By Greg Kowalski
War was on the horizon in November, 1940, as the people of Hamtramck were preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving. Of course, the whole nation looked ahead with apprehension as the situation deteriorated in Europe.
But Hamtramckans had a special feeling for the events happening overseas.
Just little more than a year before, many had watched their relatives come under the heels of the Nazis, who had invaded Poland in 1939. And just weeks after that happened, the country was hit again by an invasion of Russians from the eastern side of the border.
At home, the nation was still struggling to shake off the effects of the Great Depression, which like a lingering disease only slowly gave in to a long series of treatments.
So with the nation poised on the brink of war, and worries persisting of what to put on the table, Hamtramckans faced Thanksgiving in 1940 cautiously.
That year, President Franklin Roosevelt moved up the holiday, which traditionally has been celebrated on the last Thursday of November, to the prior Thursday, Nov. 21. The intent was to give businesses a break by adding an extra week to the holiday shopping season which then, as now, began on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
But there were other things to concern the people. Another sign of the coming war was that the first national draft had just been held. Although notices were sent out, no one from Hamtramck was drafted, as 17 young men volunteered for service, filling the city’s quota. The holiday also marked the start of the annual Christmas Seal drive to raise money to fight tuberculosis.
And there was some good news. Turkeys were plentiful that year, and at a slightly lower price than the previous year.
Didn’t want to buy a bird? Well, you could shoot your own at the Turkey Shoot and Feather Party being held by the Wayne Sportsmen at their rifle range near 15 mile Road and Van Dyke. Admission was only 10 cents, and guns were furnished.
That wasn’t the only good deal in town. If you bought a living room suite for $39.50 at Bell Furniture on Jos. Campau and Belmont, you’d get a free turkey. And a wide variety of businesses in town were taking part in the Christmas Money shoppers’ program. For every 10 cents of items you purchased at a participating store you’d get a stamp to paste in a book. A filled book was worth $2.50, and you could use the discount at stores ranging from Respondek’s Drugs to Kukawski’s Fashion Shop.
Even Bell Telephone had a Thanksgiving special From 7 p.m. Wednesday to 4 a.m. Friday. That’s when Sunday rates were in effect. That meant you could call Grand Rapids for only 50 cents for three minutes. Kalamazoo was a mere 45 cents for three minutes and even distant Marquette was only 90 cents.
But even so, a sense of unease pervaded everything.
Mayor Walter Kanar, who was not known as a stirring orator, still managed to capture the feeling of the time.
“I believe that this year especially we have good reason to be grateful and count our blessings, when we compare our peaceful lives and return to prosperity with the suffering, misery and hunger which exists abroad as the result of the greed and schemes of the dictators which rule the countries.
“I believe that we should realize that the many privileges and comforts which we enjoy are the direct result of the form of democratic government which we have and do our utmost to protect and safeguard the principles on which that government is founded by uniting solidly behind our flag, and not allow minor differences and petty ambitions to cause any rift in our united front.”
As we approach this Thanksgiving his words still seem perceptive some 71 years later.