Christmas past

By Mark Baker | Living Here | |

Good morning. It’s Christmas Day.

Today’s the day in which many will gather with their loved ones, open gifts, have an expansive meal and favorite spirit, maybe watch 24 hours of “A Christmas Story” on TV — whatever a family’s tradition dictates.

It’s a day when the whole world will stop. Except it won’t.

Dec. 25 is just another day; just another chunk of time consisting of 24 hours, or 1,440 minutes, or 86,400 seconds — when anything and everything can happen.

Did you know that it was on Dec. 25, 1776, that Gen. George Washington crossed the Delaware River during a surprise attack that was a key move in the Revolutionary War?

Or that the first-ever indoor baseball game was played in Philadelphia on Dec. 25, 1888?

Or that the longest game in National Football League history, a 27-24 Miami Dolphins’ double-overtime playoff victory over the Kansas City Chiefs that lasted 82 minutes and 40 seconds, was played on Dec. 25, 1971?

Christmas can even be a pioneering space adventure for some. American astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders spent Dec. 25, 1968, aboard Apollo 8, the first humans to view Earth from afar.

And death does not take Christmas Day off — even when you’re famous.

Entertainers W.C. Fields (1946), Charlie Chaplin (1977) and Dean Martin (1995) all met the Grim Reaper, not Santa Claus, on Dec. 25, as did famed baseball manager Billy Martin (1989) and musician James Brown (2006), the “Godfather of Soul.”

The folks in Florence know that sudden death can come on what’s supposed to be one of the more joyful days of the year.

On Dec. 25, 1983, as Eugene was experiencing one of the few white Christmases in recorded Lane County history, an early morning, wind-driven fire in subfreezing temperatures destroyed the Port of Siuslaw’s main dock along the waterfront in Florence’s Old Town district. Included among the casualties was the popular Mo’s Restaurant, later rebuilt near the same spot.

“You couldn’t direct a stream (of water),” Assistant Fire Chief Vern “Skip” Passenger told Register-Guard reporter Larry Bacon that Christmas Day. “The wind would just blow it away from you.”

The fire started east of Mo’s, in the Eureka Fisheries building, part of which tumbled into the freezing Siuslaw River as it burned. About 150 firefighters from four departments, along with boat crews from the local Coast Guard station, battled the blaze. Some firefighters sustained injuries when they fell on the icy dock.

“The only way I could get onto the dock was to crawl on my belly and pull myself along the hose,” one fireman told Bacon.

For those who lived in Lane County in 1964, they will never forget the infamous Christmas Flood. It devastated much of the state, washing out highways and destroying properties.

December 1964 still holds the monthly record for rainfall in Lane County, with 20.99 inches falling — 14.4 inches of it between Dec. 19 and Dec. 27.

And is it really all that unusual that, in Eugene, protesters would camp on a city councilor’s lawn on Christmas Day?

That’s what happened on Dec. 25, 2011, when four people were arrested at the northeast Eugene home of Councilor George Poling, objecting to his stance on the closing of an Occupy Eugene encampment.

Still, Dec. 25 being what it is to many, you don’t have to look too hard for evidence of kindness on Christmas Day.

“‘Instant Yule’ provided for family in trouble” read a headline in the Dec. 25, 1970, Register-Guard.

Reporter Mike Thoele told the story of how Junction City motel owner Bill Bryant provided an “instant Christmas” to World War II veteran Cyril Tucker, his wife and three children, upon learning that they had been kicked out of their home because they could not afford the rent.

Within hours, Bryant had rallied townsfolk to rent the family an apartment, buy them gifts and even find them a Christmas tree, snagged from a nearby office.

“No one’s ever done anything like this for us before,” Tucker told Thoele. “I don’t know what to say. I think we’re going to make it now.”

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