Ring in the New Year With Some Fun (and occasionally bizarre) Vintage Postcards

 

 

2016 has been a crazy year…so why not start off 2017 with some crazy vintage New Year’s postcards?! 😉

Holiday postcards were popular forms of greeting during the 1920s, and New Years was no exception. While Christmas has many cute ones, New Years allowed card makers to branch out more—plus feature lots and lots of booze! 😀

I’ve trolled the depths of CardCow.com to bring you the finest in vintage New Years cards from the early 1900s through the 1920s. Some are cute, some are funny, and some are…downright odd. No, really—there are lucky pigs, creepy children, and drunken shenanigans, and all sorts of stuff. Scroll down and check it out!

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So, since this is also a cocktail blog, I figured we should start with…booze! Here are:

PRETTY LADIES DRINKING!

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Not sure on the year for this one, but that lady sure looks lucky…look at those shamrocks and that horseshoe! On sale at CardCow.com

A Happy New Year

Annnnd here’s the first cocktail postcard. Whoo 1909! These little sayings were meant for New Years toasts. On sale at CardCow.com

Woman New Year's Toast

And here’s the second lovely lady from 1913, with a different toast. Each one features a different international lady.  Card on sale here at CardCow.com

A Happy New Year

And for those who don’t want champagne, where’s a beer toast from 1909! Card on sale at CardCow.com

 

A Happy New Year

But don’t forget those smiling Irish ladies! CardCow.com

New Years Girl in Champagne Glass

Aw look, it’s the…champagne fairy? With elves?  CardCow.com

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And she’s got friends! CardCow.com

Lady in a Wine Glass with Elves

Really drunk friends. CardCow.com

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…who also give away beads and free booze. Wait, is this for Mardi Gras? 😉 CardCow.com

A Happy New Year

Not a lady, but still cute! From 1907. On sale at CardCow.com

So now that we’re done with the ladies, we’re moving on to…pigs? I’m not sure why, but pig cards were a significant, and strange, part of my findings. Is there some folkloric reason for it? Maybe. They also have lots of shamrocks and gold coins, symbols of prosperity for the coming new year, I assume. If you know why there are so many, please let me know in the Comments. Otherwise, check out…

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SOME (LUCKY?) PIGS:

A Happy New Year

Apparently pigs were a symbol of good luck and prosperity in the coming year? On sale at CardCow.com

A Happy New Year with Pigs, Gold Coins, and Shamrocks

More pigs circa 1910. Here at CardCow.com

Four Pigs Dancing

Pig paaaar-taaaay!!! Here at CardCow.com

Gluckliche Fahrat Int Neue Jahr! - people riding on pigs

And now people are RIDING the pigs! Whaa? This gets stranger and stranger…circa 1907. On sale at CardCow.com

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Pig butts. Pig butts! CardCow.com

The most popular motif of all, though, of course, was cute children, mostly with clocks. So many, many clocks!

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LITTLE CHILDREN:

Young Girl with Red Bouquet Atop Bottle of Champagne

A 1911 German card featuring a little girl riding a champagne bottle. On sale at CardCow.com

Two Children and Clock at Midnight

I think the cat’s gone up there to escape from these annoying Dutch kids. On sale at CardCow.com 

Two Children Celebrating the Beginning of 1927

A 1927 New Year’s card in another language—not sure which one. On sale at CardCow.com

A Happy New Year

This 1907 postcard features a little boy fishing for his kitty cat. How does this relate to New Years? Who knows! On sale here at CardCow.com

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Not sure on the year, but I guess they’re shooting luck (shamrocks) and prosperity (money) into the New Year? Maybe? Dunno. On sale at CardCow.com

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A little girl sits at a snowy window in this 1920 card. On sale at CardCow.com

A Happy New Year

Two little girls with a New Years garland, year unknown. On sale at CardCow.com

A Happy New Year

What a cute puppy! On sale at CardCow.com

Keep On Smiling All Through the Year

Some cute advice from 1917. Here at CardCow.com

A Good New Year and a Lucky One to You

Babies and booze, from CardCow.com

And now things get really strange. Really, really strange…

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THE WEIRD AND NOT SO WONDERFUL:

Why Don't You Quit January 1

What a strangely judgmental and moralizing New Years card—that may or may not feature Satan in the background! Who would send this kinda thing? There’s nothing cheery about it! On sale at CardCow.com

A Happy New Year

What’s happening here??? If anyone knows the folkloric background behind this image, please lemme know in the Comments. On sale at CardCow.com

Best Wishes for the New Year

So initially this is just some cute kid pulling out good luck signs for the new year, right? And then you see the tiny gold swastika (which was an ancient good luck symbol before the Nazis got ahold of it). Good thing it’s from 1913! On sale at CardCow.com

New Year's Greeting

A doggy family goes out for a New Year’s stroll, like you do. On sale at CardCow.com

A Happy New Year

Someone had a fun new year’s eve 😉  Here at CardCow.com

A Happy New Year, Drunks with Dog

Nothing says New Years 1915 like a drunken fight with a dog over your umbrella. Here at CardCow.com

Happy New Year

OMG they’re BACK! Damn creepy clowns. That smile….ugh. And also here at CardCow.com

