Christmas bells ring in many forms – church bells, jingle bells, sleigh bells – all bringing forth heart-warming holiday memories.
Salvation Army bells also hearken recollections of bygone December days. It was on this date, in 1894, that the Grand Forks Corps of the Salvation Army first became established, tasked with doing good works and deeds of Christian charity for the poor and downtrodden.
At 8:00pm on December 20, 20 members of the Salvation Army marched along a downtown Grand Forks street, playing music on cornet and tambourine and singing songs to attract a crowd to its barracks building, near the Security Block. The barracks “filled to the doors” with people, and the Salvation Army captain and lieutenants held a “spirited” evangelistic meeting.
Thus began the Salvation Army’s crusade in Grand Forks, helping poor folks by providing food, shelter, and clothing, and by bringing the Gospel to the spiritually needy.
The organization came to America from England, founded by William Booth, a former Methodist minister, who, in 1865, conducted “Christian Mission” meetings for impoverished people in London’s East End slums. In 1878, Mr. Booth changed the Mission’s name to the “Salvation Army,” with uniforms and a military-style leadership. The Army arrived in America in 1880.
Those first weeks of “stirring music” from Salvation Army workers in Grand Forks in 1894 were successful. The “singing, shouting, [and] praying” on street corners attracted people to indoor meetings. The Salvation Army was non-denominational and kept itself “free from any theological entanglements” in order to gain cooperation from all Christian denominations.
By January of 1895, the Grand Forks chapter reported “forty conversions” to Christian faith since its first meetings. Years passed and new methods arrived. By 1910, Grand Forks witnessed its first Salvation Army kettles on street corners with the slogan “keep the pot boiling,” inviting passersby to toss money into the kettle to provide Christmas baskets for “poor families” in local neighborhoods.
In that era, it cost $3.57 for a family’s “good Christmas meal” in a basket containing a “turkey, sugar, coffee, butter, potatoes, apples, fresh bread, crackers, corn, celery, cranberries, pie, cake, pickles” and a Gospel tract.
More years passed, and Salvation Army officers replaced the iron kettles with distinctive bright red kettles, with warmly-dressed bell-ringers encouraging shoppers to contribute coins to offer Christmas cheer for many.
Dakota Datebook by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSUM History Department.
“Nubs of News,” Grand Forks Herald, December 20, 1894, p. 4; “Salvation Army Inaugurates Their Work in Grand Forks with a Rousing Meeting,” Grand Forks Herald, December 21, 1894, p. 5.
“Salvation Army,” Grand Forks Herald, December 12, 1894, p. 8.
“Around the City,” Grand Forks Herald, January 11, 1895, p. 4.
“Doing a Good Work,” Grand Forks Herald, January 23, 1895, p. 4.
“Brigadier Fielding,” Grand Forks Herald, December 27, 1894, p. 4.
“Dinners Given to Poor Today,” Grand Forks Evening Times, December 24, 1913, p. 3.
“Will Look After the Poor Families,” Grand Forks Herald, December 17, 1910, p. 2.
“Keep the Pot Boiling,” Grand Forks Herald, December 23, 1910, p. 10.
“History of Salvation Army Red Kettles,” https://news.salvationarmynorth.org/2014/12/history-of-salvation-army-red-kettle/, accessed November 16, 2019.