Milwaukee VA Medical Center
Rare find features Thanksgiving 1914 at Old Main
Roast turkey with sage dressing, cranberry sauce, baked sweet potatoes and French rolls.
If that sounds like Thanksgiving dinner in 2020, it was also Thanksgiving dinner in 1914 – served at the Soldiers Home – aka Old Main -- in Milwaukee.
We know that thanks to Sandra Falk, who recently discovered a program card from the 1914 holiday celebration among her grandfather’s affects.
Wonderfully preserved with hardly a scratch or tear, the card was sent to the Milwaukee VA Medical Center by Falk because while it held no sentimental value for her family, she didn’t want to throw it out.
“I’m very thoughtful before getting rid of anything,” she said, saying it “didn’t feel right” to toss the card. “I thought I should make an attempt to get this to someone.”
She looked up the Milwaukee VA on the internet and mailed the card to Voluntary Services, which immediately forwarded it to the medical center’s library, where a collection of documents and artifacts from Old Main are housed.
“I thought it was wonderful that the woman thought enough about this to track us down,” said librarian Janice Curnes. “It’s always nice to get something totally out of the blue.”
Besides the menu, the card features the picture of an etching of Old Main, complete with a horse-and-buggy passing in front. It also lists the Soldiers’ Home officers and the musical program performed for the Thanksgiving feast by the National Home Orchestra.
But the big mystery, Falk said, is why her grandfather had the card in the first place.
Henry Herbert Organ immigrated to western Canada from England in 1911, not long after getting married. He was not a Veteran and had no connection to the military, she said.
In addition, the family knows that Organ never left Canada and never traveled.
“It doesn’t fit with where they were, what they were doing or how it came into their possession,” Falk said. “But it was obviously something my grandfather thought enough of to keep it in a small box. It would have been something he purposely selected to keep.”
The closest he came to the United States was Lake Muskoka in Ontario, a tourist area where he worked for a short time soon after arriving from England. The lake is about 120 miles north of Toronto.
“He didn’t stay there long,” Falk said, noting he and his wife moved farther west, settling in Manitoba, where Falk lives today.
A family member said it’s possible Organ met someone at Lake Muskoka who sent him the card.
Curnes wondered if someone from Wisconsin maybe traveled to Manitoba and encountered Organ.
“And even if he knew someone from Wisconsin, why would they send this?” Curnes said.
“It’s a mystery. Who knows how her grandfather ended up with it? No one will ever know.”