Holiday Heirlooms are part of the rich history of the Mahoning Valley. Just as important are the traditions behind them. Customs like the giving of greetings and gifts and decorating with trees and festive ornaments continue to shape the seasonal celebrations.
Holiday spirit abounds with these colorful greetings, festive decorations, and meaningful gifts designed to liven the gray of winter.
This first ONLINE exhibit for MVHS resulted in our wish to share this wonderful collection of artifacts during an unexpected closure of Tyler History Center. Unfortunately, our opening of the in-person exhibit in the Youngstown Foundation Community History Gallery had to be cancelled. We wish to thank the exhibit’s sponsors, Denise DeBartolo York and Huntington Bank, for their understanding and unwavering support.
Click on each image to enlarge and read artifact details
Sounds of the Season
The sounds of the season have long been produced by local musicians and arts and cultural organizations.
The Youngstown Symphony Orchestra and Ballet Western Reserve collaborated for several seasons staging “The Nutcracker.” This advertisement, used in the 1970s, was made by Trinkle Signs.
Gift of Bob Page, 2019.106
Talented musicians have made local Christmas music for decades. These albums, from the Rayen School, St. Matthias Church, and Canfield High School, span the 1960s – 1980s. “Happy Holidays” was produced by Youngstown recording studio Peppermint Productions.
Gift of Maag Library (Archives & Special Collections), 2013.24.11; Gene DeCapua, 2011.5.52; Pam Daubenspeck, 2019.4.2
Postcards were first designed for commercial use in 1843, the first card featuring a Christmas greeting with lithographed and hand-painted scenes. It wasn’t until 1899, however, that such cards became widely used after both the British and United States postal services accepted postcards for reduced-rate delivery. The use of decorative postcards as seasonal greetings became a new tradition.
Countless designs were produced by many different manufacturers during the first decades of the 20th Century. Many cards were imported from Germany, already well-known for its production of Christmas ornaments since the mid-19th Century. Imagery in Christmas postcards included both the traditional and the unique. Flowers, birds, winter scenes, children, religious figures, and Santa Claus were common.
Religious iconography is a popular postcard motif. The nativity scene, angels, shepherds, and churches are common elements.
Santa Claus is a popular subject of Christmas postcards. The modern image of Santa Claus as a jolly, portly, white-bearded man in a red suit was not standardized until the 1920s, so many earlier postcard images show varying likenesses of the saint. Modern images of Santa combine elements of several earlier versions, including Clement Clarke Moore’s elf-like figure, Thomas Nast’s bearded, fur-clad toy-maker, and Haddon Sundblom’s (1930s illustrator for the Coca-Cola Company) jolly, red-suited icon.
This homemade postcard from Ollie and April Young is hand-painted on wood.
Gift of Mrs. George Kelley, 86.148.24
The Christmas tree tradition was brought to America with German immigrants of the 18th Century. Still, Christmas trees were not a popular staple of American celebrations until the mid-19th Century. Imported German glass and paper ornaments became fashionable in the 1880s. Embossed cardboard ornaments, called Dresdens after the city in Germany where they were made between 1880 and 1910, were popular in America during this time period.
Alice Resch Powers’ grand-parents purchased these Dresden ornaments. With them are scrap ornaments as well as the tinsel and tin-lead alloy pieces.
This scrap ornament received extra cut-and-paste decorations from Powers family members over the years.
Mrs. Powers donated these ornaments to the Mahoning Valley Historical Society in 1978. They appeared on the annual holiday tree in the Arms Family Museum for several years until they were too fragile to hang. Mrs. Powers then donated funds for archival mounts and frames for the ornaments in 1987.
Gift of Alice Resch Powers, 78.71
This late 19th century German feather tree is filled with Victorian-era ornaments. There are embossed cardboard Dresdens, scrap ornaments trimmed with tinsel and spun glass, glass balls, and tin-lead alloy reflector candle-holders.
