The Dowager’s Diary – Week One Hundred and Forty-Three

November 22-30, 1917 

In the year 1917, Thanksgiving Day fell on November 29th, the last Thursday in the month.  It had been quite a trying time for Kate Roosevelt and her family and they were just getting over the loss of their sister, Georgie “Lop” Shippen. Despite this depressing turn of events, the Thanksgiving dinner did not suffer. 

The Household Help

Bella was in the kitchen and Lizzie was in the drawing room along with the rest of the crew of servants that resembled the cast of Upstairs Downstairs and a sit-down dinner for eight at Kate Roosevelt’s country estate in Hightstown, New Jersey was a breeze.  I wondered if the “piece de resistance” was the turkey or the terrapin. Both considered delicacies in their day, they were holiday requirements for the Roosevelts.  Kate’s cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt’s favorite was terrapin, a soup made from a small species of turtle that live in fresh or brackish waters. He enjoyed it so much that when he left the White House for the last time when his term as president ended on a cold day in March, 1909 and he boarded the train in Washington, D.C., a loyal follower handed the station master a tureen of terrapin and asked him to deliver it to the former president’s rail car. Hopefully the soothing soup made the trip back to Sagamore Hill easier for the former president to swallow.

Horace Vose, the “Poultry King”

In 1917 turkeys made a rare appearance at the dinner table, even in the Roosevelt Household. They had to be ordered ahead of time from a reliable poultry farmer, not neatly packaged and simply slung into a shopping cart at the local grocery store.  This year Kate Roosevelt was probably remembering and wishing that Horace Vose, the Rhode Island “Poultry King” was still in business. The Roosevelt Family had been enjoying his turkeys for years. He supplied his birds to the New York market and to every President of the United States from Ulysses S. Grant to Woodrow Wilson. In 1904, during Theodore Roosevelt’s first term, Vose sent one of his best birds to the White House. The Boston Herald, a newspaper opposed to Roosevelt’s political agenda reported, “The president’s children cruelly treated the turkey sent by Horace Vose. They released it, chased it over the White House grounds, plucked and teased it until it was well nigh exhausted while the president looked on and laughed.”

Secretary of State William S. Loeb and President Theodore Roosevelt

Saying it was no more than “media hype,” William S. Loeb, Roosevelt’s Secretary of State, issued a scathing statement correcting the false reporting, “The turkey was fully-dressed when Vose sent it and the Roosevelts had it for Thanksgiving dinner.”

Thanksgiving Dinner

For four decades, eleven United States Presidents were treated to a not less than thirty-pound turkey.  The “Poultry King” died in 1913, thus ending a tasty tradition.

Sharon Hazard’s Dowager’s Diary appears on Thursday.

Photo One:
Theodore Roosevelt and Family at Oyster Bay
Library of Congress

Photo Two:
The Household Help
Public Domain

Photo Three:
Horace Vose, the “Poultry King”
White House History

Photo Four:
Secretary of State William S. Loeb and President Theodore Roosevelt
Library of Congress

Photo Five:
Thanksgiving Dinner
wiki