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Thanksgiving Ragamuffin Parade

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 Waverly Place ; Sheridan Square ; Columbus Circle.],Thanksgiving ragamuffins, No.58-60., Digital ID 733369F, New York Public LibraryWaverly Place; Sheridan Square; Columbus Circle., Thanksgiving ragamuffins, No.58-60., NYPL Digital Gallery

When searching for Thanksgiving images in our Digital Gallery, you might be surprised to find a set of about 20 images of Thanksgiving "ragamuffins."  Who are these young beggars and what do they have to do with Thanksgiving?

Before Halloween was the holiday known for dressing up in costume and begging for candy (this practice did not become common until the 1940's and 50's), children in NYC often participated in what was called Ragamuffin Day.  On Ragamuffin Day - which was Thanksgiving Day - children would dress themselves in rags and oversized, overdone parodies of beggars (a la Charlie Chaplin's character "The Tramp").  The ragamuffins would then ask neighbors and adults on the street, "Anything for Thanksgiving?"  The usual response would be pennies, an apple, or a piece of candy. 

The New York Tribune ran an article on November 21, 1909 which dated the tradition 40 years back to about 1870.  Reverend James M. Farrar said, "Those of you who have always lived in New York do not think of this Thanksgiving game of ragamuffin as a strange custom, but the strangers coming to our city are greatly surprised, and ask what it means."  Farrar thought that the tradition of "dressing in old clothes, many sizes too large, painting their faces or putting on masks" was "here to stay."

 Bleecker Street - Perry Street.],Thanksgiving ragamuffins, No.16-18., Digital ID 733355F, New York Public LibraryManhattan: Bleecker Street - Perry Street., Thanksgiving ragamuffins, No.16-18., NYPL Digital Gallery

However, by 1930, articles were appearing in The New York Times calling for the end of the practice.  William J. O'Shea, Superintendent of schools at the time, sent a circular to the district superintendents and principals which stated that "modernity is incompatible with the custom of children to masquerade and annoy adults on Thanksgiving day."  Shea also stated, "many citizens complain that on Thanksgiving Day they are annoyed by children dressed as ragamuffins, who beg for money and gifts."  
 
O'Shea's plea to end the tradition must have carried some gravitas because that year The New York Times reported that "Parading Thanksgiving Ragamuffins Scarce, Except Out Where City's Subway Lines End."  A Times Square policeman interviewed in the article stated, "all I've seen is just about six kids dressed up like we used to dress in the old days.  Things ain't the way they used to be."  The article also seems to lament the loss of the "splashes of color" and stated, "instead of the usual droves of hilarious youngsters in false faces and outlandish garb... one encountered only one or two every half hour.  The ragamuffin is vanishing."

The Ragamuffin tradition was much more difficult to quash in the outer boroughs.  The Times reported that "in Flatbush, the Bronx, Greenpoint, and other places where the subway lines end, the ragamuffin tradition persists somewhat more tenaciously." 

In 1936, The New York Times' only mention of the ragamuffins is to state:

"Ragamuffins Frowned Upon: Despite the endeavors of social agencies to discourage begging by children, it is likely that the customary Thanksgiving ragamuffins, wearing discarded apparel of their elders, with masks and painted faces, will ask passers-by, 'anything for Thanksgiving?'"

The tradition was definitely waning through official statements of disapproval. 

In 1937, organizations such as the Madison Square Boys Club were reported as having Thanksgiving parades as an effort "to discourage the Thanksgiving ragamuffins."  By 1940, that parade had grown in size to over 400 children and sported the slogan "American boys do not beg."  Though the parading boys still dressed in costume as ragamuffins, many donned costumes of other things and people - such as alarm clocks and Michelangelo. 

 Central Park West - 60th Street.],Celebrations - Parades - Municipal events - Macy's Thanksgiving Parade., Digital ID 731241F, New York Public LibraryMacy's Thanksgiving Parade, NYPL Digital GalleryThe Ragamuffin parade continued to grow and annual mentions of it appear in The New York Times.  In 1943, there is a mention of a 25 year-old man who was arrested while "attired in an ill-fitting assortment of women's clothing over khaki Army trousers peeping from under a drab gray dress."  His wife had to explain to the magistrate that he was dressed for a Thanksgiving Ragamuffin party. 

