Thanksgiving is the one uniquely American holiday, as it should be, with its antecedents at Plymouth Rock and although we do not send them now Thanksgiving cards were often exchanged between friends and we have a few that were sent to Margaret Edythe Young and will share them with our readers along with stories and advertisements from the Galveston Daily News to give a picture of the holiday.
Margaret Edythe Young was born in 1884 and by 1888 her father had become a foreman stevedore for Sweeney & Company and was also the proprietor of the New Wharf Saloon at the north end of 33rd Street, a property that belonged to his mother-in-law, and he and his family lived above the saloon. Galveston was a thriving port as evidenced by the arrivals and departures reported in the News:
- ARRIVED – Schooner Carrie Strong from Norfolk, Virginia with a load of coal
- ARRIVED – Mallory Steamship Lampasas from New York city with general cargo
- DEPARTED – British Steamship Clementia with cotton for Liverpool
- DEPARTED – Mallory Steamship Nueces with cotton and wool for New York
The war was over, the military occupation of the South was over, Southerners were proud again as evidenced by the notice that Terry’s Texas Rangers, CSA would be holding their annual reunion in Houston on Wednesday the 19th of December but some scourges could not be so easily dismissed as the yankees and their carpetbaggers as there was also notice of a Yellow Fever outbreak in Jacksonville, Florida. Nonetheless the holiday was observed by proclamation of President Cleveland, who the NEWS noted did not have quite so much to be thankful for after the election, and they went on to note, “The day has become one of general observance and is the third in the great days of the nation, Christmas and Independence Day the others. It has no bearing on creed or race and is as cosmopolitan as Christmas.”
Interestingly the article from the 29th of November 1888 continues, “The day will be observed in this city as a national holiday by closing of the customs house, post office, courts etc.. There will be but little religious observance of the day, the Episcopal church being about the only one in which there will be special services held.” After describing the feast of turkey and ham the article concludes, “There are few, if any, social entertainments scheduled to take place in this city in observance of the day and no special sport except a cricket match , in which a number of Englishmen will indulge at Baseball park this afternoon providing the ground is sufficiently dry.”
By 1894 Edythe and her family had moved to a two storey frame house at the corner of Winnie and 35th Street reflecting the increasing prosperity of the family as her father had taken over Sweeney & Company and rolled it into John Young & Company, Stevedores.
While the feast was still in order the religious community had become far more active in the holiday. For Houston the Pastor’s association agreed to hold general Thanksgiving services at 11:00 a.m with the first and fourth wards, north, to meet at the Lubbock Street Presbyterian Church. The second, third and fourth wards [south] to hear Dr. Lamkin at Shearn Methodist Church. The fifth ward had the choice of the McKee Street Methodist Church or the Common Street Christian Chapel and the congregations of the German churches were to assemble at the First Methodist Episcopal Church, south.
Mean while, in Galveston, at St. Marys Infirmary, “an extra dinner will be served to the patients this noon by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, consisting of turkey and dressing, light pudding. nice soups and the like. There are 105 patients in the hospital in every stage of illness from nearly every complaint except contagious diseases. Ninety of these are pay patients and 15 charity patients. The patients for whom the sisters receive a remuneration are marine, county and Santa Fe railroad patients and some 25 who are paying individually for the most excellent service they receive. Five or six of the patients are there from old age and expect to remain there until death carries them away. The NEWS reporter was shown over the hospital by a sister. Everything was spotlessly clean and the different wards showed much attention upon the part of the thirty-five sisters at present in the mother-house.”
Football had crept into the holiday as the Ball High “A” team was going to College Station to play the Texas A&M team. For the Ball players the average weight was 145 lbs, the average height 5 feet 8 inches and the average age 17 – the average weight for the Aggies was 152 but we don’t know how tall or how old they were. Ball’s “B” team was staying home to play St. Marys University at 3:00 pm. While most of the advertisements in the paper indicated that merchants were either closed – or closing early – on Thanksgiving day there were also ads promoting Christmas goods, including toys, like the following:
Thanksgiving in 1900 in Galveston must have been a muted holiday with the relief of having survived the Storm tempered by the losses still sharply felt. Edythe and her family had moved south of Broadway to her father’s new nine room home at 3324 Avenue L right around the corner from St. Patrick’s Church and within the proverbial stone’s throw of every other address that would be important to her. On page 4 of the NEWS of the 29th of November 1900 there was a poem by Margherita Arlina Hamm, an early suffragette journalist, who was probably the first female journalist to cover American troops in combat in the Spanish-American War. Her writing has the distinctive patriotic fervor of the age and was probably well received in Galveston in general and in the Young household in particular.
