New Years in Old Atlanta, 1916

New Years celebrations in old Atlanta were more of a “community event” way back in 1915. Much like in modern days, however, it was also a time for overindulgence in parties and food as well as a time to anticipate a clean slate for the new oncoming year.


While the city’s elite spent New Year’s Eve at extravagant parties, the least fortunate in Atlanta’s jails and prisoner work camps were only enjoying feasts of hog jowls and peas. This traditional meal was sup-posed to brink the diners better luck in 1916 and who needed it more than those in prison? Across town, the rich folks danced the night away at the masquerade ball at the Piedmont Driving Club and the dinner dance at the Capital City Club. Victuals at both included a token serving of the famous ham and peas.


Meanwhile, downtown Atlanta was thronged with all those in between these two extremes. Thou-sands clogged the city streets as “fashionably garbed women smiled from every limousine and taxi that passed on its way to theaters, cafes, hotels and clubs.” The more serious minded gathered in most of the churches for “watch night” services. The urban hotesl had “watch parties” instead and it was re-ported that 1,000 people reveled at the Hotel Ansley alone, with added entertainment from professional dancers, orchestras and vaudeville stars. All the other city hotels were said to be just as hectic.


Since New Year’s Eve came on a Friday [as it will again in 2015], celebrations continued through the long weekend. The huge new YMCA in downtown Atlanta held an open house for 5,000 guests who were hosted by Governor Nathanel Harris. But reality also awaited in the New Year. For the first time, a detailed tax law dealing with those ever increasing “horseless carriages” went into effect. Li-cense tags from Gerogia’s Secretary of State’s office were made mandatory with escalating prices based on horsepower, with a separate category and price for the popular electric vehicles. Death might not await everyone in the new year of 1916, but taxes certainly did.


–Dick Funderburke

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