Sussex County History Today: Christmas message from long ago

| 15 Dec 2023 | 01:27

Always an avid fan of history, I frequently ply the internet for new insights.

I recently made an amazing discovery and hailed my wife to come witness it.

“Ginny, come here, I want you.” (Hmm, wasn’t that the expression when the telephone was invented?)

As she arrived, I made the statement of the unbelievable finding. “Sit here beside me and I am going to let you hear your great-grandfather’s voice.”

This was a man who died almost 20 years before her birth. Needless to say, she was taken aback. She cried upon hearing it.

Her great -grandfather was the president of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. The firm was, and is, based in New York City.

A graduate of Rutgers, Class of 1871, he devoted his career to the company. He was a devout Episcopalian and benefactor and spent many years as head of the company. He died after attending the second of two services in two different churches in Manhattan, and his obituary was on the front page of the New York Times.

He apparently had made a phonographic recording in 1923. This is 100 years ago, perhaps even this very day in December. This recording was a Christmas message for his employees and their families.

I feel that Ginny’s great-grandfather’s message is appropriate and fitting for a message that I would also like to convey at this holiday time.

As the vinyl spins on the record player at this time in 1923, there is heard a distant, tinny voice punctuated by scratches and pops produced as the needle detects the grooves. Our family and friends lean our ears to the megaphone speaker as one of us cranks the handle to keep the apparatus up to speed. Mr. Haley Fiske speaks. Let’s listen to the dispatch.

“And to my dear children in the field, I want you to have a Christmas message. It is a very happy Christmas for the Metropolitan and I hope it is for you. In business we have had a great year. Now you expect me to give you great news in January but you yourselves must be conscious through your own work and discretions that the company has achieved marvels. In every department we have expanded beyond all years. Yet, while Christmas is a time for rejoicing, it is not a time for boasting. This is a time for thanksgiving for God’s greatest gifts, beginning at the first Christmas nearly 2,000 years ago. And let us remember that all conscientious work this past year has been for God’s glory and the good of His children. Let us think of Metropolitian’s accomplishments not in terms of business placed or money earned or assets counted but in good deeds done and more extensive blessings, of lives saved, of health and food, or sorrow parted. Or meals supplied. Or friendship with the people extended and deepened or opportunities extended for future responsibilities. Let us resolve to meet these next year. And meanwhile, let us be happy and merry for God’s blessings this past year.”

Contact Bill Truran, Sussex County historian, at