Imagine a variety show with nationally known performers. During the intermission the elite business leaders of the city donned butcher’s aprons (perhaps to collect money?) and went through the crowd selling small bags of candy for large prices with no change returned. They were the “candy butchers” (if you were wondering how candy could be butchered!). The money collected was used to make up Christmas baskets for the city’s poor.
The mover behind this unusual event was Esther Hamilton. She began this tradition in 1931 while she was still a reporter for the Youngstown Telegram before it merged with the Vindicator. Esther continued the tradition until 1965. It was called the Esther Hamilton Alias Santa Claus Show. My hunch was that Esther could be very persuasive in enlisting the area’s business leaders to don those aprons.
At one of the early gala’s in 1933, vaudeville star Rae Samuels, born in Youngstown, headlined before a crowd of 1,800 on a cold winter night. Apparently even the city mayor was a candy butcher that year.
I found accounts from 1943 and 1944, during the war years. In 1943 they raised $3287.34 and in 1944 $4249. During both years Charles B Cushwa, Jr., the president of Commercial Shearing, Inc., was the winning candy butcher. In 1943, Cushwa peddled Cracker Jacks because of a shortage of sugar during the war for making candy. Another year, Lucius B. McKelvey, president of McKelvey’s was champion candy butcher. McKelvey was known to help deliver the baskets. Isaly’s president and chairman Walter H. Paulo was another candy butcher. I suspect that the list of the candy butchers was a who’s who of Youngstown.
Proceeds continued to grow over the years. By 1962, the show raised $55,339. Every sector of Youngstown society participated. The Mahoning County Medical Society in their 1963 newsletter pitched its membership to contribute:
The Medical Society members have shown their concern for needy families very strongly in the past. For three years straight, the doctor representing the Medical Society has collected enough to break into the “Thousand Dollar Club” . . . .
Send in a contribution to the Medical Society office today. Help a needy family have a happy holiday. Help put the Medical Society over the $1,000 mark.
Long before telethons, the United Way, and online fundraisers, there were candy butchers, headline performers, and the Esther Hamilton Alias Santa Claus Show. I think that sounds like a lot more fun, bringing together the more fortunate of Youngstown for the benefit of the less fortunate. I suspect there are any number of ways to find fault with this, but the fact was that the town came together and the elite donned butcher aprons, and then delivered food baskets. It didn’t solve problems, but it was one small and personal way to say “we care.”
To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!