Pre-World War II Thanksgiving holds lessons for York countians today

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These distinguished gentlemen served as the board of directors of Delta’s Peoples National Bank in 1930. The Depression was hard on banks in York County, too, as several rural banks failed. Charles Arthur Bloomfield gave this scorecard for bank failures in York County during the Depression: eight failures and nine reorganizations. Background posts: Events in 1777 helped tip Revolution toward patriots, Easter stories of sacrifice & selflessness and Bad economy turned York Safe and Lock toward lucrative defense work.

Tough economic times are taking some of the excitement away from today’s Thanksgiving festivities.
Some of those facing the tough end of the economy might feel that there’s no way out.
History helps show us that we’ve faced gloomy times before as a nation and have come out the other end generally for the better.
Consider the points made in this Thanksgiving Day editorial (11/26/08) in which I reflected on a moment when the world seemed to be piling on:

It was Thanksgiving time, 1941.
York County had much for which to give thanks.
The county was joining the rest of the nation in emerging from the Great Depression.
Things were bad that Thanksgiving. But not as bad.
But even the Depression was not the most depressing challenge confronting the community in recent months.
In late June, John D. Yeagley, York’s public health director, had noticed an increase in polio reports.
Health officials closed swimming pools, banned children from attending meetings and eventually canceled all gatherings.
Before the outbreak subsided, nine York countians had died and 100 were afflicted with the paralyzing disease.
So that Thanksgiving, the immediacy of that deadly disease was behind for now, too.
Maybe years and years of bad news were a thing of the past, some thought.
Now was a time to gather oneself and families and forge ahead.
And the community did just that on Thanksgiving 1941.
Christmas plans, in particular, moved ahead.
Those in the military everywhere were looking forward to leaves to visit mom.
York’s marquee department stories – Bear’s, Wiest’s and The Bon-Ton – were trying to outdo their competitors with window displays and decorations.
And a newspaper reported that 20,000 evergreens had arrived in York on Saturday, Dec. 6, ready for use.
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The next day, the decoration of those Christmas trees were put on hold.
Residents sat near their blaring radios, soaking in news of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in the early morning hours of Sunday, Dec. 7.
How could the Japanese pull off such a surprise air attack on a naval base that far away from its home? Or, where is Pearl Harbor, in the first place?
Well, about 25 York County mothers knew. That’s how many York County men were stationed at that pivotal Pacific base.
Now, everyone realized no military leaves would be granted that Christmas.
The world had changed overnight.
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Today, Thanksgiving Day, many Americans are worried about the economy, the stock market and the overall state of our country.
Specifically, some folks this morning are wondering how they’ll make their Dec. 1 house payment. Some, looking to retire Jan. 1, can no longer do so with the Dow so far below 10,000. And some bosses are trying to figure how they’ll make the next payroll and keep their people employed.
To many, things seem gloomier today than they have for some time.
But this day has long represented a time to give thanks to God at bad moments.
The day touches history in more points than the Pilgrims in New England.
Continental Congress in York authorized a day of thanks for one brief, bright moment at a particularly dismal point in the American Revolution.
And the administrations of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt promoted days of Thanksgiving during uncertain national seasons.
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It’s not easy to give thanks to God during tough times.
But York and Adams residents must place this current moment of gloom in perspective. History suggests it might be just a moment, albeit painful.
Back to 1941, people contemplated the decade of the Great Depression, the yearly bouts with polio and then a second World War.
At that time, it just seemed like piling on.
But people adjusted.
And they unified.
And four tortuous years later, World War II ended, and the Greatest Generation returned, ready to assert itself on the home front in a multi-decade wave of prosperity.
For those good times of God’s blessings — and there have been many in America — we should give thanks today.
And for the blessings we receive even during these times of gloom, we should give thanks today, as well.

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.
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