Among Anderson’s long-standing Christmas traditions over the years were a Christmas parade, a visit by Santa, a tree on Courthouse Square and an annual newsboy’s dinner, which has mostly been forgotten. That’s a pity, because it’s an interesting Anderson story.
The Anderson newsboy’s Christmas dinner was first held in 1909. It was hosted and paid for by Jacob Schuster, a merchant who had come to Anderson the year before to set up a business. It must have been something of a small miracle that Schuster arrived in Anderson at all, because his life prior to then had been spent moving around.
Jacob Schuster was born in Pittsburgh. His parents were Russian immigrants. His family moved to Louisville, Ky. when he was 12. Two years later, Schuster set out in business for himself in a rather spectacular way. He traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa and set up a chain of mobile stories in the Kimberley diamond mine district. He operated these for three years and picked up an impressive knowledge of South African dialects during that time. When the Boer War began, Schuster joined the British Army, where his knowledge of African languages enabled him to rise to the level of a lieutenant in the British intelligence service.
After 10 years in South Africa, Schuster came home to Louisville, got married and opened a clothing store in Louisville. In 1908, he brought his wife and younger brother to Anderson, where he opened a men’s clothing store. Schuster Brothers was located on the northwest corner of Eighth Street and Main (which is the current location of Star Financial Bank.) The store specialized in high-quality, stylish menswear. Their motto was “Customer satisfaction with every transaction.”
The store was successful from the beginning. Not content with being solely a success in business, Schuster looked for ways to be part of the community’s life. The first idea he put into practice was inviting all of Anderson’s newsboys to Christmas dinner.
A tradition begins
Anderson’s newsboys sold or delivered The Anderson Herald and the Anderson Daily Bulletin six days a week in all weathers. At that time, the papers were rivals and the boys would hawk them on the courthouse square and throughout downtown. As a local businessman, Schuster was dependent on the newspapers for his advertising, so in a way the newsboys were hawking his wares as well.
On Dec. 18, an article appeared in the Anderson newspapers inviting all local newsboys to dinner on Christmas day at the Anderson Hotel. Tickets for the dinner were distributed by the newspapers and by the local newsstands. Dinner was the standard Christmas fare: turkey and dressing, sweet and mashed potatoes, celery, cranberry sauce, bread and butter and ice cream and cake. Entertainment was promised.
About 75 newsboys came to that first dinner. Most of them left families at home to come to hotel for dinner instead. The master of ceremonies was John L. Forkner, the former mayor of Anderson. He introduced Jacob Schuster (who was still relatively new to Anderson) to the boys and started the afternoon off with amusing remarks. Among the other speakers were the mayor-elect and a senator.
Interestingly enough, there were two future mayors at the dinner that day: Frank Foster, the mayor-elect, and Harry Baldwin, who would be mayor in the 1940s, but who was then just a 12-year-old newsie. It probably wasn’t the sort of entertainment that would appeal to modern adolescents, but the food was good and plentiful and the boys, who ranged in age from 11 to 17, probably enjoyed being treated like adults for the afternoon. A good time was had by all.
The newsboys’ Christmas dinner became a long-standing Christmas tradition. The dinner was later moved to the Romany Grill of the Stilwell Hotel. Despite the exotic sounding name of the restaurant, the meal was still a traditional Christmas feast.
In the 1930s, during the Depression, when large numbers of people were out of work, Schuster enlarged the dinner to include the newsboys’ friends and the attendance swelled to 200 young men. The dinner continued throughout Jacob Schuster’s lifetime. After his death in 1941, his sons continued the tradition into the 1940s, hosting the dinner at the YMCA.
The Newsboys Christmas Dinner was only one of Jacob Schuster’s civic involvements. Schuster was a member of the Merchants Association, the Chamber of Commerce and the Eagles, Elks and Masons Lodges. He was at one time a director of the Community Chest (what we now know as the United Way.) He helped to start a synagogue in Anderson and he sat on ecumenical religious councils. He was also a member of the board of directors for two local banks and the Hughes-Curry Packing Company. He stayed actively involved in the operation of Schuster Brothers as well.
After Jacob Schuster’s death in 1941, his business was taken over by his sons. A second Schuster Brothers store in Muncie was in operation until the mid ‘40s. In 1949, the store moved from its longtime location on courthouse square to south Meridian Street. His sons Simon and then Harry ran the store until the mid 1950’s when Schuster Brothers closed.
I will probably file a little early this month because I’m getting ready to take a week’s vacation. You should also get the Erskine story for 12/29 early as well.
Attached is a 1930’s picture of Schuster Brothers Men’s Store. The founder, Jacob Schuster, started a tradition of hosting a Christmas dinner for local newsboys in either 1908 or 1909.