By Nora Sawyer
Published from 1885 to 1966, The Sausalito News provides a time machine into Sausalito’s past. As our Thanksgiving approaches, I decided to take a deep dive into the News’ Thanksgiving reporting through the years, and invite the spirits of our predecessors to the table.
When the paper started publication in 1885, Thanksgiving was a well-established holiday. In the November 5th edition from that year, an editorial noted that President Cleveland had declared November 26th a day of Thanksgiving, and then urged Sausalito’s residents to “give from our share of the blessings of plenty to those around us who have been less fortunate.”
It was also a grand social occasion. From the 1880s through the early 1900s, the paper is littered with accounts of dinners, balls and concerts held Thanksgiving eve, drawing people from throughout Marin. In 1888, the steamer launch Ida conveyed revelers from Tiburon to Sausalito for a Thanksgiving eve dance, and an 1887 account of a ball held at the San Francisco Yacht Club (where the Trident restaurant stands today) notes that “it is said that the best dancers came from Tiburon, the prettiest ladies from Sausalito and the best looking men from Mill Valley.”
The Thanksgiving feast itself was celebrated “on land and sea” with the observation that “the most successful social dinners or parties can be given in the splendid apartments of a fine ship just as well as in the most stately mansions.”
Richardson’s Bay wasn’t only for dining. Various yacht clubs hosted Thanksgiving regattas, with the Sausalito News itself contributing an “engraved silver cup” as a prize in 1889. Local fauna held its own celebrations, with the paper noting that though Thanksgiving 1890 was quiet, “the musical notes of sea lions are nightly heard in Richardson Bay.”
During World War I, celebrations became more subdued and civic-minded. The Marin County Women's Council of Defense baked pies for soldiers stationed at Fort Baker, and the Chamber of Commerce urged citizens to “buy nothing for the big dinner that is not grown or made in their in own community, or at least purchased from a merchant doing business in their own town.”
Still, Sausalito saw its share of revelry. In 1914, the San Francisco Yacht Club hosted its annual breakfast, proceeded by a plunge into the bay at six and followed by a row to Strawberry Point for lunch, where the “chicken and trimmings were so good that they eat and eat [sic] until they did not feel like rowing back.”
The Great Depression brought with it more Thanksgiving introspection. In 1931, state senator Tallant Tubbs wrote that “on Thanksgiving Day there were six million unemployed persons in the United States who had little to rejoice about.”
Still, Tamalpais Valley special correspondent Tom Philbrick found much to be grateful for. “I am thankful that I am alive to enjoy everything, such as good health and good neighbors,” he wrote, “and that it’s never so tough but what it could be tougher… That’s what makes one thankful and happy. My squirrels, my dog, Beauty, the chickens and the wild life that live on this place with me, for all this I am thankful… Even if they do provoke me at times by stealing my garden.”
During the Second World War, the needs of service men and women came to the fore. Residents were urged to “add a plate” for a soldier stationed in Marin. Work in the shipyards did not pause for the holiday, but “more than a ton and a half” of turkey meat was prepared and served to Marinship workers on Thanksgiving Day in 1944. Marinship’s role became especially poignant as the war came to a close the next year. For Marin City, “a city peopled by wartime emergency,” Thanksgiving of 1945 would be “the most joyous holiday the community has ever known.”
After the war ended, Sausalito remained a hub of activity. On Thanksgiving Day 1946, Orson Wells visited Sausalito to “look things over” before filming began on “Lady from Shanghai” that weekend. The News noted that the movie would feature local landmarks such as the Walhalla Inn and the schooner “White Cloud,” star Rita Hayworth, and that “Sausalito will play itself in the picture.”
Even before her movie debut, Sausalito had character to spare. In 1953, The Sausalito News published interviews with longtime local residents to mark the city’s 60th birthday. William G. Morrow, then in his eighties, recalled the days of legal gambling in Sausalito, when “every Thanksgiving and Christmas, boatloads of turkeys would arrive to be dealt out to those likely to support the gamblers at election time.”
Though its gambling days were past, Sausalito’s 60th decade was still hopping. Thanksgiving 1955 saw a party given by avant-garde composer and musical instrument designer Harry Partch. Attended by 75 people, the party took place in his studio in the Waldo Point shipyards, and featured “a jam session by Gate 5 Ensemble.”
As the paper ended publication in the 1960s, Sausalito’s spirit and character still shone through. For its final edition, published on November 2, 1966, reporter Maggie Citizen wrote an imagined conversation with her dog, Sheba, which ends with the following valediction: "wag your tail, yip like an idiot, eat, drink and be happy. The old Joie De Vivre. The world could be coming to an end Out There and it’d be all the same to you, huh? Joie De Vivre.” Though Thanksgiving was still weeks away, the message seems apt. So wag your tail, Sausalito, and remember that whatever happens Out There, we have much to be thankful for.