Found in the LOC: “Thanksgiving Maskers”

Here’s a fun Thanksgiving fact: American kids used to celebrate the holiday by dressing as bums and other vagrants and went around the neighborhood asking for pennies, candy, and other treats. But it wasn’t as sweet as it sounds.

Check out some images from “Thanksgiving Masking” days past, AFTER THE JUMP.

Known as “Thanksgiving Masking,” or“Ragamuffin Day,” the tradition mimicked “mumming,” a mid-19th century trend in which desperately poor men went door-to-door wrapped in paper, singing or dancing for spare change. It  began in the late 1880s in New York City’s poorer neighborhoods, among kids who actually could use a helping hand, but soon spread to more established neighborhoods across the country. In 1897 the Los Angeles Times reported, via NPR, “[It’s] the busiest time of the year for the manufacturers of and dealers in masks and false faces. The fantastical costume parades and the old custom of making and dressing up for amusement on Thanksgiving Day keep up from year to year in many parts of the country, so that the quantity of false faces sold at this season is enormous.”

Kids leaping for “Ragamuffin Day” treats in 1910.

In addition to dressing as general bums, kids added a racist spin on the holiday by putting on blackface and other derogatory disguises. You’ll see a few of those in the pictures here, all of which were taken in either 1910 or 1911. But not all the costumes were so insidious: some kids put on papier-mâché parrot hats, garbed themselves as Uncle Sam or sailors, harlequins and soldiers, as famous politicians or other notable people.

Masking began to fall out of favor by the 1920s, and faded away in the decades ahead. The New York City Public School Superintendent sneered in 1930, “modernity is incompatible with the custom of children to masquerade and annoy adults on Thanksgiving Day,” and in 1940 a boy’s group tried to keep kids from going door-to-door by organizing their own event. “American boys do not beg,” they said. Kill joys.

Anyway, here are some more shots of American youth using racial stereotypes to get candy and such. Happy Thanksgiving!

For more “Found in the LOC,” click HERE.

All images via The Library of Congress.

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