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Archive for the ‘periodicals’ Category

To the holiday-cheerful,

Today’s post comes to you from a very special guest, someone who can speak with far more authority about Easter than I ever could (and far more irony than I would ever dare), Mollie Wilson O’Reilly. Mollie is an associate editor of Commonweal Magazine, and blogs at Restricted View. You may have also caught her writing in The Village Voice, Nextbook.org, and Television Without Pity. 

“The child of today will probably remember Easter as a sort of minor Christmas,” proclaimed this Life magazine article from 1939. “Easter today is second to Christmas as toy-buying time.”

Growing up a Catholic kid in the 1980s, I was reminded by my teachers every year that Easter is really the most important Christian holiday. Kids need to be told this because, in terms of secular hoopla (and toy-buying), Easter is a “minor Christmas” at best. For religiously motivated joy, you can’t beat it, but the consumer side of Eastertide never quite took off.

The failure to make a second Xmas out of Easter was not for lack of trying, as a perusal of Google’s online archive of midcentury Life magazines will show. Easter-themed advertising pops up every spring. Clothing gets a big push—gotta look good for that parade!—as do Whitman’s chocolates (right: “A woman never forgets the man who remembers”) and seasonal foods like Armour ham. (Or just ham in general.)

Then there are the less obvious seasonal tie-ins, like this ad for—well, see how long it takes you to figure it out: “Bright Easter finery. A smart Easter hat. Gay Easter flowers. It’s every woman’s right to glow with pride in the Easter parade. And, it’s no woman’s wish to go home and spend the rest of the day in the kitchen. There’s a hint for husbands here. Take the family out for dinner—where they have Wurlitzer music.”

Phonographs! Of course.

The 1939 article about the thriving Easter toy market referred to “bunnies that have grown to monstrous sizes” as a particularly popular treat. I think that phrasing really gets to the heart of what’s wrong with the commercial side of Easter in our culture: the total failure of imagination that is the Easter Bunny. Our Santa Claus legend is pretty solid: We know what he looks like, where he lives, what he does. But when it comes to the Easter Bunny, all we really know is that he’s an overgrown rabbit who delivers eggs and/or candy. But where does he come from? Where does he get the eggs? What, if anything, does he wear? And isn’t the whole idea sort of, well, frightening?

In 1939, as far as Life was concerned, the Easter Bunny was a Continental oddity. “In Europe, the hare is considered a sort of St. Nick who comes at night to leave colored eggs for good children,” the article above explains. But by 1947, E.B. is on the scene in America—and judging from this ad for Listerine toothpaste, he may or may not have genie-like powers: “If the Easter bunny could grant one wish, about your child’s appearance, you’d be wise to choose a friendly, radiant smile! However, if you don’t believe in the Easter bunny, and do believe in Oral Hygiene…”

A Life photographer caught these brothers (left) confronting the Bunny in Los Angeles in 1947: “To startled, half-frightened Christopher, older brother Peter explained the Easter legend. Enormous bunnies like this mysteriously appear every Easter, leave brightly colored eggs in hidden places and, just as mysteriously, disappear.” That is certainly not *the* Easter legend, but I’m not even sure it counts as *an* Easter legend. Are there really multiple Easter Bunnies?

Along with widespread uncertainty about what, exactly, the E.B. does, there is our collective failure to figure out what he should look like. In the meantime, we keep scaring children with giant rabbit costumes—a tradition that dates back at least to the 1950s, as you can see in photos from the University of Southern California’s digital library. This one below, from the 1958 Beverly Hills Easter Parade, is captioned “nineteen-months-old Mary Lee Anderson…cries as she is surrounded by three Easter Bunnies who jumped off float to greet little girls.” Can you blame her?

Pamela Schmidt, the “Easter Seal Sweetheart” of 1958 (below) held up much better when she came face to face with the Easter Bunny and the March Hare (I wonder if she could tell which was which?), while these little Los Angelenos, ca. 1951, look happy to be posing with their baskets, and no bunnies in sight.

