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Throwback Tulsa: Roosevelt created a ‘Franksgiving’ monster

Throwback Tulsa: Roosevelt created a ‘Franksgiving’ monster

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President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1939 Thanksgiving proclamation was a turkey.

Roosevelt was trying to give retail merchants an extra week between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but by tinkering with the tradition, the president unleashed a storm of controversy and confusion.

The day set aside to thank almighty God for the blessings we have received became an almighty mess.

Like this year, the November 1939 calendar had five Thursdays. Traditionally, the holiday was observed on the last Thursday of the month because that was the day President Abraham Lincoln chose when he declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863.

Some states went along with Roosevelt’s decision moving the holiday to Nov. 23 instead of Nov. 30, which gave stores an extra week to advertise and sell merchandise before Christmas. Other states balked at the idea and retained the traditional last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving. And two states – Colorado and Texas – celebrated both.

Taking a swipe at Roosevelt, some people called it “Franksgiving.”

Two Thanksgivings

Gov. Leon C. Phillips said Oklahoma would stick to the customary Thanksgiving date:

“It will be the last Thursday in 1939, 1940, 1941 and 1942. After that, I don’t care what they do about it.” (Phillips would no longer be governor.)

As it turned out, many Oklahomans got two Thanksgiving holidays in 1939.

Tulsa city attorney H.O. Bland advised Mayor Truman A. Penney that both days must be observed, citing Oklahoma statutes that “every day appointed by the president of the United States or the governor of the state is hereby set aside as a legal holiday.

“This means that the president’s Thanksgiving, Nov. 23 is a legal holiday and that Nov. 30, decreed as Thanksgiving day by Gov. Phillips, also is a legal holiday,” Bland said.

The Tulsa post office sided with the governor and remained open on Nov. 23, closing on Nov. 30. Rural mail was delivered on Nov. 30, but not on Nov. 23.

Tulsa city, county and federal offices (except the postal department) took double holidays. Libraries were closed both days but schools observed the traditional holiday. Quail hunters got an extra holiday.

Some oil companies also observed both holidays, because federal wage-and-hour laws require them to pay time-and-a-half for legal holidays.

In 1940, the holiday confusion continued and some Tulsa businesses complained that the attempt to increase holiday sales had backfired.

“It gave us two bad days last year and two bad days this year, instead of just one a year,” one retailer said. “Chief achievement of the shakeup to date is injury to the last two weeks’ business in November.”

To end the controversy, Congress established the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving, and President Roosevelt signed the resolution on Dec. 26, 1941.

'Hallelujah' and football

A Tulsa World story from 1940 gives a glimpse of the city’s traditional Thanksgiving observances before World War II:

• On Thanksgiving Eve, eight blocks of downtown were set aglow by Christmas lights. The lights would be turned on from 5:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. each night. Decorations included 400 fir trees and 7,000 yards of fir roping.

• The University of Tulsa’s Golden Hurricane was hosting the University of Arkansas Razorbacks at 2 p.m. at Skelly Stadium.

• Protestant churches in the east, west, north and downtown sections of town were holding joint services in which various denominations came together on Thanksgiving morning. For instance, members of downtown churches gathered at First Methodist, where a 100-voice choir from First Christian, First Methodist, First Lutheran and Boston Avenue Methodist sang “The Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah.”

• Tulsa County Jail prisoners feasted on 100 pounds of turkey. “Each man will get about one-half pound of turkey, in addition to generous helpings of the trimmin’s,” said the chief jailer. The “trimmin’s” included oyster dressing, cranberry sauce, celery, mashed potatoes, gravy, hot rolls, coffee and pumpkin pie.

• The Sand Springs Home was expecting about 300 people to attend the annual reunion of the orphans' and widows' colony. They would share a turkey dinner along with a band concert, singing by the children and guests and a devotional service.

President George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving proclamation.

Washington directed that Sept. 26, 1789, be observed as “a day of thanksgiving and prayer” to recognize “the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Read more Throwback Tulsa stories.

Debbie Jackson 918-581-8374

Twitter: @SundayTW

Hilary Pittman 918-732-8182


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