War was ongoing in Europe, but Columbus was focused on upcoming holiday season

Columbus in 1941 was a smaller community, one focused greatly on local happenings while monitoring national and international news that seemed distant.

People in Bartholomew County had not yet directly touched by a war that had been raging in Europe, particularly between German and British forces.

Columbus had a population of 11,738, according to the 1940 census — about 2,000 more than a decade before. But significant growth was not far into the future, as nearly 7,000 more residents would be added in the ensuing decade.

The coming population growth was evident by projects happening in the community in 1941. A $250,000 sewer project was approved. Work started on what would become First Christian Church. St. Peter’s Lutheran Church completed a new school building next to its church at Fifth and Sycamore streets. And an addition to McKinley Elementary School was built.

The Dec. 6, 1941, edition of The Evening Republican, published on a Saturday, illustrated the local focus despite a war that had been fought for more than two years. While “Russ throw out pincers to trap Nazis” was the headline of the main story, displayed near it and prominently on the front page were stories about preparations of state highways for the cold weather and the district Rotary International head coming to Columbus on Monday to speak at a chamber of commerce luncheon.

The community was focused on the upcoming Christmas holiday, as news items and advertisements in The Evening Republican showed. A news brief on the Society page explained about an upcoming Christmas party by the Business and Professional Women’s Club. A Carpenter’s Drug Store ad pitched glamour gifts for women, such as cosmetic sets and perfumes, and First National Bank ran an ad about its Christmas Club.

One of the main forms of entertainment back then was high school basketball, with the Columbus High School Bull Dogs starring as the main attraction. The top story on the Sports page described the Bull Dogs beating the Washington Continentals 29-21 the night before, with Bill Stearman — who would later coach the Bull Dogs — leading all players with 14 points. Another story told about the St. Paul Blasters defeating the Hope Red Devils 25-22.

Movies were another popular form of entertainment, and Columbus had three theaters feeding that craving. An ad for the theaters on Page 6 explained that the Crump was showing the Bud Abbott and Lou Costello film “Keep ’Em Flying” while the Mode offered “It Started With Eve” and the Rio offered the Gene Autry film “Down Mexico Way.”

“Red Ryder,” “Freckles and His Friends” and “Alley Oop” were popular comics in The Evening Republican, forerunner of The Republic.

Church listings showed that Christian, Lutheran, Baptist and Methodist churches were abundant and active, although Columbus also had a significant Catholic community, and multiple other denominations were present — Episcopal, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Presbyterian, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists.

While Columbus didn’t yet have a direct connection to the war, two stories on the front page of the Dec. 6, 1941, Evening Republican reflected the nation’s preparations for possible involvement and growing concerns with Japan.

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Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.