Thanksgiving Eve Festivities in Baltimore, 1920s-30s

Posted on November 21st, 2018 by

A blog post by Director of Collections and Exhibits Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

Happy Thanksgiving Eve! It’s traditionally the busiest travel day of the year in the US (though the Sunday afterward has taken the top spot in recent years), and apparently it is now a big party night, too.  I feel like “Thanksgiving Eve” wasn’t really a thing when I was younger, but as our archives attest, many decades ago it was definitely an occasion for partying.

The large clipping is from the Baltimore Sun, Nov 30, 1922; the smaller one is likely from the Jewish Times. Gift of Adelaide Altman Habel. JMM 2013.27.10-.11

Miss Hilda Brager was presented at the 65th (!) annual Harmony Circle Thanksgiving Eve Ball on Wednesday, November 29th, 1922, at the Hotel Belvedere, Baltimore.  She saved two newspaper clippings about the event and, even better, her teeny-tiny, much-folded dance card, in which her partners for each dance were noted in pencil:

Not a lot of variety in the dances – simply the fox trot, one-step, waltz, and “combination,” no tango or lindy hop on offer here! But Miss Brager did not lack for partners. The unidentified “JHS” appears twice.  Dance card interior, gift of Adelaide Altman Habel. JMM 2013.27.11

The Harmony Circle was a German Jewish social club founded in 1860 (though if the Sun article headline is correct, they’d been holding the deb ball since 1857), largely for the purposes of introducing young ladies to society and, ideally, to a nice Jewish boy to marry.  (For what it’s worth, Hilda did not marry any of her dance partners from this evening; her eventual husband’s name was Nehemiah Altman.)

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The Harmony Circle was not the only game in town. On November 23, 1927, B’nai B’rith hosted the “event of the season” at the Southern Hotel (only two dollars a couple!) on Thanksgiving Eve.

Flyer for the B’nai B’rith ball, 1927. Anonymous gift. JMM 1990.108.3

Unfortunately, at the moment little else is known about this event, but I hope it was a good time.

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The Junior Assembly of Baltimore joined the festivities by the late 1930s, hosting their Thanksgiving Eve Ball at the Hotel Belvedere on November 22, 1939.

Program for the Junior Assembly ball, 1939. Gift of Isaac Hecht (who served as Treasure of the organization that year). JMM 1993.179.18

This event sounds quite fancy, with “the Beau Brummel of Dance America, Charles Barnet” and “the glamorous Judy Ellington” providing the music, and a breakfast served starting at 1:30 a.m. Please note, if you’re thinking of joining in, tickets are $1.50 per person, and “Full Evening Dress is Obligatory.” I must admit, if I had to choose one of these three parties to attend tonight, this would be it.

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So, however you choose to celebrate the night before Thanksgiving – be it on the road, quietly at home, or on the town – stay safe and have fun!

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Evening and Morning: In-the-middle-ness

Posted on November 29th, 2017 by

A blog post by Associate Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

There is a story, possibly apocryphal, that circulates about my mentor in graduate school, Paul Mendes-Flohr. He was born in America to immigrant parents, and spent his entire adult life in Israel. In his 60s, Paul retired from teaching at Hebrew University Jerusalem, and took a position at the University of Chicago. In his first year at Chicago, he was invited to join a colleague (and former college classmate at Brandeis), for Thanksgiving dinner—his first ever. Excited to partake of this most American of holidays, Paul is said to have rung the doorbell at his friend’s home promptly at the designated time.

When his friend and colleague answered the door, Paul was confused. His friend greeted him by asking him why he was there. “I’m here for Thanksgiving dinner, of course.”  “Paul, today is Wednesday. Thanksgiving is tomorrow.” “I know, it’s erev Thanksgiving—isn’t that when we have Thanksgiving dinner?”

In Genesis 1:5, it says “God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, a first day.” Because of the order of the times of day listed in this verse—evening then morning—Jewish days are counted from sundown to sundown. That mode of counting was so ingrained in Paul that it didn’t occur to him that this secular American holiday would assess the day differently.

A sunset, c. 1943. Arthur Gutman Papers, JMM 1998.24.256

But, at least for me, sundown to sundown is not exactly the most intuitive way to mark the day. The human rhythms of wakefulness and sleep mean the sundown-to-sundown day is bisected. Emotionally, going to sleep feels like the end of a day, and waking the beginning.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the consequences of sundown-to-sundown being a unit of time, since the recent holiday season that started with Rosh Hashanah and ended in Simchat Torah. In particular, on Simchat Torah, I was struck by a fundamental wisdom in the bisected day—the day that contains an end in its middle. On Simchat Torah (Joy of Torah), the liturgical year is concluded. We read the final verses of Devarim, Deuteronomy, and then start at the beginning again with the first verses of Bereshit, Genesis.

