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Category:  Did You Know?
Published:  November, 2009

Did You Know? (Thanksgiving)

Did you know that Thanksgiving wasn’t always thought of as, well, Black Friday Eve?

There was a time when people didn’t spend their Thanksgiving evenings contemplating their latest home theatre upgrade.

Thanksgiving used to (and still does in many places) represent a day of worship, family gatherings and, yes, football.

Historians say the first recorded Thanksgiving was celebrated on September 6th, 1565 by 600 Spanish settlers.

It didn’t take our first president – George Washington - long (JUST 156 days in office) before he officially proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday.

But some northeastern states, which had a natural reason to celebrate their harvests of autumn, still took it upon themselves to issue their own Thanksgiving proclamations. Those dates didn’t always coincide with the dates set aside by the nation’s presidents.

The November 20th, 1822 edition of Gettysburg’s Republican Compiler reported that the governors of Connecticut and New Hampshire had proclaimed Thanksgiving on the 28th day of that month, but the governor of New York proclaimed December 5th a day for giving thanks.

That same newspaper reported in 1826, that nine (mostly New England) states had proclaimed Thanksgiving on the 16th or 30th of November, or on either the 6th or 7th of December.

However, there was one constant in the celebrations of Thanksgiving – the turkey.
From Gettysburg’s Adam Sentinel dated January 5th, 1824: “It is estimated that 250,000 lbs. of Turkies (sic) were sold in Boston on the two days preceding Thanksgiving.”

A writer in the November 21st, 1879 edition of the Connellsville Keystone Courier did what many news people have done ever since. He gave turkeys far more intelligence than they’ve ever had.

“There are some fine flocks of turkeys in this section and as Thanksgiving approaches they being to tremble,” he wrote.
In 1863, Abraham Lincoln actually proclaimed two different days of Thanksgiving. Neither of those days was met with gratitude in the south, or among those northerners who sympathized with it.

Because of recent Union military victories, Lincoln proclaimed an August Thanksgiving that was met with derision.
“They couldn’t play out the farce before high heaven and pretend to be thankful, while their friends down south are in such a bad way,” were the sentiments I found in the Appleton (Wisconsin) Motor printed on August 6th, 1863.

Lincoln’s second Thanksgiving proclamation that year was issued in October, and was a call to set aside the last Thursday in November for the more traditional Thanksgiving celebration.

That proclamation, too, found editorial jeers. “What is Thanksgiving?” asked a writer for the Burlington (Ia.) Hawkeye. Claiming Lincoln was the head of “an imbecile Administration,” the writer charged that Thanksgiving was a “Yankee, Puritan, Roundhead, sniveling, snuffling, canting, hypocritical institution.”

It was an angry tirade against Lincoln, New England and the whole idea that there could be a celebration when, in the south, there could be found the “wasted fields and desolate homes of our Southern brothers.”

But at war’s end, and on every year in November, some form of Thanksgiving has been celebrated since - though not always as a nation in concert.

In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Thanksgiving a federal holiday. According to the Uniontown Evening Standard, only 32 states celebrated it on November 20th of that year. The following week 16 states, including Pennsylvania, celebrated Thanksgiving. Texas celebrated both days. Critics simply called the president’s declaration “Franksgiving.”

The following month, on December 26th, Roosevelt signed a bill that made Thanksgiving a federal holiday – by law.

One Thanksgiving tradition started in the late 19th century and has become as American as, well, pumpkin pie – football.

The December 4th, 1896 edition of the Connellsville Courier carried the account of the Thanksgiving football game between “the local team” and the Empire Athletic Club of Greensburg. A thousand people were on hand to see Connellsville win the game 10-0.

Yet the Uniontown Morning Herald highlighted the intense Thanksgiving Day football rivalry between Pitt and Penn State in its November 23rd, 1925 edition. The upcoming game that year was to be the 39th edition. The first was in 1893.

There were other events, tragic and unscheduled, that have taken place on Thanksgiving weekends down through the years.

Readers of Uniontown’s Daily News Standard awakened on Friday morning, November 30th, 1923 to learn that the “WRIGHT-METZLER ROBBERY WAS THE MOST DARING PIECE OF WORK IN THE CITY’S HISTORY,” after bandits staged a Thanksgiving Day heist in downtown Uniontown.

There’s also the story that my father repeatedly told me about that took place the day following Thanksgiving in 1950.

It was, perhaps, the worst holiday weekend snow storm in Fayette County’s history.

On Friday, November 24th, 1950, the Daily Connellsville Courier announced the big plans for the upcoming Christmas season. Four thousand children were expected to greet Santa Claus the following morning.

There was another story sharing the front page that day. “The first real snowstorm of the season hit the district early this morning,” it said.

The following evening the Daily Courier’s front page headline simply said, “REGION PARALYZED BY SNOW.”

Twenty inches of snow was predicted - with the thermometer reaching below zero.

On Monday, the Morning Herald’s front page carried five snow related pictures, cancellations and lists of the district’s fatalities.

On Tuesday, when the county was finally digging out from the post-Thanksgiving snowstorm, there were reports that “The number of deaths attributed to winds, blizzards and cold rose to 256 in 22 states.”

For the most part, however, Thanksgiving is still a cherished, purely American tradition.

I came across a 1945 Morning Herald article that, to me, is most appropriate. A Lafayette Junior High School student, Miss Gloria Stilwell, had won a statewide editorial writing competition for her 1944 editorial titled, “Thanks for Freedom.”

“Of all of the holidays of the year, Thanksgiving should be the one that means the most to us,” she wrote.

And contained within that editorial are words that could resonate today.

“On this Thanksgiving, let us give thanks for America, and pray that all men abroad will soon return to their coveted celebration of Thanksgiving Day with all the trimmings,” she concluded.