This Is What Thanksgiving Looked Like 100 Years Ago

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Today, when we dream of Thanksgiving feasts, we envision impossibly overstuffed turkeys, Macy’s Day parade crowds and daunting lines queuing up on retail blocks across the country. It’s a far cry from the masked balls, costume processions and penny scrambles that dominated fall festivities 100 years ago.

Behold, the Thanksgiving maskers of the early 1900s:

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Thanksgiving Maskers via Bain News Service/Library of Congress
We came across the above image courtesy of Greg Young, a writer for The Bowery Boys: New York City History, who recently paid homage to the forgotten custom of masking in a blog post for The Huffington Post. As Young pointed out, before Macy’s launched its annual parade in 1924, Americans celebrated by dressing up and staging crawls in places like New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago. They would “scramble for pennies” and move from home to home “begging” for treats — a practice eerily similar to Halloween.

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Thanksgiving Maskers via Bain News Service/Library of Congress
NPR elaborated on the images, noting a New York Times article from 1911 that described the maskers as “fantastically garbed youngsters and their elders” who could be found on every street corner. Those same folks would toss confetti and flour, buy papier-mache masks and, in NYC in particular, dress like ragamuffins, hence the holiday’s nickname, Ragamuffin Day.

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Thanksgiving Maskers via Bain News Service/Library of Congress
Portraits of maskers have been preserved in the Library of Congress’ online archives — part of the George Grantham Bain collection. Captured by one of America’s earliest news picture agencies, the series of 20th century photos documents everything from natural disasters to women’s suffrage campaigns to New York City sporting events. Of the 39,744 negatives and 1,600 photographic prints made available from Bain News Service, a handful of photographs memorializes Thanksgiving celebrations from 1910 to 1915.

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Thanksgiving Maskers via Bain News Service/Library of Congress
In the grander scheme of Thanksgiving history, these photos illuminate a time after Yale and Princeton popularized Thanksgiving Day football games in 1876. But it would be a few years until Gimbel’s deemed Thanksgiving the perfect time for Santa’s first appearance of the year. Of course, Thanksgiving revelers of the early 1900s were just as enthusiastic about food as we are today. Below, you can catch a glimpse of what turkey shopping looked like a century ago.

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Thanksgiving Maskers via Bain News Service/Library of Congress
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Thanksgiving Maskers via Bain News Service/Library of Congress
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Thanksgiving Maskers via Bain News Service/Library of Congress
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Thanksgiving Maskers via Bain News Service/Library of Congress
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Thanksgiving Maskers via Bain News Service/Library of Congress
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Thanksgiving Maskers via Bain News Service/Library of Congress
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Thanksgiving turkey shopping via Bain News Service/Library of Congress
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Thanksgiving turkey shopping via Bain News Service/Library of Congress
 

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