Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving in Pelham 75 Years Ago

Today's article posted to the Historic Pelham Blog is the 1,600th daily article posted to record the rich history of our Town.

Seventy five years ago, some Pelhamites celebrated Thanksgiving on Thursday, November 21, 1940.  Others celebrated it on Thursday, November 28, 1940.  Pelham and the rest of the nation were embroiled in the Thanksgiving confusion known as "Franksgiving" about which I have written before.  See Thu., Nov. 27, 2014:  By 1941, Most Pelhamites Celebrated "Franksgiving" Rather than "Republican Thanksgiving".  In short, from 1939 through 1941, much of the United States celebrated what many called "Franksgiving" rather than "Republican Thanksgiving." The term "Franksgiving" reportedly was coined by Atlantic City mayor Thomas D. Taggart, Jr. as a combination of "Franklin" (as in then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and Thanksgiving.  For three successive years President Roosevelt, by proclamation, encouraged communities to celebrate Thanksgiving a week earlier in the hope, among other things, that an extended shopping season before the Christmas holiday might goose the nation's economy.  

Whether they celebrated "Franksgiving" or "Republican Thanksgiving" in 1940, Pelhamites gathered in their homes to celebrate and give thanks that year.  Though terrible trouble was brewing in Europe, Pelhamites and Americans had much to be thankful for.  The Great Depression was finally beginning to ease.  However, the rearming of United States forces in anticipation of world war was a principal reason.  

Pelhamites were gripped by the news from Europe during Thanksgiving seventy five years ago.  Germany began its invasion of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg on May 10, 1940.  Two days later it began an invasion of northern France.  On May 27, the nine-day evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force as well as French and Belgian troops from Dunkirk began.  On June 10, Italy declared war on France and the United Kingdom.  Four days later, Paris fell to the Germans on June 14.  The Battle of Britain began on July 10 as the German Luftwaffe tried to gain air superiority over the UK's Royal Air Force.  On September 7, Germany began the Blitz on London, using three hundred German bombers to deliver bombs that decimated much of the city during 57 consecutive nights of bombings.  At the end of October, the draft lottery began in Washington, D.C. as the U.S. prepared for war with the first peacetime draft in the history of the United States.  In November, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt defeated Republican candidate Wendell L. Willkie and, thus, won an unprecedented third term in office.

Though gripped by the news, the little Town of Pelham seemed distant from the war.  The holiday season was in the air.  A headline that stretched the entire width of the front page of the local newspaper, The Pelham Sun, in its last issue before the Thanksgiving holiday blared "$61,000 To Be Distributed In Christmas Club Checks In Pelham."  A gallon of gas cost eleven cents.  The average price for a new car was $850.  The average cost of a new house that year was about $3,920.  

Residents of Pelham also were in a giving mood during Thanksgiving seventy-five years ago.  Indeed, in the first five days of a major donation campaign, Pelham's Community Chest program to support local charitable organizations received pledges totaling $28,717 from 1,429 contributors.  The pledges put the campaign well on its way toward meeting its goal to raise $43,445 in support of nine local charities.  Pledge cards were "coming in at the fastest rate in the history of the Community Chest."  See $28,717 PLEDGED IN FIVE DAYS IN COMMUNITY CHEST CAMPAIGN -- 1,429 SUBSCRIBE IN CAMPAIGN TO RAISE $43,445, The Pelham Sun, Nov. 22, 1940, Vol. 30, No. 34, p. 1, cols. 5-8.  

Other Pelhamites showed thanks in other ways.  A large group of British children transferred to America to escape the war and residing at the Gould Foundation Institute in the Bronx were Thanksgiving guests of Pelham residents.  Pelham embraced the children, and hoped to bestow upon them knowledge -- and memories -- of Pelham's own Thanksgiving customs.

On November 21, 1940, sixty of those British children were invited into the homes of Pelham residents throughout the town and were treated to lavish Thanksgiving-style dinners in a display of the "American Thanksgiving custom."  See BRITISH CHILDREN ENJOY THANKSGIVING DINNERS IN PELHAMThe Pelham Sun, Nov. 22, 1940, Vol. 30, No. 34, p. 1, col. 8.  The local newspaper glowed in the spirit of the gesture to spread an American Thanksgiving spirit among the "English refugee children."  The Pelham Sun said:


It was all novel to them but they enjoyed it immensely.  Those English refugee children who have been attending Christ Church were taken after church yesterday morning to the homes of their comrades in the Sunday School and joined in the rejoicings of Thanksgiving, with its turkey dinner, pumpkin pie, etc.