 

A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

OMG they’re EATING one another! And the eye contact…gah! 1907 was a strange year for cards, that’s for sure. Here at CardCow.com

New Year Greetin's

Annnnd now for some straight-up racism. Of course, blackface and the like was popular in 1914, but…still. Here at CardCow.com

Wishing You a Happy New Year

Nothing says New Years like ‘shrooms and gambling. Whoo! CardCow.com

Well that was creepy. Let’s end this on a nicer note. Let’s bring on the…

CUTE ANIMALS!!! 😀

With New Year Greetings, Best Wishes

Aww puppies!!!! 😀 CardCow.com

A Happy New Year

Puppy waits for the new year to chime. CardCow.com

A Happy New Year

And some kitties too. CardCow.com

Oh! What a Night

Poor hungover puppies :(. From 1912. CardCow.com

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Hope you enjoyed these! 🙂 Want even more vintage postcards? Try this post about strange and creepy New Years cards, or this one about beautiful and funny cards.

On another note, 2016 has been a difficult year for many people, myself included. Here’s hoping 2017 will be better for all of us. Happy New Year, everyone! 😀

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It’s a Wrap: Make Your Own 1920s Wrapping Paper

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Hoping to add some vintage flair to your holiday gifts this year? Then you’ve come to the right place! Read on and learn how to make your very own Roaring Twenties wrapping paper.

THE JOY OF “GIFT DRESSING”…WITHOUT TAPE! 😼

Wrapping paper was still a relatively new invention in the 1920s. As recently as 1917, Christmas gifts were wrapped in simple white, green, or red tissue paper and tied up with string—until Hallmark ran out of tissue paper one day. Forced to use “fancy decorated French envelope linings” as a substitute, the Hall brothers found that the sturdier, heavier, and fancier paper was a big seller—and modern “gift dressing,” as it was originally called, was born.

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Some vintage 1920s wrapping paper that’s actually for sale on eBay! You can buy it here.

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Another brightly colored example, might be 1930s however. Photo Source: Pintrest

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The dog on this vintage Christmas card makes me think this might be early 1930s, but you can see that her packages are wrapped very simply. Photo Source: Pintrest 

Yet while the new wrapping paper was very popular, it was also more expensive. As a result, it was mostly bought by richer people, and suited the tastes of the time—which meant they often featured bold geometric Art Deco designs. According to author Susan Waggoner, wrapping papers of the time “were foiled, or incorporated metallic elements into the design,” with “geometric patterns such as diamonds, squares and plaids” featured in “strong tones” of non-traditional colors like “deep crimson, lapis lazuli, bronze, and even black-and-white”—none of which exactly screams Christmas.1 Pastel colors, like lavender, robin’s egg blue, cream, and rose, were also very popular.2 Besides odd colors, shoppers could also buy wrapping paper in “coordinated sets with embossed seals, gift tags, and tasseled cord,” making one’s gift truly stand out.3 A good idea of the range of wrapping paper options can be seen in this 1929 Marshall Fields ad from the Chicago Tribune:

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This 1929 ad mentions hand-tied bows, pastel papers, “imported” paper, and odd colors. Photo Source: Tribune Archives

Actually wrapping the gift was a different matter, however. The 1920s lacked one wrapping item we take for granted these days: Scotch tape! Wrappers were forced to use these instead:

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Some vintage Christmas seals. Photo Source: worthpoint.com on Pintrest

These small, shiny 1-inch items are gummed package seals. Covered in holiday pictures with adhesive on one side, they were used to secure wrapping paper in lieu of Scotch tape. And according to Susan Waggoner, author of many vintage Christmas books, they were a nightmare to use: “To secure your package, you had to lick the seal’s gummed side, hold it in place until it stuck, and hope it didn’t fall off while you were tying the ribbon on. Seals leftover from last season had a tendency to dry out and curl up, making them especially difficult to use.”4 As you might imagine, this was a frustrating experience. Good thing many department stores were willing and ready to wrap it for free—as long as you were buying their products, anyway. These vintage ads are from Marshall Fields:

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Photo Source: Tribune Archives

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Photo Source: Tribune Archives

Most folks, however, opted for simple white or colored tissue paper, either decorated with extra colorful gummed seals or tied up with butcher’s paper and twine—and it’s easy to wrap your own presents just like they did.

MAKE YOUR OWN VINTAGE WRAPPING PAPER

It’s easy to make Roaring Twenties wrapping paper—and best of all, you get to use tape! 😀 The following instructions, which are for making paper similar to ones from the early 1920s, are paraphrased from Susan Waggoner’s excellent book, Have Yourself a Very Vintage Christmas: Crafts, Decorating Tips, and Recipes, 1920s-1960s:

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~* HOLY SPRIG WRAPPING PAPER *~

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This vintage holy sprig stamp is on sale here.

MATERIALS

White paper (either tissue, blank white wrapping paper, or even the other side of the wrapping paper is fine)

Red ink pad

Small holy sprig stamp 

Red satin ribbon

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Ink stamp and mark up white paper with holy sprigs as much as you like.
  2. Tie up with red satin ribbon and hand tie the bow.

