Thanksgiving through the years in Lycoming County

A little less than 100 years after George Washington proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1789, the Daily Gazette and Bulletin reported in its Nov. 23, 1881, edition an account of a turkey that didn’t want to be the main attraction at the feast.

Headlined, “Temporarily at Liberty,” the story read, “A turkey with an aversion to being laid upon the altar of Thanksgiving broke away from a dealer in front of the Post Office this forenoon and took up a post of observation on the sign of Neece’s store.”

“There was at least one poultry dealer in market for a time who was willing to have the turkey come down. The gratuitous advice the man received was neither practical nor consoling,” the reporter concluded in his account of the errant bird.

Thanksgiving, in the early days, was celebrated on Nov. 26, no matter what day of the week it fell on, until President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 moved the holiday to the last Thursday in November.

Accounts in the Nov. 29, 1889, edition of the Gazette and Bulletin, a forerunner to the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, show that at that time the holiday was celebrated by giving thanks by attending numerous church services in the city and by giving to others as several area hotels offered free meals to community members.

“Thanksgiving Day in this city passed off very pleasantly, the comparatively fair weather assisting largely in the same,” the newspaper stated.

“In the morning, many of the churches held Union services, appropriate to the day and several of the prominent hotels spread out free lunches in large proportions and elegant style,” it read.

According to the story, those attending the free meals were treated to a variety of delectables.

“The Hepburn House cut up roast pig for its hungry patrons; the Kelly Hotel served up 18 turkeys and two roasted pigs, and even with all this did not seem to have enough to supply all present, so great was the pressure of the lovers of turkey and young pig,” the newspaper detailed.

An even more elaborate repast was held at the Henry House, where host Gabe Post served up what was deemed by the reporter as an “excellent spread.”

“The small tables in the gentlemen’s dining room were placed in the form of a cross in the center of the room; a roast pig with proper embellishments, occupied each of the lateral branches, while a roast turkey and roast ducks were in proper position on the main line,” the account read. “The tables were elaborately decorated with the fruits and flowers of the season, including sauerkraut and pork and beans.”

The writer concluded by saying, “Every one present voted it great, as it was.”

Thanksgiving programs in schools and church services continued to be the norm for celebrating the holiday well into the 20th century.

In the Nov. 29, 1900, edition of the Gazette and Bulletin, an announcement of a football game, typical of today’s activities, appeared in the list of events planned for Thanksgiving Day.

“In the afternoon at Athletic Park, will occur the big football contest between the Williamsport Wheel Club and the Burlingame teams. Both teams are in the pink of condition and are out for a magnificent struggle,” the article writer stated.

That same year, the Gazette and Bulletin praised the ladies of the Lycoming Presbyterian Church in Newberry for their upcoming Thanksgiving feast.

“All the delicacies of the season, including venison and ice cream, will be served, all for 50 cents. These ladies are known for their excellent meals and service and any one wishing for a good dinner will do well to patronize them,” the announcement said.

Giving thanks for the bountiful blessings, particularly of food, continued as the overriding theme through the years as generation after generation celebrated Thanksgiving,

In November 1912, turkeys, in particular were on the minds of local residents as the price of this bird had increased. Many wondered if they would be too expensive for people to have on their Thanksgiving table.

“Thirty-two cents per pound is the lowest price quoted in Williamsport and some who pretend to be wise to the local supply hold out no hope that a lower quotation may be expected before Thanksgiving. Others think that 30 cents will be the price next week,” the Gazette and Bulletin reported.

“Which means that numerous families in Williamsport will forego the pleasure of eating turkey, preferring to give thanks over a juicy spare rib, a little roasted pig, a duck or a chicken,” the report continued.

“Either of these, with the right kind of mince or pumpkin pie, cranberries, celery, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stewed dried corn, coleslaw, etc., should make one feel thankful to the bottom of his heart,” the report said. It concluded that the turkey will be missed because “there is considerable pleasure in picking turkey bones the day after.”

Six years later, in 1918, mixed among the notices for Thanksgiving church services was a headline that read, “Schools Closed in Western Wards, Influenza epidemic has not subsided in Newberry.”

Casualties from World War I were listed on pages hawking the latest linens for the Thanksgiving table. At the Canteen at the Park Hotel station, workers were busy feeding 200 soldiers who were on their way home for Thanksgiving.

“During Wednesday night, two trains carrying a large number of soldiers passed through here. The train, which was due here at 12:45, did not arrive until 2:15 a.m. on account of a delay at Harrisburg, where it was detained by another train containing 700 soldiers which was an hour late,” the account read.

“When the train finally pulled in at the Park Hotel station, many of the soldiers were given food,” the reporter added.

The war had ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of November 2018, the first Armistice Day. It later was observed as Veterans Day. People were thankful soldiers were coming home from the war even while a pandemic continued around the world.

The date of Thanksgiving established by Lincoln continued until 1939. That year, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Nov. 23 should be the date for the holiday.

There was so much controversy — to the point that some people refused to honor his declaration — that in 1941, Roosevelt reneged and officially designated the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving.


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