It’s a little unusual. Though double portions do happen occasionally, weekly portions do not include the verses from multiple books. Throughout the year, when we reach the end of a book of Torah, we finish a book one week and start the next book the following week. But when we finish the whole of the Torah, we do not let our reading of the Torah be “finished,” even for a single week. Rather we start it over immediately.

Flag for the celebration of Simchat Torah. JMM 1990.165.1

Interestingly, the first portion of Genesis read on Simchat Torah after the final verse of Deuteronomy includes the verse I quoted above, “And there was evening and there was morning, a first day.” This year as I listened to the Genesis verses being chanted, a lightbulb went off for me: oh! Because we’re always in the middle of it. Life, like Torah, does not have neat endings. It’s always moving—doubling back, moving ahead, picking up where it left off—it’s always in the middle. It was one of those moments where you see the elegance in something you’ve been looking at your whole life and deepen your appreciation for it.

Once I saw this in-the-middle wisdom of sundown-to-sundown and Simchat Torah’s double portion, I started seeing it everywhere, especially at JMM. Before I started working here, I thought of history museums as focusing only on the past—on things that had ended. Now that I am in the middle of it, I see that our approach is much more sundown-to-sundown than it is awakening-to-falling-asleep. At JMM, we look at the past to help us all understand the present and to shape the future.

We are always in-the-middle.

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Thanksgiving Preparations; or, A Festive Platter, 1930-37

Posted on November 9th, 2015 by

As Thanksgiving approaches, thoughts turn to family celebrations and all the preparations that go with them: making travel plans, or – if  you’re the host or hostess – choosing recipes, decorations, and serving ware.  After all, presentation is just as important as the food itself! If you’re feeling like your best china (or your favorite portable casserole dish) has been seen too many times before, now’s your chance to look around for something a bit different in advance of the holiday. May I suggest something with vintage flair, like our golden pheasant platter?

Donated by Bonnie Hoback, JMM 1994.139.1

Donated by Bonnie Hoback, JMM 1994.139.1

Full disclosure: I originally intended to write about turkeys, and was pleased to discover that we had a turkey platter… only to find upon closer examination that, no, it’s not a turkey.  No matter; our friend Pheasant looks jolly enough, if a trifle startled, and the platter has a nice little story.

Slightly startled pheasant.

Slightly startled pheasant.

The dish was made by the Pope-Gosser China Company of Ohio in the 1930s. In that decade, the company got into the business of selling customized promotional pieces: plates, dishes, and mugs with a pretty picture and the name of the shop. For small stores around the country, these pieces served as permanent advertising (reminding you of their fine goods with every meal) and, if given away or sold for a tiny price, they also made a nice customer perk. In this case, our platter was made for Checket, Gerber & Co., a clothing and furniture store on N. Gay Street, Baltimore.

“Compliments of Checket-Gerber & Co., Furniture – Clothing, 237-39 N. Gay St.”  Yes, the first e in “Checket” is printed upside down.

“Compliments of Checket-Gerber & Co., Furniture – Clothing, 237-39 N. Gay St.” Yes, the first e in “Checket” is printed upside down.

Checket,  Gerber & Co. was a partnership between Jewish businessmen Henry W. Checket, Benjamin P. Checket, and Jacob Gerber.  I’ve not found much about these gentlemen (other than that two of them belonged to Shaarei Tfiloh Congregation), but looking through various Baltimore City directories can help trace the evolution of the company. The shop originated with Henry’s father Hyman Checket, who had a clothing store on E. Baltimore St. in the early 1900s; Henry and Benjamin (perhaps a cousin?) were working for him by 1908, and Jacob Gerber joined the firm in the early 1910s.  By 1926 the store had moved from E. Baltimore to 239 N. Gay St., and in 1930 the listing includes the storefront at 237.  Gerber left the partnership by 1937, for that year’s directory lists it simply as Checket & Co Furniture, on N. Howard.

The platter was donated by Bonnie Amend Hoback, whose mother Louise acquired it during one of her shopping trips in East Baltimore and – based on the worn condition, including chips in the rim and some light staining under the glaze – used it for some years.  Mrs. Hoback recalled, “My mother took me shopping in the 1930s on Gay Street. It was around Thanksgiving. I remember the many kindnesses shown to us. The children were always given something. My mother bought me a coat at this store, and a very kind gentleman took care of us. There was a potbelly stove on each floor . . . . They knew us as customers because my family shopped on Gay Street and Lombard Street all the time [although] our family was not Jewish.”  These pleasant memories prompted Mrs. Hoback to donate the platter to the museum in 1994.

…And, while looking through the Jewish Times for a Checket, Gerber & Co. advertisement (no luck) I found my turkeys after all:

Here’s the cover image for the November 18th, 1932 Baltimore Jewish Times.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Here’s the cover image for the November 18th, 1932 Baltimore Jewish Times. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

JoannaA blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

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