On Thanksgiving Day 1918 in Columbus, there was a lot to be thankful for.
The Great War had raged for four years and taken millions of lives of young men around the world. But the United States intervened and the war had come to an end Nov. 11, 1918 -- only a few short weeks earlier.
The price of victory was high. More than 120,000 American men were killed and thousands more wounded or were missing in action. The country had not seen casualties of this magnitude since the end of the Civil War.
A popular song of the era had as its refrain: "We won't come back until it's over, over there." So now it was over, and the more than 3 million men in arms in the U.S. and overseas were beginning to return home.
But in many ways, the sacrifices of the war continued to be made. Most of the military still was under arms and would be for some time. President Woodrow Wilson was preparing to leave for Europe to help ensure that this indeed had been "the war to end all war." Bringing a lasting peace to a war-torn world would prove to be a challenging task.
The worst influenza epidemic in history continued to take lives both in the densely populated military camps and in villages, towns and cities across the country. In Columbus, the flu had arrived in waves. The third and final wave was in full force in November. Recognizing the threat, the local schools were closed and would not reopen until the week after Thanksgiving.
Recognizing the challenges ahead, the people of Columbus -- like most of the people across the U.S. -- generally looked at this Thanksgiving as a day to be grateful. A local newspaper later reported how at least some of the day had been spent:
"Victory and peace combined to make yesterday the happiest Thanksgiving Day Columbus ever has seen. Rain in the morning changed to sunshine before turkey-eating time and Columbus gave praise to the Almighty yesterday morning, ate Thanksgiving dinner and joined voices at the community sing yesterday afternoon with more spirit than ever before. Large crowds were downtown last night. Theaters were filled.
"Memorial Hall resounded with songs of praise and thanksgiving under direction of the war camp community service. The audience included several thousand men and women and a number of children. Wild enthusiasm and applause followed selections by the Camp Sherman sextet.
"The War Camp Community Service orchestra of 39 pieces made its initial bow. Led by Director Earl Hopkins, it opened the program with 'Heart of America.' ... John R. Jones, song leader at Camp Sherman, led the crowds in singing 'When Johnny Comes Marching Home,' 'Old Kentucky Home,' and 'Sun of My Soul.'
"Miss Lillian Stocklin and Miss Mary Ann Murphy directed the singing of patriotic and popular songs. Miss Stocklin led the 'Star Spangled Banner,' which the audience sang at four o'clock, in accordance with the request of the president. Karl Hoenig closed the sing with the 'Doxology,' the 'Marseillaise' and 'God Save the King.' "
Complementing the entertainment of the day, many enjoyed a nice Thanksgiving dinner.
"Managers of hotels and restaurant reported that Thanksgiving dinner crowds exceeded their expectations," the newspaper reported.
As was customary in Columbus, even the incarcerated enjoyed a holiday dinner.
"Roasted pork, mashed potatoes, fruit cake, apple pie, peaches, apples and coffee were served for dinner at the Ohio Penitentiary. ... Liberty Sauerkraut, a new name for an old dish, made its appearance yesterday at the Thanksgiving dinner at the workhouse. Prisoners also had their fill of roasted pork, gravy, mashed potatoes and red beets. Each prisoner received a box in which he found an apple, pear, banana and a cake."
Some local restaurants offered a more-varied menu. One of the more interesting was put forth by the Oriental Restaurant at 30 1/2 N. High St., over a Kroger store, which were smaller in those days and more general stores than supermarkets. The Oriental offered a traditional Thanksgiving dinner led off by an "oyster cocktail" and followed by turkey, sweet potatoes, peas, salad and dessert. In addition, the Oriental offered a Chinese dinner of "relishes and soup" followed by "Turkey, Chop Suey and Chicken Mushroom Chow Mein" with a dessert course of "Li Chee Nuts." Both dinners were $1.50 per plate.
In an era when the average working man was earning $2 to $3 a day, this was a relatively expensive dinner.
For people of lesser means, the White Cafeteria offered an alternative, as seen in an advertisement:
"No excuse for missing a good turkey dinner -- no reason why you shouldn't have a grand feast -- Turkey with Dressing and Cranberry Sauce -- Don't fail to sample our homemade mince pie -- 45 cents."
It seems Columbus was well-fed on this November day in 1918.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.