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Easy, right? 🙂 If you want more inspiration, you can see more examples of 1920s gift wrapping here, or take a look at Buzzfeed’s 1920s Christmas wishlist.

Happy holidays, everyone! 😀

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A lovely 1920s holiday card. The colors really pop! Photo Source: The Vintage Traveler blog

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Footnotes:
1.Waggoner, Susan. 2009. Christmas memories: gifts, activities, fads, and fancies, 1920s-1960s. 26.←
2. Waggoner, Susan. 2011. Have yourself a very vintage Christmas. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang. 12.←
3. Waggoner, Susan. 2009. Christmas memories: gifts, activities, fads, and fancies, 1920s-1960s. 26.←
4. Ibid.←
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Some Sweet Links

Hello everyone! I’m still busy hacking away at my big project, but it’s in the final stretch…so here’s a pile of Roaring Twenties-themed links for you instead of a regular post. Enjoy! 😀

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Check Out Some Vintage Vogue Covers

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A Vogue cover from January 15th, 1919. Check out that tiny hat! Photo Source: Vogue

A new exhibit, “1920s Jazz Age Fashion and Photographs,” has opened at the London Fashion and Textile Museum. As part of the celebration, Vogue has put up 11 vintage magazine covers on their website for your enjoyment. Hooray Art Deco! 😀

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Al Capone’s Gun Made it to The Mob Museum…Finally!

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Capone’s gun? Maybe. Photo Source: The Mob Musuem

Lately the Internal Revenue Service of the United States Treasury Department has been attempting to curry favor with the press by sending Al Capone’s gun to Las Vegas’s Mob Museum, allowing them to remind everyone that they put Capone behind bars, not the FBI. At first they managed to send the wrong gun, but now the correct one is on display.

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Eddie Bauer Revives Vintage 1936 Jacket Designs for Today’s Consumers

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A pilot shows off his Skyliner jacket, circa 1938. The jackets were very popular with the United States military, as well as hunters and fishermen. Photo Source: Fast Company

In 1936, 16 years after he opened his first store in Seattle in 1920, Eddie Bauer launched the first goose-down jacket in the United States: the Skyliner. After nearly dying of hypothermia on a fishing trip, he was inspired to create a jacket that was both waterproof and warm. The resulting jacket, based on  was not only fashionable, but highly prized by outdoor lovers everywhere. Today, in celebration of its 75th anniversary, the company has relaunched it’s classic 1936 design, and it looks every bit as good today as it did then. Men’s jackets can be found here, and women’s here.

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Crime Doesn’t Always Pay…But Education Does

A pair of criminal researchers from the University of Essex and the University of California recently compared 1940s census data from two groups of people. Specifically, they wanted to understand how known members of the Italian-American mafia compared to their friends and neighbors in terms of educational prospects. Unsurprisingly, they found that most identified mobsters had less schooling than their lawful counterparts—especially since many started their lives of crime at a young age. However, in an interesting twist, they found that mobsters who somehow managed to keep up with both educational and criminal pursuits won out in the end. As this article at Education Week points out:

criminal syndicates often require more complex math and logistics skills than your typical petty criminal. The most successful mobsters, like the infamous Chicago kingpin Al Capone, also ran above-board businesses, but extra years in school probably also came in handy for more nefarious purposes. How can you get your bootlegged gin from bathtub to speakeasy in the most efficient manner? Are you sure you are getting the best rate of return on your protection racket?

More education also meant more money. Not only did an educated mobster’s income increase by “7.5 percent to 8.5 percent on average,” but those involved in high-level white collar crime, like embezzling, “had a three-times-higher return on educational investment than mobsters involved in violent crimes like robberies or murders.” The rest of the article can be found here.

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Listen to Vintage 1920s Tunes Revamped As Modern Jazz

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Mike Jones, pianist for Penn & Teller and an accomplished musician in his own right, has a new album out. Photo Source: JazzJones.com

Do you know who musician Mike Jones is? Turns out he’s an accomplished jazz pianist who happens to provide musical accompaniment to Penn & Teller’s classic magic show in Vegas—and he’s also got a new album coming out. Called Roaring, it features vintage 1920s tunes, but redone in the style of modern jazz. You can listen to clips from the album on Amazon or on iTunes. There’s also a review here at Jazz Times.

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1920s Fashion A La Harry Potter

As I’m sure you already know, this November saw the U.S. release of the newest addition to Rowling’s Harry Potter franchise, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. As a result, the 1920s are currently back in fashion! You can buy an entire line of 1920s-inspired clothes at Hot Topic, or sip on inspired cocktail recipes over at Mashable!

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Want to Own a Piece of the 1920s? Buy This Building in Minneapolis for $1!

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Only $1!!!! Photo Source: Finance & Commerce

The city of Minneapolis has put this building, at 4146 Fremont Avenue North, up for sale for the grand total of $1. Built during the streetcar heydays of the 1920s, this 7,000 sq. ft. building has both commerical and apartment space, and is located near a bus line. Check out those cute little brick details. Interested? Proposals are due by February 10th, 2016, but according to the article, “a pre-proposal meeting was held at 4 p.m. Nov. 30 at the City’s Innovation Center.

