Do you remember when you’d never hear Christmas music in stores until the day after Thanksgiving? Now you can’t even shop for Halloween decorations without tripping over Christmas trees and tinsel. I guess I shouldn’t be shocked that in a country so invested in the capitalist dream, we find ways to extend the spirit of shopping as far as possible. Why, take Black Friday for instance. It use to be actually on – shocker – Friday. Now it starts Thanksgiving night. Or worse, it goes all week. Especially for online retailers. Where is the tradition of getting up before the crack of dawn on Friday morning and standing in line in the freezing cold waiting for a store to open? Come on, people. This is tradition! Well . . . okay . . . not for me. Never has been.
My idea of a good Black Friday, is keeping my eyes shut and sleeping in with my husband. Then lazing around the house all day, eating leftover turkey, playing games with the kids, and yes, probably watching some football. The important thing for me is avoiding the retail craziness at all cost.
For a day that has become famous for spurring the economy, I found it rather ironic that the first Black Friday became famous for crashing it.
During reconstruction, following the Civil War, the nation’s economy was at a devastating low point. In order to stimulate economic growth, President Grant made an effort to reduce the supply of paper money or greenbacks by offering to buy them from citizens at a discount and replacing them with currency backed by gold.
However, in 1869 a pair of shady financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, came up with a scheme to profit from the government’s plan by cornering the gold market. If they could convince Grant not to sell gold to the public, they themselves could buy it up in large quantities and watch the price soar. Then, when it peaked, they would sell out and make a fortune. But how were they to influence President Grant?
Gould and Fisk recruited Abel Corbin, a financier who just happened to be married to Grant’s sister, Virginia. Corbin arranged invitations to social engagements for Gould and Fisk where the two used their charm and persuasion to argue against the government sale of gold, bending Grant’s ear. Grant wasn’t swayed, but he did allow Corbin to convince him to appoint General Daniel Butterfield assistant treasurer of the United States. Part of Butterfield’s job was to handle government gold sales on Wall Street. In return for a piece of the action, Butterfield agreed to inform Gould and Fisk when the government was ready to sell gold.
Grant eventually became suspicious of his brother-in-law’s sudden interest in the gold market, and when he found a letter between his wife and sister regarding the same matter, he recognized the scheme for what it was. Sensing the danger, Gould, Fisk, and Corbin began buying up as much gold as they could on September 20. The price rose to as high as $162 per ounce, a price that would not be reached again for 100 years. However, on September 24, Grant ordered the immediate sale of $4,000,000 worth of government gold. Within minutes, prices plummeted. Investors scrambled. Panic set in. Many investors had taken out loans to buy their gold and when the price dropped, they were ruined, Abel Corbin among them.
Gould escaped relatively unscathed, by selling his gold before the market began to fall. Daniel Butterfield was removed from his post after a congressional hearing. Bad luck and continued scheming caught up to Fisk a few years later. In 1872, fellow financier, Edward Stokes, shot him dead after arguments over money and the affections of a show girl named Josie Mansfield. Has all the makings of a western showdown, doesn’t it?
- So, are you a Black Friday shopper, or do you prefer to hide away at home and avoid the crowds?
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