Christmas Past Perfect

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Keeping the Christmas tradition in Brooklyn Square

Article Contributed by
Joan V. Cusimano Lindquist

Brooklyn Square is the guiding light of this column, and it has always been my pleasure to share my memories and those of other historians with my readers about that area of the city that was once considered the heart of Jamestown. I say heart because it was well loved. I say historians because those of us who have written about the Square, be it in books or newspaper articles, manifest and record an affection for that past that lingers to this day. I say guiding light because Roland Swanson, a native Jamestonian, once reminded me that his wife would always delight at the sight of the city’s Christmas tree that stood opposite the majestic Gifford Building as she drove down Hospital Hill at night. And I remember that tree and its dazzling lights as a call to the Christmas season when I was a child, walking with my parents one snowy evening, as we made our way from our Derby Street home to go Christmas shopping.

Brooklyn Square is not to be forgotten. But one year, when the Square seemed to be in jeopardy because murmurs of urban renewal had turned the hearts and minds of some against the annual decorating of this landmark section of the city, merchants took things into their own hands and love, not war, was the defining spirit. Here, for your perusal, is Bob Thomas’s article that appeared in my third book, Remembering Brooklyn Square: The 1930s to the 1960s.

Keeping the Christmas tradition in Brooklyn Square

Christmas That Almost Wasn’t At The Square
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the business people and some of the residents in the Brooklyn Square urban renewal area were very concerned over what our “uptown government people” were going to do to us.
There was virtually no communication between the urban renewal people and ourselves. Rumors were rampant, and horror stories from other cities where the projects had been implemented were plentiful. There was major concern among all of us.

We formed the Brooklyn Square Businessmen’s Association in an effort to gain some representation for our interests and be recognized.

I recall it was near Christmas, and we felt we needed some decorations in our area. The “uptown” area put up their decorations on the light poles, etc., and in their infinite wisdom, because the “Square” was doomed anyway, the decorations only came down Main Street to the “viaduct” (railroad bridge). Our group wasn’t able to get any satisfaction from “uptown,” and the Chamber of Commerce executive vice president, Guy Saxton, who oversaw the decorations.

We took it upon ourselves to make our own decorations. We decided to put the strings of lights with pine roping across the streets as they used to be in years previously. I found out that the wire and light sockets from the earlier years were stored in the top floor of Hotel Jamestown and contacted Don Hogan, who was a principal in the management of the hotel.

(That’s another whole story we could cover at some other date.)

Evar Holmlund knew of the fellow that used to make roping from when it was used before, and we found the cables that they hung on were still stretched across the street.

That Friday night, we all got together and put up the roping to the applause of everyone who remembered it from when the “uptown” guys used to do it. About halfway through our project, Guy Saxton came running up to us and said, “You guys have to stop this.” He just stood there jumping up and down demanding that we not put up the lights and roping.

Needless to say, it was a whopping success with everyone who came down to the Square, including John Pearson, who was Santa Claus, and ushered in the season on the fire truck. All of the oldtimers really liked it, and our Brooklyn Square Businessmen’s Association was off to a strong start.

Historians are curators, people who “take care of” artifacts, memories, and, yes, feelings that need to be recorded for posterity. Bob Thomas was no less and so much more. He, indeed, recorded a time when the past was perfect in old Brooklyn Square, guided by love, and now held in the hearts of us all.