COLUMNS

As It Were: Thanksgiving in 1920 Columbus celebrated in variety of ways

Ed Lentz
Guest columnist

All in all, it was an interesting Thanksgiving Day in Columbus in 1920 – and a pleasant one. 

Local newspapers referred to the holiday as the “three hundredth anniversary” of the Thanksgiving Day celebrated by Pilgrims in New England in 1620. Although debate continues as to the place and time of the first celebration, it should be noted that Thanksgiving Day in its modern form began with a Thanksgiving proclamation at the height of the Civil War in 1863. 

Ed Lentz

By 1920 in Columbus and across America, Thanksgiving had become an accepted national holiday. Schools and government offices were closed. Many local businesses were closed, and mail service was suspended.  

The day was interesting and a bit unusual in more than one way.  

Prohibition had been in effect for most of the year. Wayne B. Wheeler, the general counsel of the Anti-Saloon League of Westerville, explained why he was thankful. 

“The dry forces of the United States have many reasons to be thankful on Thanksgiving Day. … A great nation has demonstrated that it is not dependent on revenue derived from liquor. Every agency for human uplift has been relieved of much of the liquor wreckage heretofore left on its doorstep.” 

Wheeler went on to enumerate the perceived successes of prohibition to this point. What was not mentioned were the opinions and predilections of the owners of more than a few “speakeasies” and other sources of illicit and often literally “blinding” sources of alcoholic refreshment. 

A less controversial point about this Thanksgiving was the recognition that the long and deadly influenza epidemic that had ravaged the world the previous two years seemed to be coming to an end. This fact combined with what appeared to be successful efforts to forge a peace from the tragedy of World War I were ample reasons to be thankful. 

For these and other reasons, Columbus proceeded to celebrate Thanksgiving in fine form.  

Local church services were an integral part of the holiday, and some began as early as 6 a.m.  

Almost every institution offered a special Thanksgiving dinner.  

The 160 residents of the county tuberculosis hospital and the residents of Children’s Hospital were both treated to turkey dinners with all the trimmings. The inmates at the Ohio Penitentiary in downtown Columbus were treated to a dinner of roast pork with oyster dressing, sweet potatoes, celery, green peas applesauce, coffee and stogies, followed by a “moving picture.” The title of the movie was not mentioned. 

The local unit of the Volunteers of America distributed more than 150 baskets of food to families, with the hope of feeding about 500 people in need. In addition, the organization offered a free dinner to everyone at its local headquarters from noon to 2 p.m. 

Thanksgiving in Columbus was celebrated in many other ways, too.  

Most local theaters, dance halls and restaurants stayed open. It seemed to one local reporter that at least half the population of the city was leaving town by rail or other transport for gatherings of family or friends. But then, “their departure will be made up for, however, by the crowds which started coming into Columbus on Tuesday evening. The increase in traffic made necessary the addition of at least one coach to each outgoing train.” 

While many families celebrated at home or with local relatives and acquaintances, restaurants saw some of the busiest traffic of the season. 

There were gastronomic options of the widest variety. For 50 cents, one could stop at White’s Cafeteria at 165 N. High St. and get a turkey dinner with dressing and cranberry sauce served cafeteria style with an admonition not to miss “our home-made mince pie.” 

Back a little closer to town at 30 ½ N. High St. was the Oriental Restaurant situated “Over Kroger.” In those days, Kroger was more a corner grocery because the age of the supermarket still was some time away. The Oriental featured a “Special Thanksgiving Dinner for $1.75 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.” One could order “Turkey and Dressing,” “Fried Chicken a la Maryland” or a “Special Oriental Lobster Salad” – all with trimmings and dessert. 

For the truly adventurous, from noon to 2 p.m. the Hotel Hartman offered for $2.50 a meal of “oyster cocktail, puree of game or green turtle soup” followed by “Baked Filet of Red Snapper Vert Pre,” “Roast Young Turkey and Dressing” or “Braised Haunch of Bear.” All this was served with trimmings and followed by pie, plum pudding or “maple walnut ice cream.”  

It was noted on the menu that there would be “No Music-No Dancing-No Cabaret-Our Entertainment is All in the Food.”  

A happy Thanksgiving to all.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.