Robert Hall: Celebrating Winter, Easter or Communion?

Many of my clothes were from a place called Bramsons in South Shore but my winter coats, came from Robert Hall; they were beautifully trimmed with fur and great colors. Some were ski jackets and others were like velvet for dress coats. According to Mom, I could never find a coat that fit my small frame but Robert Hall always had what I needed in winter clothes. I know many boys who got their first suit for their communions at Robert Hall. Men’s suits were very reasonably priced and the store offered free alterations. We shopped at Robert Hall in south Chicago but there was a Robert Hall located all over the city of Chicago. One store was located on Devon Avenue and South State street. And outside of Chicago, there were several suburban locations.

Robert Hall advertising was effective; many of us still today remember the jingles. Les Paul and Mary Ford did many radio spots that included when the values go up, up, up, the prices go, down, down, down because of no overhead. Go, go, to Robert Hall.

Robert Hall Clothier, Inc., popularly known simply as Robert Hall, was an American retailer that flourished from about 1937 to 1977. According to a Time magazine story in 1949, the corporate name was an invention. The founder and head was garment merchant Jacob Schwab and the first store opened in Connecticut but Chicago was a great spot to expand. Later in the late 1970’s, The Robert Hall Villages were an attempt by United Merchants to expand beyond apparel and put some life into their retail lineup, which then consisted of hundreds of aging Robert Hall clothing stores. These stores were mainly located in malls such as Pleasant Valley and North Park Plaza here in Chicago.

In July 1977, United Merchants and Manufacturers, filed for bankruptcy citing losses from the Robert Hall chain as the reason for filing. According to the New York Times, Robert Hall Clothes, the nation’s largest retail chain selling men’s and women’s clothing, padlocked all of its 366 stores in a surprise move that immediately drew charges of a lockout from three unions with which it has contracts.

Mary Ellen Devlen offers some wonderful pictures on her site.

Holiday Momentum

By Caryl Clem:

Snowflake crystals, stunning originals in design

Symbols of the Christian array of humankind

Softly falling an inspiring vision along the skyline.

Traditional songs and services echo expectations

Reflecting then blending past and present aspirations.

Renewing our faith, our spirit, and family relations.

Holiday charm created by memories in motion

Experience cravings smelling cookies baking

Anticipating grabbing a warm cookie for the taking,

Decorating rooms in glittery nostalgia, breathtaking.

Culinary favorites travel from generation to generation

Lighting candles while singing in unison

Loving every favorite holiday custom

It’s time to share goodwill towards all

Gift giving generosity for which we are thankful.

Awed by Jesus’s birth, timelessly honored

Celebrating the New Year as we move forward.

Chicago’s Frazier Thomas at Christmas

For me, it began with sitting in front of the small TV in the den. I had a card table and chair that was set up so I could do a paint by number from Bargain town with a small glass of 50/50. I loved paint by numbers….still do…and my father knew the owner of 50/50. It was here that I first met Frazier Thomas and his puppets. Garfield Goose and Friends, created by Thomas, aired at approximately for 4 or 5 central time, right before dinner in Chicago.

Frazier Thomas created Garfield Goose the puppet and the show. It began on other stations but in 1955, they found a permanent spot at WGN and became Garfield Goose and Friends. He wrote it and produced the long running Chicago childrens show. This was my favorite show and host of several cartoons. This site offers the best memories of cartoons and live action segments which included Clutch Cargo, Space Angel, Pow-Wow the Indian Boy, Spunky and Tadpole, The Funny Company, My favorite was Journey to the Beginning of Time.

During the holidays, Suzy Snowflake, UPA’s Frosty the Snowman.and The Three Little Dwarfs (Hardrock, Coco and Joe) were Chicago children’s TV christmas hosted on Garfield Goose. Suzy Snowflake is a song that was originally made famous by Rosemary Clooney. Here comes Suzy Snowflake dressed in a snow white gown will stay with me always. It was a short black and white cartoon with stop motion animation made about snowflake in 1953.

Suzy Snowflake

Thumpity thump thump, thumpity thump thump, look at Frosty go is how I will remember the first Frosty produced in 1950. Made by Castle films, you can play it over and over hearing the lyrics match those precious memories watching on television as well as airing on Bozo’s Circus in 1955.

Frosty the Snowman

Finally, The Three Little Dwarfs was about three of Santa’s helpers who ride on Santa’s sleigh each Christmas produced in black white in 1951. Joe is extremely tiny and has a very low, deep voice which I remember the most. For some reason, Santa had a wierd expression and cartoon was improving rapidly at the time though sitting in front of the black and white television as a child was still the only choice for late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

Hardrock, Coco and Joe

When I became a little older on a Sunday afternoon, it was the family’s favorite, Family Classics which began in 1962 which showed classic films such as the Adventures movies that included Huckleberry Finn, one I loved, Robinson Crusoe, Robin Hood, and the Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Thomas actually produced the show and edited them so that they were appropriate for viewing. At Christmas time, it was Scrooge, or the Christmas Carol though now Christmas, I always liked Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

When Frazier suddenly passed away in 1985. He actually had a stroke and was at work when it happend. Roy Leonard became the host of Family Classics which had a regular run up until December 25, 2000. At that point Family Classics was no longer on the air. In 2017, Family Classics was brought back with a special Christmas time showing of Scrooge (1951) hosted by Dean Richards.

