Sentimental Sunday: Anything f’Thanksgiving, Continued

Back in 2010, I expounded upon a long-ago Brooklyn custom in which kids went door-to-door on Thanksgiving, asking for treats. As I wrote then, I once suspected my Greenpoint-raised mom of making this up purely to mess with our childish minds.

But the custom was quite real, as readers have since noted. “Anything f’Thanksgiving” has generated some lovely comments. As they show, not only did this custom extend beyond the borders of Greenpoint, it remains a bright memory in the minds of former city children.

Most recently, Lola from Queens writes:

On Thanksgiving morning, the children dressed up in costumes to honor the people that they admired. No Hobos Allowed! My younger brother dressed up as a policeman. I dressed up as a fine lady, like my mother, so did my twin sister. One would say “Anything for Thanksgiving”? as you rang the door bell.

And here’s Judy from the Bronx:

Anything for Thanksgivin. Absolutely, We lived on 162nd Street in the Bronx in a 10 story building and we would dress up and go into the alleys and beg. People would throw pennies out of their windows. Some would wrap the pennies in bits of newspaper so they didn’t bounce all over the place. We also, filled socks with flour and tried to hit each other.

(Hey, Judy, a belated thanks for remembering the flour-filled socks. My mother HATED those as much as she liked the dressing up.)

Speaking of which, John from Greenpoint also recalls the socks, but as a Halloween high point:

We would fill womens’ old stockings with flour and hit each other with them..Lots of fun.

I think I’ll move on, so as not to give the youth of today any bright ideas. The point is, John and my mom might have differed on the socks part, but not on the fun.

Another, larger point to be made about Anything f’Thanksgiving:

For a lot of people, the terms “city” and “folk tradition” are incompatible. What an error this is, as the shared memories demonstrate so strongly. From the bottom of my heart, I thank all of you who reached out to explain and expand upon this custom and where it took place. What a beautiful example of the lost flavors and colors of city life, long ago.

[UPDATE: Helen in her comment below asks: Did kids dress up on both Halloween and Thanksgiving? My short answer: I'm not sure. The longer answer, according to my late Mom: Thanksgiving was when she dressed up and went door-to-door; Halloween was for mischief-making, such as chalking people's doors and clouting them with the infamous flour-filled socks. She did not specify whether one dressed up for the mischief making. So, please tell us, anyone who remembers -- did kids dress up on both days?]

And now, for all of us Anything f’Thanksgiving fans, Mr. Robert Martens has shared a remarkable treat — 1940s home movie footage taken by his grandfather, Gus, in College Point, Queens.

Be sure to read Mr. Martens’ accompanying description to his video, where he describes his family’s memories of the tradition in greater detail.  He thinks Anything f’Thanksgiving might have died out because city residents who had survived the Great Depression became understandably allergic to the idea of their children dressing up as beggars and seeking treats door to door. I think the ways mass media smoothed out and homogenized pop culture after World War II didn’t do the custom any favors, either.

But whatever your theory, it seems clear that the ragamuffins of Thanksgiving went away sometime in the 1950s, so this crystal-clear footage is now a precious reminder of lost era.

Happy trick-or-treating, whenever you do it.


This Makes Me So Happy …

A Google maps tour of old Red Hook, by Adrienne Onofri.

This map includes sites where lived Brooklynites who served in World War II, along with historic landmarks and just a lot of interesting information about how the neighborhood evolved. So wonderful that someone took the time to do this; it’s already answered a question or two I have about some Red Hook places.

Also, since it’s Wednesday (Hump Day) and all, I thought I’d give you something else that always makes me  so happy: the final scenes of the 1982 movie My Favorite Year. I never tire of the touching performance by Peter O’Toole as an over-the-hill matinee idol doing a guest turn on a live-television variety hour.

And my mother always said it was a spot-on portrait of early-1950s New York City.


Census Nerd Heaven! A Cautionary Tale

Right here, from the 1930 U.S. census for Ward 6 of Jersey City, N.J., is one compelling reason to become a Census Nerd™.

Here is what the Ancestry.com index gave me for a gentleman named Philip Teitelbaum:

“Philip Deitelbaum [Teitelbaum]”, born about 1895 in New York, in the household of a father named Edward Holman in Jersey City, N.J. Clicking through to the image set for Ward 6, I found the beginning of the household, at the bottom of Sheet 13B.

Name/Age Relationship Birthplace Parents’ Birthplace
Holman, Edward, 46 Head Ohio Ga./N. Dakota
James, Julia, 46 Boarder Georgia Georgia/Georgia
Livingston, Elijah, 49 Boarder Ohio Tenn./N. Dakota

So there is Edward Holman. Ohhh-kay. Let’s look at the rest of the family, which is continued on the next scanned image, Sheet 14A.

