In many ways, the autumn of 1941 was like so many others in southeastern Minnesota.
Rochester High School opened the football season in September with a game against Austin under the lights at Soldiers Field. The U.S. Marine Band gave a concert Oct. 10 at Mayo Civic Auditorium. A week later, the ice rink in the auditorium opened for public skating. And it was announced that the great contralto Marian Anderson would perform on the auditorium stage on Dec. 8.
There were signs, though, that with much of the world at war, Rochester would not be able to blithely glide along untouched for much longer.
That fall, the USO was, for the first time, included in the annual Community Chest drive. A newspaper advertisement for the new 1942 Fords at Universal Motors declared that “Defense requirements have all been met” in manufacturing the autos. Even the comedy team of Abbott & Costello hinted at the inevitable with their movies “Buck Privates” and “In the Navy” showing on local screens.
On the sports front, meanwhile, “with the draft, the British and Canadian army and air forces requisitioning most of the outstanding players on last year’s squad,” Rochester’s hockey team was short of players for the upcoming season, according to Know Rochester magazine.
October in Rochester was dreary that year, with 14 days of rain, a wet and chilly Halloween and the first snowfall in the early hours of Nov. 1. Rochester police reported a “quiet” Halloween, with the cold rain and wet snow having kept spooky celebrations to a minimum.
With the turn of the calendar, though, thoughts turned to the upcoming holiday season. In a Post-Bulletin ad, Rubentein’s Furniture Store declared it was “ready for Christmas.” Motorists were reminded to prepare their autos for the winter weather.
On Nov. 11, Armistice Day, it was announced that a drive would be launched to raise $150,000 to build a memorial to Drs. Will and Charlie Mayo, who had died two years earlier. That same day, the Post-Bulletin declared that “U.S. Troops stand guard from Iceland to Shanghai.”
In an eerie foreshadowing, the newspaper carried a map of Japanese and American military bases in the Pacific Ocean, which specifically indicated that the distance from Pearl Harbor to the U.S. mainland was 2,405 miles.
Also in the Post-Bulletin that week was a letter to his parents from Wallace Mitchell, of Kasson, who was serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force in England. Because of censorship, Mitchell was not able to say anything about his war duties, but he did write that “the food is excellent” at his British air base.
In the realm of celebrity gossip, meanwhile, it was reported that James Roosevelt, the son of the President, had reached a divorce settlement of $25,000 with his ex-wife. Earlier in the year, Roosevelt had married the former Romelle Schneider, who had been a nurse at Saint Marys Hospital in Rochester when he had surgery there in 1938.
Thanksgiving arrived on Nov. 27, with mild temperatures in the mid-40s. But nearly the entire front page of the Post-Bulletin that day was given over to war news.
Nevertheless, Santa Claus came to town that weekend for a parade that included Mother Goose figures. By now, all downtown stores and businesses were decorated and lit for the Christmas season.
“The spirit of Christmas prevails everywhere in Rochester,” the Post-Bulletin reported.
Then came Sunday, Dec. 7.
Thomas Weber is a former Post Bulletin reporter who enjoys writing about local history.