It was a splendid gesture.  In England the completion of harvesting is signalized by Harvest Thanksgiving services in the Churches to render praise that:

'All is safely gathered in
Ere the winter storms begin.'

The churches are decorated with the fruits of the year and the products of the harvest embellish the altars.  Thanksgiving in America and Thanksgiving in England are both inspired by the desire to give thanks to God for His bounties.

There is much that is common to the two countries in custom and in spirit.  The extending of Thanksgiving to the little British youngsters was born of kindly thought and friendly spirit.  The knowledge it will hearten those of their countrymen who are defending the cause of freedom and democracy overseas."

Source:  HAPPY THANKSGIVINGThe Pelham Sun, Nov. 22, 1940, Vol. 30, No. 34, p. 2, col. 1.  

The November 22, 1940 issue of The Pelham Sun also was filled with Thanksgiving well-wishes.  It even contained a cartoon reminding Pelhamites to give thanks for the bountiful benefits of living in the United States.  (See immediately below.)

Sun, Nov. 22, 1940, Vol. 30, No. 34, p. 2, cols. 3-4.

A well-regarded columnist for The Pelham Sun devoted a sentimental but well-written "OBSERVATIONS" column to Pelham's 1940 Thanksgiving celebration.  She wrote:  


THANKSGIVING IS IN the air.  And who shall be indifferent to the moral force of a multitude of people, pausing in their way rich and poor, high and low alike, to give thanks to the Creator for unnumbered blessings.

The great, titanic blessing of peace overshadows all else but for a moment we should like to turn our thoughts to those other 'common blessings without end,' the daily beautitudes [sic] of life which fortify and shield us, lending beauty to our days, consolation for past griefs, memories and hope for the future.  

If an Angel should overtake you walking along Wolf's Lane some fine morning, and stop you with an unmistakable sign and begin to talk to you in a tongue you could miraculously understand; and if he asked you to name the blessings that surround your life -- what would you say?  Would you be at a loss for words?

Surely the Angel would not rebuke you if the thought that popped first into your mind, leaped first into words -- the Thanksgiving Turkey.  That is a blessing, that and the table at which you seat yourself day after day, eating your daily bread.  

Would you care to name as common blessings, the sun that lights your days, the moon that holds a court of stars, night after night; would you forget to add, the security of home, a door closed against the outer darkness, and unfailing refuge; friends and the kindly greetings of acquaintances almost without number; the fat books on your library shelves; the music you make or hear at the turn of a dial; the four-legged creatures that add a mute blessing to your life, the unquestioning love and loyalty of your dog, the effortless grace and beauty of your cat.

Would you forget flowers that month in and month out, beautify your garden and your home, bringing color and sweetness and some intangible grace to your eye and heart; would you forget the smell of the earth after rain; the foretaste of snow, under a leaden sky; the quiet loveliness of trees, clothed in summer's green or standing stark and courageous before the north wind.

Would you forget the friendly smiles of children, the unwinking stare of a baby, the joke that goes from person to person, trailing laughter; would you forget moments of solitude, rich in revelation; birds that lead your eye skyward.

All these are ours; food and warmth and sleep.  I think the Angel might tell you to hold them fast, to glory in them to exult in the four winds that blow, meeting each day with fortitude and hope, savoring the taste of each hour to the full. . . . walking the open road that should bring you at least Home."

Source:  Leary, Margaret, OBSERVATIONSThe Pelham Sun, Nov. 22, 1940, Vol. 30, No. 34, p. 2, col. 5.  

Though the Town of Pelham feared the future on Thanksgiving day in 1940 with the winds of war blowing in its future, Pelhamites recognized the many blessings bestowed upon them and gave thanks in celebration.  Seventy-five years later, Pelham is even more blessed and, today, celebrates Thanksgiving with gratitude and homage.  Happy Thanksgiving dear Pelham!

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