after the interruption. 

"The interruption." 

Some people dislike family holiday gatherings.  A few people really dislike them.  The "Larimer County Independent," December 27, 1912:

On a lighter note is this pleasantly deranged item from the "Salmon Arm Observer," December 23, 1981:

A rather bizarre break and entry took place at Robert Hargens' residence at Country Side Mobile Home Park.

While the Hargens were sleeping someone entered their trailer, opened all the gifts under the Christmas tree and put them all in a row.

The intruder then took all the gift wrapping and left.

RCMP investigations continued and four juvenile girls have been implicated in the incident.

Apparently the gifts were taken from the trailer and then returned.

RCMP are unsure if there will be charges laid.

On a final note, you've got to admire any kid bold enough to try an extortion racket on Santa.

"Richmond Dispatch," December 6, 1900

 I wish all of you a happy Christmas, however you choose to spend December 25.  God knows, these are strange times we're living in, but if we manage to refrain from poisoned cards, exploding trees, and filling Santa with buckshot, we may at least get out of the holiday season alive.


  1. You never fail us! Another sterling collection. And a Happy poison- and detonator-free Christmas to you too!

  2. "William W. Babbington, expert stenographer for Cord Meyer, former Democratic State Chairman, died today in the Long Island City Hospital from an infection of the left hand received while decorating a tree last Christmas."

    Cord Meyer's son, Cord Jr., was a bigwig in the CIA and is one of the names that pops up on the list of possible JFK assassination conspirators. Cord Jr.'s former wife, Mary Pinchot Meyer, was one of JFK's girlfriends and in 1964 was shot to death in a crime that remains unsolved. The CIA's second in command went into her house right after the shooting and removed all of her personal papers.


  3. Why should Christmas be exempt from oddity when it comes to Strange Company, right? Though the event in Dijon reminds one of the Middle Ages, rather than 1951: is the phrase 'deserves death' ever a good thing to utter at Christmas?


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