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Tuckerton Trees Gladden New York City

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Dec 13, 2017

There are times when the facts of a real event can read like a low-budget Hollywood tearjerker; that’s the way the 1917 Christmas story begins. As the big day neared, Americans were being told to sacrifice for the war effort, that meatless and breadless days were needed to save food. To conserve fuel, coal supplies and electrical service were limited, and citizens were urged to send packages to those in uniform.

The New York Herald of Dec. 19 explained there was another crisis: “The shortage of Christmas trees this year is due to the congestion of freight traffic as well as to the shortage of labor to handle the trees in many localities where they have been cut in the last few years. This shortage has caused the price of the few trees received in New York to go soaring far above the figures of former years.”

In an editorial on Dec. 14, the Herald urged that efforts be made to relieve the shortage of Christmas trees, “that even the war should not dim the joy that belongs to all children at Christmas time.”

The people of the Jersey Shore would answer the call. Thomas I. Wilson of Tuckerton wrote to the paper.

“The people here are clammers and lock rusted fast because they sing ‘Nearer My God, to Thee,’ when they go home from the fraternal societies at ten P.M. Strong, hardy men, some of them have never been thirty miles from home. Own their own homes. I told them I would pay the expenses to cut a few thousand trees (cedar) if your great paper would help them to market them. Plenty trees hereabout.”

 “Arrangements were made at once by the Herald with Mr. Wilson and his true American friends from Tuckerton, clam diggers and oystermen, who are not busy now, and they went to work in the forests along the shores of Barnegat Bay. The Herald also made arrangements with the two railroads, which quickly entered into the spirit of the enterprise, and assurances were given that 5,000 trees would be ready to relieve the shortage and make 5,000 homes happier on Christmas morning.”

Still, it was wartime.

“Railroad officials have co-operated with the town of Tuckerton and with the Herald in every way. The general manager of the Tuckerton Railroad said that in view of the fact that there were not many war factories along his line he would be glad to consider the Herald’s consignment of Christmas trees as ‘war freight’ and expedite it above all else.

“C.H. Crick, superintendent of the New Jersey division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, to which the trees will be transported by the Tuckerton Railroad, and his assistant Mr. Warwick, said the trees would be brought to New York on time if they had to be attached to passenger trains.”

The Herald sent a reporter to Tuckerton, where he found “the growth on vast tracts of land owned by Judge Otis, Jillson Brothers, Brown’s farms, Gifford farms and the Fuller estate have been turned over to the cutters, who have made the most of the privileges. Tuckerton has done more physical work in the last three days than it would ordinarily do in a month at this time of year.

“It is one thing to dig clams or haul in lobsters and fish and quite another to chop or saw down trees. In consequence there are many sore backs and stiff muscles in Tuckerton to-night. But no one minds that when he looks at the great pile of cedar trees stacked up in the railroad yard ready for shipment to Herald Square.”

According to Wilson, “This matter has been a great thing for Tuckerton. … We are simple folks here, but we want everybody in New York to have a Christmas tree because we think a heap of Christmas ourselves. Our boys will cut trees right up to the last minute, and I only wish we could send more. Give us notice another year and we will send as many trees as New York can take.”

The reporter noted, “New York city is accustomed to spruce Christmas trees. Tuckerton is sending cedars – trees that are richer in foliage, more symmetrically grown and peculiarly well adopted to decoration whether one has a great deal or a very little with which to adorn them … and Tuckerton’s shipment means that anybody can have a Christmas tree this year.”

Dec. 20 was the big day.

“Sending the Christmas cargo of cedar trees the city was one of the biggest events in the rather colorless existence of Tuckerton, N.J., which never has had a circus, nor even a theatre, to distract its attention from its principal industry of digging clams in Barnegat Bay.

“Most of the women and children, many of whom never have been more than a few miles away from Tuckerton, gathered at the railroad station to see the trees started on their pilgrimage to make the hearts of children in five thousand city homes glad, while the men, who had toiled with axes for many hours in the bountiful cedar forests near the bay, packed the trees on cars.

“It probably was the first time that a freight car at Tuckerton had been packed with anything but clams, and the oldest resident could not recall that a freight car had dignified the town even to load clams. Boats are used mostly. Therefore, the start of the Herald’s Christmas Tree Special is destined to stand out as the big event in the history of Tuckerton, an event from which all other events will be dated.”

It was in fact a special train.

“John E. Price, president, and other officials of the Tuckerton Railroad, which touches the Barnegat town, became interested in the cause, enlisted in the relief of Santa Claus and arranged to put the Christmas tree shipment ahead to all other traffic on their line. Through their co-operation special cars were provided and filled with the trees at Tuckerton and were started for Whiting’s Junction, where the Tuckerton Railroad connects with the Pennsylvania Railroad.

“C.H. Kriek, superintendent of the New Jersey division of the Pennsylvania, and the assistant, Mr. Warrick, also joined the Santa Claus relief forces, and they were waiting for the Christmas trees at Whiting’s Junction last night. The result was that through their efforts the trees are due at the Thirty-seventh street yards of the Pennsylvania (Railroad) this morning and during the day will be transferred to the Herald Building by motor trucks.”

Finally, on Dec. 22, “Santa Claus came to Herald Square yesterday with the biggest single load of Christmas trees ever brought into New York City in one consignment. He piled them up in the colonnades of the Herald Building on the Sixth Avenue and Broadway sides.”

Even New Yorkers were getting in the spirit.

“One portly gentleman walked up and down the line of trees. … When he had seen all he wanted to see and inhaled his full of the Christmas aroma he stepped up, handed (out) a twenty-dollar bill and said, ‘Please buy some trees with that and send them where they will do the most good. I live in a hotel myself and have no family, so I cannot use a tree. But I don’t want any poor folks going without Christmas trees this year if I can help it.’”

A driver told of delivering a tree to a tenement house crowded with 10 small children.

“I lugged that tree up four flights of stairs … and I was sort of mad at my job until I saw those kids. Their eyes nearly popped out with joy and, I want to tell you, I’ll lug as many more trees as the Red Cross wants me to.”

It wasn’t a Miracle on 34th Street or a Grinch who saved the Christmas of 1917 for the children of the Big Apple. It was the little Jersey Shore village of Tuckerton, something to remember 100 years later.

Next Week: The test!


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