#39 Celebrating the New Year

Newspaper writers know that the first paragraph of an article should contain the lead information.  So, before I get into my normal historical article, I want to share what is really important about the writing of “A Note from Your Remote Librarian”.   This column is interesting because people have and do contributed to your library’s archive.

Much of my information comes from citizens supplying it.  We often do not think our memories, photographs, and scrapbooks have historical significance.  However, all of us can tell stories about things that are interesting, if not foreign, to our children and grandchildren.  Some of my most popular articles have been ones that include information from the last eighty years.  One example, is the picture I used last week of the community tree being installed in the intersection.  It was just a snapshot, but it captured a moment in Kinsley history that was nearly lost to history.

I’d like all of you who enjoy this column to spend a nostalgic New Year’s Day looking through old photo albums and scrapbooks or jotting down memories to share with the library archive.  If you do, you will help move our historical records up a few decades.  Our remembered history will be preserved for future generations.  The current pandemic is already becoming history (not soon enough), and just like the Spanish Flu, will be interesting for people to read about in a few years.

For this week’s article, I decided to look into how New Year’s was celebrated in early Kinsley, I discovered an old tradition which I knew nothing about.  This custom, “New Year’s calling”, was brought to Kinsley by the early Bostonian settlers.  It was a Victorian era practice of ladies announcing that they would be home to receive callers on New Year’s Day.  The gentlemen would then make the rounds of these “open houses,” and announce their arrival with their own calling cards.  I found an example of a New Year’s calling card on the internet, but maybe one of you have one in a great grandmother’s memory book.

A sample of a calling card used to call on and receive visitors on New Years Day.

The January 2, 1886 issue of the Kinsley Mercury reported many ladies of the city received New Year’s Day callers that year.  Visitors came to homes and extended New Year’s greetings and enjoyed  what I assume was a buffet luncheon.  One of the receiving homes that year was described as “A company of ten ladies assembled at the elegant residence of Mrs. Ed Boies received together.  All gentlemen calling learned that they could make almost a dozen cards by going there and went.” 

Interestingly, on January 1, 1888, the receiving tradition was turned around.  At the last minute, a group of gentlemen got together and decided that they would receive the ladies. Many people thought that the ladies wouldn’t like this, but as it turned out, they really got into the spirit of the day.  About fifty men received about an equal number of women who arrived in homes that year.

“The ladies displayed great originality not only in their unique calling cards, but … in the many exceedingly novel conveyances used. One crowd came in a buss with a large trunk strapped on top, conveying the impression that they had come to stay.  Another came in a sleigh, all tucked up in furs and robes, as a reminder of the holiday season back east.  Anther had a dray handsomely covered and carpeted, and rode in state in upholstered chairs and had their coming announced by a colored footman.  One party … called in costume representing the grandmothers of the early part of the present century.  Mrs. Spencer was a somewhat talkative but very precise old lady accompanied by her two daughters of whom she was exceedingly fond, and very solicitous lest they fail to make the proper impression on the young gentlemen on whom they were calling.”  Those two young ladies who wre the daughters were costumed like old maids of uncertain age – giddy as sweet sixteen” Mercury, January 5, 1886.

The upstairs hall of the Alamo House hotel was the location of the 1888 New year’s Day dinner. the hotel was located at 217 E. Sixth St,, the present day location of Navanod Antiques.

The last call that the ladies made in their rounds that day was to the Alamo Hotel where the gentlemen had arranged a supper.  After which, “toasts were responded to, card playing, singing and dancing indulged in until a late hour, when everybody retired to their respective homes feeling that it was not only good to have received or called on New Year’s Day, but it was exceedingly fortunate that they had cast their lots in Kinsley, among so many pleasant, agreeable, and whole-souled people.”

A new-fangled device, called the telephone, came to Kinsley in 1899.  By the next year, it seems that a telephone call was already replacing the need for calling cards, and this receiving and visiting tradition died out. 

Today we text or email to arrange a visit.  This year, Facetime and Zoom have become alternative, safe ways to visit with friends and family.  Let us hope that our continued masking, social distancing, handwashing and the eagerly awaiting vaccine, will soon allow us to gather together again.  But no matter how the message has been conveyed in the past, it remains the same today. The library board and staff wish you a healthy and happy New Year!