Nobody sends Easter cards anymore, but considering the kinds of cards people used to send, that may not be such a bad thing. The University of Louisville’s Newton Owen Postcard collection has a large collection of Easter greetings from the earlier decades of the twentieth century, most featuring anthropomorphized animals that have grown to monstrous sizes. And what could be more monstrous than “two chickens in human clothing”?

Sometimes the chickens are beasts of burden, as in this image, captioned “woman in a chariot drawn by three very large chicks.” (Or perhaps it’s just an abnormally small woman?)

 

Many of these images have military overtones, perhaps in relation to the Great War. In some, uniformed rabbit soldiers bring you Easter wishes, astride their sturdy chickens:

But at other times the rabbits are the beasts of burden, and the chicks their masters:

Whimsy may be the intent, but I find these illustrations slightly nightmarish. And none gives me the willies more than this “Loving Easter Greeting,” which depicts a chick roasting eggs over a stove. Is this proof that “Suicide Food” is not a recent phenomenon? Please note that the person who sent this card back in 1911 scrawled “This is I” across the apron of the cannibal chick. Loving Easter Greetings indeed!

Yours in waiting for the Easter Bunny,

Mollie

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Dear idling experts,

I’ve lived in Massachusetts for three Halloweens now, counting tomorrow, but I’ve yet  to trek to Salem for their ghoulish festivities. From what I hear, they’re a real hoot—if by hoot, you mean a gross misappropriation of the past. Why worry about Puritans persecuting each other when you can visit  a psychic fair?

For a more historical Halloween experience, check out Cornell’s Witchcraft Collection. Sure, you know the story of John Proctor—but what about the Salem dogs that were put to death, for afflicting people with their stares? Or read Increase Mather’s account too, whether the original manuscript or transcribed.

If that’s not spooky enough, take a look at these adorable/terrifying trick-or-treaters in 1965 Greenville, from East Carolina U’s Daily Reflector collection.

legendofsleepyhollowBut the best way to get into the Hollow’s Eve spirit for the die-hard Americanist: watching Disney’s still charming adaptation of Washington Irving’s”Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” with tunes sung by Bing Crosby himself. Tim Burton has nothing on this! Watch one of the highlights, “The Headless Horseman,” here.

Bewitchingly yours,

Stephen

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Dear La-Z-Boy loungers,

I don’t know about you, but I vastly preferred board games as a child over the more dangerous (and potentially embarrassing) pursuits of the athletics field.  Still I can’t help but think all of those hours spent on the living room rug must have prepared me in some way for adulthood. “Monopoly” taught me about finance; “Sorry” introduced me to the art of passive-aggressive apologies; “Candyland” revealed the dangers of psychotropic drugs; “The Game of Life,” taught me about forming a heterosexual family—not that I’ve followed all of their instructions.

Fat Boy's GameIf that leaves you wondering about the history of board games past, try digging through the rich archives of Life magazine, now available (and searchable by keyword) on Google Books. In 1970, the great glossy pointed readers towards some socially conscious board games perfect for readers of the Moynihan Report. In “Black and White,” for instance, every “black” player starts off with $10,000, and every “white” player starts out with a cool million. How’s that for disparity! And in the classroom-friendly “Ghetto,” your kids can learn what it’s like to live as a “typical slum dweller.”

Or why not commemorate the Civil War with a board game specially designed for Life. In “1863,” “everyone gets a chance to fight it over again. ”

Doll for Black GirlsAnd last but not least, some diversions from Parker Brothers. Sure, you can still find “Clue,” but what about “Fat Boy’s Game,” perfect for Christmas 1951! Read more about it, and the bestseller on which it was based here, courtesy of the blog “Isn’t Life Terrible?” (From the same Life issue, don’t miss the article, “Doll For Negro Children,” across from a cigarette ad with the tagline “Discriminating People Prefer…”).

That’s all for today, dear readers! Until next time.

Yours in indoor entertainment,

Stephen

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To my fellow worshippers of Hypnos,

Bruce Handy’s recent New York Times essay on why he disliked Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are as a kid—but not as an adult—has got me thinking a little about what boys read and why. Consider, for instance, Stanford’s wonderful collection of turn-of-the century dime novels and story papers. You can view literally hundreds of covers, with bold, exciting illustrations like this one (left) from Young Rough Riders Weekly. Way to ride through that Native American encampment! Or what about Frank Leslie’s Boys of America (right). Get him with your tusk, Dumbo!

