Before* There Was Football….

ECHO underway, posted Friday, November 26, 2010

The image for this post is available at Connecticut History Illustrated.

… there was another form of Thanksgiving entertainment. After their day of feasting in 1879, Bridgeporters could stroll to Main Street for an evening performance not at a theater but at Foster, Besse & Co., “the combination clothiers.”

John E. Foster, of Bridgeport, and Lyman W. Besse, of West Virginia, established their men’s and boy’s clothing in September 1877, and by 1884 had partnered with other individuals to create a chain of stores throughout New England—some ten in all. Eventually, this enterprise included 41 stores stretching from the East Coast to the Mississippi River. The last store closed in 1948.

That evening’s entertainment included popular dramatic scenes and songs not necessarily suitable to young children, despite the inclusion of “Cinderella!” with a cast of thirty youngsters on the bill. The “Ghost Scene from Hamlet”? Very scary. “Villikins and His Dinah”? An old English ballad (sung to the tune of “Sweet Betsy from Pike”) about a daughter taking poison rather than obey her father’s wishes for her to marry. The children’s nightmares that night didn’t come from overeating.

And what wife and mother could bear to see the kitchen scene in Cinderella after several days’ labor in that chamber, preparing for the Thanksgiving feast? Perhaps the real entertainment were the “POPULAR GOODS, IMMENSE STOCK, AND LOW ONE PRICE” of Foster, Besse & Co.

Come to think of it, does this broadside hint at the late nineteenth-century version of “Black Friday,” the shopping day after Thanksgiving? The research continues….

*Okay, for the record, there was football. The first Harvard-Yale (or is that Yale-Harvard?) game was played on November 13, 1875, with the scholar-athletes in crimson winning the day in what was really a rugby match. In the 1879 game, played on November 8, the teams tied, marking the last game of rugby. Within the year, Yale senior Walter Chauncey Camp, would begin to invent American football. Tailgating in the parking lot, however, would await the advent of the automobile.