Central Ohio, US Have History of Giving Thanks

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Thanksgiving will soon be with us once again. It is one of our oldest holidays and – in one form or another – dates back to our earliest colonial history. It is held late in the year after the autumn harvest and is a time to give thanks.

As to thanks for what – George Washington put it rather well in his Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789 when he said in part that the people should be thankful ‘for affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness” and “for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed.”

Of course to most of us today, Thanksgiving means some form of celebratory dinner with family and friends that usually centers on making our best effort to dispose of a turkey with all the trimmings.

Twere not always so.

When the society of Separatists who later came to be called Pilgrims sat down to dinner in 1621, it was probably not to turkey but to the four or five deer brought by their Native American guests to save the newcomers from starvation.

And when the United States was looking for a symbol of its new national identity, Benjamin Franklin felt that it should not be an eagle, but rather a turkey. “For the truth,” Franklin said is, “the turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true native of North America He is besides, though a little vain and silly, a Bird of Courage ” In short he was a bird after Franklin’s own heart.

But in the end the turkey became the bird of choice at Thanksgiving. Part of the reason for this was due to President’s Lincoln’s orders to send turkeys rather than chickens to soldiers at the front for their Thanksgiving during the American Civil War. But part of it was due to the simple fact that there were really a lot of wild turkeys in America for most of its history.

Early accounts of life in central Ohio after the American Revolution mention that wild turkeys were quite numerous. One morning while the front door was open at the old Merion homestead on South High Street in Columbus, the family dog chased a wild turkey into the house and it took refuge on the bed where it was caught. It weighed twenty pounds.

Local resident John Otstot once said he saw a flock of twenty or more on the Hilltop on the west side of the city in 1829 or 1830. And on another occasion a flock of turkeys alighted at the place where COSI stands today. According to one accent, “they were fired upon by sportsmen whose attention they attracted, and scattered in a panic. Several of the bewildered birds flew toward the town, and one of them, striking a building was so injured by the shock as to be easily captured.

In the years after the Civil War, domestic turkeys replaced wild ones as the bird of choice at Thanksgiving. But there were and continue to be other temptations as well at the great November feast.

In 1904 a local paper noted that “One housewife, whose grown sons are enthusiastic football players, is planning to surprise them with a football centerpiece. The ball will be an oblong pumpkin painted in college colors. The ball will be supported by a mound of apples and college pennants will ornament the base of fruit.”

Even after a hundred years, some things have not changed very much at all.

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