The services held in 1900 were special as related by the NEWS, “For the first time, perhaps, in the history of Galveston, public Thanksgiving services will be held at 4:00 o’clock this afternoon at the court-house, and it is expected that all good citizens will attend the open air celebration. It will not be a celebration in the true sense of the word, but really a gathering of Galvestonians to unite in public service of thanksgiving and prayer. The meeting, to which every man, woman and child in Galveston is cordially invited to attend, will be for the purpose of publicly expressing our thanks to Almighty God for our deliverance and to the world at large for the munificent gifts, acts of noblest charity and heartfelt demonstrations of sympathy shown us in our hour of greatest affliction and sorrow. All the world mourns the irreparable loss of the thousands of our people who perished in the hurricane and all the world was with Galveston and her people in this calamity. Those who escaped the fury of that cataclysm have much to be thankful for and to the world we owe our deepest expression of thanks for the timely and most generous response bestowed upon us.”
The service itself was an admixture of religious and civil expression with an opening prayer by the Rev. Dr. John R. Carter followed by a homily by the rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral, Monsignor James Martin Kirwin, who helped organize a committee of public safety to restore order, drafted the edict putting the city under martial law, supervised the disposal of the dead, and served as a member of the Central Relief Committee that aided surviving flood victims. After the divines spoke two civic leaders addressed what had been done since the Storm and what Galveston planned to do in the future with the program finally being handed back to the clergy for a closing benediction from Rabbi Henry Cohen.
In 1906 Edythe was finished with her formal education as was acting as a tutor for her numerous nieces and nephews, caring for her mother and younger sister, traveling and was busy with painting and drawing. It was hard to tell whether she was at her parent’s house, her sister’s which was three blocks away or her brother’s which was six blocks the other way. The family chauffeur was more likely to know where she was than her parents or siblings but the faces in her pictures look happy and her correspondence is full of good news and the pax Americana of Theodore Rex must have been an invigorating place to live.
The NEWS reports that the protestants were holding a united service at the First Baptist church, while at St. Marys Cathedral a solemn high mass was officiated over by Monsignor Kirwin and Temple N’nai Israel at 11:00 a.m. a Thanksgiving service was to be held with the public invited. It is interesting to note that while most businesses were closed – or closed early – the reading room of the new Rosenberg Library was kept open from 2 until 5 in the afternoon, although the circulation desk was closed, and the Post Office observed Sunday hours with no deliveries but the stamp, general delivery, inquiry and carrier’s windows open from 9:45 to 10:45 am. There were football games at the Sportsman’s park and the golf handicap on the links but the big news was the automobile races.
The course for the car race had been set up on Denver beach west of the end of the street railway track and was a mile long with turnings at either end to support two or four mile races. The NEWS reported on the 29th of November 1906 that, “Captain Theriot’s splendid two-cylinder Buick touring cars showed wonderful fastness when lengthened out on the course. While somewhat slow in starting because of the two cylinders it is a marvel of speed when the distance permits the engine to accumulate power… Interest in the races is centered in the runabout race and something real exciting is promised for those who decide to spend Thanksgiving afternoon at Denver beach.”
“The street car management has arranged to handle the crowds which are expected to visit the races and the Denver cars will run through to the beach as during the summer. There is absolutely no charge to witness the races and they will furnish a pleasant method of spending Thanksgiving afternoon. Carriages may reach the beach via Sixtieth street and will be banked near the street car terminal to prevent accidents.”
“The members of the Automobile Club wish to impress it upon the public that the races are not for the purpose of holding races of their own or the public’s benefit, but for the purpose of demonstrating that the Galveston beach is well fitted for holding races and is a fast track.” It would not be too long before half the nation was traveling a hundred miles or more in their cars to celebrate Thanksgiving but first the automobile had to prove itself. For the time being most travel would still be over the rails on lines like the MKT as shown in the following advertisement:
Thanksgiving of 1912 must have been an especially happy one for Margaret Edythe Young who, two days before the holiday, became Mrs. Margaret Young Bettencourt when she married the young man from across Avenue L – Anthony Lewis Bettencourt. Although they were on their honeymoon in San Antonio for the holiday they would soon return and set up housekeeping at 3402 Avenue O – still within walking distance of every other member of the family in Galveston.
