For Christmas memories of Ottawa, I interviewed Margaret Morman, Mary Niese, Bill Doepker and Kathy Rayle. I was amazed at the center of the Christmas focus for all of them. The first thing they all mentioned when I asked about Christmas in Ottawa were the bright, shiny pennies given away by Harry Rampe, who was the owner of a large department store on the corner of Main and Walnut streets in Ottawa.
It seems that Mr. Rampe would order brand new pennies each year (minted that year) from the Bank of Ottawa, and some time before Christmas would make a display in his store window on Main Street telling what day and what time shortly before Christmas that he would give these pennies to children.
The display would be a bucket lying on its side with the pennies coming out of it on the floor of the window. Long before the specified time on the appointed day, children would come and line up on the sidewalk from his store all the way to the railroad and sometimes across the street.
Mr. Rampe would come out with his bucket and give each child a shiny new penny. Some people, who I later discussed this with, said that if they were sick or their parents could not bring them that day, it was a great disappointment.
All four of the people I interviewed also mentioned Mr. Chifos, who owned the Hollywood Theater, which fronted on Court Street and is now a part of the Ohio Bank building. Mr. Chifos would have a free movie shortly before Christmas and would give each child a bag of candy and popcorn.
The children were encouraged to bring a canned food item to be given to needy people and many did bring something.
Another Christmas tradition which they all mentioned was the Christmas play that Sts. Peter and Paul School made famous in Putnam County. All 12 grades of the school participated in the program, which was held in the Ottawa Elementary School gymnasium.
People from all over Putnam County came to see the program, which featured costumes, lighting, music and a true Christmas atmosphere. The gym would be filled to capacity.
Mrs. A.M. Brown, who lived in the house across the street from the present post office, and whose home later became the Putnam County Library, had a wonderful Christmas tradition of her own. At Christmastime, she would invite all of the young people who were newspaper carriers to a dinner that she would pay for. Usually, she had it in the dining room at the Dumont Hotel (now the Schnipke Inn). She would sit at the head of the table and greet the young people as they came and they could order anything from the menu as her treat to them. This was indeed a great Christmas treat, because not so many people ate away from home as they do now.
For the at-home Christmas traditions, they all seemed to follow the pattern of Christmas trees, some of them artificial and some of them real trees. They all said they had candles on the trees prior to electric lights, and many of them made their own ornaments. Wreaths in the windows of the homes were everywhere. Everyone always got an orange for Christmas, and their mothers always made candy, especially divinity fudge. Hickory nut cake seemed to be the main food item that they remembered the most, and they did mention that they usually had many kinds of nuts at Christmastime.
I wish I could have been related to some of the people who loved the children enough to help make these wonderful Christmas memories for them. All of us would like to leave some sort of legacy behind us when we are gone. These people certainly did – an Ottawa children’s Christmas legacy!
‘Shiny pennies for Ottawa children’, originally published in The Courier – Saturday, December 22, 2012