Gift of Alice Resch Powers, 78.71, 87.12; Edith Wilms, 82.69; Maureen Creager, 85.11
Ornaments and Lighting
Store-bought decorations became widely available in the 1880s and 1890s. Manufactured paper and glass ornaments allowed for the highly-decorated trees of the Victorian Era. In the 20th Century, the increased variety and availability of store-bought ornaments continued to influence tree décor. Blown and molded glass ornaments were created in an array of shapes and sizes, from simple balls to more intricate figurines. Mid-20th Century designs used plastics and new technologies for durable and whimsical decorations.
Electric Christmas tree lights gained popularity in the early 20th Century as more and more houses were wired for electricity. Many small American companies started producing and marketing lighting sets to meet the growing consumer demand. Lighting sets and lamps were also imported from Italy, France, Germany, and Japan, among others.
Two centuries worth of tree trims and lighting, from the Victorian era through the early 2000s, show how holiday decorating has changed.
These sugar-based ornaments were homemade and hand-decorated in the late-19th Century. Many households made cookie ornaments in shapes like hearts, trees, moons, and stars.
Gift of Alice Resch Powers, 78.71.93-.94
Glass balls like this were first made by German glassblowers in the town of Lauscha beginning in the 1820s. Known as Kugels, many of these balls were silvered with lead or zinc to give them a reflective, mirror effect. By the mid-19th Century, the bulbs became popular Christmas tree ornaments.
Gift of Alice Resch Powers, 78.71.15
Blown glass figural and bulb ornaments, 1900s – 1950s
Gift of Maureen Creager, 85.11; Mrs. John R. Sirber, 78.68
In the 1890s, there was a thriving glass-bead making industry in the region now known as the Czech Republic. Artisans worked in their homes crafting ornaments using beads and hollow glass tubing strung on wire. They used beads of different sizes, shapes, and colors to construct complex geometric designs and other shapes, like baskets and chandeliers. These Czech-made ornaments made their way to American stores, where shoppers could buy them, usually individually, to adorn their Christmas trees. At the time, mixing store-bought items with handmade tree trims was common. The beaded ornaments shown here belonged to Youngstown’s McIntire family.
Gift of Maureen Creager, 85.11.160
Un-silvered Shiny-Brite bulbs, 1940s. When America entered World War II, the Shiny-Brite company stopped using silver nitrate to create the bulbs’ reflective surface, as metals were reserved for the war effort.
Gift of Mrs. John R. Sirber, 78.68.12, .17
Treetop spire and Glow-in-the-dark plastic ornaments, 1950s
Gift of Mrs. John R. Sirber, 78.68.22
“Christmas Tree Twinklers” were made by the Tinkle Toy Company, a division of Youngstown’s Plakie Toy Company. Twinklers were placed directly above tree lights, allowing the heat generated from the light to spin the Twinkler. Twinklers were invented by John Garver. Garver taught the sciences at Boardman High School. He also founded a tennis program there, which he coached. Garver had more than twenty inventions in his lifetime, many relating to sports, and several of which were patented.
Gift of H. William Lawson, 96.56.15; Dean Hoover, 2004.63.124
One of the best known Christmas lighting producers, NOMA Electric Corporation, originally began in 1925 as a trade group made up of more than a dozen smaller manufacturers. NOMA is an acronym for National Outfit Manufacturer’s Association. The corporation began selling lights under the NOMA brand in 1926.
Gift of Maureen Creager, 22.214.171.124-.9; The Powell Family, 2014
Light reflectors were placed under Christmas tree light bulbs, allowing their glittered and foiled papers to reflect the colored light. Glittered reflectors used glass and mica shavings to reflect the light. These colored foil reflectors were made in Germany. With the introduction of electric tree lights, some ornaments were made specifically to catch the light or spin above the heat generated by the bulbs. Light bulbs themselves even featured various shapes and designs. “Whirl-Glo” paper shades were placed over tree lights, causing them to spin.
Gift of Maureen Creager, 85.11.160
The Hanukkah celebration, lasting eight days, commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 160 BCE. After the Maccabean Revolt, when the Jewish people reclaimed the Temple and relit its menorah, the menorah stayed lit for eight days even though there was only enough oil to last one night. The dreidel game is played during Hanukkah to remember the suppression of Jewish practices in Judea before the uprising. It also celebrates the Hanukkah miracle – the Hebrew letters marked on the dreidel are an acronym for “a great miracle happened there.” This collection of Hanukkah menorahs (hanukkiahs) and dreidels was donated by long-time MVHS Board Member and supporter Marilyn Oyer. Marilyn was an active member of Youngstown’s Congregation Rodef Sholom until her passing in 2018.
