Thanksgiving with the Barkers

Christmas fever has officially began to descend on Barker Mansion! The lead up to December is always a hectic time as staff and volunteers attempt to ready the mansion for the Christmas season. With everything that goes on during this time of year related to Christmas I have never paid much thought to Thanksgiving in relation to the Barker family. So like a good historian, I got curious and started poking around, and what I found honestly surprised me.

When we think of Thanksgiving today our minds tend to go straight to the same few things: Black Friday, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, family, and the food of course. Today most people simply sit down for a meal with their closest friends and family and I assumed that it would be the same for the Barkers, especially considering that I knew through previous research that in the early 1800s many people celebrated at home with their family. This of course got my mind going with ideas of what kind of menu would be served at a Barker Mansion Thanksgiving 100 years ago, so I went searching completely expecting to find an outline of an extravagant meal with expensive foods. When I found a menu, however, I was surprised to see that the menu itself was from a prominent New York hotel. With a little more digging I discovered that the turn of the century was a time where the trend was to eat a fancy meal at a restaurant, boarding house, or hotel. Due to their wealth and position in society, the Barker family would have spent Thanksgiving in a prominent Chicago hotel, likely the Palmer House.

This trend of eating dinner on Thanksgiving in a fancy restaurant or hotel only lasted from 1890-1920. After the end of World War I many decided to stay with their loved ones on the holiday, a decision that was re-enforced with the beginning of the Great Depression. Since then, Thanksgiving has returned to being a family oriented meal much like it is today. 

Make sure to swing by the Barker Mansion this December during our extended hours to see the Christmas decorations!


Jackie Perkins, Heritage Interpreter