Merry Christmas from a century past

Merry Christmas from 1915!

Back then, the Crescent Hotel operated only in the summer, and was transformed into the Crescent College and Conservatory for Women the rest of the year.

Mary Breckinridge Thompson, an instructor there, is one of the people featured in my upcoming book, Welcome to Eureka Springs: The I-Sh*t-You-Not History of America’s Quirkiest Town. I’ll save her awe-inspiring journey for the book, but today I’ll introduce her as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

As Mary, her husband Richard, and their nearly two-year-old son Breckie celebrated Christmas in 1915, World War I was raging in Europe. Mary’s brother Carson, a Marine stationed in Washington, came to visit, as did her parents.

As the only child, Breckie was the star of the show.

“Under the tree stood the hobby horse Dick and I gave Breck from Santa Claus,” Mary later wrote. “He had been told he would get one, and when he came into the room, he made straight for the horse as though for a moment he saw nothing else.”

Breckie scored big time from family and friends.

“Carson had brought him from Washington a small basketball, a push-button electric light, and four rubber animals, a bear, a goat, a horse (Lady Lightfoot), and a dog,” Mary wrote.

Breckie also got a horse figurine with rider (sold to benefit a war fund), boxing gloves, a coat, a watch, a toy pistol, and a poetry book.

“Then from many other friends there were blocks, books, a top, a rubber hammer which couldn’t injure chairs be they never so banged upon, a little red coal scuttle from Dorothy that he left at the Brackens in Canada the following autumn, a sheepskin rug from old friends in North Carolina on which he slept outdoors in bitter weather, and two character dolls,” Mary wote.

The next Christmas, Mary’s brother Clifton, who was in the U.S. Reserves, and her sister Lees both came visit. Breckie was even more the center of attention, since war news dampened holiday spirits.

“We felt that it really was the baby’s Christmas, that we wouldn’t have had the heart to celebrate it otherwise,” Mary wrote.

Breckie’s many presents that year included a jointed wooden dog, a climbing monkey, a top, balls, books, “and from his cousin Foncie a wooden duck which he called Jemima Puddleduck.”

Breckie gave a gift himself for the first time, to his father.

He took five of the pennies out of his bank, and we went downtown together to a stationer’s shop where toys were kept. I asked the clerk to put a row of things costing only five cents each in front of him and told Breck that his pennies would buy any one of those things and to choose. He was fascinated with some celluloid creatures such as float in baths, but the difficulty lay in taking only one when he wanted all.

“Now, Breckinridge,” I said, “decide which you want — the swan, or the duck, or the turtle, or the fish.”

One by one he picked them up gravely, saying: “De swan and de duck and de turtle and de fish.”

At last he chose the duck and bore it home triumphantly. The secret was kept until he presented it to his delighted father, and then of course he had it afterwards, loaned by father upon demand, to play with in his bath.

Each year, the college’s students put up a Christmas tree and invited the town’s poor children – nearly a hundred of them – to celebrate and get a present. This time, Breckie donated some of his own toys, giving the best and newest ones.

The century may change, but the joy of giving and receiving remains the same. Here’s wishing you and yours a happy holiday season.

Fun fact: The 2004 movie “Mr. Christmas” was filmed in Eureka Springs. Look for it on streaming channels, or watch it on YouTube.

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