Happy to see this au courant plug for the digital collections at the New York Public Library. History teachers, culinary teachers, take note!
Want to see what New York’s hotels and restaurants served for Thanksgiving in the past? A few dozen menus offer interesting insights, as NYPL plugged on their Twitter feed.
The image featured in the Tweet is the cover of an 1899 menu from Sturtevant House, “a popular hotel on Broadway and 29th Street that opened in 1871.” The hotel closed circa 1903. But in 1899, you could get a fantastic meal for $0.75 on Thanksgiving day, featuring clams and oysters still abundant in New York waters, a traditional turkey dinner, and fare we regard as more exotic today, such as a turtle soup, “Terrapin à l’ Américaine.” Some of the menu would be difficult to replicate today, simply because local sources have been developed or polluted out of existence.
One CPI calculator notes that $0.75 in 1899 would cost us $22.75 today. Looking at the menu, I think that’s a great bargain. I’ll wager you can’t match that menu in New York City today for less than $80 a plate. Sometimes the cost of living calculations fall way short of reality.
Lots of historical comment in 2018 about how Thanksgiving is a created tradition, with roots that go back only a few centuries at most. It’s a tradition created without real roots in religion or ancient cultures, almost unique to post-Columbus Americas.
So the collection of menus offers the birth of tradition. Should humans survive for another thousand years on this planet, historians will be able to see the steps by which this tradition was created.
The menu from Eaton’s (restaurant?) in 1937 looks just like what our school history books in the 1950s and 1960s called the “traditional” Thanksgiving meal, turkey, stuffing, cranberry dish of some sort, potatoes, gravy, and pumpkin pie. Some traditions are delicious enough to stick around.
Who created that menu?
$1.00 for a complete turkey dinner? That was 1937, and the U.S. was still in the Great Depression. The inflation calculator at Saving.org says that same meal would cost you $17.61 in 2018 — about the cost of a buffet at a Golden Corral in Texas. Not cheap, but not very expensive, either.
In 2018 there is an Eaton Place Hotel at 220 Central Park South, a swanky neighborhood. Was that where the restaurant was?
Teachers, how can you use these historic menu images in your classroom discussions, to help students understand and maybe appreciate history?