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Archive for October, 2009

Dear daydream believers,

You might have heard, say here, or here, or (shout-out to my adviser) here, that 2009 marks the bicentennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. And what better way to celebrate his memory than with Brown University’s enormous collection of “Lincolniana“—though I keep reading it as “Lincolnalia,”  suggesting both paraphernalia and a Victorian sexual pathology.

As it turns the 21st century has no monopoly on crass commercialization. See for instance this truly incredible advertisement from 1870, with the “Emancipation Proclamation” rolled up like cigarette paper, with the American flag waving above it like a trail of smoke.

Brown University, Center for Digital Initiatives

Yes America, you are free at last to smoke. And check out (in 3-D!!!) this delightfully kitschy 1950s Lincoln jug.

More genuinely moving is this beautiful 1904 silhouette portrait of the Great Emancipator beneath a tree.

Brown University, Center for Digital Initiatives

Though I have to say, my favorite portrayal of Lincoln appears in Behind the Scenes, the (mostly true?) memoir written by his Mary Todd Lincoln’s black dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley. As she tells it, President Abe was extremely fond of animals, especially his pet goats. “My pets recognize me. How earnestly they look!”  Read it on Google if you haven’t already!

Earnestly yours,

Stephen

P.S. Did you know you can become a fan of the “Young Abraham Lincoln” on Facebook? Find out what Joshua Speed saw in him!

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Dear citizens of the land of nod,

Today’s entry comes to you courtesy of UC Santa Barbara’s fabulous Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project–an archive of music from the early 20th century, when songs were recorded on hard wax cylinders. You could literally spend hours here building your ITunes playlist.

Just imagine wooing your sweetheart with such ethnically-sensitive tunes as Irving Berlin’s “Sweet Italian Love,” sung in dialect by the prolific vocalist Billy Murray. Looking forward to the lyrical ingenuity of “When the moon hits your eye,” Murray sings, “When you kiss-a your pet/And it’s-a like-a spagett/Dat’s Italian love!”

Of course, Italians aren’t the only ones who know how to set a romantic mood. Here Ada Jones sings “Hottentot Love Song,” about, you guessed it, a Hottentot man in love with a “Zulu maid.” As Jones croons, “If my skin ain’t white/I’ve a heart that’s white/and it’s all for you.” (You can view the sheet music here from Mississippi State University’s Templeton collection).

And last but not least, listen to Murray and Jones sing the anti-sentimental duet “Pet Names” from George Cohan’s 1908 musical, “The American Idea”–a “satire on international marriage,” in the words of the New York Times.

Be sure to check out the archive’s curated exhibits, too!

Until next time!

Yours romantically,

Stephen

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Dear compatriots in soporific studies,

One drawback to working from home is that the couch always looks far more attractive than the computer screen. I find myself contemplating this dilemma today on the arrival of our long-awaited sofa, named by its manufacturers “Rachel,” not to mention our new platform bed, named “Elan.” That’s right, Rachel and Elan–what a lovely Jewish couple!

So in honor of the marriage of Rachel and Elan, I thought I’d point you today to a trio of films on home improvement, from the always astonishing Prelinger Archive–an online collection of ephemeral films.

In the first, from 1940, “Let Yourself Go,” we get a tour of a mattress store–a kind of proto-Sleepy’s–where everyday people try to find the secret to a good night’s rest. One man, for instance, has “been fighting his pillow for years,” the narrator says. “So far he’s lost every round.”

Let Yourself Go

In the second, from 1958, “Something New From Something Old,” a young couple named “Jack and Jill” turn their sad NYC tenement apartment into a luxurious haven, all to the tune of “Almost Like Falling in Love.”

Somethign New

But lest you remain unconvinced the importance of domestic improvement, watch this harrowing film from 1954, “The House in the Middle,” which shows how houses in various states of repair and disrepair would hold up under atomic attack. Because when the bomb drops, you’ll want your paint job to remain unblemished.

House in the Middle

Happy homemaking to all!

Yours in domestic bliss,

Stephen

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