Kaye Kraus offers some wonderful Chicago television photos.

Top of the list in 2020 gifts : Barbie’s Dream house (1962)

One day, I overheard first grade girls in my class talking about the big present they wanted for Christmas. According to them, everyone gets a big present so I asked what they wanted….I heard them say it was 3 stories. Actually, they showed me a picture of the latest and greatest…the Barbie Dreamhouse. But what they didn’t know, that I quickly shared was the first dreamhouse for Barbie was created in 1962 and I got it for Christmas under the tree the first year it came out…hah hah…the big present... I even have a faded movie of me playing with the house. When I showed them a picture, they were not impressed.

The house I got was made of paper and cardboard. You could fold it up and carry it like a suitcase. It was a one room design with everything in it including bed, sofa, and console with stereo and TV. My father hated putting the furniture together but I took special care of it. It lasted until my college days. It had been stored in a basement and there was a flood. That was the end of that. I still want another one!

In the early 1970’s, the townhouse had been three stories and partially plastic with a working elevator and the furniture was plastic. It showcased a patio with a pool painted on one side of the back wall as well her own study or office. But 1979, they produced an A- frame house which I always wanted, a real one that is. It had working doors and windows including six rooms and was very realistic. At this time, they created mirrored top coffee tables and end tables….furniture I had and still do. 

I also liked the early townhomes Barbie had in the early 1980’s. Loved the paintings on the wall and depicted the great 80’s style of wicker, especially white. There was also a dream cottage which was one story with a kitchen, bedroom and bathroom as well as a pool area.

Now in the early 1990’s, what my daugther’s generation always wanted was the magical mansion that was two stories, sx rooms, with working lights. The windows truly reflected 90’s culture. It featured a working fireplace that lit up as well as a working telephone and doorbell but my daughter thought it was just too pink. In 1998, a castle type, Victorian house was created that had stained glass windows and bay windows.

In the early 2000’s, the house became three stories with a toilet that actually flushed. In 2014, the house with three stories and two elevators. Today, the Barbie DreamHouse measures an impressive 3+ feet tall and 4+ feet wide and features 3 stories, 8 rooms and 70+ accessories. Special amenities include a working elevator, home office, carport and second-story pool. Barbie also has a Malibu cottage and her own plane. For over 60 years old, she is quite the celebrity and quite the jettsetter.

Anyone who is interested in purchasing the original dream house, Ebay offers an excellent selection of my Barbie house and one that actual includes record albums that were popular at the time and almost as much money as the houses today. Boy, I don’t remember the albums and it looked like one of them was of Frank Sinatra…not impressed. Now, if I could find an album that represented the beginnings of rock and roll, I…………….

Christmas card magic and Chicago themed cards

By Caryl Clem:

During the Victorian era in the 1800’s, letter writing exemplified class and prestige. Christmas letters and notes wishing a joyous New Year were expected.  Overworked Sir Henry Cole had a growing mound of correspondence in unopened letters on his desk. The act of ignoring correspondences was inexcusable and inspired Sir Henry to have a reputation saving brainstorm. In 1843, he hired an artist to design and engrave 1,000 cards to mail that displayed a festive prosperous family gathering that was active in acts of charity towards others. Signing the cards was a fast way to solve his problem while staff carried out addressing and mailing.    

A few years earlier in Scotland, Thomas Shorrock had created a card showing a man’s grinning ear to ear smile as a toast is made with the message printed, “A Gude Year Tae Ye”.  Within 3 decades the custom of sending Christmas cards had grown to 11 million.

The demand for attractive cards expanded lithography techniques. Printing cards in color involved a process termed, Chromolithography, which required up to 20 plates to create multiple intense colors. A talented “Chromos” printer, Louis Prang from Poland immigrated to America to set up his own business in Boston.  He discovered techniques improving card appearance while lowering costs.  He has been credited as the Father of the United States Christmas Card.  He ran yearly contests to introduce new designs judged by known artists and community members.  For the first time, contests won recognition for females artists for 5 years in a row.

Sending attractive postcard size Christmas cards left little room to share thoughts or events. In 1915 Joyce Hall changed the format size of a card into the 4 inch by 6 inch folded card to be inserted into an envelope still in production today.  This Kansas City family new business venture company became Hallmark.

Christmas card demand was spurred by a new marketing approach linking cards to collecting money for a charity.  In 1949, UNICEF featured a card showing Hope and Help as drawn by a young Czech girl whose village had been saved from starvation .The first Christmas card stamp was issued in 1962. Keeping the consumer enthralled with Christmas cards ushered in designs produced by famous people. In 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy created Glad Tidings and Gift of the Magi for Hallmark to raise money for the Kennedy Center.

