By Dorothy Copus Brush
Three dates of national interest, elections, veterans and Thanksgiving, are found on November’s calendar. Early this month Looking Back had a story from the Crossville paper with the 1921 headline, Congress declares Armistice Day, November 11, a legal holiday. Often the date of when the country began observing Armistice Day differ.
That bothered me enough that I began researching why and it really is confusing and that 1921 headline was equally confusing. Congress authorized President Harding to declare November 11, 1921, a legal holiday because that was the day the chosen soldier from WWI was laid to rest in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
On Memorial Day, 1921, four unknown U.S. soldiers had been exhumed from each of four French Military Cemeteries in France. The remains were placed in identical caskets and in October a combat wounded, highly decorated Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger laid a spray of white roses on the casket which was sent to Washington to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda until the burial.
How sad that since then two more unknowns from WWII, one from the Korean War and the Vietnam War have been added to that Plaza of the Unknown Tomb.
There is at least one place in Tennessee where Armistice Day lives on. Clint Cooper, writer for the Chattanooga newspaper, told the story of St. Andrew’s — Sewanee. In 1914 the school, an affiliate of the Episcopal Church, had built a chapel but had no money left to purchase bells for the tower.
Episcopal churchwomen had raised money during WWI to send chocolates to troops overseas and when the Armistice was signed in 1918 a group in Morristown, NJ sent $2,000 of the money they had left to the school in Tennessee. That money was used to buy the bells which became known as the Chocolate Bells.
The school promised the women in New Jersey that each year they would ring the bells for 11 minutes on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at 11:11 a.m. each Armistice Day in memory of those who died in WWI and as a prayer for peace.
On Monteagle Mountain that promise has been kept for 92 years and this year the school is repaying that kindness. New Jersey suffered great damage from Sandy Hurricane’s fury and one of the churches that originally helped the school is receiving financial aid from St. Andrew’s — Sewanee to restore a house established by the church to help people living with AIDS.
Thanksgiving had some problems with Armistice Day. Although the act of giving thanks has been practiced forever by individuals and groups it was not organized. As WWI ended the public insisted the Armistice Day date should be remembered. It took some time to decide on the date of each since they were in the same month.
The first President of the United States, George Washington, proclaimed November 26 as the first national Thanksgiving Day. In the following years a day of thanksgiving was held annually but each state set the date.
One writer, Sarah Josepha Hale, dubbed by her colleagues “The Lady Editor,” became an advocate for Thanksgiving Day. She wrote editorials and letters to powerful politicians as early as 1827 asking for a national festival observed by all our people.
In 1863 Abraham Lincoln listened and in that year of continuing Civil War he proclaimed “Thanks and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens on Thursday, November 26.”
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the next president to be handed a problem with the date. In 1939 during the Great Depression the month of November had five rather than the normal four Thursdays. Thanksgiving was observed on the last Thursday of the month and he proclaimed November 30 as the date.
Merchants begged FDR to change the date back to the fourth Thursday to allow more shopping time before Christmas. Politics entered the argument and November 30 was “Republican” Thanksgiving and November 23 “Democrat” Thanksgiving. In 1939 the states were also divided with 23 observing November 23 and 22 observing the 30th.
In 1941 both houses of Congress passed a joint resolution that the last Thursday in November would be Thanksgiving. An amendment was added stating that it be observed annually on the fourth Thursday of November. FDR signature made it federal law.
History is important and fascinating!
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Dorothy Copus Brush is a Fairfield Glade resident and Crossville Chronicle staffwriter whose column is published each Wednesday. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.