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A glimpse at the 1942 holiday season in Beltrami County

The challenges of the past three winters have been unique to most of us, but previous generations experienced hardships and disruptions that can give us a different perspective on today’s issues.

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A woman at a grocery store is pictured with a ration coupon book during World War II.
Courtesy / Beltrami County Historical Soceity
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Editor’s Note: The Beltrami County Historical Society is partnering with the Pioneer on  a series of monthly articles highlighting the history of the area.  For more information about the Historical Society, visit  www.beltramihistory.org.

The difficulties and challenges of the past three COVID-affected winters have been unique to most of us, but previous generations experienced hardships and disruptions that can give us a different perspective on today’s issues.

Eighty-year-old copies of The Kelliher Independent and The Bemidji Pioneer provide a glimpse of what was happening (or not happening) in our area and across the country a year after the U.S. had been attacked by the Japanese and were thrown into World War II.

Some of the holiday time stories and ads in the 1942 Kelliher Independent had themes we might see today, like the Nov. 26 front-page story that urged readers to get their Christmas cards and packages mailed early — by Dec. 1.

Wartime meant more mail being sent to more places as soldiers and families tried to stay in touch, and with thousands of new postal employees replacing the men who’d gone to war, the demands on the system were unprecedented.

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Northern Pacific Railway pleaded with travelers to think twice about riding during the holiday season, with expectations of thousands of soldiers on furloughs to be taking the trains home to visit their families: “Don’t take a trip at all, unless you feel you must. … Avoid the period between Dec. 12 and Jan. 12 (and) … make your sleeping and parlor car reservations well in advance.”

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Ration coupons became commonplace during World War II.
Courtesy / Beltrami County Historical Soceity

Gas rationing started in December 1942, so automobile travel was limited. People had to register for gas ration coupons by mid-December, and, calculating an average mileage of 15 miles per gallon, each motorist could get an “A” coupon book, good for 240 miles per month — 90 miles for family use and 150 miles for business.

Protesters at the Capitol begged for a voluntary driving limitation instead, arguing that the shortage had less to do with the availability of gasoline in most places and more to do with a rubber shortage for tires. Applicants for gas ration coupons were limited to owning no more than five tires.

Much newsprint was devoted to explaining how to apply for ration coupons, how point rationing worked, how gas coupons could be used (or not used), and how to help the war effort in any number of ways.

Money was tight

Instead of stories about holiday preparations and ads for Christmas shopping, the front page of The Kelliher Independent promoted the 36th Annual Christmas Seals Sale, “with the nation facing a threatened wartime rise in tuberculosis.”

Christmas seals could be purchased until Dec. 25, and sales in Kelliher were “well over the quota set for 1942.”

That same edition of the paper featured a public service cartoon about the Payroll Savings Campaign, urging everyone to buy more war bonds: “Everybody, every payday. At least 10% in war bonds,” the ad urged.

On Dec. 10, The Kelliher Independent and Citizens State Bank sponsored a full-page ad — not encouraging readers to shop locally or to take advantage of pre-Christmas sales but to purchase 2.5% 26-year war bonds.

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Gas rationing started in December 1942, so automobile travel was limited during World War II.
Courtesy / Beltrami County Historical Soceity

Reminding readers of the millions of Americans who had left their homes or jobs and the thousands who had already given their lives, the ad asked not that people “give anything to this Nine Billion Dollar Drive, (but)…to lend (the government) all of the money you can possibly invest in what is the safest investment in the world — at a good rate of interest.”

The bonds would be due in December 1968. Investors could purchase as many bonds as they wanted. Interest would be paid each year on June 15 and Dec. 15. Shorter-term, lower-interest-yielding bonds were also available.

On Dec. 14, 1942, The Bemidji Pioneer announced the upcoming Bemidji High School Christmas War Bond and Stamp band concert to “help the Bemidji public schools with their war savings campaign.”

Admission to the concert was the purchase of a war bond or stamp of any denomination, which could be purchased at the school at the time of the concert.

Frequently, local papers listed the names of area men recently drafted. On Dec. 11, 1942, just a year and four days after Pearl Harbor, a Bemidji Pioneer headline stated that one million Americans were now involved in the war. In December 1942, a law was passed to lower the draft age from 20 to 18.

Teens still in high school at 18 or 19 could be deferred until graduation. Prior to this law, many young people served in the National Youth Administration which provided training and work for married and unmarried men and women between the ages of 17 and 24. Many received training for war production or defense work.

Blackouts and air raids

Those not at war prepared and dealt with its effects at home — filling in the jobs of men now deployed, changing roles, making do, sacrificing, conserving and preparing for the worst.

Northern Minnesotans and people in nine midwestern states, went into a 20-minute total blackout at 10 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 14, to “test the elaborate defense plans formulated during the past year by the Office of Civilian Defense.”

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Air raid signals sounded, rural telephones flashed alarms, and “carefully trained air raid wardens (sprang) into action.” Lights were out everywhere, either extinguished or by blacking out windows. Automobile traffic stopped and headlights were turned off. Trains ran “at reduced speed ... with darkened windows and blue-hooded headlights.”

The village of Kelliher was divided into air raid neighborhoods with designated residents working with the air raid warden. With fears of a real attack, the Army and Civilian Defense officials hoped that the rehearsal “eclipse” could save lives and property.

Regular evening curfew signals were discontinued so that residents didn’t confuse them with an air raid.

Bemidji held its own pre-blackout practice eclipse on Dec. 1. Newspapers ran lists of suggestions for people for the blackouts:

  • All traffic must stop unless the vehicle carries the distinguishing white flag and lights.
  • Even official vehicles should not travel at more than 15 miles per hour.
  • Do not use the telephone during the blackout.
  • If an emergency arises that might require travel get in touch with your block air raid warden.
  • Keep off the streets but if you are driving, pull to the curb and extinguish all lights. If walking, seek a doorway or keep close to the nearest building.
  • Even if you do not hear the signals, extinguish lights and stop travel at 10 p.m. prompt.

For the most part, the blackouts were successfully carried out. Evidence of war, though not on home ground, was felt all around the country, and whether people agreed with the steps taken or not, everyone was affected.

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