The last mention of the Thanksgiving Ragamuffin parades - as one had appeared in the Bronx as well - is in 1956.  At some point the Ragamuffin parade was ceased and it had been overshadowed by the larger, balloon-oriented, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade that gained nation-wide populatrity after the success of the film Miracle on 34th Street.  Ragamuffin traditions were ceded to the rise Halloween which fostered the "begging" of candy again through trick-or-treating and brought costuming to a whole new level.  Hopefully, no official social agencies will try and squash this costumed holiday, but I imagine that if they did, they would receive greater resistance. 

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But it never died completely...

The Ragamuffin Day Parades that I participated in during MY youth were not in the 20's, 30's or 40's but rather in the early 60's in Astoria Queens New York. The Boy's Club of Queens (as it was known in the pre-equality days) located at 21st Street and 30th Road actually fielded a marching band complete with Drums, Coronets, Trumpets, Glockenspiels and more that marched in this great event every year for quite a few. We went up 30th (Grand) Avenue (at night) to Steinway, across Steinway and down again Broadway (or was it 31st Avenue?) with all the neighborhoods coming out to greet the Ragamuffins and the musical hoopla. We even had uniforms!! Other groups participated as well, names escape me at this juncture, but it was a community event well known in the area. I'll bet the Boy's Club has archives with photos even. What was the name of that great band instructor that came every week to mold us into a band of marching musicians? What a great experience!

Ragamuffins on Thanksgiving

We didn't have any ragamuffin parades, but dressing up as ragamuffins and going door to door asking "Anythin' for Thanksgivin'?" was universal in Ozone Park and Richmond Hill, Queens in the 40s and early 50s. The practice started dying out around 1953 or 54, and by the late 50s absolutely no kids did this anymore in that part of Queens. People would give you oranges, apples, nuts, or pennies, but I don't recall anybody giving you candy. My mother, and I am sure every mother preparing a Thanksgiving meal and awaiting company, considered the whole ragamuffin thing a royal pain, and I would guess that shared sentiment is one of the reasons this long-term tradition ended.

Thanksgiving begging

After we moved from Ridgewood, Brooklyn, to Maspeth, Queens, I became aware of a tradition called "begging anything for Thanksgiving", unheard of in my former neighborhood. I guess I was about 11 years )old, (circa 1949), the first holiday that I did this. Dressed in a "pilgrim costume" my mom had made for a school play at my previous school, I walked from my home near the intersection of Eliot and Metropolitan Aves (just across from the Ridgewood, Queens border) My sister, some school friends and I walked up the big Eliot Ave. hill where there were many more homes than on the street where I lived. Up the hill eastbound, collecting apples, nuts and coins, and downward, westbound gathering even more. Most folks were caring and giving; some were not in such a happy mood but were not mean, just wanted to be left alone - but had no way to indicate that since it was daylight and no porch lights could be turned off like today for Halloween. We were ecstatic when we arrive home to find out just what we had collected...of course I have no recollection now just how much money or number of apples and oranges we brought home, nor what we did w/the money; perhaps saved to buy Christmas gifts for each other. It was a fun time, safe enough for kids to be out in their neighborhood without worry of who might "grab us" or cause harm in some other way. Thanks for the opportunity to share this bit of history and fond memories.

I wasn't imagining it!

For over 55 years, I've lived in Alabama. No one will believe me when I tell of going begging on Thanksgiving when I was a child in Roosevelt, Long Island in the 1940's. We were beyond the outer boroughs, sandwiched in between Freeport and Hempstead. I remember the warm welcomes and great smells coming from our neighbors' houses, the burnt cork and old clothes and the paper grocery bags that never got anywhere near full. On Halloween, we went Halloweening, when we rang doorbells, turned over porch furniture and chalked sidewalks. People have been so amazed at the strangeness of these customs, I've sometimes thought I imagined them. I left Long Island when I was 21 and had no one to check these memories with until I finally got the bright idea of asking Google. So there you are, I didn't imagine it!

