April 06, 2020
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What was Thanksgiving like in 1959? Well, there weren’t as many cranberries, that’s for sure.

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BY HEATHER STEEVES
FOR THE WEEKLY

At a time of McCarthyism and blacklisting, those who celebrated Thanksgiving 1959 seemed unfazed. People watched parades on TV and ate turkey. Christmas ads reminded shoppers that they had only 28 days left before Santa arrived.

While an apple pie would set you back 39 cents, turkeys at IGA in 1959 cost between 43 cents and 45 cents a pound, depending on whether it was a “meaty tom” — 16 pounds and up — or a young hen.

This year the same store’s turkeys cost 39 cents per pound for the first one — 89 cents a pound for each additional turkey.

Though turkeys were plentiful, the United States had entered a cranberry shortage. According to Associated Press reports, “some of the cranberry supply has been tainted by a weed killer that produces cancer in mice. Sales came to a virtual halt at what ordinarily is a peak season.”

Then-U.S. Secretary of Welfare Arthur Flemming was cited as the cause of the cranberry scare, when he issued a general warning regarding the contamination of some cranberry shipments.

According to Bangor Daily News reports from the time, “More than 33 million pounds of berries and products have been tested and cleared as safe. That’s about a third of the average annual consumption.”

Local advertisements for grocery stores and Thanksgiving dinners excluded the berries, as did published recipes.

The University of Maine, Bangor schools and mail delivery all shut down for a long weekend.

So did state offices, except the police force, warden services and institutions. Prisoners in Maine jails were served a traditional dinner.

“Patients and inmates of institutions will have Thanksgiving turkey dinners with the usual trimmings, most of the food produced on institutional farms,” the Nov. 25, 1959, issue of the Bangor Daily News reported.

The Thanksgiving Day’s newspaper’s night police beat included a story headlined “Thanksgiving In City Jail To Be ‘Small Family Affair.’”

Because of the holiday weekend, the city jail had to make special accommodations.

A few Bangor residents had “over-indulged” at the taverns. Normally, the jail would keep the people for a day, with no need to feed them. As the police beat explained, “many don’t ‘feel like eating.’ Hangover stomachs are not receptive to food. Not until after a good long sleep.”

But because of the long weekend, the jail had to feed the inmates. They were served soup.

“Just plain soup,” the newspaper reported. “It is good soup, though. Always hot and served in paper cups.”

The lead news article of Thanksgiving 1959 related that Maine’s interstate bridges were too low for defense needs and that they would need to be ripped up or bypassed.

The bridges “were determined not high enough to provide clearance for big missiles that will be transported over federal roads,” a front-page news report stated.

Other news highlights included how construction on I-95 — particularly the section between Newport and Bangor — was delayed because of a $15 million trim from the Penobscot County highway construction program’s budget.

Highlights from the television schedule of the day included Shirley Temple’s performance as the Storybook Queen at the 33rd Macy’s Parade and the NFL kickoff between the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions at the Briggs Stadium in Detroit.