November 15th, 2007
In many ways, Thanksgiving is an un-American holiday. Consumption seldom goes beyond an excess of turkey and pumpkin pie, and garish displays are limited to a few stupid parades and some of the most mediocre football of the year. Good old all-American chaos is down — but not entirely out.
Thanksgiving Day Massacre, Reno, 1980
Priscilla Ford had a long history of psychiatric problems and bizarre behavior, marked by such quixotic acts as suing the Mormon Church and attempting to speak at the 1972 Republican Convention. The capper came on the Thanksgiving afternoon when she got even with the City of Reno. In front of the downtown casinos, she steered her black 1974 Lincoln onto a crowded sidewalk and mowed down the crowds of holiday gamblers and gambolers. She left six dead and 23 injured in her wake. Pulled over a few blocks later, she told police, "Sometimes I am called Jesus Christ." She later expressed a fervent hope that she'd nailed 75 people, and explained the voice of Joan (Mrs. Edward) Kennedy had told her to do it. Nonetheless, she was found legally sane and duly convicted of murder.
Founding of the Ku Klux Klan, Atlanta, 1915
At 35, failed preacher William Simmons had found his true calling as a fraternal lodge leader. In addition to commanding five regiments of the Woodmen, he was a heavy in several Masonic orders and a Knight Templar. But his dream was to have his own personal fraternal organization. And he wanted more than funny hats and secret handshakes — he wanted to revive the Ku Klux Klan. His dream came to fruition Thanksgiving Eve when 40 handpicked men gathered to re-launch the Klan. A group of 15 stalwarts recessed to the top of nearby Stone Mountain for an early morning cross-burning. Simmons tied his first recruitment drive in with D.W. Griffith's famous film The Birth of a Nation, which opened in Atlanta the following week. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The Great Football Fry, San Francisco, 1900
Back in the good old days of Thanksgiving Day football, the hearts and minds of Bay Area football fans were not on dinner, but the day's "Big Game" between the University of California and Stanford. The 1900 edition of this classic was, of course, sold out. The roofs of the buildings surrounding the stadium were crowded with budget-minded fans craning for a glimpse of the action. Twenty minutes into the game, the roof of one building collapsed. Unfortunately, the building housed a glass factory, complete with a red-hot furnace filled with molten glass. Turkeys weren't the only things getting roasted in San Francisco that day. Twenty-two people were killed and over 80 injured in what remains the worst — and most bizarre — disaster ever to befall American sports fans.
Missionary Massacre, Zimbabwe 1987
Early on Thanksgiving morning, Marxist Zimbabwean rebels descended on two farms run by white Pentecostal missionaries. What they lacked in Thanksgiving spirit they made up for in their revolutionary zeal. First they tied up the 16 white missionaries — men, women, and children, including two Americans. Then, as they gleefully sang revolutionary songs, they hacked their captives to death. Officials could only describe the resulting carnage as "barbaric."
Executive Assassination, Cordoba, Argentina, 1973
At the height of the Argentinean urban terrorist fad, a band of 15 young men waylaid John Swint, the general manager of a local Ford subsidiary, on Thanksgiving Day. The Peronist gunmen, upset with the way President Juan Peron had turned on them, later claimed they'd only wanted to kidnap the American executive. But according to witnesses, it was a turkey-shoot from the get-go. The gunmen immediately started blasting away with shotguns and assault rifles, killing Swint's bodyguard and chauffeur and critically injuring another bodyguard. One blond gunner unloaded a quick machine gun blast into Swint's body at close range — just to be sure.