Gift of Marilyn Oyer, 2009.83
Decking the Halls
For many, holiday decorating isn’t just about the tree. From stockings hung by the chimney with care, to figurines and vignettes set on tables and window ledges, to villages carefully placed under the tree, decking the halls is serious business.
Wind-up Santa Claus and plastic figurine, 1950s
Gift of Beverly McKinley, 2011.101.05; Alice Resch Powers, 87.12.4
Japanese composition “clay face” Santa Claus (1920s-30s) with sleigh and celluloid reindeer (1940s-50s)
Gift of Alice Resch Powers, 78.71.77
Japanese revolving bottlebrush tree, circa 1940s, and celluloid reindeer
Gift of Alice Resch Powers, 78.71.79, .91
Santa Claus Papier-mâché lamp, made by the Unger Doll and Toy Company of Wisconsin, 1930s
Gift of Beverly McKinley, 2011.101.07
Homemade holiday vignette featuring celluloid and Styrofoam figurines, 1950s-1960s
Gift of Beverly McKinley, 2011.101.06
Strouss’ and McKelvey’s department stores anchored downtown Youngstown through the late 19th and 20th Centuries. These stores and other downtown retailers provided all the necessary gifts and trims for the holiday season, and their yuletide storefront displays were an elaborate draw for downtown shoppers.
Ballerina from a Strouss’ Department Store holiday window display
Gift of Salem Historical Society, 2017.41
This Mrs. Claus outfit was worn by Eleanor Scannell, who was personnel director at Strouss’ Department Store. Santa and Mrs. Claus were featured in Strouss’ annual Thanksgiving Day Parade in downtown Youngstown until the store closed in 1986. Eleanor Scannell’s close friend and neighbor, Beverly Sisek, inherited the outfit shortly after Eleanor’s death. For years, Beverly wore the Mrs. Claus outfit while driving a school bus during the holiday season.
Gift of Beverly Sisek, 2013.72.1
A Season of Giving
The tradition of exchanging Christmas gifts has been practiced for centuries, possibly beginning with St. Nicholas of Myra. St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, is said to have passed out toys on his feast day, December 6, and throughout the month of December. Gradually, this gift giving became centered on Christmas day, and St. Nicholas became the legendary Santa Claus.
This tray and teapot are part of a service gifted to Vindicator columnist Esther Hamilton. Hamilton held an annual Christmas Show, a fundraiser to benefit Youngstown citizens in need. The Vindicator gave Hamilton this set to mark the Christmas Show’s 25th anniversary in 1955.
Gift of Ann E. Hamilton, wife of Lte. Wilson S. Hamilton, 2010.63.01
Mugs, engraved “Charlie’s First Christmas 1870” and “J. Ford Crandall from Uncle Jim.”
Gift of the Alice Higley Estate, 88.87.33-.34
This Christmas gift was given by the employees of Calla Greenhouses to M. B. Templin. The floral-themed, monogrammed shaving set befits Templin’s role as president of the successful nursery. M. B.’s father, Lewis Templin, founded the business in 1860 and his three sons took over upon Lewis’s death in 1899.
MVHS Collections, 94.4.46
Smoking set, given to Charles Carl as a Christmas gift from his employer, Fredonia Seed Company, in the 1950s.
Gift of Margaret F. Carl, 2001.10.29
Vest with Christmas gift tag, “To Papa, From Blanche.”
Gift of Mrs. Bruce Beeghly, 90.102.01
Julius Caesar, inscribed from Caroline Bonnell to Margaret P. Robinson, Christmas 1907
Gift of Louise Waddell, 2005.63.3
“Trinity Ladies Cookie Recipes, Christmas Tree Lane,” 1956
Gift of Eva & Bob Doyle, 2004.76.3
These photographs show families enjoying the holiday season at home around the tree and out among other revelers. Decorated downtowns and rooftop displays show how the Mahoning Valley has made merry through the years.