Pass the Three Varieties of Squirrel, Please: Thanksgiving in 1870

By Will Hansen, Curator of Americana

While many think of Thanksgiving Day as a timeless American tradition, it did not become the federal holiday celebrated on a late November Thursday until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. The Newberry's Graff Collection includes the printed menu for the Thanksgiving Day meal served seven years later, on November 24, 1870, at Chicago's Everett House hotel, located at the corner of Clark and Van Buren streets.

The details of this nineteenth-century menu may shock a twenty-first-century palate. Some of today's usual suspects are here: roast wild goose and turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed and sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie all appear on the menu. In addition, however, there is an assortment of "side dishes" of roasted or broiled game, including black bear, buffalo, sandhill crane, "oppossum" (sic), nine varieties of duck, and three of squirrel. "Maccaroni" (sic) appears as a dessert option, after the pastry course of pies, cakes, and puddings.

This would be the last Thanksgiving in Chicago before the Great Chicago Fire of October 1871 destroyed so much of the city, including Everett House, a grand structure illustrated on the menu. The business relocated to 218-228 West Madison Street and appears to have reopened in 1872.