Since I based my last two holiday articles on what I found searching the Boston Globe’s historical database, I thought I would make it three in a row by looking around for something on New Year’s Day in the North End.
I found something, and this one surprised me. It is about a man named Axel Bjorklund, who used to give out free hot dogs to the poor children of the North End on New Year’s Day.The Globe does not provide any history or background on Bjorklund. A 1923 article simply tells us that Bjorklund had opened his sausage cart on the corner of Hanover and Blackstone in 1921 and began the tradition of giving hot dogs to poor children on Christmas Day. The same article notes that because 1922 was a bad year, Bjorklund did not have the funds to give out the hot dogs on Christmas of 1922. Knowing how disappointed the children were, he gathered the necessary funds, set out cards announcing he would give out 1,000 hot dogs on January 1, 1923, and thus began a tradition that would last, as far as the Globe tells us, until 1927.
Bjorklund, who quickly became known as the “Hot Dog Santa,” added 500 more hot dogs the next year, 1924, giving out a total of 1,500, cooked in his cart, with hot rolls and “all the fixins” provided. That year, the Globe reports, he had been sick with rheumatism the few weeks before and had to literally get out of his sick bed to do this. In 1925 and 1926, the number of hot dogs rose to 2,000, and then reached 2,500 in 1927.
By this time, it had become a media event, with photographers and reporters present to record the event, and policemen to keep order. However, the Globe notes that the children were able to maintain order in the line themselves, and that when things did get a little out of order it was due to the reporters pressing forward and the police trying to hold them back.
There is no record of this event in 1928 or thereafter or anything more about Bjorklund. It is possible that he succumbed to his illnesses, which the Globe mentioned but did not specify beyond the reference to rheumatism.
Bjorklund was not the first nor was he the last person in the North End, or anywhere, to give to others in need. I can think of so many in my life – parents, teachers, coaches, counselors, business owners, each in their own ways – who gave so much to me and to others, and in doing so taught me the importance of giving. May this be a year in which we all do our part to help each other in the best ways that we can.
Happy New Year!