Thanksgiving in Dubuque a Hundred Years Ago
It's 2021 and we've reached the 400th anniversary of the celebration that evolved into what we call Thanksgiving. No one is sure of the date, but in the autumn of 1621, around 90 natives included European pilgrims in a traditional Wampanoag harvest celebration in an area the pilgrims called Massachusetts.
This culture-blending celebration developed into a ritual harvest feast with an emphasis on gratitude, but it took more than 200 years before Thanksgiving became an official holiday in the United States, in 1863.
Thanksgiving Day, 1921 in Dubuque
Now, after 158 official Thanksgivings, we look back on what the holiday was like 100 years ago here in Dubuque.
A Visiting Hero
It was a rather cold Thanksgiving Day, a high temperature of 33 and a low of 22 were recorded at Dubuque on November 24, 1921. Preparations for a major event the following day, a visit from Marshal Ferdinand Focht, leader of allied forces in WW1, dominated local news. A parade of local military personnel was planned and crowds were expected to gather to hear the war hero speak when his train arrived at its first Iowa stop on Friday the 25th.
There was a bevy of holiday entertainment around town. "Uncle Tom’s Cabin" opened for a 3-day engagement at The Majestic Theater, The University of Dubuque beat the Myers Bears in a football match, 7-0, and Chicago Tenor Arthur Kraft performed at Columbia College.
Eating well was, of course, on the agenda for most Dubuquers. While residents mainly enjoyed Thanksgiving dinners in homes, reservations for 400 were made for noon and 6:00 p.m. dinners at The Hotel Julien. Another 120 were expected for dinner that night at The Dubuque Country Club.
A number of Thanksgiving Day weddings took place. The society column in The Dubuque Telegraph Herald noted Florence R. McNamara married Clifford D. Wilson in what was described as a "charming, pretty affair" at St. Patrick’s Church.
Shop on, everyone.
Although stores were closed for the holiday, a focus on retail was very much part of the Thanksgiving vibe in 1921. Announcement was made of a new Trade Home Shoe store set to open at 10th and Main. The James Levi Store, which billed itself as “The Store of the Christmas Spirit” advertised aprons for 89 cents, corsets for $2.50, and ladies shoes valued at $10.00 for just $2.98. Roshek Brothers meanwhile offered ladies handkerchiefs for 5 cents, boys suits for $2.50, and toy train sets for 98 cents. And "Toy Town" was scheduled to open the next day at J.F. Stampfer Department Store.
At Thanksgiving time 2021 we express gratitude for those who've gone before us and given us the opportunities we enjoy. Happy Thanksgiving!
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Sources: Dubuque Telegraph Herald archives, US Library of Congress.