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Plays, Pageants, and the Origin of the “First Thanksgiving” Story

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These kids look *thrilled* to be in this Thanksgiving pageant :p. Photo Source: mainememory.net

Ask any schoolchild in America about Thanksgiving, and you’re likely to hear a story about how pilgrims and Native Americans sat down together and had a big, friendly feast. We’ve known for a long time, however, that the real story of the first Thanksgiving isn’t that simple. Yet, every year, tons of children across the nation enact this same scene again and again. Why is that?

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MYTHIC ORIGINS :

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Paintings like Jean Louis Gerome Ferris’ 1915 piece The First Thanksgiving, helped to cement this myth into the public consciousness. Photo Source: wikipedia

The first written account of the story that we’d recognize as the First Thanksgiving comes from a letter published in 1622 by Edward Winslow, one of the original pilgrims. In it, he describes how “many of the Indians coming amongst us…whom for three days we entertained and feasted…and although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty” (Baker 12). While this indeed sounds like a Thanksgiving feast, it wasn’t recognized as such until 1841, when the Reverend Alexander Young reprinted it his book Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers. Underneath a description of Winslow’s experience, Young added that “this was the first Thanksgiving, the harvest festival of New England”—making him the first person to connect the 1621 event directly to the holiday of Thanksgiving (Baker 13).

But nothing came of that connection, really, until the 1890s…

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AMERICANIZING THE PILGRIMS :

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Schoolchildren put on a Thanksgiving pageant, circa 1923. Photo Source: mainetoday.com

The Progressive Era saw the rise of America as a global power, rapid industrialization and urbanization, mass immigration, and increasing gaps between rich and poor—plus a major spike in fear. Many “older” Americans—i.e., white Protestants—were afraid. The America they thought they knew was changing. As a result, many of them had developed a newfound interest in Colonial times as a way to reconnect with their “true” past. According to Baker, “books about life in colonial times enjoyed tremendous popularity,” new houses were built in the Georgian style, and many Americans joined together to create patriotic societies like DAR, or the Daughters of the Republic—societies which deliberately excluded recent immigrants (Applebaum 218). While they didn’t welcome the newcomers, these societies did much to “amplify and venerate the acts of the founders” and helped to “define the hallmarks of Americanism” for everyone—including new immigrants (Applebaum 221).

Rapid assimilation was one way to deal with the new immigrants, and oddly enough, the story of the Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving seemed tailor-made for them. As James Baker notes in Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday (2009), “The Pilgrims, refugees from religious persecution in Europe, were perfect models for new immigrants…sober, hardworking, God-fearing…Promulgators of the Pilgrim legend hoped or wished that the ‘wretched refuse’ of Europe’s ‘teaming shore’ immigrating to America would become as sober, hardworking, democratic and—God willing—Protestant as were the Pilgrim role models” (Baker 221). While new immigrants (and thier children) were definitely encouraged to learn and accept this story, many adopted it for themselves all on their own. Coleman says that her own mother, who came over from the Czech Republic, identified with the story. Not only were “the Pilgrims…immigrants too,” but recent immigrants could identify with “their hardship and suffering,” how both sides had to learn from one another, and found the image of friendly Native Americans “undoubtedly reassuring…[as they] hoped that Americans would likewise be friendly to them” (Coleman 72-73).

This Americanization was helped along by Progressive Era schools, which included Thanksgiving as a part of a nationwide educational campaign to instill American values and history into the nation’s young people. Basically, anyone who went to school after 1890 “was exposed to an annual sequence of classroom holiday activities through which civic education and American patriotism were inculcated. As each holiday approached, pupils were taught appropriate stories and songs; set to work to cut, paste, and color decorations; and involved in class exercises that pointed up the particular significance of the occasion” (Baker 116). The educational market flooded with “small, inexpensive booklets” that contained “plays, verse, pictures, and stories for the major holidays” to help them along (Baker 120). As a result, Thanksgiving became one of many holidays that was institutionalized across America, enshrined in children’s textbooks as well as classrooms. By 1926, Thanksgiving had become, more or less, a “suitable day for worshiping the memory of the Pilgrim fathers,” with paintings, odes, and stories about Pilgrims—including pageants and plays about the First Thanksgiving. “Americans,” writes Applebaum in Thanksgiving: An American Holiday, An American History (1984), “were force-fed Pilgrims until it was said that many wished Plymouth Rock had landed on the Pilgrims instead” (Applebaum 221).

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PLAYS  AND  PAGEANTS :

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Schoolchildren re-enact the First Thanksgiving, circa 1924. Photo Source: mainetoday.com

What were these holiday entertainments like? Thanks to the magic of HathiTrust Digital Library, we can examine a range of plays and pageants ourselves. What do we find? All kinds of strange things! These plays contain agricultural goddesses, anthropomorphic personifications of pumpkins, turkeys, Pilgrims, Indians, and…goblins? Read on!

A Pageant of Pilgrims (1920) by Esther Willard Bates

While most of the items I found were for children, this particular one seems to be for adults thanks to its grand scope: tons of actors, music, songs, sets, and special lighting. Interestingly, however, it features “pilgrims of a later day” as well—i.e., immigrants—gathering around Lady Liberty in supplication.