Anything for Thanksgiving

Also thought I was confusing today's Halloween celebration with what I kind of remembered doing on Thanksgiving Day. Can't compare the feeling then after coming home in the cold to the wonderful aroma of a large turkey in the oven. We would spread our money and tangerines on the floor and carry those memories with us into our senior days when we began to wonder if we actually did celebrate Halloween in November....good to find others who can confirm this and prove to our grandchildren that we are not senile. We lived in a great time and valued the little things in life and used our imagination to entertain us......remember playing with marbles, stickball, making scooters out of orange crates and hanging clothes out on a clothes line just to have them get frozen stiff by the cold. Loved living in Flatbush and then Long Island with down to earth friendly people

Thanks Dad!

My father Maynard C. Watts grew on Long Island in Lynbrook in the 40's he always talked about going "begging" on Thanksgiving day. Dad has been gone now for years, but for some reason today his stories of Thanksgiving begging came back to me. I just had to "google" it and this is where I ended up. So nice to find out more about what my dad would tell his children. By the way I too grew-up in Lynbrook, N.Y., but I was a child of the 60's. We only Trick or treated!

Anything few Thanksgiving

My wife and I were just talking about trick or treating as we get ready to watch our grandkids go out for halloween. I grew up in Jersey City and told my wife, after 48 years of marriage, that I begged on Thanksgiving.. But I wasn't sure, I too thought I was imagining it so I decided to look it up on the internet. I now know that its wasn't just my imagination but it really did happen. We got apples and pennies. This had to be in the early to mid 1950s Very funny!

Thanksgiving Ragamuffin Parade

I grew up in Little Ferry N.J. Most of the people of that town were Czech. Many came from the Manahatten around 73rd street area. We had a Ragamuffin Parade around town the VFW Post 809 Brass Band use to sit on a Fire truck and the kids followed the truck and then would go trick or treating. Newcomers to the town would ask why were we trick or treating since Halloween was over. That was in the late 1960's

Thanksgiving Ragamuffin Parade

I was looking through family papers and just found this excerpt from a piece about her Harlem neighborhood written by my Aunt in 1919. She lived on 129th Street between Lenox and 7th Avenue. "Thanksgiving Day in my neighborhood is a very joyful and exciting holiday. Grown-ups, as well as youngsters, disguse themselves in striking and peculiar costumes. On this day the streets are exceptionally gay, ringing with laughing voices and sounds of horns and bells. As far back as I can remember, a "Ragamuffin Parade" has always been held on 125th Street on Thanksgiving Night. The costumes of those who take part in the parade seem very delightful to the hundreds who throng the sidewalks for a sight of them. Altogether, this day is one to be remembered. It seems to me that, in my neighborhood, Thanksgiving Day of 1919, has been one of the best I have ever witnessed. Quite a number of people dressed up in a way very appropriate for the occasion. Most of the disguised ones, however, were young jolly fellows. Their foolish actions caused quite a good deal of interest on my block. As usual, a parade was held on 125th Street. In the evening, the sound of horns and the shouts of people made the streets in my neighborhood more noisy than usual. Both 1918 and 1919 brought more happy news, for which thanks was due, than other years have brought. The first brought the thanksfulness for the end of the "World War" and the second, for the return of the American boys from France."

Thanksgiving Beggars

I was just thinking about this tradition today. I grew up in Bay Ridge Brooklyn and I was born in 1947. I remember quite well that my brother and sister and our friends would all go begging for anything on Thanksgiving morning door to door. I can't quite remember when we stopped but the tradition has apparently disappeared. I mentioned it to one of the 30 somethings today at work and she didn't have a clue. Ha! Another sign of aging LOL. It brought sweet memories. I can still visualize my brother and siter in the rag tag costumes.

Anything for Thanksgiving?

Growing up in Bay Ridge Brooklyn I distinctly remember begging on Thanksgiving morning.... dressed in my father's old sport coat and hat, face smudged with dirt, asking 'anything for Thanksgiving?'. I'd be trudging up front stoops dragging sleeves behind me, collecting shiny new pennies and maybe apples and nuts from the bowls on coffee tables at the neighbors. I used to think it was contrived to get us out of the house while dinner was being prepared. Wonderful memories!

Anything for Thanksgiving?

So glad to see this post. When I referred to "begging on Thanksgiving" I was met with blank stares. I grew up in what is now called Old Mill Basin" and we dressed in momma's clothes and went around asking "Anything for Thanksgiving?" We got pennies, nickels and assorted nuts and fruits. Some people say it was a good way to get the kids out of the house on Thanksgiving morning so mothers could prepare the feast.

