Did You Know? (Thanksgiving)
Did you know that Thanksgiving wasn’t always thought of as, well, Black Friday
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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.