The Romance of the Pumpkin (1920) by Edith Stouffer

More of a pageant than a play, this piece features a Grecian Spirit of the Pumpkin, who shows up in all her finery and parades around spouting poetry about Thanksgiving with the help of some farmers and—I kid you not—the Goddess of Pumpkin Pie. The last half of it is pretty much an ode to “the big, yellow pumpkin, the round yellow pumpkin, the Thanksgiving pumpkin that makes such good pie,” and the virtues of said pie.

When Betty Saw the Pilgrims (1921) by Margaret Howard

Betty is a bored little girl who doesn’t want to go to Sunday School. In response, her mother launches into a rambling story about the pilgrims, ending with the first Thanksgiving.

The Thanksgiving Garden: A Humorous Costume Drill And Dance For Eight Children, Four Boys And Four Girls (1922) by Harriette Wilbur 

A simple, cute song-and-dance routine, complete with sheet music and costume instructions, for young children. Each child represents a different vegetable, and do a little dance while reciting a poem.

A Thanksgiving Conspiracy: A Thanksgiving Play for Grammer and Junior High Grades by Marie Irish

A widowed grandfather forbids hosting Thanksgiving of any kind…until his charming cousin comes along and changes his mind. Marie Irish seemed to write a lot of these things; Pumpkin Pie Peter is another play of hers as well—one that involves tramps stealing pies.

A Thanksgiving Dream: A One Act Play for Primary Children (1921) by Effa E. Preston

The play follows the disjointed dream of a child named Jack, who falls asleep after eating too much food on Thanksgiving and imagines he interacts with pilgrims, Native Americans, talking pumpkins, carnivorous turkeys, and goblins looking to torment “greedy young people” who ate too much, like Jack. The whole thing ends with a warning to kids not to overeat on Thanksgiving. An odd little piece. ***UPDATE: I stumbled across a much older version of this play shortly after writing this post, and it’s even stranger! Not only is it from 1895, but it features a much bigger cast, many more pages, and TONS more faeries. You can find it here at HathiTrust.***

The Meaning of Thanksgiving Day: A Seasonal Play (1922) by Carolyn Wells

A bunch of Roman goddesses of the harvest are bored on Thanksgiving day, so they decide to go down to the mortal world to see what humans think Thanksgiving means to them. They meet a family of six and ask them each in turn. Mother, a “housewifey type,” says she’s excited to make food for her family from the bountiful harvest: “And the mother’s face is smiling bright, with honest pride aglow, / When she views her tempting pantry shelves, with goodies all a-row!” Grandmother promotes hospitality for all, as “the good Book states.” Father says the best way to thank the harvest is “to replant our garden every year.” Son recommends conserving the harvest for the good of the nation, and Grandfather praises God. But it’s Daughter, in her “attractive sport suit,” who puts them all straight:

Thanksgiving Day’s a day of thanks, ’tis true;

But is this not a day of giving, too? Thanks-giving Day!

When that phrase you have heard,

A day of thanks uses but half the word.

Let’s use the rest! You see? A day of giving!

Isn’t that so? As true as that you’re living!

And while in gratitude you praise and pray,

Your Thanks Day should also be a Giving Day.

You see the point, you understand, I’m sure;

Give of your bounty, give it to the poor.

Give food and clothing, give them coal and wood,

Give them—Oh, give them anything that’s good!

Fill a big basket from your storeroom shelf

And carry it to somebody yourself!

Give jellies to the sick, flowers to the sad,

Give anything that will make some one glad;

Give a cash present to a needy friend,

Don’t be afraid that such things will offend,

For, if the spirit of the gift is right,

You’ll find ’twill be accepted with delight.

Get busy at this giving, every one!

There’s so much giving waiting to be done!

Let every one of us pick out some way

To put the “Giving” in Thanksgiving Day!

The Meaning of Thanksgiving Day: A Seasonal Play (1922) by Carolyn Wells, page 14

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In today’s classrooms, things are a bit more balanced. While the old story is still going strong, teachers can use new educational guidelines such as this one to give a more nuanced view of the history behind Thanksgiving—including the fact that Native Americans aren’t necessarily a fan of this holiday. However, whether the history behind it is true or not, the feelings Thanksgiving tries to foster in Americans–togetherness, generosity, thankfulness—are something we could all use more of that these days.

So in light of that, let me wish you all…

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Photo Source: Pintrest

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Works Cited:
Colman, Penny. 2008. Thanksgiving: the true story. New York: Henry Holt.
Baker, James W. 2009. Thanksgiving: the biography of an American holiday. Durham, New Hampshire: University of New Hampshire Press.
Appelbaum, Diana Karter. 1984. Thanksgiving: an American holiday, an American history. New York, N.Y.: Facts On File.
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How to Make a REAL 1920s Halloween Costume…

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1920s German flapper pumpkin! Photo Source: Yahoo Images/Pintrest

Before mass-produced costumes entered the scene, Halloween costumes were a lot more…creative. Forced to make their own masks, dresses, and props–often using highly questionable crafting skills—adults and children across the nation created costumes that were creative, bizarre, and often a LOT more scary than ones we see today. Want to tap into a wellspring of vintage creativity this Halloween? Then ditch those tacky flapper and gangster costumes and follow these steps to create a truly authentic 1920s Halloween costume…

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STEP ONE: PICK A POPULAR COSTUME

Guess what the most popular costume choice was during the 1920s? Oddly enough, it’s the one that we’ll probably see stalking the streets this year—only it won’t be this cute:

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Isn’t she cute? Photo Source: vintage every day

Clowns! Costumes of Perriot clowns in particularthe white and black mimes with sad faces—were all the rage during the 1920s with both men and women.

