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Johnny Vardeman: Possum once took the place of turkey at Thanksgiving
Johnny Vardeman

Some Thanksgiving traditions have endured through the years. Some Gainesville churches always have a unified service around or on Thanksgiving Day.

It was always on Thanksgiving Day in the old days. Just after the new First Methodist Church was completed in 1908, the service was held there. Pastors of the major city churches alternated preaching, and this time it was the Rev. O.J. Copeland of First Baptist Church on Green Street in the pulpit. A choir made up of members of choirs of the various churches presented seasonal music.

The Rev. B.F. Fraser was pastor of the host church.

Another holiday tradition that faded after several years was a Gainesville High School football game on Thanksgiving Day. The usual opponent was Athens High School. City Park was the site, but in alternating years in Athens, at least once at the University of Georgia’s Sanford Stadium.

In 1921, a doubleheader at City Park featured Athens vs. Gainesville and Riverside Military Academy vs. Tech High of Atlanta.

Gainesville had a team in 1907, but it might have been made up of high school boys and anybody else who showed up. John Byers was captain. The Thanksgiving game was played at City Park against Boys High of Atlanta, which won 16-0. About 200 people watched the game, the only one Gainesville played that year. Admission was 25 cents for adults and 15 cents for children. 

Turkey wasn’t always the entrée on Thanksgiving menus in those days. Gainesville Mill had a banquet for mostly supervisory employees. Seventy-five people feasted on oysters in the school auditorium.

Oyster bashes were not uncommon, and even one place preferred possum over either turkey or oysters. Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Dooley entertained about 20 people, who devoured possum at their restaurant on Broad Street in Gainesville.

Telephone lines were being strung all over the place in the 1920s, but not everybody had phones. The Dahlonega Telephone Co. was acutely aware of this and aggressively urged those without phones to get them. 

In a newspaper advertisement, it stressed that telephones in homes were to be used only by those living in that home. “Others using them are simply deadbeating,” the ad read. “Pay for your talk or walk.”

Meanwhile in Gainesville, Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph announced an innovation in its system. “Audible ringing” would be available to phone subscribers. That meant when somebody was calling you, a “purring sound” would be heard at the telephone. 

That purring apparently was the predecessor to the ring that continues to let people know somebody’s calling them. Unless, of course, you can substitute the ring for your favorite song, buzz, chimes, chirping crickets or whatever other noise that cheers your ears.

Confederate Gen. James Longstreet died Jan. 2, 1904, at the home of a daughter, Mrs. J. Estin Whelchel, on College Avenue in Gainesville. Confederate Gen. John B. Gordon died less than two weeks later in Biscayne, Fla., Jan. 14, 1904. Gainesville’s Candler Horse Guards participated in both funerals. Longstreet, of course, is buried in Alta Vista Cemetery in Gainesville. Gordon’s service was at the State Capitol in Atlanta. 

Others taking part in Longstreet’s funeral were the United Confederate Veterans Longstreet Chapter 923 and Civil War veterans A.D. Candler and C.C. Sanders. 

Gordon and Longstreet had fought against the Union during the war, but Gordon had been a critic of some of Longstreet’s actions in battle.

Helen Longstreet defended her husband from his critics and was the author of a book detailing the general’s accomplishments. In promoting the book, “Lee and Longstreet at High Tide,” she offered to pay for a year of college for any Hall County girl who could sell 115 copies.

The statue “Old Joe,” a monument to the Confederate dead in the Civil War, was put together in pieces. At first, only the base was installed by the Sibley Marble Co. of Tate, Ga., in December 1907. The United Daughters of Confederacy, Longstreet Chapter, had to wait to erect the statue because it didn’t have enough money to pay for it. It would be another three years before Old Joe would stand at his post atop the marble base on the Gainesville square.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 PineTree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770- 532-2326; e-mail

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