It’s A New Year Looking Ahead, But We Couldn’t Help One Last Look Back

The revelry has passed, the hangovers have eased, the Cherry Ball has dropped and put away for another year, making now an acceptable time to look back on how Traverse City chose to celebrate the New Year in decades past. Varying highlights: telephone calls, post-war revelry and astronomically-inspired misogyny.

The members of the local Elks Lodge started 1898 in style: On the front page of the Traverse City Morning Record, which reported that “the hospitality of the local lodge was exemplified last night in copious degree at their annual social session. Good cheer was dispensed with a lavish hand and a banquet of choice viands” including scalloped oysters, roast duck, sardines and veal sandwiches.

Early attendees were on hand for a ceremony adorning a Cadillac doctor “with a suitable pair of antlers,” which he wore “with fitting grace” throughout the evening alongside his fellow antlered Elk brethren. At 11 o’clock the traditional toast to “Our Absent Brothers” (a custom which originated with the Royal and Antedeluvian Order of Buffaloes) was delivered by Exalted Ruler IA Thompson, after which “cigars were passed and … the brothers enjoyed the soothing influences of the seductive weed.” (Tobacco, we have to assume.)

The highlight of the evening took place precisely at midnight, when Exalted Ruler Thompson “sent the greetings of the new year from the Traverse City Lodge to Daisy Lodge in Grand Rapids by long distance telephone. Similar greetings were received in turn.”

The party clearly went late: Professor EE Murtaugh’s orchestra played to a crowd at the City Opera House that evening (the Morning Record notes them as being “particularly inspiring”) until after midnight – at which point they packed up to perform an after-hours gig with the Elks.

Ten years later, on December 31, 1907, the Evening Record prepared “the few bachelors in the city” for the upcoming Leap Year.

Leap year apparently used to be associated not just with an extra day on the calendar, but with a full year where…women were “allowed” to propose marriage to men.

This presumably extends from the Irish “Ladies’ Privilege” or “Bachelor’s Day” tradition, but how and why the Evening Record decided it would be extended throughout 1908 is, so far, lost to time. And the language they chose to commemorate this occasion is, as you may expect, awful.

“It has been some time since leap year privileges have been enjoyed, four long, weary years … and some of [“the girls”] are desirous of working for their board and clothes provide the privilege of bossing a man is included. Hence, beware of leap years!

Elsewhere that night, the Evening Record reported on a Company M dance downtown where, instead of a cherry ball drop, a different tradition was observed: “The City Opera House was very prettily decorated, a large bell being in the center and when the new year began, this was rung.” Music from Steward’s orchestra “was much enjoyed, all having such a pleasant time that undoubtedly the capacity of the hall will be tested at the next in the series.”

Additionally, about eighty young people held “a very enjoyable sleighride party to Silver Lake” where dancing, refreshments and music were enjoyed until “the party returned home at 4am with no mishaps to mar the occasion.”

When you think of reasons for the entire community to celebrate, the end of the second World War comes to mind, and the Traverse City Record-Eagle of December 31, 1945 recognized it.

“Not in many a year have Traverse City residents been entertained at so many post-Christmas parties. With the return of many families for this particular season and the homecoming of many soldiers, sailors and college students the incentive for parties has greatly increased, and during the past week hotels and homes have been bustling with excitement and the preparation of entertaining guests.”

Parties at the Elks club, the Masonic Temple and in the Queen’s Room of the Park Place Hotel (no cover charge on the latter) were recorded. Given the advertisements alongside the reporting, the end of wartime rationing may have been nearly as much reason for celebration as the end of the war itself.

Following the holiday, the January 2 edition reports that on “[a] gay, noisy New Year’s Eve…the city staged its most enthusiastic greeting of the New Year since Pearl Harbor and the echoes of Happy New Year were still ringing across the town late Tuesday morning…Parties formed in homes and moved on to other homes and finally ended up at some formal observance of the Happy New Year. The two major parties at the Park Place hotel and the Elks were well attended and lasted far into Tuesday morning.”

While many New Years celebrations since then have come and gone, if you chose to celebrate this year’s event, we hope your celebrations ended as the Record-Eagle said they did in ’46: “In a blaze of revelry,” or at the very least, “unmarred by serious mishaps.” (We highly doubt your soundtrack was provided by Freddie Gleason and His Music, though.)

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