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Easter celebrations were hopping a century ago in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS – When thieves boarded a delivery truck and absconded with $3,000 worth of the best Easter suits and hats a woman or man could wear, it appeared the 1921 holiday was ruined for sure.

But it wasn’t possible, when society types were welcoming home their children for spring vacations from colleges everywhere. 

“For the next fortnight, society will look mainly to the many members of the school set who are returning home for the Easter holidays for its origin of news,” the Post-Dispatch reported. “Every day brings gay groups of them from the East and elsewhere.”

And how could anyone cancel the day, when thousands of youngsters were set to descend on the White House lawn for the first Easter egg rolling contest since 1917? 

A child of the 1920s carries an Easter basket.

As if that weren’t enough, the eggs for dying were easier on the pocket book than a year earlier. In 1920, the lowest price for a dozen eggs sold at chain stores was 48 cents. In 1921, the lowest price was 25 cents.

This was the Roaring 20s, after all, exactly a century ago, and everyone was ready to celebrate the holiday in all of its secular and religious forms. 

It’s all in articles in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published around Easter Sunday, March 27, 1921. Most are upbeat, except for the matter of the purloined Easter outfits and some helpless chicks. 

The theft of the outfits happened about 2 p.m. on the day before Good Friday when two men armed with revolvers jumped on the running board of a truck operated by the Kamper Parcel Delivery Co in the 4000 block of Shenandoah Avenue. They made the driver, R.L. Halpin, take them several blocks before they robbed him of $30 and put him into an enclosed part of the truck and drove several more blocks.  

Then they made off with 34 packages worth about $3,000, but left behind about $7,000 worth of merchandise from clothing companies. A witness reported that the thieves were last seen driving away in a touring car. 

It wasn’t good for R.L. Halpin and the clothing companies, but it could be fatal for certain unlucky chicks. An article in the Post-Dispatch warned against the practice of buying chicks for 15 cents apiece as Easter pets. 

“Hundreds of them, just hatched, are sold to shoppers to be carried home in punctured pasteboard boxes and there promptly squeezed to death by the younger members of the family or incur a more lingering fate from exposure and lack of necessary warmth and attention,” the article said.  Today’s Wild Bird Fund agrees.

President Warren Harding hosted the White House Easter egg-rolling contest in 1921. Photo courtesy White House Historical Association

Thankfully, more wholesome occupations were available to the very young than playing too roughly with helpless chicks. For example, President Warren Harding and his wife invited children from all over to bring their eggs to his backyard for an egg rolling contest. 

One of the thousands, a 12-year-old, evaded police and made it to the president’s window, where he knocked. When the president opened the window, the boy handed him a finely decorated egg.

People celebrated in Washington, and they celebrated on the East Coast.

Summer weather coaxed about 100,000 people to Coney Island and about 200,000 to a parade in Atlantic City, where people thronged the streets in their Easter bonnets.

An Easter parade in the early 1920s.

New outfits had to be shown off, after all, even if the spring weather in some parts of the country prompted participants to wear coats as well as hats.

John Glennon

Back in St. Louis, Archbishop John Joseph Glennon celebrated a Pontifical High Mass at the New Cathedral, while the Rev. Dr. Peter Guilday of the Catholic University in Washington, D.C., preached a sermon at the Old Cathedral. 

Episcopal Bishop Daniel S. Tuttle, 84, spoke about the natural and the spiritual body in his annual Easter sermon at Christ Church Cathedral.

“Because there was an Easter and a resurrection of the body, we are comforted and strengthened in our faith,” Tuttle told the faithful, in a message likely to have been echoed in sermons that day and every Easter.

When the services ended, most congregants probably headed home for an Easter feast.

This being Prohibition, all the law-abiding citizenry – of course – made sure there was no alcohol on their table. Nonetheless, it’s good to presume that in a good many homes, there was something special to imbibe with the rest of the meal.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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One Comment

  1. Thank you for sharing this interesting information with us. I was born in St. Louis in 1948 and lived on the corner of Virginia Avenue and Haven St.with my grandmother. We moved to Arnold when I was eleven but my grandmother lived there until the 70s. The city will always hold a special place in my heart.

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