The 1921 Penn State football team. Photo via Penn State University Archives
The Thanksgiving break is over and everyone is back in State College. Our family was one of those who stayed around and celebrated the holiday here in Happy Valley. And if you did too, and were out Thanksgiving morning in a last-minute search for some forgotten ingredient for your meal, you may have noticed a dearth of humanity as you went on your food quest.
That was in part because almost 500 runners took part in the Nittany Valley Running Club Boalsburg Turkey Trot at 9 a.m. on Thursday. Add in the family and friends cheering them on, the volunteers helping, and the State College police directing traffic, and it’s possible a nice percentage of the local population was on the grounds of the Pennsylvania Military Museum that morning.
And what a great way to start the Thanksgiving holiday! First, by giving thanks that the event occurred at all after a one-year COVID hiatus. And second, by being thankful that so many people showed up in 30-degree weather to support the Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy’s cross country and track and field programs and The Friends of the PA Military Museum.
I’ve taken part in many Turkey Trot 5k races in my life – my first was in 1993 – and found them to be wonderful opportunities to get out in the fresh air first thing Thanksgiving morning, get some exercise and rationalize the additional calories I’ll consume that day. But an added beauty of every Turkey Trot I’ve ever run is they are primarily family affairs. Everyone and anyone can participate and your finish time is a secondary consideration – if it’s a consideration at all.
Which is why I suggest that you place a Turkey Trot on your holiday to-do list for next year. For locals there is not only the Boalsburg event but the Penns Valley Turkey Trot in Spring Mills along Sinking Creek that benefits the HOPE Fund of Penns Valley. Then there are many others around the state and the country. When you know where you’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving 2022, check the internet, find yourself a Turkey Trot and convince everyone who will be with you to sign up. You won’t regret it. And because it’s November, remember the old Norwegian adage – there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.
But if you do sign up specifically for the Boalsburg Turkey Trot, one additional benefit is spending time outside on Thanksgiving Day at the Pennsylvania Military Museum where there are multiple monuments to those from the Centre Region who have served in the various armed conflicts throughout U.S. history. Which, as the day lends itself to giving thanks, is the perfect occasion to consider the past and think about those who have gone before us and what life was like in Happy Valley years ago.
That is what happened to me last Thursday. I got in a reflective mood and began wondering what was going on in Happy Valley 100 years ago – just three years after the end of World War I and eighteen months after the end of the 1918 influenza pandemic. What was Thanksgiving 1921 like?
The beauty of being alive during Thanksgiving 2021 is that information such as this is just a click away. I was able to go online, make a small payment to access newspaper archives and find the Saturday, Oct. 15, 1921 edition of The Times – which was published every Saturday morning in State College by The Nittany Printing and Publishing Company. Unfortunately, that was the last paper from 1921 available online, so I wouldn’t get an exact feeling of Thanksgiving that year, but this would be close enough.
And here is what late fall 1921 in Happy Valley was like…
The newspaper that day was eight pages long and cost $1.50 for a year’s subscription, or 5 cents an issue.
The headline in the middle of the front page announced the inauguration of John Thomas as the new president of Pennsylvania State College. In his opening address he remarked on the need to convert the school to The Pennsylvania State University so that it could become in name what “it is now in fact” (something that wouldn’t happen for another 32 years).
Football played a prominent role on the front page with three stories. The announcement that the Penn State’s football team would be finishing up the season against the University of Washington on Dec. 3 was given space at the top of the page (scheduling a game just seven weeks before it happened!), and the addition caused the paper to declare 1921’s schedule as “undoubtedly the longest and hardest ever drawn up for a Penn State eleven.” (They finished the season 8-0-2). A preview of that day’s Penn State game against Lehigh also got top-page space.
The third football item was a description of State High’s 7-6 loss to Milton High School the previous weekend. Interestingly for those of us with punters in the family, the game was described as a “punting battle.”
Other items featured on the front page included: the next day Rev. J. W. Long would preach his last sermon at St. Paul’s Church before leaving to become the President of Dickinson Seminary; the Red Cross would hold a second clinic for “crippled children” at the Glenn Sanitarium; the State College Chamber of Commerce would hold its big annual meeting that Tuesday evening; the local American Legion Post would show the official war film, “Flashes of Action;” a photo of Corporal Bromley R. Smith, of the 167th Machine Gun Battalion, who had been killed in action in France during WWI; the State College Parent-Teachers Association was striving for 100% membership; the Boy Scouts would observe Theodore Roosevelt’s birthday with a pilgrimage; and the Centre County Farm Bureau would conduct a farm egg laying contest for anyone with a flock of 25 or more hens.
The rest of the paper – pages 2 through 8 – contained a few short stories; opinion pieces about the federal government titled “Washington Sidelights;” a foodie column titled, “The Kitchen Cabinet;” two full columns for content from The American Legion; classified ads; fashion articles on evening gowns and negligees; and a few advertorials – copy that is printed in the same type as news items but concludes with the word “Advertisement.” My favorite of those was titled, “Mother! Move Child’s Bowels With California Fig Syrup.”
The paper also contained numerous regular advertisements where I learned a few things:
- Millions of men liked Lucky Strike cigarettes because “it’s toasted which seals in the real Burley taste.”
- Three packages of Jell-O were 25 cents at the Weaver Grocery in Bellefonte.
- Construction may have been popular because there were four different lumber company ads.
- Wrigley’s gum was 5 cents a pack and “No other goody lasts so long, costs so little or does so much for you.”
- Grape-Nuts is the “wholesome delicious cereal that promotes normal digestion…” (100 years later and the ads haven’t changed.)
- A Willys-Knight Roadster could be purchased for $1,475 from Van Ingen & Co. in Bellefonte. Although the Sedan model was $2,395 and neither included the shipping cost from Toledo.
The most interesting part of the paper though were the “Local Mentions,” a cross between gossip, Who’s Who, and small-town society news. Items such as:
- Mrs. D. G. Meek was a Williamsport visitor Wednesday.
- Miss Susan E. Shadet is spending this month with her sister.
- Mrs. Godshall of Centre Mills spent several days among friends in town.
- Mr. and Mrs. A. J. Hazel and daughter made a trip to Millheim.
- Miss Mary Reish was given a surprise birthday party “by a number of her women friends.”
- A number of State College women were going to Lock Haven to attend the inter-county Conference of the League of Women Voters (The 19th Amendment had just been ratified only 14 months earlier, on August 18, 1920).
What a trip down history lane. Having found the answer to my question of what life was like 100 years ago, and having reflected on my good fortune at not having lived through a World War, ever smoked Lucky Strikes or been force-fed California Fig Syrup (better than castor oil?), I concluded my search and pondered what Thanksgiving meant to me. I am thankful for all I have, am ready for the glad tidings to come and hope you have a safe and healthy holiday season. Oh, and I look forward to seeing you next Thanksgiving at the Boalsburg Turkey Trot!
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