By Danny Crownover
The Vagabond came across a true Christmas article originally written by local historian Marvin B. Small. It reads:
“Back in the year 1895, there was a spot in West Gadsden that was known by old timers as Lovejoy’s Cross Roads. In those days, Tuscaloosa Road (now Tuscaloosa Avenue), as it was then called, crossed 12th Street at right angles.
“At the crossroads was a large open plot of ground with a number of beautiful oak trees. In the center of the square was a little store building of rough pine boards in which T.D, Aaron conducted a small general mercantile business.
“The spot is now covered by the Agricola Shopping Center, and before that, the foundry building of the Agricola Furnace Company.
“Mr. Aaron was a chunky little man past middle age, of ruddy complexion and a happy disposition, whose bald spot was fringed with gray.
As we enter the store, we see on the shelves at the right a couple of bolts of calico selling at five cents a yard; a bolt of bed ticking, another of yellow domestic and still another of cotton checks. We then we see a bolt of red flannel that was used extensively for making underclothing for both men and women.
“Just beyond those items were a number of pairs of brogan shoes fastened together with a stout string that was run through the back of each shoe. The soles of these shoes were fastened to the uppers by pegs made of dogwood.
“We next see packages of Arbuckles Ariosa roasted coffee and Lion Brand roasted coffee. Each of these items retailed at 15 cents per pound or two pounds for a quarter. We then see packages of Horsfords baking powder, Calumet baking powder, Royal baking powder and packages of Dwight’s Cow Brand soda.
“We next find an assortment of canned goods in which we see American sardines selling for five cents per can, or 10 cents per can “fixed up” with crackers, pepper sauce and spoon; Cove oysters, Pillar Rock salmon and another canned item that was known by many as ‘Vienner Sausage.’ There also were long sticks of bologna sausage retailing at 10 cents per pound or three pounds for a quarter.
“Here we find Big Deal soap, Pears soap, and Ivory soap 99 and 44/100 percent pure. Here, too, are James Pyles Pearline and Golddust Washing Powder, the first washing powders seen in these parts.
At the end of the counter was a big cake of cream cheese and a polar box containing 25 pounds of soda crackers from T.S. Lewis in Atlanta, Ga. These crackers sold in bulk at five cents per pound or six pounds for a quarter. Here also was another box of ginger snaps from T.S. Lewis.
The night before
“And so, we have enumerated some of the items on sale in the little store. But on this particular night of which we speak, this night before Christmas in the year 1895, Mr. Aaron’s store took on a festive appearance. The brass lamp which swung from the ceiling was augmented by a large number of colored candles whose light reflected in an array of tinsel ornaments from Germany.
“Also in evidence was a selection of waxfaced china dolls, gaily colored singing tops and horns from Germany, all of which presented a pleasing spectacle.
“The little showcase had been emptied of its contents and filled with a variety of candies. One could see boxes of flat coconut candy with alternating stripes of red and white; others representing large red strawberries and stick candy of many colors. Here, too, were candy kisses – small pieces of candy wrapped in gaudily colored tissue papers frazzled and twisted at each end enclosing a heartwarming verse. There were large candy eggs made of colored crystallized sugar that had a transparent opening at the end through which one could see pretty figures and scenes and read verses of love.
“Nor was this all. There were large and small candy hearts whose edges were ornamented by pretty designs in crystallized sugar of contrasting colors. At the center of each heart was a sticker in beautiful colors representing roses and forget-me-nots. Raising the sticker would disclose an appropriate verse designed to make Cupid’s arrow go straight through to the heart of a maiden fair. Also in the front of the store was a large supply of firecrackers and Roman candles.
The young men and boys of the neighborhood assembled a large pile of cabbage crates and empty wooden boxes with which to make a bonfire. The stage was set for the festivities to begin. Mr. Aaron had stretched a point to make the occasion a success.
“Professor Watson, who resided on Malone Street, showed up with his fiddle, along with an assistant who ‘beat the straws’ to keep time with the music as the professor sawed away on Arkansas Traveler and Hop Light Ladies Yo Cakes’ All Dough.
“The young fellows were buying fireworks like hotcakes and the bonfire outside lighted up the neighborhood. Everybody was in high spirits as the firecrackers boomed and the Roman Candles popped, sending their balls of colored fire high above the tree tops. Mr. Aaron was in high glee. The large cigar box under the counter which served as his cash register was rapidly filling with coins and greenbacks. He was doing a land office business, so to speak.
“When the celebration was at its height, who should appear but old Santa Claus in person. He immediately became the center of attraction with his flowing robe of bright colors, false face (as it was called in those days), flowing white beard and side whiskers and a cap with a red pompon at the top. Santa was a hit with everybody, including Mr. Aaron.
“After putting on a real show outside, Santa headed for the store with a long string of boys at his heels. Once inside, he immediately began to assist Mr. Aaron in making sales. He took pains to show the candy hearts and other items to the crowd and was responsible for many sales. All the while the Professor kept the excitement at its highest pitch with his fiddling.
Finally, the blaze of the bonfire dwindled to a mere glow, the orange crates and apple barrel were just about empty and only a few candy hearts remained in the showcase. The crowd began to disperse, and it was near closing time. Old Santa bade everybody a “Merry Christmas” and took his departure. The Professor put his fiddle in its case and wended his way homeward.
“Mr. Aarons farce was wreathed in smiles. He had done a whopping business. He reached under the counter for his cigar box cash register. He knew it was overflowing with cash. Imagine his consternation when he found that the box was gone.
“He looked and looked again to be sure, but the box was nowhere to be found. Old Santa had cunningly hidden the box under his raiment and lit out for parts unknown.
“Poor Mr. Aaron slumped in his chair, and with his head between his hands, wailed disconsolately, ‘I am ruined, I am ruined!’
“Police officers were soon on the scene but Santa Claus could not be found. Next morning on Christmas Day, the empty cigar box was found on the railroad near the crossing at Black Creek.
“Such was the end of Christmas at Lovejoy’s Crossroads. Strange as it may seem, nobody knew the identity of old Santa, and to this good day the case remains a mystery.”