Thanksgiving was celebrated in Owensboro in 1921 just as it is now, but with many significant and notable differences.
Top of mind for many residents was the outrageous price of turkeys. A newspaper article published in mid-November quoted U.S. Secretary of Labor James J. Davis as saying he had heard rumors that the price was spiraling out of control. “I know for my part if turkey goes to 79 cents a pound, I’ll eat corned beef and cabbage for my Thanksgiving dinner,” he vowed.
As another alternative, Owensboro stores were selling chickens for 20 cents “on foot” or 35 cents dressed. Other families planned to serve rabbit, duck or goose, but with all of the trimmings.
Besides the traditional meal, residents had the opportunity to celebrate the day in many different ways.
Catholic churches were scheduled to hold high Mass at 9 a.m. All Baptist church members were invited to join together for a shared service at Third Baptist Church, and the congregation of Fourth Street Presbyterian Church were invited to a service at Settle Memorial. An assortment of other faiths would meet at Zion Evangelical, with a service that would include the choir anthem, “Joy of Harvest Days.”
Business houses were expected to be closed at least part of the day, with banks and federal offices closed all day, including the post office. Although there would be no mail deliveries to residential or business districts, the usual mail collections were promised to be made at street boxes, with deliveries dispatched despite the holiday.
Schools were closed on Thanksgiving Day—but lessons would resume on Friday. The holiday break was abbreviated to account for the fact that “so much time was lost during the diphtheria quarantine.”
The Thanksgiving morning edition reported a “dark and gloomy” Thanksgiving, with rain “putting an effective damper on all outing parties arranged for the day.”
Hunters who had planned to stalk “Bob White and Brer Rabbit were disappointed. Fields and lowlands are covered with water, making good hunting impossible for several days.” The newspaper graciously noted, however, that Bob White and Brer Rabbit enjoyed Thanksgiving, “as their lives have been spared a few days longer.”
Nutting parties were also cancelled—but movie houses welcomed crowds whose outdoor activities were washed away.
The rain did not stop a highly anticipated match between the Owensboro High School and Henderson football teams, with many residents making their way westward for the contest. The Lions Club and Rotarians chartered a special train that carried 425 passengers to Henderson, “in addition to about 50 who accompanied the Red and Black on the noon train. A few braved the muddy roads and made the trip by automobile.” A crowd of more than 2,000 made this the largest that ever attended a football game in Henderson, according to the next day’s newspaper.
The matchup ended in a disappointing 7-7 tie, thanks to “an unlucky fluke” (a fumbled punt recovered by Henderson). Adding insult to injury, the newspaper huffily reported that “Not satisfied with making the Owensboro band walk from the depot to the fairgrounds, Henderson high school officials charged each member of the band $1 to get into the game. Mr. Samuels, manager of the band, gave his check for $31 so the band could be admitted to the field.”
For those who stayed home, the newspaper offered a variety of games, stories and activities to keep the family and guests amused. Fun for everyone: Grandma was to pass out pencils and paper, and invite everyone to write down the answers to “Nut Questions.” (As an example: What nut grows at the seashore? Well, a beechnut, of course.)
Local merchants were keen to invite prospective customers to spend their bounty in their stores.
“That all of us may partake of the season’s good things, merchants now make their most attractive offerings,” one ad wooed. “Profit by these announcements, so you too may have good cause for Thanksgiving.”
Some things never change.
However you plan to spend the holiday this year—whether with food, football, religion or riddles—take a moment to reflect on your blessings of 2021 and look to the year ahead with thanksgiving.