A Thanksgiving of football, alligators and traffic anarchy

Beth KinnaneDowntown, Our Town Stories

A century ago, Thanksgiving fell on November 30, 1922. It was the next to last time the celebration was ever held on that date (following a tradition of the last Thursday of the month). During President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, a bill passed to establish the holiday on the fourth Thursday each November, forever enshrining its date to land somewhere between Nov. 22-28.

That last Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the 30th was in 1933, the first year of FDR’s first term. He kept tinkering with the date throughout his long reign at the top of U.S. politics to give retailers a longer stretch from Turkey Day to Christmas Day, especially during the Great Depression.

Here in Knoxville, Ohio-born businessman Ernest Wesley Neal was the city’s mayor. The population within city limits was around 78,000. It was a touch over 112,000 for all of Knox County.

A quick glimpse at The Knoxville News for that Thanksgiving Day turns up some interesting fare. In unsurprising news, there’s lots and lots of football on the sports page. The “fighting Vols” were hosting the University of Kentucky Wildcats at Shields-Watkins field. A large crowd of 6,000 was expected for the 2 p.m. kickoff.

Former Vol C. Guy Stephenson. Got married after playing Kentucky on Thanksgiving Day, 1922.

The Wildcats were staying in Whittle Springs, presumably at the old Whittle Springs Hotel. What was reported, with assurance, was that the team used the nearby golf course to drill before the big game. Have no fear, the Vols won, 14-7.

Making the front page, however, was news that UT’s popular right tackle and center, C. Guy Stephenson, had even bigger plans for the rest of his Thanksgiving Day. After playing Kentucky, he was to marry Miss Grace Doughty of Fountain City that evening. Hopefully he got to have some dinner squeezed into his busy schedule. He later went on to coach football, basketball and baseball at Middle Tennessee State University.

The Ocean Café at 305 S. Gay Street was open and serving dinner. Bring the family, bring the friends, or just yourself. The cost was $1, from oyster soup to roasted young Tennessee turkey to pumpkin pie.

Most local churches were holding Thanksgiving Day services, the UT cross country track team had a meet just prior to the ball game, the Bijou, the Strand and Riviera theatres all had performances or movies on deck for the day, but nothing was happening at the Tennessee. Because it didn’t exist until 1928.

The old Strand Theatre on Gay Street. Photo taken in 1933 (Credit McClung Digital Collection).

Also reported on the front page was news of an Atlanta man being robbed while visiting Knoxville at a poolroom on Asylum Avenue. Whether the same poolroom or not is unknown, but the day before Thanksgiving one Carl Henderlight was arrested for stabbing proprietor Al Duncan in a dispute over a $3 bet on a pool game. Duncan owned the pool hall at 628 Asylum Avenue.

Hopefully there were no significant traffic issues on that Thanksgiving Day. The Knoxville Police Department announced that all traffic officers were taking the day off to hunt or have dinner or both. You’re on your own.

In news of the whacky, local newspaperman Henry G. Frampton (no relation to Peter that we know of) had returned from a trip to Florida with some interesting cargo in tow. He arrived at the offices of The Knoxville Journal and Tribune with a pair of juvenile alligators for show and tell. The reporters took enough time off from playing with their reptilian guests in the newsroom to get the next day’s edition out. Now all those stories my grandmother used to tell me about her pet alligator Jerome in Nashville don’t seem quite so crazy.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Beth Kinnane is the community news editor for KnoxTNToday.com

Source: The Knoxville News (KNS archives, Knox County Library Digital Collection)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.