Thanksgiving, complicated though it might be, is my favorite American holiday. In fact, I like it so much that I even took out the ‘u’ in favourite in homage to the American way.
While I lived in the States, Thanksgiving meant pumpkin pie, the wonderful Fall colors, and, most importantly, a genuine sense of community and belonging. Were I to be honest, the marshmallow salads I hear so much about do irk me, but I’m yet to encounter one, and so my image of the day remains largely untarnished.
In recognition of this great holiday, I couldn’t resist the urge to share with you a happy and historical Thanksgiving story I came across just recently. It’s frothy and not particularly political, but I don’t think that makes it irrelevant or unnecessary. In fact, I sometimes think these simple stories have powerful messages of hope or love, or kindness or cheer, that transcend the historical and connect us to the past in a very real, and often emotional, way. A message not too far off what I took Thanksgiving to be about.
The year is 1896, and we’re in Atlanta, Georgia. Thanksgiving had fallen on November 26, the fourth Thursday of the month, and two people were planning an elopement to protect, and presumably to celebrate, their love.
Damon Lanier, “the son of a banker [from] West Point,” and Alice Hanson, the daughter of the “business manager of The Macon Telegraph, and… niece of Major J. F. Hanson… cotton mill owner and politician,” had secretly traveled to Atlanta to be married.
Alice had come to Atlanta to “visit friends,” allegedly, while Damon “came to the city ostensibly to attend the college football game.”
It appears that their parents had opposed their relationship, perhaps a re-enactment, of sorts, of the age-old Shakespearean tale of Romeo and Juliet, perhaps a less time-honored feud, though no less of an obstacle.
In defiance of this opposition, they had arrived in Atlanta separately, but together in their own way, and were secretly married on that Thanksgiving Thursday.
I don’t know all that much about Damon and Alice; they’re only fleetingly referenced in a New York Times article of the same year. I don’t know how, or if, their parents found out. I don’t know why it was that their parents opposed their relationship. I don’t know how it is that they found one another initially. And, I don’t know how their relationship progressed.
These gaps, however, are the pitfalls of our job, and for many reasons it seems unfair to neglect their story because there’s not enough material to fill a book or flesh out a journal article. Their story represents an experience that most of us can recognize if not relate to, a story of hope and love that it would be a shame to lose.
We should be wary of romanticizing the past; we all have our flaws and some further digging might very well turn up some shocking or sordid affair that would tarnish their image. If this is all that is left of Damon and Alice, however, we might be able to think of theirs as a story affirming our similarities as humans across space and time. Perhaps we might be reminded of the impulsiveness of youth, or the drive of first love, or the unabating concerns of parents. Perhaps this story might confirm that despite the passage of time, the place of our birth, or the wealth of our families, we all share similar traits that unite us as one community.
Title Image: Buzzfeed, “13 Bizarre Vintage Thanksgiving Pinups,” http://www.buzzfeed.com/briangalindo/13-bizarre-vintage-thanksgiving-pinups
References: The story itself and all relevant quotes in the article have been taken from: ‘A Thanksgiving Elopement,’ New York Times, 28 November 1896, p. 1.