Rewind: December 15, 2017 – Holiday Greetings! A Peaceful Christmas

In 1989 when she was Warren County Historian, Pamela Vogel, now Warren County Clerk, put some of her Christmas memories of growing up in Glens Falls down on paper. She produced a small booklet with several of her favorite memories to share with local historians, her family and friends. With her permission, the Warren County Historical Society is reproducing part of that booklet here. It is our hope that reading about some of Pam’s memories will inspire you to dig for memories of your own and perhaps to even write them down and share with family and friends.

The booklet was called “A Peaceful Christmas” and the inside page has the following written on it:

From Christmases Past: Memories of Christmas In and About Glens Falls
1950’S – 1960’S
By Pamela Johnson Vogel
Warren County Historian
Christmas 1989

Dedicating the booklet to her Mother and Father, Pam wrote the following letter to the readers by way of introduction:

Dear Friends,

Of all the celebrations that we enjoy throughout the year, it is Christmas that seems to evoke so many special memories.

As the season approaches, our minds whirl with not only all that must be done, but with all that has been before. Each gift we choose, card we write, and ornament we hang spurs thoughts of Christmases past. We remember fondly a favorite toy from childhood days, recall joyfully our baby’s first Christmas, and yes, reflect sorrowfully on Grandpa’s last.

For Christmas, in fact, can mirror life. Built on wonderful traditions – those simple yet special things we do that give substance and meaning to an experience, Christmas and life itself are equally enhanced by hope – that acceptance of and anticipation of all that is new and challenging.

The thoughts that are shared with you today – of Christmas as remembered by a little girl growing up in Glens Falls during the 1950’s – are perhaps not much different than your own and certainly are not meant to replace memories that are yours alone. They are offered simply because some things are just worth writing about. In so doing we honor our past and herald our future!

Merry Christmas to all!

Pamela J. Vogel

Christmas Shopping at W. T. Grant’s

One of the special joys about growing up in Glens Falls during the 1950’s was Christmas shopping downtown. W. T. Grant’s, located on the site of the old Rockwell House and at the present intersection of Hudson Avenue and Glen (formerly Bank Square and today’s Centennial Circle), was a favorite of mine. A full-scale variety store and a true five-and-dime, it had notions and gifts of all kinds that even a little girl could afford!

The W. T. Grant store
The W. T. Grant store was located where Hudson Avenue meets Centennial Circle today. Photo from Bridging the Years.

Shopping for my father was easiest of all. For about $ 1.29 I could buy a package of white cotton handkerchiefs – some even had an initial monogrammed in the corner. My shopping expedition always concluded with a long stay at the display counter full of fashions for a favorite doll. I had a Betsy Wetsy, a sister to Tiny Tears, and each Christmas her wardrobe would grow from selections made at that counter.

Grant’s also had one of the best assortments of “45’s” and a great luncheon counter that folks would stand in line for. A holiday cartoon show hosted by Grant’s at the Rialto Theatre was a treat for kids and a blessing for shoppers. With the extension of Hudson Avenue in 1975, the building stood no longer. Fortunately, memories linger on!

Glens Falls: A Christmas Wonderland

Christmas in downtown Glens Falls during the 1950’s and 1960’s meant lights, decorations, and all the sounds of the season. Stores were open on Thursday s until 9, of course, and every night during the last two weeks before Christmas. Each store seemed to be a spectacle of its own. Yet, my favorite had to be Merkel and Gelman’s! There, stretching from the very top of the front side of the building down to its first floor roof was a dazzling display of white and gold lights in the shape of a giant Christmas tree! A sight to behold, the lights sparkled well into the night!

Across the street, Salvation Army helpers chimed in with holiday bells, reminding busy shoppers of the need of others less fortunate. At the far end of Glen Street, the Glens Falls Insurance Company was all ablaze with bright lights reflecting against a background of white marble. Evergreens decorated many of the windows making for a most impressive sight. Holiday music was piped out onto busy streets from Braydon and Chapman’s while trimmings adorned light post all along the way. Truly, Glens Falls was a Christmas Wonderland!

The front of Fowler’s Department Store in downtown Glens Falls
The front of Fowler’s Department Store in downtown Glens Falls at Chrsitmas. A Richard Dean photo courtesy of Glens Falls City Historian.

Sweet Thoughts Of Downtown

I really do think that my mother loved to go downtown to shop for Christmas!

A traditional stop was at Merkel’s where she would pick out flannel nightgowns for our grandmothers and for Lady Jane. Nightclothes and lingerie were neatly arranged in glass cases and clerks would take these out just a few at a time. I seem to recall that each bundle was tied prettily with a ribbon so that the display would remain attractive to the customers.

Next it was into Fowler’s for white dress shirts for the men in our family – one for Dad, one for my uncle, and one for my grandfather. With a house full of daughters, my mother also spent a great deal of time at the Children’s Store on Ridge Street which had the most beautiful dresses for little girls! A favorite of mine was a white nylon with red stitching across the top!

And, of course, almost every shopping trip would end with a visit to the Sugar Bowl! Mike Pissare, a native of Greece, was a candy maker who had learned his trade in Istanbul. Upon coming to Glens Falls with his family in 1920, the Pissare’s opened the Sugar Bowl on the east side of Glen Street hill, near present day Burger King. At Christmas, Mr. Pissare would make all different sizes of candy canes. I remember a giant three foot cane which my younger sister just had to have!

Mike Pissare passed away in 1965 just as Urban Renewal came through downtown. Still, sweet thoughts of the Sugar Bowl and downtown Glens Falls remain with us!

A Glens Falls Tradition: The Max Tupper Displays

Christmas memories of Glens Falls during the 1950’s would not be complete without recalling those special evening rides throughout the city to gaze at the spectacular home displays! Once supper was over and darkness had set in, family cars loaded with kids would creep along city streets, stopping at curbsides to admire the most festive decorations. Thousands, in fact, participated in this Glens Falls tradition every year!

I think the very best display was over at 123 Sanford Street where Max Tupper and his family lived. Max was a sign painter – an artist – by profession. Yet, his Christmas displays – an incredible assemblance of Santa and Mrs. Claus, reindeer, choir boys and girls, Disney characters of all kinds, and even a 22’ revolving Christmas tree – were more than just works of art. They were a labor of love. For you see, the Tupper’s daughter Sandy had cerebral palsy and it was for her — to brighten her days — that Max Tupper created the displays. A Christmas gift for a little girl became a gift to an entire community. For a special Christmas memory, thank you Max Tupper!

Robert McMullen’s Christmas Pageant

An equally well-remembered and popular Glens Falls display stood on the front lawn of J. Robert McMullen’s elegant home on Upper Glen Street. Formerly # 401 Glen, it later became # 615 after city streets were renumbered around 1947.

Mr. McMullen, co-founder of the renowned McMullen-Levens Shirt Company over on Lawrence and Cooper Streets, had an obvious love of the Christmas season and created an illuminated holiday pageant complete with music for all to enjoy! Following his death in 1946, the pageant buildings were donated to the City of Glens falls. For some years the collection of miniature castles and churches was erected in City Park with music piped in from a system in the nearby City Hall.

Known as well for his personal Christmas messages printed on specially-created Christmas cards, Mr. McMullen offered this wish in Christmas 1945. It is share with your today:

“May the World’s garden ever bloom with the flowers of Peace, Happiness and Contentment. This is my wish this Christmas…and for all time.”

The Warren County Historical Society wishes one and all the merriest Christmas and may ‘Peace, Happiness and Contentment’ be found by everyone in the New Year.