Thanksgiving Maskers


A photograph from the Library of Congress collection in the Flickr Commons.

Thanksgiving Maskers, what the heck's that, you ask? Before Halloween became the holiday it now is in the United States, children would dress up in masks on the final Thursday in November and go door to door for treats (think: fruit!), or scramble for pennies. The tradition was known as Thanksgiving Masking.

Here are more Library of Congress images from the early 1900s which depict the now-abandoned custom.

An excerpt from a New York Times article published in 1899 after the jump, with details of the maskers' hijinks — which included boys and men running around in women's clothing. Some of them organized into a society known as "Fantastics."


Progressive era reformers regarded child begging on Thanksgiving as immoral and thought children who engaged in it should be arrested. Why were parents not able to control their offspring? the New York Times in 1903 wanted to know. (30) The newspaper castigated parents who allowed children to demand treats or money as indecent.(31) The police tried to enforce a ban against begging. In response to complaints from the public, the clergy, school superintendents, and classroom teachers issued warnings. The New York Times in November of 1930 worried that demanding coins could teach children to become professional beggars and blackmailers and that children were annoying the public.(32) Begging, decided the paper, was a "malicious influence on the morals of children of the city. (33) Boys' clubs and other child welfare agencies organized parades and costume contests as alternative activities. As a result of these efforts, child begging on Thanksgiving finally disappeared by the 1940s.(34) The tradition went back as far as 1780, involving crossdressing men who called themselves the Fantastics and paraded on the holiday.

And here's a snip from a New York Times story from December 1, 1899 about that year's Thanksgiving festivities:


Full PDF of the article, as it appeared in print.