Daniel Chester French - Sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial

Sarah Josepha Hale - Mother of Thanksgiving Day

On October 3, 1863, with the nation embroiled in a bloody Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation setting aside the last Thursday in November as a national day of thanks, setting the precedent for the modern holiday we celebrate today.

Secretary of State William Seward wrote it and Abraham Lincoln issued it, but much of the credit for the proclamation should probably go to a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale. A prominent writer and editor, Hale had written the children’s poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” originally known as “Mary’s Lamb,” in 1830 and helped found the American Ladies Magazine, which she used a platform to promote women’s issues. In 1837, she was offered the editorship of “Godey’s Lady Book,” where she would remain for more than 40 years, shepherding the magazine to a circulation of more than 150,000 by the eve of the Civil War and turning it into one of the most influential periodicals in the country. In addition to her publishing work, Hale was a committed advocate for women’s education (including the creation of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York), and raised funds to construct Massachusetts’s Bunker Hill Monument and save George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.

The New Hampshire-born Hale had grown up regularly celebrating an annual Thanksgiving holiday, and in 1827 published a novel, “Northwood: A Tale of New England,” that included an entire chapter about the fall tradition, already popular in parts of the nation. While at “Godey’s,” Hale often wrote editorials and articles about the holiday and she lobbied state and federal officials to pass legislation creating a fixed, national day of thanks on the last Thursday of November—a unifying measure, she believed that could help ease growing tensions and divisions between the northern and southern parts of the country. Her efforts paid off: By 1854, more than 30 states and U.S. territories had a Thanksgiving celebration on the books, but Hale’s vision of a national holiday remained unfulfilled.

The concept of a national Thanksgiving did not originate with Hale, and in fact the idea had been around since the earliest days of the republic. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress issued proclamations declaring several days of thanks, in honor of military victories. In 1789, a newly inaugurated George Washington called for a national day of thanks to celebrate both the end of the war and the recent ratification of the U.S. Constitution—one of the original copies of Washington’s proclamation is set to be auctioned this November, with an estimated sale price of $8-12 million. Both John Adams and James Madison issued similar proclamations of their own, though fellow Founding Father Thomas Jefferson felt the religious connotations surrounding the event were out of place in a nation founded on the separation of church and state, and no formal declarations were issued after 1815.

The outbreak of war in April 1861 did little to stop Sarah Josepha Hale’s efforts to create such a holiday, however. She continued to write editorials on the subject, urging Americans to “put aside sectional feelings and local incidents” and rally around the unifying cause of Thanksgiving. And the holiday had continued, despite hostilities, in both the Union and the Confederacy. In 1861 and 1862, Confederate President Jefferson Davis had issued Thanksgiving Day proclamations following Southern victories. Abraham Lincoln himself called for a day of thanks in April 1862, following Union victories at Fort Donelson, Fort Henry and at Shiloh, and again in the summer of 1863 after the Battle of Gettysburg.

Shortly after Lincoln’s summer proclamation, Hale wrote to both the president and Secretary of State William Seward, once again urging them to declare a national Thanksgiving, stating that only the chief executive had the power to make the holiday, “permanently, an American custom and institution.” Whether Lincoln was already predisposed to issue such a proclamation before receiving Hale’s letter of September 28 remains unclear. What is certain is that within a week, Seward had drafted Lincoln’s official proclamation fixing the national observation of Thanksgiving on the final Thursday in November, a move the two men hoped would help “heal the wounds of the nation.”

After more than three decades of lobbying, Sarah Josepha Hale (and the United States) had a national holiday, though some changes remained in store. In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt briefly moved Thanksgiving up a week, in an effort to extend the already important shopping period before Christmas and spur economic activity during the Great Depression. While several states followed FDR’s lead, others balked, with 16 states refusing to honor the calendar shift, leaving the country with dueling Thanksgivings. Faced with increasing opposition, Roosevelt reversed course just two years later, and in the fall of 1941, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution returning the holiday to the fourth Thursday of November.

Thaddeus S.C.Lowe - US Army's First Aeronaut

Thaddeus Sobieski Constantine Lowe was born August 20, 1832 in Jefferson Mills, New Hampshire.  Intellectually curious and driven from a young age, Lowe had almost no formal education but demonstrated an appetite for learning which hinted at his future career as an inventor.  At the age of 18 he attended a lecture on the subject of lighter-than-air gases and so impressed the professor, Reginald Dinkelhoff, with his enthusiasm that Dinkelhoff offered to take the young Lowe on the lecture circuit with him as an assistant.  Over the course of the next decade, Lowe devoted himself to balloon aviation, and became a prominent builder of balloons and showman.  In 1855, at one of his demonstrations, he met the Parisian actress Leontine Augustine Gaschon, and they were wed just one week later.  The couple eventually had ten children.  In the latter part of the decade he set about building bigger balloons, with an eye towards a transatlantic crossing, and began to garner a prominent scientific reputation.  In April, 1861, Lowe intended to make a test run from Cincinnati, Ohio to Washington, D.C.  He took off on April 19, just a week after the fall of Fort Sumter, but instead of heading due east towards Washington Lowe’s balloon was blown way off course, eventually landing in Unionville, South Carolina.  There, he was arrested on suspicion of being a Northern spy.  When he finally convinced the Confederate authorities of his innocence he returned to Cincinnati, only to be immediately summoned to Washington.  The government was in fact interested in his experimental balloons as a means of gathering intelligence.

