For over 30 years, Charlotte “Lottie” Roeder Roth hosted egg hunts for children at her home on Bellingham’s Elm Street. Born in New Whatcom, her husband Charles Independence Roth was a leading lawyer and state legislator. He even named the Lottie Roth Block, which he had built in 1890, in her honor. Lottie had begun hosting egg hunts for her own children and later revived it for her grandchildren. She enjoyed making children happy so much that she did not want to limit the event to her own family and invited children from across the city to come.
In 1921, the Bellingham Herald described one of her parties in detail: “In bushes, in the grass and among the flowers the little hunters found their treasures. Meanwhile rabbits which seemed to enjoy the festivities, also hopped about the grounds to the increasing delight of the youngsters. The hunt was not completed until each guest had found an egg and deposited it in his or her Easter basket.”
After the hunt, Lottie provided refreshments for her young guests. “Then,” the newspaper continued, “came the cruise of the ship Dove, on the counter of which was the word The Hague, apparently denoting peace. [World War I had recently ended.] The gang plank was set up and each of the children found in the hold of the miniature vessel candy Easter eggs, fluffy little chickens or tiny bunnies. Small cookies, cut in the shape of rabbits and birds, were passed about as additional contribution to the Easter baskets.”
By the turn of the 20th century, Easter had taken on many of the forms we would now recognize. At Easter, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Many secular traditions have also developed around it over the centuries. The spring holiday is full of hope and new beginnings.
Depending on when Easter falls, the flowers of spring are usually in full bloom and Bellingham residents couldn’t get enough of the plants. In 1917, the Horst Floral Shop on Dock Street stayed open all night before Easter. In April 1919, the Market Floral Shop at the Bellingham Market sold all types of blooms, including 1,500 pots of Easter lilies. On the days just before Easter, shoppers could munch on fresh hot cross buns from Neff’s Bakery at Stall Fifteen while perusing the solid wall of flowers on the Magnolia Street side of the store.
Or people could also attend the Bellingham Tulip Festival, which began in 1920. The festival ended in 1929 at the start of the Great Depression (and after several bulb freezes). The first year, Alta Irene Pittman won a song contest with her lyrics for “It’s Tulip Time in Bellingham.” The tulip industry later relocated to Skagit Valley.
People could decorate their own eggs but egg prices often proved an issue. They could purchase egg dye from the Owl Pharmacy at the corner of Dock and Holly for five cents a package in 1914, but Easter demand raised egg prices after a slump during Lent, when Catholics traditionally fast from meat and eggs. They were 30 cents a dozen in 1917 (which is over $7 today).
Perhaps some people preferred candy eggs. In 1916, the Owl Pharmacy sold candy eggs four for a penny and chocolate eggs two for a nickel. The New Sugar Bowl (135 West Holly), a candy store and soda fountain, sold prepared boxes of candies as holiday gifts, promising candy “as pure as the Easter lily,” made in sanitary conditions (a major concern in an era with few health and safety regulations).
One center of the celebration was the “Easter parade.” People traditionally dressed in fancy new clothes for church and family gatherings. While neckties were popular for men, most of the emphasis was on women’s fashion, from gloves to shoes — but the most sought-after item was a new hat or “Easter bonnet.”
Styles changed dramatically from year to year. “It is a rather desperate undertaking for any mere man to assay anything like a technical description of the season’s hats for women,” the Bellingham Herald wrote on April 17, 1911. “The most obvious feature for the new hats is the fact that there appears to be no basic architectural law upon which they are builded [built], for they range in shape and dimension from the huge chopping bowl of our grandmothers to a newly baked muffin which has fallen on the floor and been stepped on.”
The cost of new hats was a source of lament in the male-run Bellingham Herald. “Tis the week before Easter,” the editors whined on April 6, 1912, “and all through the house rings the question ‘Where did you get that hat and how much did it cost?’”
In 1920, W. C. Weir, principal of Whatcom High School’s night school, offered a way to save money on new hats by inviting women to join the millinery class offered at the school. About a dozen ladies were currently attending a class taught by Mrs. Alexander Howard. The class had just started making Easter bonnets and had room for many more students.
Even today, Easter remains a family holiday. In the early 1900s, this was a time to send cards. In April 1915, the Bellingham post office estimated that they processed 15,000 Easter cards and postcards on April 2 and 30,000 over another three-day period.
Though times have changed, Easter remains an important holiday for many people. It continues as a time of celebration and hope for the future.