Check out this cute couple:

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This is a nice vintage Halloween shot. Check out her candle, the basket of walnuts, and the lacy tablecloth—definitely a homemade Halloween party! Photo Source: vintage every day

Kids got in on the act, too:

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They don’t seem to like their costumes much, though. Photo Source: Pintrest UK

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Neither do these kids! Photo Source: vintage every day

Don’t want to be a clown? If you’re a woman, you could always go the witch route. The shapeless drop-waist dresses and skirts popular during the Roaring Twenties lent themselves easily to witch costumes, so they were pretty easy to manage. Throw on a plain black dress and a pointy hat, and ta-dah, you’re a witch!

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A homemade witch costume from the 1920s. Photo Source: vintage every day

 

But maybe standard fare isn’t for you. Maybe you want something more topical. So why not go as…the Spirit of St. Louis?

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And they say that topical costumes didn’t exist until the 1970s. Lies! Photo Source: vixenvintage at Photobucket

 

If none of these costume ideas work for you, though, you could always buy one. While everything I read said that true mass-produced costumes didn’t exist until the 1930s, I found evidence of them being sold in department stores during the mid to late 1920s. Both of these Chicago Tribune ads sell Halloween costumes:

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This October 24th, 1926 ad shows us that mass-produced costumes existed in some fashion during the late 1920s. Photo Source: Chicago Tribune Archives

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This ad fromOctober 20th, 1929 gives an idea of other popular costume ideas. Photo Source: Chicago Tribune Archives

So, you could buy a costume. This makes sense, too, seeing as it was the 1920s that saw the birth of Halloween parties, particularly among the rich and middle class, that often required one come in costume. It seems people had more fun making their own costumes, however—and to do that, they used stuff like…

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STEP TWO: EMBRACE THE CREPE PAPER

As I’ve said in other holiday posts, crepe paper was BIG during the 1920s. Every single thing I’ve seen regarding holiday decorating in the Chicago Tribune during that time mentions crepe paper. Apparently, people were really, really excited about it—and popular booklets like The Bogie Book (1926) helped to spread the love. Created by paper product supplier Dennison Manufacturing Company, the book demonstrates how crepe paper could be used to make Halloween costumes, decorations, and many other things. Their book featured charming costumes for adults and children, all supposedly made out of crepe paper. Take a look:

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The costumes are as follows: Devil (1), Witch (2), Fairy (3), Baby Pumpkin (4), Clown (5) Photo Source: The Bogie Book, 1926, HathiTrust Digital Library

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The costumes are as follows: Soldier (6), Cat (7), Imp (8), Child (9), general Hallowe’en Slip-Over (10). Photo Source: The Bogie Book, 1926, HaithiTrust Digital

And these lovely detailed things were made out of paper. Paper!!!

Crepe paper wasn’t a horrible choice of material, however. Not only was it light, cheap, colorful, and fairly plentiful, it actually held up pretty well to rough play—provided you didn’t get it wet—which made it excellent for children’s costumes.

It was also useful for making “slip-over” costumes, which, as the name implies, allowed one to slip the costume over regular clothing, leaving a hole for one’s head, then tie it at the waist, creating something a bit like a poncho with a belt. Thanks to its ease of wear, this style of costume was particularly popular with young children. As the Bogie Book tells us, “the slip-over is the most popular kind of costume because it is so simple and inexpensive to make and because it is equally appropriate for either girls or boys.” However, as you may have noticed—literally none of the costumes above look like a simple slip-over! That’s because their simple bases have been heavily embellished by professional designers (I doubt anyone actually succeeded in making them look like these drawings). To understand better how these costumes were constructed, check out this pattern for a rose costume from another Dennison book, How to Make Paper Costumes:

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See how this costume starts with a simple base and moves on to something more complicated? Photo Source: How to Make Paper Costumes, 1922, HathiTrust Digital

If you were willing and able to sew fabric, however, your Halloween costume options increased dramatically. Check out these lovely sewn examples:

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These costumes for men and women are interesting and unusual from a design standpoint, compared to today—check out the bat! Photo Source: Pintrest

 

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More patterns from the 1920s. There’s even a Red Cross Nurse!  Photo Source: Vintage Every Day

Clothing was only part of your costume, however. What about a mask?