Chicago themed Christmas cards still raise money for various institutions. Cards for Causes are one of them. You can get cards with beautiful pictures of Chicago’s skyline. The effect that your purchase of Chicago Christmas cards and holiday cards from Cards for Causes will make: 20% of your total purchase will be donated to your charity of choice. Cards for Causes have several different locations across the US and celebrates are variety of holidays.

The nostalgia felt by opening a card can erase years. Touching one of a kind handmade Christmas card originals are just valuable as any retail form. Last year over 2 billion cards hit mailboxes ahead of the 50 million sent email versions. Spreads some Christmas Cheer, it’s safely contagious!

Still love reading together

Over 50 days were spent in person as a teacher assistant in the first grade and now the week after Thanksgiving, all staff and students are remote, taking an adaptive pause, as they call it, in our district. Students are at home while staff are still in their perspective classrooms, offices, and conference rooms. We meet and greet on our devices, some more complex than others, but everyone agrees on one thing; it’s weird. Even though some students have been remote since the first day of school, it can be unsettling having a building not filled with students even those with masks and social distancing. They did a great job with that and are adjusting well remotely. Once again, they are successful with new challenges. They are children! What is the commonly used adjective to describe most of them? Resilient!

However, we have experienced the occasional child’s tear wanting to know when all of this will be over. Teacher assistants are diligently learning Google Meets and other computer applications. Though we don’t have the same intense responsibilities as the teachers, it is, once again, a new experience, a new schedule and ultimately, a new destination. We, too, have experienced the occasional adult tear. What this pandemic has truly taught all of us is how much we miss the physical presence of children. That eye-to-eye connection or sharing that moment where we surprise them with a whispered wonderful as we oversee their work on their desk or gracefully catch a mistake. Yes, we can see it on Seesaw when they take a sometimes blurred photo, but it is not the same.

I was worried; afraid that my own diminished computer skills would interfere in providing student expectations. Then one of my scheduled students online surprised me by doing an excellent job with sight words. We had more time available in our session which I had not planned so I grabbed a book near me called Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld. Stick and Stone is a beautiful book about friendship and that day we loved reading it together. He was so excited when I mentioned that the copy I had was his best friend’s book. He told me that he was Stone and his friend was Stick. He was actually able to read with me.

Now, I am on a mission to select all sorts of books and practice reading to a screen. I know they especially love the books by Mo Willems like The Pigeon Has to go School. Many have talked about the Elf on the Shelf and their Elves arriving at their home.

I am going to research now……….or what about?????? And I am also learning how to surprise them online and make comments they don’t expect. I can do this…….we can do this! Once again, each day, I am constantly reminded of our teachers dedication, enthusiasm and ability to problem solve and provide solutions. They, too, are just as resilent as their students.

The charm of Christmas cookies

By Caryl Clem:

How the Christmas Cookie became a regular star during Christmas celebrations traces back to the Crusades. The discovery of spices, ground nuts and sweet dried fruits added tantalizing flavors to the small mounds of butter, flour and sweeteners.  During the Middle Ages only guildsman could bake gingerbread except during Christmas. The popular new flavors traveled from country to country. Gingersnaps are called pepparkakor in Sweden. In Germany, Lebkuchen combines spices, and honey.  Berliner Brot bars contain several spices, nuts, fruit and rum.

Intricate designs depicting Christmas symbols carved from wood were first made by German Black Forest craftsman.  Cookie molds of these Christmas figures were later lined with tin or aluminum.   The elaborate molds deceased while the popularity for using metal shapes to cut out cookie shapes evolved into a new era.  Germans are credited with hanging Christmas cookies on their trees first. By the 1600’s the Dutch were bringing their cookie cutters to America to make the stars, bells, angels, and Christmas figures to hang on their trees.   The early cookie cutter companies embossed their names on the cutters.   The Cookie Cutters Collectors Club sponsors National Cookie Cutter Museum in Joplin, Missouri.

In 1920, 2 brothers and a friend emigrated from Sweden to Chicago to begin a family recipe bakery, Lenell’s in Chicago. For example, homeland ingredients of butter, and flour combined with spices of cardamom, saffron, nutmeg, and almonds kept growing in popularity. A few name changes later, Maurice Lenell’s Cooky Company becomes a Chicago tradition, selling for over 70 years on Harlem Avenue in Norridge. The top sellers were Pinwheels, Raspberry Jelly Swirls and Almonettes.  The business was struggling in 2007 and sold to a company. Etsy is currently offering a beautiful vintage 1970’s shortbread Christmas tin.

No matter what Christmas cookie is on your favorites list, it is time to start baking; December 4th is National Cookie Day. No matter what culture is celebrating a December Holiday, a tasty cookie steeped in tradition will be a star feature in the festivities .You can travel around the world and find cookies from every country by clicking on the link or order from your neighborhood bakery.  Timeout Chicago offers some great suggestions for bakeries in Chicago.

You can also check out The Chicago Cookie Store for old-time cookie favorites for the holidays.