Rough Riders WeeklyBoys of America

You can also mull over the gender dynamics of such stories like “The Queen of the Bullfighters” and “A Girl Crusoe” (pictured below).

girl crusoe

And check out the full text of the series Secret Service, about a pair of detectives who make frequent forays into Chinatown. In the story pictured below, the Brady bunch break up an opium ring—think of it as an early 20th century version of The Wire, you know for kids.

Hop

Boyishly yours,

Stephen

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To my fellow followers of Rip Van Winkle,

As some of you may know, Sunday, October 11 marks National Coming Out Day, a day for everyone to show their queer or queer-allied colors—and, in this year’s case, march on Washington for marriage equality. (You can read about the history of Coming Out Day—or COD, if you will—on the Human Rights Campaign website.)

I will confess, I haven’t always been a big fan of COD. I remember my first taste of COD my freshman year of college, where they literally set up a closet door on the grass so people could “come out” of it. Nothing could have felt more terrifying and simultaneously shaming then the demand to step through that flimsy door-frame, as though articulating and accepting one’s sense of difference could ever be accomplished so simply.

Since then, researching the past has definitely helped me to come to terms with the term “coming out.”  So in honor of COD, I point you to one of the periodicals from the early days of Gay Liberation, titled, yes, Come Out. The magazine began publication shortly after the Stonewall Riot in 1969, and has been partly digitized by the useful (though not always easy to navigate) website Outhistory.org (a project of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at CUNY).

come out magazine masthead, 1969

Just to give you a sense of its tone, the first lines of the first issue proclaimed, “COME OUT FOR FREEDOM! COME OUT NOW! POWER TO THE PEOPLE! GAY POWER TO GAY PEOPLE! COME OUT OF THE CLOSET BEFORE THE DOOR IS NAILED SHUT!” Before gay liberation (as scholars John D’Emilio and George Chauncey have shown), coming out meant entering into the gay community, but the new metaphor of the closet turned “coming out” into a political act—and demanded a total re-evaluation of the quietly queer lives many gay men and lesbians had lived before.

The New York Public Library also has a wonderful online exhibition commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot, with some beautiful images culled from their extensive archives, like this one of two members of the Gay Activists Alliance.

Rutgers University Gay Liberation Conference, April 30–May 2, 1971. Photograph by Kay Tobin Lahusen. NYPL, Manuscripts and Archives Division, Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen Gay History Papers and Photographs. Copyright Kay Tobin Lahusen. Digital ID: 1606088

A quick subject search their digital image gallery reveals much, much more, including this photograph by Diana Davies of the 1971 Gay Pride march, almost as exciting for its vintage fashion as the banner “Women’s liberation is a lesbian plot.” Think about that next Women’s History Month.

Christopher Street Liberation Day, June 20, 1971 [22]. Diana Davies, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building / Manuscripts and Archives Division, NYPL, Copyright Diana Davies, Digital ID: 1066141

That’s all for this week dear readers.

Historically yours,

Stephen

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To my fellow loafers,

Two more collections to bookmark today–both from the University of Washington’s digital archives.

In honor of the Jewish Day of Atonement this coming Monday, there’s the Washington State Jewish Archives, including 569 photographs, documenting the everyday life of the Evergreen state’s Jews from the 1890s to the 1990s. I can’t figure it out, but I kind of love this photograph of young people at Seattle’s Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society House. And for the holiday, take a journey back to Yom Kippur 1957, with this stagey photograph of some well-dressed (and tallis-ed) men of Congregation Ezra Bessaroth, showing off the synagogue’s Torah scrolls.

Little did those gentlemen know what the next decade had in store. Witness the U of W’s superb Vietnam War Era Ephemera Collection. Among the wide range of images are issues of the groovily-illustrated Seattle underground newspaper The Helix, as well as flyers from Seattle’s Young Socialist Alliance, like this one in support of the Black Panthers.

Have a great weekend!

Lazily yours,

Stephen

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