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.
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.
In looking for background on my recent Subway Song post, I was surprised to discover just how many abandoned subway dreams left their mark upon the landscape — and not just New York City’s landscape, either.
A lot of these cases originated in enthusiastic plans for expanding subways after the end of World War I. Then the transit dreams evaporated for varying reasons — changes in political leadership, economic woes during the Depression, the automobile boom of the post-World War II era.
But many remnants of the dreams linger in unfinished lines or never-opened stations. And they’re catnip to a new generation of urban explorers who love chasing “ghost subways” wherever they may be found. Some examples: Cincinnati, or Rochester, or Toronto, or Berlin.
For those of us in the metro-NYC area, here are some additional ghostly subway links:
- A post from WNYC’s blog about New York’s Ghost Subway system.
- Stunning pictures of the abandoned station underneath City Hall. Wow!
- From Mental Floss, 5 Unseen Parts of NYC’s Subway System.
As I once wrote, gifts and bequests can carry a double edge for the institutions which receive them.
Here is an interesting problem for the Brooklyn Museum, as reported today by the New York Times. A major bequest made in 1932 of nearly 1,000 fine paintings and artifacts seemed at first like a wonderful windfall, but is now, to some extent, a white elephant.
The huge collection was left to the museum by Col. Michael Friedsam, head of the legendary Altman department store and an associated philantrophic foundation.
First snag: About a fourth of the items were either forgeries or misattributions or basically not up to snuff in some way. So the museum wouldn’t mind selling the 229 pieces it no longer wants (but has to spend lots of money storing).
Second snag: Friedsam’s will specified that nothing could be disposed of without permission from the executors. And the last executor died in 1962.
Sounds like a job for a forensic genealogist. From the Times’ story by Patricia Cohen:
Noting that the will specified that the art should go to the colonel’s brother-in-law and two friends if the collection were not kept together, Judge Nora Anderson told the museum in December 2011 that it must search for these three men’s descendants before she would rule.
Nothing’s ever simple, right?
Next up in my initial 1940 census snapshots are my maternal grandparents, who emigrated from Germany’s rural Upper Franconia district in the mid-1920s and settled in Greenpoint.
Names: John and Eva Rudroff
Relationship: Maternal grandparents
Background: After crossing the Atlantic, John (1886-1969) and Eva (1895-1963) didn’t move around. They moved to 39 Sutton Street in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn shortly after they married in 1927, and that was it until Grandpa died in 1969. This was where they raised my mother and her twin brother. It was also the place from which Grandma Eva sent a care package after World War II to cousins in bombed-out Wurzburg, one of whom recited the exact address (with zip code) to me forty years later, by way of explaining just how memorable that package was to her as a little girl.
• Did the 1940 census taker get the surname spelled right? In 1930, the enumerator listed it as “Rutkoff.”
• How did Grandpa’s employment and wage information stack up? Mom always said they were very lucky that he held on to a good job at Standard Oil of New York all through the Depression years.
• Yay for the 1940 enumerator, who spelled the name the same way my grandparents spelled it. OK, so my grandma was listed as “Eve,” not “Eva,” but whaddya gonna do. Also consistent with other family records, my grandfather was a naturalized citizen (he became one in 1933); my grandmother was not (and never did become one).
• Grandpa and Grandma Rudroff had both completed eight grades of school, according to this census. My mother and her brother, now 12-year-old twins, had completed six, and I assume that they were in the seventh grade at the time the census was taken.
• As I expected, Grandpa’s job was “fireman, oil co.,” meaning he tended boilers at the Standard Oil of New York plant not far from where the family lived. During the week of March 24-30, 1940, he’d put in 32 hours, which was on the low side compared to some other entries on the page. (Most were in the range of 40 to 45 hours, although one factory watchman listed a whopping 84 hours.)
• Grandpa’s yearly salary was $1,150, or about $17,680 in today’s dollars. Not bad, but definitely below the yearly average for the mid-1930s in New York City ($1,745, or $27,425 today). This squares with my mother’s description of her childhood as being free from anxiety over where the next meal was coming from, but without a lot of spare change for anything besides the necessities.
Takeaway: At first glance, I don’t see a lot of surprises here, but then, this is a pretty familiar part of the family story. However, I am having a lot of fun comparing the information on this entry to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Report, 100 Years of U.S. Consumer Spending, the source for the New York City average salary figure listed above. If you’re curious about how far your family’s income might have stretched, check it out (at the link, you can download a .pdf file).
Next time: The mysterious distant cousin.