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STEP THREE: MAKE YOUR OWN CREEPY MASK

Before the advent of mass-produced masks, people made their own masks out of paper mache and fabric. Thanks to questionable crafting ability, these often turned out looking probably waaaay more creepy than intended. Check these scary photos from the 1930s:

 

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Some creepy kids having a Halloween seance. I think the one on the far right is a duck? Photo Source: An Appendage Blog

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Creepy! Photo Source: Vintage Every Day

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Yeah, that’s a nope. Photo Source: vintage every day

 

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While some of these costumes are definitely racist, the range of roles—clowns, Native Americans, policemen—are interesting. Photo Source: An Appendage Blog

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I think it’s a ghost? Maybe? Or a Satanic alchemist, it’s hard to tell. Photo Source: vintage every day

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Little Halloween People my ass. Try little creepy people! Photo Source: vintage every day

But if you didn’t want to use paper mache, you had another option: yet MORE crepe paper! (Sensing a theme yet?) These freaky-looking crepe paper masks come from The Bogie Book:

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Mirth-provoking? I think not! Photo Source: The Bogie Book, 1926, HathiTrust Digital Library

Want to make your own mask? Try these instructions at Instructables.com for a basic face mask, or these ones at UltimatePaperMache.com for more elaborate, sculpted masks.

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STEP FOUR: GO OUT ON THE TOWN!

Now that you have a costume, you’re ready to out and have fun! During the 1920s, children roamed the streets in costume, burning stuff and trashing the place, until adults instituted more controlled celebrations in the form of parties and events at schools, churches, and other public areas, as well as at home. Adults, meanwhile, went to fun, lavish costume parties, full of dancing, festive treats, and party games. All ages enjoyed showing off their costumes and playing at being someone else for the night.

Hopefully you will, too! 🙂 Happy Halloween!!!! 😀

~*~

EXTRA, EXTRA!

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This hilarious costume awaits you at the following links!

Want more crazy Halloween costume photos? Then try this post, this post, this post, and this post for more fun. Happy Halloween, everybody! 😀

~*~

Posted in holiday post, list post | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

C is for Cocktail Guest Post: 7 of Chicago’s Most Famous Speakeasies (Which Are Still Open Today!)

Looking for a sip of Chicago history? Then check out this lovely guest post from Liana Camen, the Mayor of Drinxville, about Chicago’s historic Prohibition bars!

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Although Chicago doesn’t have the centuries of history that eastern seaboard cities like Philadelphia, Boston, and New York do, the Windy City’s role in early commodities trading, mechanized industrialization and U.S. gangster culture has made it a historical mecca for travelers fascinated by the early 1900s. The passage of the eighteenth amendment in 1920, and the nationwide prohibition on alcohol that the amendment created and enforced, turned Chicago into a city of violent gangs, irrepressible good times, and seemingly limitless rivers of illicit booze.

These illegal spirits were bought and sold by establishments called speakeasies, which were secret bars and pubs that operated outside the purview of the law – often by bribing public officials and convincing cops to look the other way. Today, even though Prohibition is a distant memory, Chicago’s speakeasy culture hasn’t completely disappeared. Here are seven modern-day watering holes that have either been continuously operational since the 1920s or are striving to keep the proud speakeasy tradition alive in midwestern America’s biggest metropolis.

~ T H E   B A R S ~

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The trademark glowing sign of the Green Mill, Chicago’s most well-known Prohibition Era bar. Photo Source: this article at the Chicago Reader; Photographer Richard A. Chapman

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  1. The Green Mill (4802 North Broadway Avenue – www.greenmilljazz.com)

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An interior shot of the Green Mill, featuring the the booth that Al Capone favored in the foreground. Photo Source: Photographer Tom Gill, from this article at savingplaces.org

Supposedly, this venerable establishment was created in the 1920s as an homage to the celebrated Red Mill bar in Paris, France (the setting of Baz Luhrman’s film Moulin Rouge). Formerly owned by Jack McGurn, who was an associate of Al Capone renowned for his violent nature and ruthlessness with a machine gun, the Green Mill was the picture of opulence in the pre-Prohibition period. After the eighteenth amendment’s passage, the bar downsized and served Chicago’s finest and most infamous alike. Visitors to Chicago today can go and enjoy (legal) spirits inspired by those crafted by Prohibition-era bartenders while listening to the best that Chicago’s vibrant jazz scene has to offer. No secret password to come into the Green Mill anymore – simply walk up to the bar and order a drink!

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  1. The Zebra Lounge (1220 North State Parkway – www.thezebralounge.net)

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The darkened interior of the Zebra Lounge, complete with zebra lamps. Photo Source: The Chicago Reader

The Zebra Lounge feels like a relic from an age long gone that somehow ended up down the block from steel skyscrapers and multinational conglomerate headquarters. Operational since 1929, the lounge actually owns the third-oldest liquor license in Chicago, which is quite the accomplishment in that city of ancient bars and pubs. The bar is located inside the Canterbury Courts apartment complex, and would-be patrons must pass under a set of black arches in order to access the tiny establishment. Known in the neighborhood for its commitment to being an authentic, old-fashioned piano bar, the Zebra Lounge hosts live piano players seven nights a week. If you find yourself in Chicago and in the mood for some Elton John or Billy Joel, you can’t do any better than a visit to the Zebra Lounge.

