HENRYETTA’S 1939 CHRISTMAS PARADE

Presented by The Henryetta Historical Society
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Earl Goldsmith

Presented by The Henryetta Historical Society

In the 1930s, Henryetta had an annual Christmas parade with the high school band, floats, scouts and other organizations, men on horseback, decorated cars with local personalities and merchants, and at the end, SANTA CLAUSE.   I’ve always remembered the 1939 Christmas parade for three reasons.  They aren’t very important, but one might be a surprise to many readers.  It sure was for me at the time it took place.

The first reason is that it was my first close encounter with Vincent Tripodi, the HHS band director, and I was surprised by what I heard from him.  Mr. Tripodi was a native Italian with a definite accent.  Had a lot of trouble with English and could become very upset with band members.  I was later in the HHS band from the 7th through 9th grades, and to illustrate the language problems, if you did something wrong, he would call you a stupidy pig, and if he was really excited, he’d  forget “pig” and just call you stupidy stupidy.  I learned at the 1939 Christmas parade that he was also confused by words to distinguish between the sexes.  I knew of him, and had seen him at some 1938 football games (Jack Gibson’s second year to announce the games) when my cousin, Bobby Morgan, was the drum major and when Roy Van Meter played as the first of the string of  Henryetta  football Van Meter played for the Hens.  But I had never been close to Tripodi at until the day of the 1939 parade.   When he came past me while walking  beside the band at the 1939 Christmas parade, someone watching on the sidewalk behind me asked him when Santa would arrive, and he said “She’s coming.”  It shook this fourth grader to the heels to hear that a woman had taken over for Santa. 

The second reason is that the parade was supposed to be the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but  was really the Saturday after the second Thanksgiving.   To explain, since 1863, Thanksgiving had been designated by annual presidential proclamations, but had always been the last Thursday in November.  In 1939, November had five Thursdays and the last was November 30, so there’d be just 24 days Christmas shopping.  To help merchants in the ongoing great depression,  and with pressure from Macy’s, President Roosevelt proclaimed in late October that Thanksgiving would be Thursday, November 23. 

Now, besides all the church services and high school and college football games that had been scheduled assuming November 30 would be Thanksgiving, schools had already scheduled the Thanksgiving break for that Thursday and Friday.  So the schools announced that the official Thanksgiving break would remain as scheduled and there’d be no school that Thursday and Friday, but if a student’s family observed “Roosevelt’s Thanksgiving” on November 23, the student could stay home from school that day and not be counted as absent.  My family stuck to the traditional Thanksgiving.  The families of most classmates observed November 23, or claimed they did, and had two Thanksgiving holidays while I just had one.    Then, 1940’s last Thursday was  November 28, and  President Roosevelt declared Thursday the 21st to be Thanksgiving, so I again had one more day of school than most classmates – and I’m still not over it.  Then, Congress passed a law making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday, so it can’t be later than November 28.   (Incidentally, in this year of 2012, Thanksgiving was the 22nd, which is the earliest it can be.)   So there is the history lesson that cost me two extra days of school.

The third memory’s best.  It’d been advertised in the Free-Lance  that after the parade, kids could go to the Montgomery Ward catalog order store to get Ward’s annual free coloring book.  Back then, Ward’s had catalog stores in some of the towns that didn’t have a Ward’s store.  You could go there and order something  that would arrive faster than if you ordered it by mail from the catalog at home.  (Everyone had Wards and Sears catalogs that were fun for kids to look through to see things they wish they had.)   Henryetta’s Ward’s catalog store was  on the north side of Main, about half way between Fourth and Fifth and was run by Ethel Thompson, an adult daughter of neighbors who lived two doors from my family.  After the parade, I headed to the Wards catalog store to get my coloring book. 

But in 1939, it wasn’t a coloring book.  Unknown to us, Ward’s had decided that instead of their annual coloring book, they would have a comic book that year – and it was about a reindeer with a red nose that helped guide Santa’s sleigh one cloudy night.  Believe me.  It was the original “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” comic book that Montgomery Ward gave away help boost depression sales.   All of us got the comic book and learned the story.  That comic book was all there was about Rudolph for a few years, but the story became popular.  Then it was put to music and later recorded by the great singing cowboy movie star, Gene Autry, who’d actually worked in Henryetta in the 1930s as a dispatcher for the Frisco railroad.  The song’s lyrics told a slightly different story, though.  In the comic book, Rudolph wasn’t one of Santa’s reindeer.  Instead, he was a boy reindeer who lived in a reindeer town.  But like in the song, the other reindeer kids teased him because he had a red nose.  When Santa was delivering toys one cloudy Christmas Eve, he saw a red glow below and traced it to the house where Rudolph was sleeping.  Santa woke him and asked him if he’d guide his sleigh the rest of the way because it was getting cloudier and he was afraid he and the regular reindeer would lose their way.  Rudolph did it, and that was the beginning of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”.    

So those are my 1939 Christmas parade memories.  Vincent Tripodi called Santa “she” and it shook me to my heels.  In 1939 and 1940, most of my classmates had two Thanksgiving holidays from school in each year, while I just had one, and I’m still not over it.  I got my Montgomery Ward “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” comic book – and if I’d only known, I’d have saved it.  Oh, that 1939 Christmas parade!

Since I mentioned the Wards order store, I must add that while I was a boy, O. B. Board, who worked for PPG (in the office, I think), stopped in our neighborhood nearly every evening to take the Wards order store manager, Ethel Thompson, out for the evening..  Later, he and Ethel married and had a son, James “Spike” Board, who lived in Oklahoma City the last I knew.  Ethel Thompson Board died in 2011 while living in Round Rock, Texas near a grand-daughter.  She was 96 and had been a widow for 35 years.  She rests in Westlawn.   

A little more re Vincent Tripodi.  For some reason, he always lived in Okmulgee, so he must have had a more than normal gasoline ration during the war.  After my mother died in 1964 and my father remarried in 1969, I had a new adult step niece who happened to live in Tripodi’s former house.