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The Home Front: 1918

The Home Front: 1918

        The spherical tree, the scattershot expressions, the faint undercurrent of anomie and alienation -- yes, it's our annual holiday dispatch from the family of Washington, D.C., lawyer Raymond Dickey, who has a decade's worth of Christmases preserved in the archives of the National Photo Company. Their 1918 portrait, with an Army surgeon and map of World War I Europe, is even more dire than usual.

"Dickey Christmas tree -- 1918." 8x6 inch glass negative. View full size.


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Now that you mention Christmas tree lights...

For me the Christmas lights have been a major part of the holiday season. Since I spent the better part of my life in Michigan, putting up outdoor lights around Thanksgiving was a very cold process while taking them down off of snow and ice filled gutters after January 1st was pure torture. I have collected a few strings of the old series strung lights where if one goes out they all go out. I still use them indoors. The secret to increasing their bulb life is to hook them up to a light dimmer and burn them at half brightness. Perhaps the most complete history of Christmas lights to be found is at From this site I learned that when electric lights first became available for Christmas trees,that stores would rent the set of lights for the holiday season since they were so expensive to buy outright.

Let there be light!

There are lights on the tree, you just have to find the twisted electrical wires hidden within the branches. Perhaps one of our guardian angels can zoom in on the wires and and one of the bulbs?

Oh ......

Christmas Bush, Oh Christmas Bush ....

First Toy Tank

Also noteworthy is the toy tank at the bottom of the photograph, obviously a replica (not a completely accurate one) of the British Mark I tank. This early tank had only entered service in 1916.

Mercury glass

That tree is a wealth of glass ornaments and garlands, many probably mercury glass. I love them! I have been collecting them but don't have many older than the unsilvered WW II ones. I do not see any lights on this tree though unless I am missing them. This family was wealthy enough that they might have had electric lights on the tree. The first electrified tree was in the 1880s although they didn't become common for ordinary (not wealthy) people until much later. My mother (born in 1921) reports candles on their well into the 1930s. They lit them once, on Christmas eve, and stood ready with a bucket of water. This poor tree is a bit too tall for the ceiling, too.

Now the Christmas season has officially started

Shorpy has posted its annual Dickey family photograph! Let the festivities begin! The great thing is their expressions don't change and they never fake happiness from familial togetherness. Still, they did manage to spread the joy of the season. Too bad they never expressed that same joy in their Christmas portraits or measured the tree to fit their house.

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