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A Cornucopia of Memories from Special Collections

By Su Kim Chung on November 21, 2016 8:14 AM | Permalink

Menu from Thanksgiving 1908 at the Binkley Hotel in Sherman, Texas (Bohn-Bettoni Collection)

With Thanksgiving approaching, we're feeling a sense of gratitude for many things, among them the growing diversity and expansion of our archives over the past year. In honor of the holiday, we're equally grateful to be able to share these photographs and ephemeral materials from our Special Collections. They recall several delightful ways that Thanksgiving was celebrated over the last century in Las Vegas, in Southern Nevada and across the country.  

A photo essay by Nancy Hardy, Special Collections Outreach and Reference Assistant

This 1968 promotional photo for the Thunderbird Hotel in Las Vegas shows how dress up a holiday turkey in style. Miss Can Can and Miss Mod Squad flank Chef Carl T. Dorre, who clearly has the evil gourmet eye on the bird. From our Matt Gregory Photograph Collection (PH: 0308-0074)

The image above--from our Matt Gregory Photograph Collection--augments the Matt Gregory Entertainment Collection, consisting of papers once belonging to the illustrious Las Vegas producer. The manuscript collection includes contracts, costume sketches, videos, show reviews and advertisements from Matt Gregory's various productions. Gregory first arrived in Las Vegas in 1953 to work in public relations at the invitation of Moe Dalitz, one of the partners at Wilbur Clark’s Desert Inn Hotel and Country Club. Later, Gregory pursued a career as a personal manager and agent, representing several lounge acts and developing and recruiting new talent. He went on to produce many shows in Las Vegas and elsewhere. Although Matt Gregory created a number of full-scale shows, he is best known for producing "mini-revues" that featured the same level of talent and glamor as the larger Vegas-style spectaculars. This Thanksgiving publicity shot is about as glamorous as it gets for a turkey! 

A feast at the Merchant Hotel in Tonopah, Nevada, circa early 1900s, from the Tonopah Goldfield Album

Among the oldest photographs in Special Collections are those captured in the old Nevada mining towns of Tonopah and Goldfield. Many of these photographs, as well as manuscripts documenting everyday life in Nevada just after the turn of the century, can be accessed in our digital collection, Southern Nevada: The Boomtown Years. The images also show how holidays and special events were celebrated over a hundred years ago. Judging from all those bottles of bubbly, it looks like it was quite a festive gathering at the Merchant Hotel so long ago!

Thanksgiving menu from the Dunlap House, Jacksonville, Illinois, from November 29, 1883  (Henry J. Bohn Collection in Menus: The Art of Dining)

Our Menus: The Art of Dining digital collection features historic American and international menus, including many Las Vegas menus that provide a taste of our city's culinary past. In particular, the Bohn-Bettoni Collection includes 2,000 restaurant menus dating from 1870-1930. Many covers feature charming illustrations designed especially for holiday meals, such as the Thanksgiving menu above. We wonder, though, how appealing this particular message might have been, just before Thanksgiving dinner. It might have been a good idea to pass on the pie!

Photo from the Sands Hotel and Casino's annual "Turkey Trot" event, mid-1950s to early '60s (Sands Hotel Collection, PH: 0287-0817)

One of our most extensive (and fascinating) collections is the Sands Hotel Collection, which documents the history of the legendary Las Vegas resort from 1952 to 1972. The Sands Hotel Collection consists primarily of photographs, newspaper clippings, brochures, press releases and advertising. Iconic entertainers (including the "Rat Pack") and hotel productions featuring the Copa Girls are among the images, along with publicity photos of celebrity guests and events like the annual "Turkey Trot," pictured above. The chef here seems to be somewhat more enthusiastic about dinner than the unidentified little girl.

Thanksgiving Day banquet at the Holland Hotel in Pioneer, Nevada, November 24, 1911 (Charles Thomas-Perry Collection) At the head of the table is hotel manager Mrs. O'Brien; second from the right is Pioneer postmaster Charles W. Thomas.

The Charles Thomas-Perry Photographs portray life in several towns in Southern and Central Nevada from 1900 to 1940. The photographs primarily capture the Thomas and Perry families and their homes in Beatty and Pioneer, Nevada. Other subject matter includes children, holiday celebrations, and the towns of Searchlight, Rhyolite, Goodsprings, and Goldfield, Nevada.

Fabulous Las Vegas magazine cover from Thanksgiving week in 1956

Most of us won't look quite this chic whipping up Thanksgiving dinner, but this cover from our nearly complete collection of the entertainment-focused Fabulous Las Vegas magazine certainly captures our attention. The periodical collection covers the years 1950-1973 and is a "fabulous" resource for investigating the entertainment history of Las Vegas.

Wishing everyone a good old-fashioned Thanksgiving from all of us in Special Collections!