The purple Christmas of 1912
By LOU BERNARD
You’ve probably seen the Elks building downtown, even if you’ve walked right past it without noticing. It’s the Simon Scott Building, at 216 E. Main St., built in 1854 by a dry goods merchant who came from Germany. At one point, Simon Scott owned more business properties than anyone else in the city.
The place has been the headquarters of the local Elks Club for quite some time. They were formed in 1891, and soon moved into the building downtown that they still occupy, the Simon Scott Building. Scott died in 1891, and the place stayed in the family for a while before being sold to the Elks sometime around 1910. It appears as their club on the 1914 Sanborn map, which means the Elks have been meeting there for over a century now.
I tend to mention the Elks around December. That’s not deliberate; it’s just the way their stories seem to pop up. I usually look for stories of Christmas to write a column each year; it’s become something of a tradition for me. And every year, there are the Elks. Opening their building for families on Christmas. Holding holiday dinners, having someone dress as Santa Claus, handing out presents for the children. Every Christmas, the Elks seem to be right there celebrating with the community.
1912 was a nice one. Let me tell you all about the Christmas of 1912.
“Santa Claus is already at work in Lock Haven, and he wears a purple and white insignia that declares him to be a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks,” the Express reported. The Elks were opening their building — The same building they are in today — To the public on Christmas morning to distribute gifts and clothes to needy children. The article said, “The Elks are just as happy in playing the role of Santa as the children are in receiving the gifts.”
The article gives no indication as to who was playing the role of Santa. Maybe it was one of the Elks. Maybe it was the real Santa; who knows? And don’t e-mail me and explain there isn’t any “real Santa,” either. My kid is five. Of course there’s a real Santa, otherwise how do I ever convince him to go to bed?
On that Christmas morning, the building was filled with children and parents, plus Elks. They were handing out gifts, clothes, and fresh fruit. Everyone was having a wonderful time, until one little dark-haired boy said, “But I want one for Jimmy, too, one orange won’t go round.”
It was like a scene from an old movie. The Elks gathered around the little boy, asking him who Jimmy was. The boy said, “Jimmy is my little brother. He is sick in bed today. The doctor shakes his head when he comes to see him. I don’t want your orange, Mister Elk Man, unless Jimmy has one too.” (Just so we are clear, from now on, any Santa who happens to be dressed in purple is to be known as “Mister Elk Man.” I will not bend on that.)
The Elks — Many of them, but Phil Keller, Charlie Schwamm, Wayne Myers, and Ed Hecht led the pack — began gathering presents. (For the record, Ed Hecht was an early board member of the Annie Halenbake Ross Library, serving as treasurer for quite a long time.) They sent an orange, for sure. Some warm clothing. A book, a horn, and a drum, plus a box of candy. And then they personally went to the house, including the purple Santa, to deliver their presents to little Jimmy. All of which was gratefully observed by a happy older brother.
Christmas of 1912 was a wonderful holiday, thanks to the Elks. “It was a truly happy Christmas for the little ones,” the Express said. “What more will we ask?”
Lou Bernard is a Lock Haven resident with a keen interest in the history of this area. He is adult services coordinator at Ross Library and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 570-660-4463.