Origins of the ragamuffin parades

A while ago I was doing some research on target companies in New York, and I came across this article: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030431/1919-04-12/ed-1/seq-8.pdf (Sixth column, top of the page.) It claims that the ragamuffin parades grew out of target company and local militia parades. I think this is plausible; irregular troops are occasionally called "ragamuffins" in 19th century newspapers, and the target companies were known for dressing in elaborate costumes (they were sometimes called "fantasticals"). I suspect that ragamuffins were originally children participating in the target company parades. At some point the focus of the events shifted from the adults to the children. If you search for this page on the Fulton History site: New York NY Evening Express 1879-1880 - 0226.pdf There's an article from 1880 (third column, at the top) which mentions a Christmastime parade of "target companies and ragamuffins," which solidifies the link between the two. Here's a few more articles from The Sun on the subject: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030272/1915-11-29/ed-1/seq-6.pdf (Seventh column, "Our Street Parades.") http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030431/1919-04-04/ed-1/seq-8.pdf (Fifth column, "The Thanksgiving Day Fantastics.") From the Fulton History site again - not available on Chronicling America: New York NY Sun 1928 Grayscale - 3580.pdf (Second column, "Hence the Ragamuffins?")

Here's a Ragamuffin Day story for ya.

My friend John Gsanger's family moved from Brooklyn to Houston, Texas in the 1970's, arriving right around Halloween. His mother Irene, not having time to get the Gsanger kids all costumed up for Halloween that year, promised them that they could take a pass on that year's Halloween festivities, since Ragamuffin Day was right around the corner. The kids weren't really familiar with Ragamuffin Day, as that tradition became extinct long before they were born. But sure enough, the day before Thanksgiving rolled around, and Irene dressed her three kids up as hobos, complete with burned cork beards and bindle staffs, and off they went door to door in their upscale Houston neighborhood, panhandling to their shocked new neighbors, who absolutely did not know what to make of these newcomers. Young John soon realized how bizarre this activity was, and lived for years with the shame of thinking his Mom had played an elaborate, humiliating ruse on him and his siblings. Years later, after hearing this tale, I did some research and discovered that Ragamuffin Day was an actual holiday, though only celebrated for a fairly short period of time in a pretty limited area. This didn't completely restore John's faith in his mother, but at least she wasn't making the whole thing up. A couple of years ago my younger daughter had the great idea to cheer up John and his family (he's now married with three children of his own) by dressing up our entire family as vagabonds and traipsing over to the Gsanger house on Ragamuffin Day. Guess who was visiting that evening at John's house? Irene! And of course she took it in stride, as though she was expecting such visitors, since it was, of course, Ragamuffin Day.

Thanksgiving Ragamuffins

My husband and I grew up in Brooklyn's Canarsie section at the end of the 14th Street Ca narsie line BMT subway. Every year before Thanksgiving morning we would discuss our choice of costume with our friends. Would we be a hobo, a pilgrim or an indian. It was easier to be a hobo and often we would carry a stick with a sack tied on it. If we had an indian headress, a popular kids item, then we would be an indian. One year I also walked around with a toy hatchet as an accessory. We would go door to door asking, "Anything for Thanksgiving?" I thought everybody did it. But, in talking to others through the years I found that they just didn't know about it. We would get pennies, a nickle would be a great score and a dime, an unbelievable amount. (Remember in the mid 1950's it cost ten cents for an ice cream cone at the ice cream store.) Walnuts in their shells, and apples and oranges would also be given out. People were very nice. If they didn't want to give they just didn't answer the door. We collected our treats in a paper bag that came from the grocery store. When we got home it was great to open the bag and see what we got. Now at Thanksgiving I put money under each person's plate at the dinner table and I remind them of a tradition that is no longer. Sometimes I ask tg email to say, "Anything for Thanksgiving?" The tradition died out in the late 1950's. It kind of transferred to Halloween, which was a time when kids chalked each others clothes, threw eggs (the nasty kids did that, the rest of us would run away as fast as we could), and some would put flour in a sock and smack whoever they could with it. So Halloween on the street was not good in the '50's. But, "Anything for Thanksgiving? " was calm, quiet and harmless fun for kids, like Halloween is on Long Island in 20 14.

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