By Greg Kowalski
Thanksgiving traditionally has been a holiday characterized by good food,
family gatherings and supposedly the spirit of giving thanks.
That has been as true in Hamtramck as anywhere in the country. But there
have been periods when Thanksgiving has taken on a greater meaning. Seemingly, this was true during the World War II years. This was a time of great challenge to the nation as a whole.
Feelings were especially acute in Hamtramck because for many of the city’s residents their relatives in the “old country” were under siege or domination by a fierce enemy.
Thanksgiving dinners were tempered during those war years by rationing and
shortages. America entered World War II in December, 1941 — just weeks after
Thanksgiving — so by the next Thanksgiving, the nation was deep into the war. Blackouts were being held regularly and rationing stamps for gasoline and foodstuffs like sugar and even liquor were in effect.
The impact was shown in some subtle ways as well. A week before
Thanksgiving, 1942, Michigan Bell Telephone put out this warning: “War
calls must go through this Thanksgiving. Please do not make social long
It went on to explain: “War goes right on, despite Thanksgiving. And
messages essential to the war effort will crowd the wires as on other days.
“War-loaded long distance lines cannot carry the usual flood of social
calls this Thanksgiving.
“Therefore, please make only the most urgent long distance calls on
Thanksgiving Day, and keep those calls as brief as possible.”
Early in November 1943, White House Cleaners & Dyers on Jos. Campus put
out “The Last Call for Thanksgiving Cleaning.” It urged customers to get their laundry in early but reassured all that despite: “government curtailment of delivery service we are in a position
to give you faster and better cleaning service because we own and operate
our own cleaning plant…”
Harrison Store on Davison just north of Hamtramck intoned in an ad: “Yes –
we all have plenty to be thankful for. We thank the RAF, the RCAF and the
AAF for “Hamburgerizing” Berlin. We hope that this will bring us closer to
our ultimate goal – peace and normalcy.”
Somehow this was tied into the stock of quality “men’s, boy’s and Ladies
wear” it had for sale.
Thanksgiving activities weren’t confined to the home. You could attend one
of the many Thanksgiving parties, like the one held on Nov. 20, 1943, at
St. Anne’s Community House on Andrus. “Dancing and refreshments with all
servicemen invited,” the community invitation read. Club Cheeko gave a
Thanksgiving dance at the Plewa Hall on Mitchell and Casmere, which is now
the Zen Buddhist center. Admission was only $1.25 for men and 85 cents for
But whatever year or circumstance, the centerpiece of Thanksgiving was,
and is, dinner. But it hasn’t always been turkey.
The story of dogcatcher Jack Ptaszkiewicz and Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Szczesny
of Moran Street was good enough to make the front page of The Citizen on
Nov. 26, 1943.
“It was Tuesday morning that Ptaszkiewicz had a particularly good catch –
an even dozen mutts of all breeds. Just as he was taking his turn through
Moran he spotted a duck in the roadway in front of him. Ptaszkiewicz, with
net in hand, made after the fowl. Since the dogcatcher is pretty good at
his regular calling, the duck proved to be an easy catch.
“After he locked his catch, including the duck, in the dog pound,
Ptaszkiewicz reported to the office where Sylvester Amejka, D.P.W.
secretary, informed him that the Szczesnys had called and that they would
like to have their duck back on account of the close proximity of
“Ptaszkiewicz, who until that time did not know to whom to fowl belonged,
promptly obliged, learning, when he delivered the bird, that it had escaped
while Mr. Szczesny was poised over it with knife in hand.”
Sounds quaint, but you just might run into a stray duck on the streets of
Hamtramck even today.
(Greg Kowalski is chairman of the Hamtramck Historical Commission. Visit