Name/Age Relationship Birthplace Parents’ Birthplace
Guthier, Dorothy, 8 Daughter New Jersey New Jersey
Ruane, Anna, 27 Servant Irish Free State Irish Free State
Schwartz, John, 12 Son New Jersey Poland
Schroder, John, 3 Son New Jersey New Jersey
Deitelbaum, Philip, 35 Son New York Czechoslovakia
Fulton, Joseph, 3 Son New Jersey New Jersey
Williams, Roger, 20 Brother South Carolina South Carolina
Robinson, Eric, 16 Niece Georgia Georgia

What an enigmatic patriarch Edward is – born in Ohio, or New Jersey, or Poland, or Czechoslovakia; running a boardinghouse, and siring children with four different surnames!  (Not to mention siring Philip, only 11 years his junior.)

This is either an early example of a family in the Witness Protection Program, or a terrific cast of characters in an abandoned novel by John Irving. (The World According to Holman? The Ward 6 Rules?)

Beguiling as those possibilities are, of course that is not what is going on here. What is actually happening is signaled by a line written by the enumerator at the bottom of Sheet 13B, right after Edward Holman and his two boarders:

Enumerated by Elizabeth Finkel and Finished On April 9. Here ends District 368 Block District 9-10.”

Ah. If you hadn’t sensed it before (and gosh, I hope you did), now you know that Edward Holman & Co. on Sheet 13B are probably not connected to the group on the following sheet. And in fact, they aren’t.

That final sheet, 14A, with its wildly varying assortment of names and ages and relationships and birthplaces, represents a bunch of people connected only by one circumstance: Elizabeth Finkel somehow missed them on a previous go-round. But she wanted to make sure they were counted. So she carefully noted, next to each name, the sheet number and line number of the household where each of these individuals actually belonged.

Therefore, in the far left-hand column next to Philip “Deitelbaum’s” name, is the notation: “Sheet 10, Line 35.” Backing up to that location in the image set, we find:

Name/Age Relationship Birthplace Parents’ Birthplace
Teitelbaum, William, 60 Head Czechoslovakia Czechoslovakia
Teitelbaum, Rose, 57 Wife Czechoslovakia Czechoslovakia
Teitelbaum, Harold, 22 Son New Jersey Czechoslovakia

Philip, age 35, born in New York of Czechoslovakian parents, is a much nicer fit for this family, isn’t he? (Also, note how one might have been tempted to erroneously conclude that the people on 14A were boarders in an establishment run by Mr. Holman — unless one stopped to notice stray marginal notations and ill-fitting ages/relationships.)

This is a great example of what makes an index a finding aid, a starting point, not an actual source. Indexes are compilations with varying degrees of accuracy. Mind you, not all indexing issues are as beautifully explicit as this one. But they can stall research just as effectively – unless you take that closer look.

Related: Turn That Page. Seriously.


Seen: Old Psychiatric Hospital, Marlboro

Urban ecologist James O’Brien shares haunting photographs of the old Marlboro (NJ) Psychiatric Hospital, closed in 1998 and slowly being absorbed by local flora and fauna. The hospital operated for six decades, considered a state-of-the-art facility at the start, but by the end of its official life, a troubled echo of the bad old days of psychiatric care.

According to NJ.com, state officials will finally demolish the complex in Monmouth County once they resolve issues related to asbestos remediation and decommissioning an old wastewater treatment plant. (It was supposed to be razed two years ago.) For now, the buildings remain, tangled in vines and scrawled with graffiti. Some of the interiors sport huge fireplaces, beautiful panelling and graceful bay windows — Downton Abbey crossed with Hill House.

A note for the researcher: The records for Marlboro are held by New Jersey’s Department of Human Services, and some contact information can be found here. However, being medical records, they may well prove tricky to access for the genealogical researcher who must work within today’s privacy regulations. A lot can depend upon the time frame and the relationship of the researcher to the patient (also, to be frank, some luck). This thread contains an interesting discussion about Marlboro and ancestor hunting.


Immigration Records Special

As the little ribbon at the top of my Ancestry.com page reminds me: Free access to immigration and naturalization records until Sept. 2.

A nice holiday-weekend present if you don’t have a subscription and you want to take a look.


I Can’t Even … No.

The story of a 93-year-old woman who was mugged visiting her childhood home in Manhattan is just … ragemaking.

I was relieved to read that the woman and her daughter suffered only “bumps and bruises” when the accused assailant, who offered to take them up to see the family’s old apartment, promptly proceeded to mug them. But how horrible that an innocent trip to take scrapbook pictures and revisit childhood memories should end in such a violation of trust.

I don’t know what to say about someone who would coolly trap and exploit someone like that, I really don’t.

What makes me even angrier is remembering the many times I’ve benefited from the goodwill of strangers in strange cities. Their kindness is an eloquent rejoinder to this contemptible person’s behavior.


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