It’s one of the strangest holiday traditions in late 19th and early 20th century New York City.
On Thanksgiving day, kids (and often adults as well) used to dress up in costume (cowboys, pirates, and princesses were big) or in their most threadbare clothes and go door to door in the neighborhood, asking, anything for Thanksgiving?
Somehow, a day to feast on turkey (and later watch football games) became associated with a practice that was part Mardi Gras, part modern-day Halloween.
These ragamuffins, as the kids were called, charmed (and sometimes irritated) New Yorkers; they begged for nickels and pennies and played jokes.
In some areas, these “masqueraders” even won prizes for the best getup.
“In the old days,” a policeman recalled in a New York Times article from 1930, “the Hudson Dusters, and the Rangers and the Blue Shirts used to get all dressed up and their girls did, too, and they’d have prizes for the best costume and they’d come uptown for the parade, with horns and bells. And they’d get free drinks in the saloons.”
Of course, this old-school tradition couldn’t last. In the 1930s, the schools superintendent discouraged the tradition. Soon, only kids who lived in neighborhoods where the “subway lines end,” as the Times put it, continued to dress up, beg, and play pranks.
As another policeman the Times spoke to in 1947 remarked, “I remember the fun we had when we used to go out all dressed up for Thanksgiving and the people dropped red pennies out the window.” (Red because they were heated on the stove, intended to burn little kid hands.)
“But they don’t have any real fun like that anymore,” he added.
[Photos: LOC; Brooklyn Daily Eagle; NYPL Digital Collection; NYPL Digital Collection; LOC]