Football had become a regular part of the holiday with a team from the cruiser USS Tacoma playing a Galveston eleven and that evening a team from the YMCA met the team from the state medical college [UT Medical Branch in a basketball game at the YMCA gymnasium. There were a few changes sneaking over the horizon.
The old Galveston Beach Hotel, a Victorian frame gingerbread playhouse built by Nicholas J. Clayton in 1882, had burned in 1898 – under somewhat dubious circumstances. With the seawall in place Galveston had turned to rebuilding and one of the crown jewels of that effort was the Hotel Galvez which opened in 1911 and was, and many would say still is, the finest resort on the beach. In keeping with its cachet of elegance anyone who could still move on Thursday evening could repair to their grand dining room for the following meal:
Roasted Tomato Soup
Salt and Pepper Squid with Mango and Bean Shoot Salad,
Lime Leaf Aioli and Sesame Oil
Beef Carpaccio with Wild Boar Sausage, Parsnip Crisps,
Celeriac Purée and Baby Watercress
Camembert Beignet with Pear and Cranberry Chutney,
Chestnut and Roquette Salad with Chestnut Butter
Pan-Fried Fillet of Flounder, Caper Crushed New Potatoes
and Slow Cooked Vine Tomatoes
Supreme of Guinea Fowl, Dauphinois Potato, Wild Mushrooms
and Pumpkin Purée
Cannon of Lamb, Creamed Potato, Roasted Provencal Vegetables
and Apricot Chutney
Warm Raspberry Tart with Rum Chantilly
Pistachio and Blueberry Sponge, Vanilla Custard and Pistachio Ice Cream
Star Anise Crème Brûlée with Shortbread Biscuit
Apple, Pecan or Pumpkin pie a la mode
Selection of English Farmhouse Cheeses, Celery, Quince Jelly
and Water Biscuits
The automobile was much more of a commonplace by 1912 but still singular enough that the NEWS published the names of those who had been granted driving licenses, often right beside the names of those who had taken out marriage licenses. Of greater importance to mobility was the fact that the Interurban was in operation and running on an hourly basis. Houston and Galveston were linked from 1911 to 1936 by a high-speed interurban line, whose cars covered the 50-mile distance, downtown to downtown, in as little as 75 minutes and since many families – including the Young’s – had family members in both cities the high-speed electric rail made day trips possible.
Just as 1900 must have been a very somber Thanksgiving 1918 must have been guardedly joyous. The World War – and that is how it was referred to until well into the 1930’s since people were optimistic enough to believe there was only going to be one so there was no need to number them – was over. The epidemic of Spanish influenza which had started in September and in October had caused the Galveston schools to be closed for two weeks was not as virulent as previous yellow fever outbreaks had been and maybe because of the milder conditions in Galveston was not as devastating as it was in colder climates. Edythe and Toney had a happy three-year old daughter named after Edythe’s baby sister, Laureene, and while there would have been sadness over her mother, Mary Ann Young, who had passed away the previous April every indication is that it was a happy time.
The Galvez again led the way as the fashionable place to be and had much improved on their advertising copy as seen in the Galveston Daily NEWS of the 29th of November.
And there was a new diversion for those who wanted the latest thing in entertainment that would have been especially thrilling for Galvestonians who lived on the sea.
The Church still got top billing with the installation of Christopher Edward Byrne as the Bishop of the Archdiocese of Galveston – a post he would hold until 1950 – sharing the front page with Woodrow Wilson’s plan for a peace conference – a somewhat less successful tenure. All of the church services for Thanksgiving were dutifully listed along with all the good works for everyone from the orphans to the aged that were scheduled for the day and many were able to keep wholly and holy the holiday. Over the years the holiday would change but during Margaret Edythe Young’s short life it was a time of faith and family with a hearty leavening of fun and for most of us fortunate enough to share it with those we love it still is today.