Asheville Archives: Patriotic residents forego turkey on Thanksgiving, 1918

TASTES LIKE CHICKEN: In 1918, Americans were asked to consider alternatives to turkey for that year's Thanksgiving celebration. As a substitute, some local hunters opted for opossum. Illustration by Irene Olds

“There is a prophesy, at the moment of writing, that patriotic Americans will do without Thanksgiving turkeys this year so that all the bonny birds may be sent to the soldiers,” declared the Nov. 17, 1918, edition of The Sunday Citizen. While the Great War ended with Germany’s surrender on Nov. 11, millions of American soldiers remained overseas.

“Thanksgiving, without the symbolic bird, will be like Hamlet with the Dane left out,” the paper continued. “[B]ut no generous American will give too much regret to his turkey, remembering that his own sacrifice means turkey for the gallant boys ‘over there,’ who must certainly not be deprived of their Thanksgiving feast.”

Of course, those who wanted a bird on the table would be able to find one. But the dish would come with a hefty sticker price. According to the Nov. 10 edition of The Sunday Citizen, local markets were charging around 45 cents a pound — a 10 cent hike from the previous year.

Because of the high cost, produce and market men expected fewer families to serve turkey, the paper reported. Nevertheless, these same men anticipated their overall sales to be good. “The apparent paradox is explained by the demand from the army camps within proximity to Asheville,” the paper explained. “Uncle Sam’s heroes who are waging war on tuberculosis at Azalea [Hospital] will have a turkey spread, the management of that institution having asked local dealers to bid on its requisition.” (See, “Asheville Archives: Construction begins on U.S.A. General Hospital No. 19,” Oct. 17, Xpress)

Both the Nov. 10 and Nov. 17 editions of The Sunday Citizen offered ideas for turkey substitutes. Steak was one option, while roasted duck was another. Meanwhile, “fine birds of paper mache in life-like semblance … are ready for Thanksgiving table decoration. … [And] since fashion is making such a fuss about sashes, most of the Thanksgiving birds are sashed with bright orange ribbon[.]”

Another popular option, the paper noted, was opossum. “With other forms of meat so high [in cost], those inclined to be night prowlers have a doubly good excuse for engaging in their favorite sport,” The Sunday Citizen wrote. These hunters, the paper continued, “feel that they can mix sport with economy by following the trails of the hounds at night and fattening the opossums for Thanksgiving day spreads.”

With several hunting parties already formed, the paper wrote, “[o]wners of good hounds are finding themselves enjoying the height of popularity, friends warming up to them while requesting the use of their dogs.” Further, the paper noted, the activity was not exclusive to males. According to The Sunday Citizen, hunting opossum “has become a popular pastime among young people of both sexes[.]”

Despite the war’s end, death notifications continued to arrive stateside. On Thanksgiving Day, The Asheville Citizen reported that two local men, Lt. Fagg Malloy and Sgt. Royal Stokely had both recently perished, adding “to this city’s ever-growing list of young sons who have given their lives for their country.” (According to a 2013 list compiled by the North Carolina World War I Centennial Commemoration Committee, 29 Asheville men died in the war; in total, Buncombe County lost 42 enlisted men.) Malloy, a former member of the paper’s staff, died from pneumonia on Oct. 23; Stokely’s end came one day before the armistice was signed, dying from influenza on Nov. 10.

In the same day’s paper, a mix of gratitude and sorrow was expressed:

“Wherever Americans are gathered today, at home and abroad, regardless of religious affiliations, they will offer fervent prayers of thanksgiving to the Supreme Being Who delivered the world from the menace of savagery. Even in the homes where death and sorrow brood because of war’s fearful tolls, there will be a thankfulness that many, very many American homes have been spared the agonizing hours which others must know.”

Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents.

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist.

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