Thanksgiving DeLuxe, 1918

By Jeffrey S. Reznick and Elizabeth A. Mullen

Between 1918 and 1919, across twenty-one states and the District of Columbia, dozens of military hospitals and related institutions produced official in-house magazines, or “house organs,” as they were frequently called at the time. Endorsed by the Surgeon General’s Office, these publications were brought to life by wounded soldiers and military staff who contributed articles, jokes, poems, illustrations, and other material. Magazine work served to distract from bullet, shell, and bayonet wounds, influenza and other infectious diseases, gas exposure, gangrene, and shell shock. These magazines served as “safety valves” to help relieve the stress experienced by frontline soldiers and their caregivers. They took up the latest developments in the print culture of their time playfully interweaving a variety show of cartoons, embellishments, photographs, and texts.

In magazines like the Star-Shell of General Hospital No. 17 in Markleton, Pennsylvania, Heads Up of Debarkation Hospital No. 52 in Richmond, Virginia, and The Plattsburg Reflex of General Hospital No. 30 in Plattsburgh, New York, among many others, a variety of columns and features informed and entertained readers and encouraged them to participate in the social life and programs of the hospital camp. Often accompanying these items were spotlights on charitable organizations such as the Jewish Welfare Board, Knights of Columbus, Salvation Army, and YMCA whose sponsored recreational activities were as integral to hospital life as medicine and surgery.

The holiday season often brought out the very best in the spirit and practice of these magazines. Consider this lively headline—“Patients Fully Enjoy Thanksgiving DeLuxe”—from the November 30, 1918, issue of Bombproof, “a weekly paper devoted to the interests of U.S. Army General Hospital No. 18,” located in Waynesville, North Carolina. The account of the celebration was equally lively. While the names mentioned are unfamiliar, and likely lost to time, they recall personalities we might find familiar in our own holiday celebrations. And while the humor might sound arcane from our 21st-century perspective, we can appreciate the festivity it conveyed then, and reminds us to embrace this week and in the coming days, as we gather with families, friends, neighbors and others whose company we keep during the holidays. In the end, it’s a timeless piece from a day in history when guns had recently fallen silent and a world was turning its hopeful attention from the “war to end all wars” to a period of peace.

Page 1 of the November 30, 1918, issue of Bombproof.When Sergeant Glumm hopped out in the rain and blew the “get-upp” whistle early Thursday morning, it looked like Thanksgiving day was going to be a good day for ducks but before half the morning was spent old Sol appeared over the top of the mountains and turned the tables. Thus proved a bad day for ducks and turkeys, too.

There were many rumors and much talk about what a big turkey dinner there was to be, but when the hungry mob in single column entered the mess hall, saw the beautiful decorations and the long inviting tables spread, heard the swaying music of a ten-piece orchestra and smelled the tempting odors of the feast, the affair proved to be far beyond expectations. Red Shaw got away with five dishes of ice cream, while Corp. Jones ate so much of the big bird he didn’t have any room for the ice cream and got up and left before Red got started. Many were heard to remark: “Well, after this I can safely say I’ve eaten one square meal in the army.”

Page 12 of the November 30, 1918, issue of Bombproof.The music, under the supervision of Mrs. Ilsen, director of Military Hospital Music of the War Dept., was a treat in itself and added greatly to the occasion. The 10-piece orchestra comprised of patients and musicians from Waynesville, gave a continuous concert of good snappy numbers that pleased. Of special note was the part on the program taken by two out of-town musicians. Miss Emma Johnson, vocalist, of the Cullowhee Normal School and Prof. Gasper Pappalardo, violin soloist, from Asheville. Miss Johnson, in her delightful manner, sang several numbers with violin obligato, by Prof. Pappalardo. Her rendition of “My Laddie,” was especially enjoyed. The professor who is an artist on his instrument, scored a hit both as an accompanist and a soloist. Pvt. D. Hammer, ably directed the orchestra and deserves much commendation for his part in the day’s activities.

Chaplain Roseboro, Mrs. Reed, of Waynesville; Mrs. M. C. Allen, Miss Lillian Allen, and the others who helped to make the affair a success, are [to] be thanked for their untiring efforts.

Following was the menu: Oyster soup, crackers, turkey and dressing, giblet sauce, baked corn, candied sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, celery, olives, jelly, plum pudding, ice cream, coffee, nuts and fruit.

This is one of a series of occasional posts highlighting collections that document medical activities during the Great War, which lasted from August 1914 to November 1918.

Portrait of Jeffrey S. Reznick in the HMD Reading RoomJeffrey S. Reznick, PhD, is Chief of the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.
Photo of Elizabeth Mullen outside in front of a building.Elizabeth A. Mullen is Manager of Web Development and Social Media in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine