Hoboken’s Historic Thanksgiving Traditions

13 days ago Hoboken Girl

Thanksgiving is here and everyone is getting excited for the traditions — watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, tuning into a football game, or even running a turkey trot. But what activities such as going to the Thanksgiving Ball? The Thanksgiving Hop? Or perhaps, better yet, a Thanksgiving riffle contest? Hoboken has a rich Thanksgiving history which in part helped shape Thanksgiving around the United States, and some of the Thanksgiving customs are with us today, while others seem as strange as they are distant. Read on for more about Hoboken’s historic Thanksgiving traditions.

The First-Ever Thanksgiving Football Game in Hoboken

Today, Thanksgiving and Football go hand-in-hand like pumpkin and pie. However, this was not always the case. Hoboken actually hosted the first-ever Thanksgiving Football Game in America. On November 30, 1876, 1000 spectators arrived in Hoboken at the St. George’s Cricket Ground — today’s Columbus Park. The Princeton Tigers adopted Hoboken for all its home games, and they received the Yale Bulldogs. This game was even more thrilling because it showcased the very first forward pass in American Football History, thereby separating it from conventional English Rugby. In the end, Yale bested Princeton two touchdowns to zero to win the game, while also establishing a new American tradition: Football on Thanksgiving Day.

Read More: This Hoboken Pizzeria Has Served FREE Thanksgiving Meals for 20+ Years

^ Princeton vs. Yale — 1879 Game (Photo credit: Hoboken Historical Museum)

An Elephant Down Washington Street

^ An elephant being lifted into Hoboken from the S.S. American Trader, U.S. Lines, Hoboken, Sept. 24, 1924 (Photo credit: Hoboken Historical Museum)

Harry Bishop was a Hoboken entrepreneur with several businesses in Hoboken. Harry owned “Bishop’s Bazaar” at 106 Washington St, a 5 + 10 Cents store at 129 Washington St, another at 310 Washington St (now Paneras), and “Bishop’s Theatre” in the current building of the Shannon.

One Thanksgiving, Harry Bishop advertised his candy emporium by bringing Santa Claus to Hoboken on an elephant. According to Harry’s grand-niece, they paraded the elephant down Washington Street wearing placards at either side.

Interestingly, Harry’s daughter would go on to invent and commercialize the first “Stay All Day” Lipstick.

Ragamuffin Parade

While today, Hoboken celebrates a Ragamuffin Parade around Halloween, the tradition actually stems from Thanksgiving. The Jersey City News reported as early as 1892 that Hoboken had been holding the annual parade for 30 years at that point, making it one of the earliest Ragamuffin Parades in the United States — perhaps the oldest Ragamuffin Parade still in existence.

Ragamuffin Parades began after President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, and children went door to door asking for candy or money dressed to appear like the homeless — thereby emulating the “Giving of Thanks” in “Thanksgiving.” Eventually, the children adopted different costumes, such as sailors, bandits, or princesses, and the parades shifted to earlier in the year during Halloween.

A 1903 article from The Jersey City News describes how: “Thanksgiving Day was observed in this city in the old-fashioned manner…The small boy in his older sister’s cast-off garments or junk shop remnants of the costumer’s stock, with face hideously painted or wearing a mask, was more ubiquitous than ever before, and was in the seventh heaven of delight.”

^ Hoboken Ragamuffin Parade with Mayor Vezzetti, 1985 (Photo credit: Hoboken Historical Museum)

Cockfight Season

While sports are often enjoyed during Thanksgiving, it may surprise readers to learn that in 1889, Thanksgiving was the opening of the cockfighting season. The Jersey City News excitedly reported that a main event would be fought between New York and New Jersey.

The Annual Riffle Contest

Thanksgiving used to be a popular occasion for Riffle Contests. In 1889, The Jersey City News explained that “three handsome gold medals will be contested for” and that “The Spohr Battalion will, as usual, spend Thanksgiving Day in shooting for prizes…The battalion has among its active members the crack shots of Hoboken and the Heights…Their parades, shooting for prizes and balls have always occurred on Thanksgiving Day, and the prize shooter, who becomes ‘High Cock’ for the ensuing year, ranks high among the crowers.” That year, Albert Steger won $25, became “High Cock” for 1889-90, and enjoyed a parade to and from Jersey City’s Five Corners (today’s Journal Square).

The great pigeon shooting match in Greenville, NJ (Photo credit: Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper Public Domain)

The Belle of the Ball

While we think of Thanksgiving as a homey affair spent with family and loved ones, at the turn of the century, it was popular to have Thanksgiving “balls,” “dances,” or “hops.” It even seems that Thanksgiving (much like the Ragamuffin Parade) blended elements of Halloween, for The Jersey City News detailed one masked ball: “Greenville presented a gay scene Thanksgiving night at the sixth annual masquerade ball…The hall was crowded. There were dashing costumes galore, besides all sorts of amusing make-ups. Pretty women in horrid masks flitted about like butterflies in summer time. They took advantage of their face-protectors to play all sorts of tricks on their escorts, and plenty of merriment followed the removal of the masks…There were more guests in fancy dress than have ever appeared in Greenville.”

^ A bat-themed outfit for a fancy dress ball — 19th Century

Hoboken and Flooding

While much has changed over the years, some things haven’t. On November 29th 1889, 50 houses were flooded in a Thanksgiving Day sewer main break. The Jersey City News report could easily describe Hoboken today when it proclaimed: Venice may be a very beautiful city, and its gondolas things for artists to worship, but what captured the hearts of the grocerymen and butchers in that section of Hoboken [were] tugs and rafts. The rain of the day and night before had caused about fifty houses in that section to have their basements transformed into bathtubs.”

What caused the problem? “The pressure on the sewer was from fifty to sixty pounds a square inch, and [the sewer pipe] could not stand it…The sewer is too small to do the work expected.”

^ Madison Street in Hoboken flooded (Photo credit: Alic Perkins)

See More: North Jersey Holiday Pop-up Markets + Events | 2022

The Price of Turkey

As far back as 1902, citizens were bewailing the sharp rise in turkeys from 16 cents a pound to over twenty cents a pound. They even used our popular, jovial buzzword in a heading which could describe today’s condo sales: “A HIGH PRICED LUXURY”

(Photo credit: The Jersey City News)

Today, 20 cents per pound equals $6.89 per pound  — which is not far off the record-breaking price for turkey in September of 2022 at $6.70 per pound.

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