Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Football & lutefisk: Chariton's 1913 Thanksgiving

Although undated, this postcard greeting arrived at the home of my maternal grandparents in English Township from a niece in Miller, South Dakota, about 1913.

I got to wondering the other day what Thanksgiving in Lucas County had been like 100 years ago, late November 1913, and so leafed (digitally) through back issues of The Herald-Patriot to find out. This was the start of the holiday season that preceded my dad's birth, during February of 1914 --- so to me at least it doesn't seem that long ago, but these things are relative.

In the first place, Thanksgiving 1913 was considerably warmer than the one we're in for this year. The Herald-Patriot editor asked, "Why go to California when the weather in Iowa is so balmy and springlike? The grass was never greener, dandelions are in full bloom and the lilac bushes are putting forth leaves. Some people are even boasting of having garden sass. Mr. H.A. Shirer has lettuce and onions in his garden, on which he and his family have been feasting for several days, and others report onions and lettuce, too."

Those were heady days economically in Chariton, too, as the coal mining industry prepared to take off in central Lucas County and northeast to Williamson, Olmitz and Tipperary in English and Pleasant townships. Coal mining was by no means new --- the industry had passed through boom and bust cycles in the Lucas vicinity since the 1880s; but this was the first time Chariton had been poised to enjoy the full economic benefits.

The new Rock Island rail line had been completed through Chariton during June and a brand new depot was prepared to dispatch and receive passengers, including miners taking the "man train" to and from work.

This new rail development turned Chariton into one of the busiest rail centers in the region, supplementing C.B.&Q. trains that already traveled the main east-west line as well as spurs headed southwest to St. Joe and northwest to Indianola.

Shaft No. 1 of the Central Iowa Coal Co., not far north of Chariton, had begun production about two weeks before Thanksgiving of 1913 and it was estimated that about 200 men were already at work in and around it. Hundreds more would flood into Lucas County before mining reached its peak.

The Herald-Patriot of Nov. 20 reported that, "Children of Chariton, and some grown persons, too, have been given the sight of the first coal miner in their experience this week. To those unfamiliar with the sight it was quite a novelty and even yet the miners attract considerable attention as they swing through the streets with buckets over their arms and torch firmly fastened to their caps. The "man train" is running regularly now and it carries the miners to and from their work morning and evening, more than 100 of them riding to the mine each day."

The average two weeks' pay for good miners was expected to be $50, according to the Herald-Patriot, and "with such a wage scale paid twice each month to 200 men it is only reasonable to believe that merchants of Chariton will feel the impetus of this new money that is brought into circulation here."

The principal difficulty for the miners that holiday season was finding adequate housing for their families, although that problem was being rectified. The Herald-Patriot editor had done his own count and concluded that 52 new houses intended specifically for rental to miners already were complete or would be finished soon.

You can still, a century later, see many of those small homes scattered around town, including the six "miner's row" bungalows along Eighth Street, just north of Yocum Park.


Then as now, good food would be a major Thanksgiving attraction and Chariton grocer Edwin Jarl wasn't missing a bet in the Herald-Patriot's Nov. 20 edition, advertising in both English and Swedish --- on separate pages.

 "Thanksgiving will soon be here," he announced to those who favored English: "We have lots of good things to eat. We will have plenty of good oysters, celery, lettuce, sweet potatoes, cranberries, mince meat, pumpkins and in fact everything that goes to make up a good dinner." Morrel's Iowa Pride Hams were available at Jarl's, too, priced at 18 cents per pound.

For those who preferred Swedish, Jarl offered lingonberries, skorpor, Bond ost and Kummings ost (cheese), medvurst (salami), anchovies, Norwegian sardines, fisk boller (fish balls), knackebrod and (last but hardly least) --- lutefisk!

Most stories in Chariton closed at 11 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, so picking up a few last-minute items would not be a problem, but if you were expecting your groceries to be delivered, Joe L. Piper warned that his only delivery that day would be at 9 a.m.

A few stores, however, planned to be closed all day, among them S. Oppenheimer, A.J. McCaughey, Palmer's Department Store, C.J. Israel and the Chariton Dry Goods store.

Most if not all of the schools in the county planned to be closed both Thursday and Friday, giving the younger set a two-day vacation.

And of you were interested in a holiday buggy ride to Lacona, the ladies of First Christian Church there were planning a bazaar on Thanksgiving Day. A turkey dinner would be served at noon (25 cents) and supper at 6 p.m. (15 cents for leftovers).


On the big day itself, the union Thanksgiving service commenced at 10:30 a.m. at the United Presbyterian Church and reportedly was largely attended. According to the Herald-Patriot of Dec. 4, the sermon by the Rev. H.J. Bryce, pastor of First Baptist Church, was a "masterly effort."

Shortly thereafter, the serious eating began. Most was confined to homes. Mrs. Elizabeth Newsome, for example, opened her house to a potluck dinner for more than 50 family members who, before dispersing, posed for a group photograph.

But 18 members of Chariton's younger set drove out to Slab Castle, on bluffs above the Chariton River south of Salem Church, for a holiday picnic prepared at the castle and "lacking none of the details of a perfect Thanksgiving dinner."

"A most hilarious time was had all day," the Herald-Patriot reported, "and the occasion will long be remembered by those present." 

Since families were together anyway, some couples chose Thanksgiving Day to get married.

At noon at the home of Mr. and Mrs. J.J. George in Derby, Miss Ethel R. Johnston, daughter of Mrs. Goerge, married Herman F. McCollough, son of Mr. and Mrs. C.E. McCollough. A three-course Thanksgiving dinner was served immediately after.

Back in Chariton, Miss Crete Hendrickson and William W. Scull tied the knot Thanksgiving evening at the home of the bride's grandmother, Mrs. Lou Hendrickson. A two-course supper followed.


But the big event of the day, then as now (there were no Black Friday sales then), was football --- commencing early in the afternoon when the Chariton High School team hosted the Simpson College Freshmen on the home field.

"The weather," according to the Herald-Patriot, "was favorable for a fast game and a large crowd testified their appreciation of conditions and interest in the game by turning out in a vast throng.

"The band playing martial airs and college tunes, followed by the team bedecked with their blankets and a joyous shouting and singing array of high school rooters paraded the downtown streets on their way to the field."

It turned out to be a great day for the Chargers, who defeated the Freshmen 9-6. The game capped, according to the Herald-Patriot, "the most successful season of the school's football career.

"For this season Chariton has totaled 95 points to opponents' 12. Chariton high school is champion of south central Iowa and have the banner awarded them by the high school football association hanging in their assembly room."

Finally that evening, "the members of the high school football team were entertained at a 6 o'clock dinner by Mrs. E.S. Jones, her son, Kirk Jones, being captain of the team. Covers were laid for 24. The table decorations consisted of pink and white carnations and ferns. The occasion was one of rare enjoyment and will long be pleasantly remembered by those present."

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