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Archive for 'Myth or History'

Thanksgiving with the Presidents

Today’s guest post comes from Susan Donius, Director of the Office of Presidential Libraries at the National Archives. This post originally appeared on the White House blog.

Did you know that before the 1940s, Thanksgiving was not on a fixed date but was whenever the President proclaimed it to be?

George Washington issued the first Presidential proclamation for the holiday in 1789.  That year he designated Thursday, November 26 as a national day of “public thanksgiving.”  The United States then celebrated its first Thanksgiving under its new Constitution.   Seventy-four years later, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday on the last Thursday in November.

By the beginning of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Presidency, Thanksgiving was not a fixed holiday; it was up to the President to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation to announce what date the holiday would fall on.  Tradition had dictated that the holiday be celebrated on the last Thursday of the month, however, this tradition became increasingly difficult to continue during the challenging times of the Great Depression.

Roosevelt’s first Thanksgiving in office fell on November 30, the last day of the month, because November had five Thursdays that year. This meant that there were only about 20 shopping days until Christmas and statistics showed that most people waited until after Thanksgiving to begin their holiday shopping.  Business leaders feared they would … [ Read all ]

Sometimes an “S” is just an “S”

Today’s blog post was written by Tammy Kelly, an archivist at the Harry S. Truman Library.

When future President Harry S. Truman was born on May 8, 1884, his parents decided to name him Harry, after his mother’s brother Harrison Young. But what about a middle name? Harry’s parents could not come to a decision—should Harry’s middle name be Shipp, in honor of his paternal grandfather, Anderson Shipp Truman? Or should it be Solomon, in honor of his maternal grandfather, Solomon Young?

In the end, they entered his middle name as simply S, which led to a never-ending controversy and questions about Harry S. Truman’s middle name.

When Harry S. Truman wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt in 1945, Truman's signature includes the period (ARC 4708753).

Many people tried to give Truman a middle name. When Truman took the oath of office upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 12, 1945, Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone delivered the oath as “I, Harry Shipp Truman.” When Truman repeated it back, he made the subtle correction, “I, Harry S. Truman.”

In this press release, Truman runs his signature together and the "S" can barely be seen (ARC 200612).

Truman often received mail addressed to “Harry Solomon Truman,” “Harry Simpson Truman” and “Harry Shippe Truman.” In 1955, on a visit to Eugene, Oregon, to raise money for … [ Read all ]

Hitler and his Dentist

Drawing of Hitler's upper jaw, March 18, 1946, from the report “Gen. Maj. Waffen SS, Hitler’s Dentist,” RG 319

Today’s guest post comes from Miriam Kleiman of the Public and Media Communications Office.

Before joining the Public Affairs staff, I was a researcher for the “Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group.” I reviewed records of Nazi war criminals, including those recruited by the U.S. intelligence. Needless to say, this was not an upbeat task.

But one day I found a file that was astonishing and entertaining: a file on the arrest and interrogation of Dr. Hugo Johannes Blaschke, Hitler’s dentist.

(In my many years of research, this file was the first and only war crimes–related file that I ever copied and shared with my dentist, who has never mentioned it in subsequent appointments. )

Born in West Prussia and raised in Berlin, Blaschke studied dentistry at the University of Pennsylvania from 1908 to 1911 and was a member of Psi Omega Zeta dental fraternity. Yet Hitler’s Ivy League–educated dentist was arrogant and unbothered by World War II and its aftermath.

During interrogation, Blaschke criticizes Hitler, but not for war crimes. Instead, he blasts Hitler as a frustrating patient who delayed appointments, was careless about dental hygiene, and only called when he was in pain. Blaschke mentions the war as a side … [ Read all ]

Facial Hair Friday: Elvis has NOT left the building

The most popular photograph at the National Archives (ARC 1634221)

Are these the most famous sideburns in music history? They might be the most famous sideburns in the National Archives.

If you are a fan of Elvis, you’ve seen the photograph: Nixon and Elvis shaking hands in the White House. This is the most-requested image in our holdings. The quirky story behind the meeting of the King of Rock and Roll and the President of the United States is featured in this online exhibit.

But it’s not the only record we have of Elvis.

In December of 1957, Elvis was drafted for the U.S. Army. This career change was an upsetting event for fans. The Eisenhower Library has a letter from three girls in Montana who despaired over a possible shaving of  the singer’s sideburns: “You don’t no how we feel about him, I really don’t see why you have to send him in the Army at all, but we beg you please please don’t give him a G.I. hair cut, oh please please don’t!  If you do we will just about die!”

But their letter writing was in vain. On March 24, 1958, Presley signed his acknowledgement of service obligation and entered the Army. (Alas, his sideburns did not.)

Since Elvis served in the military, his file is part of the permanant holdings of the National Personnel … [ Read all ]

What’s Cooking Wednesday: Truman and the no-turkey Thursday

President Truman receives a turkey from Sen. Olin Johnston of South Carolina in the Oval Office, 11/25/1946 (ARC 199535)

What do you if you love Thanksgiving but it falls on a day when you can’t eat turkey? In 1947, President Truman faced an awkward dilemma.

Truman took up the office of President during World War II, but even after the war ended, the plight of the Europeans was on his mind. Americans were still urged to conserve food so that more could be sent to the hungry and needy in a war-devastated Europe.

Part of this effort involved not eating poultry on Thursdays. Of course, this presented a problem for President Truman on the fourth Thursday of November in 1947.

Certainly, Truman could have tried a drastic move and declared Thanksgiving to be held that Friday instead. However, Thanksgiving had barely recovered from a firestorm of controversy that started in 1939.

Before that fateful Thursday in 1939, the American people had followed the 1863 proclamation of Abraham Lincoln and faithfully celebrated a day of Thanksgiving on the last week of November. But in 1939, President Roosevelt had attempted to move the date up by a week to the fourth Thursday. It was a disaster, with 32 states accepting the date change and 16 states refusing. For two years, there were two Thanksgivings on two different Thursdays.

Having the entire country disagree over … [ Read all ]