Once Upon a Time in Duluth: Thanksgiving wasn't half as bad here as it was for guy in L.A. who cut off his thumb

About 100 years ago: Duluthians celebrated Thanksgiving by offering grand feasts to the incarcerated, going rogue with sledding routes and proclaiming gratitude that they didn't live in Europe.

Thanksgiving 1921 in Duluth was a relatively calm affair compared to the guy in Los Angeles who chopped his thumb off. Duluth News Tribune Archive / News Bank

About 100 years ago, the News Tribune offered colorful coverage of Thanksgiving both locally, where the meal at the county jail was above par, and nationally, where a man lost a digit — and the bird he was trying to decapitate ran off, too.

The headline in the Friday, Nov. 25, 1921, edition: “Old-fashioned Thanksgiving Day finds Duluth united in voicing city’s gratitude in church, home; Lure of sports fails to deter attention to needy.”

Beneath it were three articles covering how the locals spent the day — whether it was outdoors, indoors or in jail. In the cast of the latter:

“Unfortunates incarcerated at the county jail were not unfortunate yesterday,” according to the News Tribune, who added that the men were served turkey, pie and “added to it all were cigars for the men, who needed the soothing caresses of Lady Nicotine to make it a ‘regular meal.’”

Elsewhere there was roast beef (the county home), turkey (for those in the hospital) and company.


“A group of Duluth women visited the home in the morning, distributing tobacco, pies and candy,” according to the News Tribune.

The work farm inmates had roast pork, applesauce and pumpkin pie and the Industrial Home for Girls and Nopeming Sanitorium had the same.

“We did the best we could and now all we can do is wait for Christmas,” according to A.P. Cook, described as the “clerk of the poor commission.”

But it wasn't all about food.

Get outside (careful where you slide)

For those who opted outside, the weather was ideal for Thanksgiving, according to the News Tribune. There had been a prediction of snow, which didn’t fall, and at midday it was 23 degrees and a west wind of 18 mph.

“Sleds,” according to the News Tribune, “were much in evidence on practically all hills fit for coasting while an icy surface lended aid as a speed medium.”

Oye, sledding. It was a sport in the midst of controversy. The where and how of it were in a limbo phase while Police Chief W.E. Pugh surveyed the city for safe spots for kiddies, far from the threat of automobiles. Pugh said he didn’t want to deprive the children of pleasure, “but we must protect their lives.”

As if to prove Pugh’s point, a 7-year-old coaster collided with a driver on Mesaba Ave., and suffered cuts on his cheek and eye. And within the week, a 14-year-old was “struck unconscious” and another broke his wrist when their bobsled hit a pole, a 12-year-old girl ran into a parked car, and a 15-year-old boy ran into a moving car.


Ultimately, Pugh named 17 hills acceptable for coasting: from 11th Avenue West from the boulevard to Second Street to Ninth Avenue East from Ninth Street to Fifth Street. Still, drivers and parents were warned. Pugh hadn't named his hills in time for Thanksgiving, though, so those recreationalists were taking their lives into their own hands.

Meanwhile across Duluth, skaters skated at Boulevard Twin Lakes, Indian Point and the rink at Harrison Point. Curlers, meanwhile, curled alongside jazz tunes from the Legion band. Men from the Y.M.C.A. dormitory, it was reported, went for a hike.

Church and charities

The local churches held special services and Rev. A.J. Croft of Endion Methodist offered a union service for six churches. His topic: “The Undefeated Christ” and his hope that the Washington arms conference would be successful.

Rev. H. W. Cloud of the West Duluth Baptist Church, in his sermon, said: “We thank God that we are living in the United States instead of famine-stricken Europe. That we have enjoyed abundant harvests and have not suffered from any major catastrophe.”

Associated charities banded together to bring 326 Thanksgiving baskets and 46 families received supplies from the Salvation Army. Hundreds of hungry men were reportedly fed at the “doughnut hut” on Third Avenue West and Superior Street, a temporary dugout space on the corner that served coffee and donuts.

Birds, elsewhere

While certainly varied accounts, some of the most noteworthy blurbs about bird mayhem popped up outside of Minnesota. Dateline, Los Angeles, and a two sentence report: “James Hartrov, today attempting to chop off a turkey’s head amputated his thumb. The bird escaped.”

One woman found her lost diamond while prepping a chicken for Thanksgiving dinner. Duluth News Tribune Archive / News Bank


Meanwhile, in Aberdeen, South Dakota, Mrs. Fannie Smart had the opposite luck. She found the $100 diamond she had lost two months earlier inside of the chicken she was prepping for T-Day.

Christa Lawler is a features reporter for the News Tribune. She can be reached at .

Christa Lawler is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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