If it is 1948 and you are living in the New Deal planned community of Greenbelt, Maryland, you’ve got some options. Almost every New Year’s Eve since the first families moved in in 1937, there was a dance in Greenbelt. The bands may have changed yearly, and the price of admission definitely went up from earliest celebrations, but the NYE dance tradition started early and stayed strong for decades. On 1/1/38, the dance was on New Year’s Day, and pioneer folks were stepping out to hear the Johnny Graham Band. “Start the New Year right, step out on Saturday night!”
Back to 1948, though. The Greenbelt Cooperator newspaper was hosting the dance in the school gym. The advertisement said "Be sure to get your babysitter, so you can come with friends and jitter!" The band that year was Vernon Brown and his Orchestra, with featured vocalist Jo Mettee. The Couple’s Club of the Community Church invited members to a pre- dance party with refreshments. Those wanting to hire said babysitter had to compete with the Drop-Inn’s own dance being held for the teens at 50 cents admission, couples only (see below for the advertisement). If a dance wasn’t your fancy that year, you could head out for a film at the Greenbelt Theatre to take in “The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap” the latest from Abbot and Costello. Before the show you might get a bite at the nearby Wayside Inn in Berwyn Heights. A complete meal was offered for $1.10 to $1.60. They had a carry out special for $1.25 featuring chicken, homegrown by the proprietor.
Greenbelters wanting a home cocktail on New Year’s Eve enjoyed a large selection of spirits at Veteran's Liquors in nearby Beltsville, on Route One. They offered free delivery, and stayed open until 11:30 pm on NYE, and were open all day on New Year’s Day. George Greer’s Liquor Store at the Peace Cross said they would deliver to Greenbelt, but only once at 7pm. Another activity to enjoy close to home was ice skating, if the green flag was displayed. The city was experimenting with a recreation staff made rink next to the tennis courts, with safety in mind. Much to do for New Year’s celebrating in early Greenbelt!
As Greenbelt's housing was still segregated in 1948, these pursuits were likely not open to families of color. If you were a person of color living nearby in Prince George's County, you likely knew restaurants and bars where you'd be welcomed. If you were traveling through the area, though, you might have consulted a recent edition of the Green Book, a guide begun by Victor and Alma Green in 1936 to help Black travelers find places where they could stop for food, entertainment, or services they might need like a pharmacy or a garage. There were over 100 sites listed in Maryland over the years that the Greens produced the guide. Join us on January 21, 2021 at 7pm for a virtual lecture we're cosponsoring with Maryland Milestones and the Huntington Heritage Society. Register here.
The Greenbelt Museum wishes everyone a safe and peaceful New Year’s Eve and Day as we say goodbye to 2020 and welcome in 2021. Here's hoping 2021 will be a more healthful and equitable year for all. Thank you for your support in 2020!
* We love this song at the Museum but couldn't figure out which version we like best. The one we linked features Margaret Whiting singing the Frank Loesser classic. She debuted the song in 1947 with Frank De Vol and His Orchestra. We also love Ella Fitzgerald's version. But there are so many! Do you have a favorite? Here are a few more:
There's even a Ukelele Tutorial!