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Historical Society gives holiday stories talk

Not all early-day Talent residents were overflowing with excitement for celebration of Thanksgiving, historian Jan Wright discovered as she did research for her upcoming talk on “Stories of the Holidays” at the Talent Historical Society Museum.

The event is scheduled for at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26.

“It’s typical of Talent and their nonconformist ideas. It’s questioning,” said Wright. “It’s not surprising to me when I got into the diaries of each gentleman and found they were kind of cynical about Thanksgiving.”

Welborn Beeson, who lived from 1836 to 1893, wrote in 1886, “We should be thankful every day. I don’t know why we should be any different.” Thanksgiving day was “all humbug,” Beeson wrote. Even so, he observed the day each year by hunting for a turkey or some other animal to eat, Wright found in her research.

Beeson was not particularly religious, so he didn’t observe the holiday in a sappy, sentimental kind of way, said Wright. Talent was home of the Universal Mental Liberty Hall, sometimes called “Infidel Hall” by Christians in the community.

Another resident was skeptical about the thinking behind the proclamation of the day in the early part of the 20th Century. Willis J. Dean, on Nov. 16, 1912, wrote in his diary: “Gov. (Oswald) West is out with a Thanksgiving Proclamation. The usual announcement is made that the state is enjoying all kinds of peace and prosperity while in many places on the earth there are wars, famine, etc. Then comes the funny part, that our special blessings came direct from the hands of God, and we should not fail to give heartfelt thanks to the Most High for being thus favored. This ought to make a dog laugh — that is a dog that has been properly raised. Why should God be partial to Oregonians?”

Other diaries Wright examined had more mundane accounts, such as one noting the holiday with the entry, “I had a chicken today with friends.”

Origins of Thanksgiving will be explained, starting with what is said to be the first between Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621. Wright said Sara Josepha Hale lobbied for 17 years to make the celebration a national holiday. Abraham Lincoln finally paid attention and did so in 1863.

While Wright didn’t find mention of any town-wide celebrations of the holiday in earlier times, she noted the town now has a tree lighting that takes place this year at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 10, at Town Hall. Historical Society President Ron Medinger assists with the celebration by growing a beard and dressing as a gentleman noted for his joviality and generosity at Christmas time.

Reference to an early holiday celebration in Ashland was uncovered by Wright in an Ashland Daily Tidings article from 1921 on pioneer Ann Russell’s recollections. During Ashland’s 1865 Christmas, townsfolk collected $40 to make sure that all the little kids got some sort of present from the community. Each child got a bag of candy and a gift, and a $1 hat for an orphan boy was one of the most expensive items. A town-wide celebration was held in the town hall where the Odd Fellows Building stood in 1921.

Members of the audience Tuesday will be invited to share their stories of holidays in Talent, which can become part of the museum’s archives.

“I want it to be a two-way thing,” said Wright. “People can tell me stories about some significant Thanksgiving.”

Tuesday’s talk is the 50th since the society began a series on the fourth Tuesday of each month. The museum is located at 105 N. Market St. There is no admission charge, but donations are accepted. For more details on the society and Talent history, see talenthistory.org.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy cityoftalent.org