Wednesday, December 19, 2012

100 Christmases

Mary McGinnis of Butte celebrated her 100th Christmas in 1934. Andrew Jackson was president when she was born in 1834, and she was married in New York before the Civil War began. Her husband left for the gold fields of California, promising to send for her if things worked out. He did send for her in 1861, and that Christmas is the one of all the one hundred that she always remembered. That Christmas Day in 1861 found Mrs. McGinnis aboard a schooner off the coast of Central America bound for San Francisco, not far from where the Panama Canal today joins the two oceans. But there was no such shortcut back then, and ships had to go all the way around the horn of South America to reach California.

An advertisement for passage on a ship like the one on which Mary McGinnis sailed
Mrs. McGinnis recalled that Christmas morning on the ship, crowded with miners bound to try their luck in California. The Christmas spirit was strong among that motley group. A storm raged off the coast and waves dashed against the sides of the ship, yet the group paused for a short service to commemorate the meaning of the holiday. The vessel creaked and lurched, and a hush fell over the rough miners and assorted passengers and crew. “I could never forget it,” said Mrs. McGinnis, “if I lived another hundred years.” In due time the ship arrived at San Francisco, and Mrs. McGinnis was reunited with her husband.  She later lived in most of the major gold camps in the West and came to Butte to live with a daughter after her husband died. She outlived her daughter and most of her family, and cherished their memories, but that one Christmas aboard the ship was to her the most memorable.


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