Christmas in Amsterdam historically a time of sharing, caring, community
In 1902, the Salvation Army fed 500 poor people on Christmas Day in Amsterdam, according to newspaper headlines on Frank Yunker’s history website, www.mohawkvalleyweb.com.
In 1918, 70 soldiers in charge of an Army truck train were entertained at Christmas dinner at the YMCA in Amsterdam by the Red Cross.
In 1920, Amsterdam police enjoyed a Christmas tree and supper at police headquarters. In 1924, there was a Christmas concert at the Rialto Theater on Market Street.
Vigil Christmas Eve
The grandchildren of Amsterdam Polish American leader Michael J. Wytrwal remember Christmas Eves when the needy found a seat at the family table. Wytrwal and his wife, Josephine, lived in a two-family home at 26 Cornell St., near St. Stanislaus Church.
Wytrwal was a role model for granddaughter Mary Anne Krupsak, whose parents operated the family’s pharmacy. Krupsak, who went on to be lieutenant governor of New York, saw a constant parade of people seeking assistance from her grandfather.
Alberta Zierak Fondacaro’s aunts lived next door to Kiddo’s, then a family tavern, on Reid Street in Amsterdam. The tavern was named for Fondacaro’s father, Albert Zierak, whose nickname was Kiddo.
In the 1950s, Fondacaro, now of Rotterdam Junction, spent Christmas Eve with her aunts, keeping the traditional Polish vigil with an elaborate meatless feast. There was always an empty chair at the table. Fondacaro’s father, tending bar next door, would send people who were alone from the tavern to the house to enjoy the meal.
Jacki Vogel’s parents, Alphonso and Catherine D’Alessandro, owned the Gift & Hobby Shop at Lark and East Main streets in Amsterdam.
Vogel wrote, “I vividly remember Christmas Eves when others were gathering to celebrate the holiday. My dad would still be in the store, awaiting people coming to pick up their layaways. They always went the extra mile to try and locate a special toy that someone would want for a child.”
Lighted tree, festival
One of the popular sights in Amsterdam during the heyday of carpet manufacturing was the lighted outline of a Christmas tree on the front of the Clock Building, then headquarters of Bigelow-Sanford. The building is still there.
Several readers have recollected a time in the late 1950s when Amsterdam held a Christmas Festival at Coessens Park in the East End. Thomas F. Gregg, mayor from 1958 to 1960, organized it. Santa Claus talked to children, and animals were brought in from an Adirondack tourist attraction. Gregg was a butcher who operated a shop on what was then Railroad Street.
The Sassafras Bird Sanctuary was opened in 1931 and was a popular spot in spring, summer and fall for several decades. In winter, children of New East Main Street School prepared a Christmas tree for the Sassafras with food for the birds.
When I was young, we went to a candlelight service on Christmas Eve at First Methodist Church on Division Street, torn down for urban renewal in 1973. I was always impressed that the choir managed to march in holding hymnbooks and candles while singing. No one ever tripped and started a fire.
My family sang a lot on Christmas and used a machine called the Recordio to make 78 rpm records to send to an aunt and uncle down south in Florida. Dinner was always good and, after visiting another aunt and uncle and their three sons, we came home and ate yet another meal.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.