"That Was Happy New Year"
By Oscar Odd McIntyre
New Year’s Day in Gallipolis, Ohio, where I spent
much of my boyhood, was no different I suppose from that of other towns
but it holds a glamour that time does not erase.
Somehow I have a feeling I’d like to leave Manhattan’s hectic New
Year’s night and go back to Gallipolis to watch the old year out and the
new year in.
Gallipolis is a picturesque little town on the banks of the Ohio. It was settled
by the French and suggests Versailles in miniature. It has a public square on
the river front, a leading business street, and back of that four wide avenues
lined with trees whose branches interlace.
There are cheerful, comfortable homes and at the north and south ends the town
straggles off into peaceful, rolling farmlands. Gallipolis has never had one
of those “Bigger Burg” movements. It does not grow. After you live
in New York many years you begin to appreciate that.
It is a substantial town of solid citizenry who sprang from those who founded
it. Save for a few shacks across the creek and beyond the railroad tracks there
is no show of poverty. If you go over the hill to the poor-house you find very
We used to look forward in Gallipolis to a “white Christmas” for
there was fine coasting on Academy Hill and skating on the creek. In a like manner
we looked forward to a sunny New Year’s Day for we all made the rounds
of New Year’s calls.
These calls were great treats for us youngsters even if we did, as Uncle Harry
Bell used to say, have “to lard our hair and pin back our ears.”
Aunt Annie Adams always had a platter of fresh baked cookies—spiced on
top with nuts—in the parlor. Grandma Heisner gave us toothsome bits of
freshly pulled taffy, and Dr. Fred Cromley gave those who dropped in a stick
of red and white peppermint candy—streaked like a barber’s pole.
Those were the days of saloons and through the swing doors we had peeps at the
mysterious soap-frosted bar mirrors wishing all patrons the cheer of the season.
There were pungent whiffs of other cheer—the now deceased twins, Tom and
Christmas decorations were still hanging in home windows, but they would be brightened
up with fresh ribbon and tissue paper bells.
There was not much business on Second Street the day before the New Year. Folks
were getting ready for the morrow. It was a day everybody dressed up. Even Harry
Maxon would wear a necktie.
On ordinary days the only man in Gallipolis who would wear a plug hat was General
George House, of the Old Reliable Insurance Agency, but on New Year’s Day
Dunk Devac, the saddler and town historian, counted as many as ten.
There was generally something extra in the way of entertainment on New Year’s
Eve. We either had the Swiss Bell Ringers at the Methodist Church, or Ikey Kaufman,
the manager of the opera house, would present some strong melodrama like “Human
Afterward a few people would go to Mrs. Jenny’s ice-cream parlor, but the
majority went directly home. They lighted lamps and waited in the front parlor
for Ab Atkinson to ring the Presbyterian Church bell heralding the New Year.
A half hour later there wasn’t a light in Gallipolis.
Gallipolis arose early for New Year’s Day. Fleet White, the colored porter
at the Park Central, held the early rising record for that day until he was crippled
By seven o’clock all the town characters were at the post-office corner
to greet you, for it was the custom when they said “Happy New Year” to
give them a nickel or a dime. They didn’t beg. It was just one of our town’s
way of showing a slight appreciation of the harmless old fellows who constituted
the odd job men of the town.
Among those we would find gathered there were Modock, the bootblack; Baz Cliff
from the coal float; Jimmy Lucas, who in his cups called himself “the axle
tree of the world”; Tip Stevens, who lost a leg flipping trains; Ed Oskey,
who swept out the city jail; and Uncle Enoch, who mowed front yards.
Afterward they departed for the saloons on Court Street to celebrate. “Peeney” Fox
would have a chuck-a-luck game going in Andy Archman’s, and some of the
roysterers from Bullskin and Yellowtown would drive in for a rip roaring time.
Generally, however, the day was as quiet as a Sunday afternoon.
New Year’s was celebrated at the churches. Each had a special program and
at Sunday school the pupils were presented with oranges in net sacks. After church
came the real big event—the family dinner.
The Gatewoods, the Mullineaux, the Vances, the Bovies, the Hallidays, the McMullins,
the Cherringtons, the Aleshires, the Cadots, and the Henkings had as many as
twenty guests at first and second tables.
As Editor Sibley would write in “The Tribune” next day: “every
table in Gallipolis fairly groaned under the load of good things to eat.” Such
dinners! Turkey with stuffings and cranberry sauce, fried sweet and mashed potatoes,
pickled peaches, scalloped oysters, apple butter, currant bread, hot biscuits,
thick cream gravy, fruit cake, mince pie and cookies and home-made vanilla ice-cream!
Afterward the calls would begin. Children scrubbed clean, fathers in frock coats
and mothers in rustling silks moved from one home to another.
In the late afternoon, if the weather permitted, those who were not enjoying
late afternoon naps would go to the public square to hear a band concert or perhaps
an address by Colonel John L. Vance.
It was a gathering that would seem incongruous in this jazz age; Pappy Pitrat,
the old French scholar, with his heavy cane and cape; Miss Eliza Sanns, a delicate
bit of lavender and old lace; Colonel Creuzet with his snow white shock of hair;
Mr. Hutchinson, the hardware merchant, who wore stiff white shirts on week-days;
C. D. Kerr, the druggist, whom Editor Sibley called the best dressed man in town.
Most of these people today are “sleeping, sleeping on the hill.” It
has been nearly twenty years now since I have seen Gallipolis. They tell me of
a new high school building that occupies two blocks.
Back Street has been paved. A new bridge spans the Chicamaugua. The Park Central
has a mosaic floor. There are concrete walks in the public square and Billy Schartz’s
cigar store is now “The Smoke Shop.”
I want to go back again but I hope there have not been too many changes. I like
to think of the tolling evening church bells, the cows being driven home from
pasture, the shrill whistle of the Hocking Valley train at six-fifteen as she
rounded the curve at Fox’s dairy.
I hope the older men are still sitting out front on the big scales at Neal’s
Mill at twilight and that the motor age has not forever stilled that doleful “ting-tang-ting-gg!” floating
out from the anvils of the blacksmith shops.
I hope to go over at noon and join the little crowd that used to gather around
the iron pump in the lower end of the public square. And I cherish a hope that
the rusty old tin cup is there on the same brass chain.
I hope “Banty” Merriman still has a place for me to loaf in the back
room of his jewelry store and that Harry Maddy will join me in one of our old
walks up through Maple Shade past the fair grounds.
I want to keep always my memories of those dead and gone days when my world was
young—when Karl Hall and I dug a cave under the river bank; when Alfie
Resener and I smoked our first corn silk cigaret; when Harry Maxon and I set
fire to McCormack’s haymow; when Ned Deletombe and I were taken to the
Justice of Peace by Constable Jack Dufour for swimming naked in the creek.
I want to live over again a New Year’s Day on which young men and women
do not awaken with aching heads and burning thirsts. I want to hear the venerable
pastor of our church pronounce his New Year blessing. I want to hear Aunt Nell
Bovie play the pipe organ again with those sweet, sad, rising, swelling and tremulous
notes. I want to see the old cherry tree where Grandma McIntyre took me to explain
that my mother had left us to go to Heaven. I want to stroll over State Street
to see the little ivy-clad porch where “the only girl” and I brushed
lips in the first kiss.
And perhaps, most of all, I want to drop into Aunt Annie Adams’s for a
freshly baked cookie!