Thanksgiving Day Masquerade

By Maureen A. Taylor

It’s easy to be confused by this photo from the Library of Congress. It’s a group of children dressed in costume, but the photographer labeled it “Thanksgiving.” The signage in the window advertising a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, sweet potatos and cranberry sauce (for 40 cents!) supports the caption.

So what’s going on?

According to Greg Young, author of the Bowery Boys: New York City History blog and podcast, this dress-up once was part of a Thanksgiving event. He wrote about it last week in a Huffington Post column.

There were plenty of street urchins in ragged clothes in New York City in the circa-1900 period. Young states that children dressed like impoverished youth was part satire and part of the history of “mumming.” The latter term is associated with men who’d dress in costume and go door to door asking for food and money. In return they’d play music.

Long before Macy’s began its Thanksgiving parade tradition, groups of New Yorkers in costume would march down the streets. You can read more about the traditions behind this photo combining Halloween-type dress and Thanksgiving in Young’s article. If your ancestors lived in New York, perhaps they passed down a story or two about going door to door on Thanksgiving.

If you want to see more images like the one above, there’s a slide show on The Weather Channel site.

I love how photographs and history intersect. This week’s photo is a perfect example of that.

I’m thankful for all the readers that check out this weekly blog column!

Happy Thanksgiving!