In June of 1861, Lowe demonstrated for President Lincoln how useful his balloons could be when combined with new electric telegraph technology.  On the 11th of that month, from a height of 500 feet above the National Mall in Washington D.C., Lowe transmitted to the President: “This point of observation commands an extent of country nearly 50 miles in diameter.  The city with its girdle of encampments, presents a superb scene. I have pleasure in sending you this first dispatch ever telegraphed from an aerial station, and in acknowledging indebtedness for your encouragement for the opportunity of demonstrating the availability of the science of aeronautics in the military service of the country.” Little more than a month later, Lowe and his balloon were in action during the First Battle of Bull Run, after which Lincoln approved the formation of the Union Army Balloon Corps, with Lowe as Chief Aeronaut (at a colonel’s salary).  Lowe’s principal contribution to the militarization of balloon technology, and its use in the field, was the portable hydrogen gas generator, which allowed the balloons to accompany the army wherever they were needed.  Made of a rugged material that could withstand the wear and tear of active campaigning, Lowe’s balloons could also be inflated in a very short amount of time.  They were a sensation in Washington, and many prominent military and political figures accompanied him on his ascensions.  He eventually built a total of seven balloons and twelve generators for the war effort. 

In the spring of 1862, Lowe and his balloons played a significant role in the Peninsula Campaign, observing the enemy’s defensive dispositions and helping relay information during the slow but steady advance on Richmond.  At the Battle of Seven Pines, Lowe’s aerial reconnaissance helped identify the buildup of Confederate forces near the Fair Oaks train station prior to the start of the battle.  In addition to providing valuable aerial reconnaissance information, Lowe, when supported with direct telegraphic links to commanders, was able to provide near real-time artillery spotting to Army of the Potomac artillery units.   While operating from Dr. Gaines’ farm on the future Gaines’ Mill battlefield, Lowe was positioned close enough to Richmond that he could clearly see the movements of soldiers and individuals within the city.  The sight of Lowe’s balloons, ominously hanging over the Virginia landscape, certainly must have unsettled the Confederates, who knew their movements were being observed by the enemy.  While several attempts were made to destroy the Union balloons via long range artillery fire, none of Lowe’s balloons were ever damaged or destroyed in combat.  Though Lowe and his balloons were able to avoid damaging enemy fire, Lowe himself contracted a serious bout of malaria from the mosquito infested waters near the Chickahominy River.

After the conclusion of the Peninsula Campaign, Lowe’s Balloon Corps was utilized during the 1862 Fredericksburg and 1863 Chancellorsville campaigns.  During this period, some Union commanders and leaders began to question Lowe’s heavy expenditures and poor administrative skills.  Placed under a more controlling military command structure, the frustrated and sick Lowe resigned from his balloon corps and the use of balloons within the Union armies ended shortly afterwards. 

Lowe returned to the private sector following the war, and made a fortune developing ice-making machines before moving to Los Angeles, California in 1887.  He died at his daughter’s home in Pasadena in 1913, aged 80

Bob Montana - Creator of the Archie Comic Series -

Resident of Meredith

Bob Montana was born in Stockton, California, but traveled extensively as a child due to his parents' occupations. He spent his school summers in Meredith, New Hampshire, where his father raised vegetables and operated a restaurant and it was there that Bob practiced his cartooning by drawing caricatures of the restaurant's customers. When Bob was 13, his father died of a heart attack, and his mother remarried.

In his senior year of high school, Bob moved with his parents to Manchester, New Hampshire and graduated from Manchester High School Central in 1940.

Following graduation, Bob moved to New York and attended the Art Students League and the Phoenix Art Institute. He soon began freelancing and created an adventure strip about four teenage boys which he tried to sell without success. Bob started working for MLJ Comics and was eventually asked to work up a high school style comic strip story. At age 21, he created Archie. The success of the character in MLJ's Pep Comics December, 1941 led MLJ to assign Bob to draw the first issue of Archie In November, 1942.

Bob spent four years in the Army Signal Corps during World War II, drawing coded maps, and working on training films. In 1944, while stationed at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, he met 19-year-old Army secretary, Helen (Peggy) Wherett, a native of Asbury Park, New Jersey. In 1946, the couple married and moved to Manhattan for a short while before returning to Meredith in 1948, where they bought an old New England-style farmhouse. In New Hampshire, they raised four children along with organic vegetables, assorted chickens, horses and sheep.

Bob continued to draw Archie for the rest of his life. After hours at his drawing table, it was his custom to relax by sailing his sloop, the White Eagle, on Lake Winnipesaukee, or skiing cross country near his home. He died of a heart attack on January 4, 1975, while cross-country skiing in Meredith. He was 55 years old