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  1. Simon’s Tavern (5210 N Clark St)

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The cheery glowing sign of Simon’s Tavern. Photo Source: getawayhostel.com

Simon’s Tavern is another longstanding Chicago neighborhood tradition. Founded as a cafe by a Swedish immigrant in 1929, the owners of the tavern quickly acquired a new set of revenue streams by rebranding as a speakeasy, bottler and distributor of illegal spirits. The whiskey distributors operating out of the bar’s basement were rumored to be supplied by Al Capone himself, and the Capone organization reportedly had a fondness for the Swedish drinks and bar food supplied by the tavern’s immigrant chefs. In the new millennium, the owners of Simon’s have attempted to stay true to the bar’s origins: the tavern sells huge quantities of glogg, which is a traditional Swedish spiced wine that is only brewed during the Christian holiday season. House drinks also include copious amounts of Swedish liquors, making Simon’s Tavern a can’t-miss stop on any speakeasy tour through the city.

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  1. Room 13 (3222 N. Sheffield Ave – www.oldchicagoinn.com/rooms/room13.shtml)

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The public entrance to Room 13. Photo Source: Thrillist

When people think about “secret” bars in Chicago, nearly everyone brings up Room 13. Although the bar has no tangible connection to the Prohibition era in Chicago, its entire ethos hearkens back to the 1920s in every way. Located deep in the bowels of the Old Chicago Inn, Room 13 requires visitors to either book a room in the hotel or supply a secret password to enter. The bartenders are highly trained in the art of the cocktail, and they supply guests with expertly crafted Old Fashioneds and Manhattans while expounding upon the intertwined history of speakeasies, jazz and old metropolises. Even the dĂ©cor of the bar is set up to perfectly mirror the embellishments and gaslight sensibilities of authentic speakeasies in and around the city. Certainly an interesting – and intoxicating – attraction in the heart of Chicago.

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  1. The Office (955 W Fulton Market)

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A comfortable nook at The Office. Photo Source: Bach Ha/Grant Achatz at Flickr

Located beneath a trendy restaurant called The Aviary, the Office is the perfect complement to an opulent dining experience – if you know the secret number to text for reservations. That’s right – having a drink at the Office depends on either receiving an invitation from the wait staff to descend into the basement for an after-dinner digestif, or knowing the well-guarded, exclusive reservation digits. Open since 2011, the Office charges a pretty penny for its libations, but each drink is crafted with care by licensed mixologists using equipment such as a rotary evaporator. A must-see location for people who spare no expense to quench their thirst for innovative drinking experiences.

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  1. The Green Door Tavern (678 North Orleans – www.greendoorchicago.com)

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Inside The Green Door Tavern. Photo Source: Spring Rewards

The Green Door Tavern claims to have had its doors open since 1921, but the origins of the building that it is housed in actually stretch back even further. The squat, two story wooden structure was built directly after the Great Fire of 1871, which makes it one of the only wooden buildings left in Chicago that was constructed before the Central Business District fire code ordinance banning wood buildings was passed in 1873. In 1921, an Italian immigrant opened a small speakeasy that signified its presence in the neighborhood by painting its nondescript door green, and a Chicago tradition was born. The establishment maintains many of the old bar’s distinctive traits today: it is known throughout the city for its cheap drinks, expansive bar menu and casual atmosphere. Certainly worth passing through for a drink or two!

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  1. The Berghoff (17 West Adams Street – www.berghoff.com)

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That famous sign! Photo Source: Tripadvisor

The Berghoff is the proud holder of the first liquor license issued in Chicago after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, and its tumultuous history goes back decades before that moment. The bar was founded in 1898, and was actually able to remain open for business during Prohibition by playing by the rules (sort of.) The Berghoff became famous for selling “near beer” products, which were typically low-alcohol content malt beverages that remained beneath the government’s official alcohol threshold while still supplying patrons with plenty of good times. Today, the bar is actually still owned and operated by the original Berghoff family. Patrons can visit the pub for a dining experience steeped in the sordid history of the neighborhood and city and for a taste of Berghoff’s famous root beer – the recipe goes back four generations, and the beverage is nearly as famous as the bar itself!

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Chicago is a city full of fascinating drinking and dining experiences, many of which stem from an era that peaked and passed almost one hundred years ago. A visit to this majestic city of the shores of Lake Michigan simply is not complete without a trip to each of these seven venerable establishments!

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This guest post comes from Liana Camen, who balances her time between her family, her freelance writing career, and fulfilling her duties as Mayor of Drinxville. She enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, traveling to exotic places, and sipping on a nice stiff drink.

Posted in C is for Cocktail series, guest post | Tagged | 3 Comments

One of Al Capone’s Letters Could Have Been Yours…If You Had $62,500!

How much would you pay for a three page handwritten letter by Al Capone? For one anonymous Chicago collector, the price was $62,500—over $10,000 more than expected. Given how rare it was for Al to write things, however, it’s hardly surprising. “It’s an exceedingly rare personal letter showing the softer side of the notorious gangster,” said Robert Livingston in a VOAnews article about the letter. Livingston is the executive vice president of RR Auction, which auctioned off the letter on September 27th, 2016. What’s more surprising, however, is the letter’s content, which many reporters happily claimed showed Al’s softer side.

Hello son, here is your dear Dad, with a letter for you, and pray to God, it will find you in perfect health,” says Al at the beginning of his letter to his son, Albert “Sonny” Capone. Al goes on to describe the “daily grind in prison,” which for him also included a special treat: playing music. Al was an avid player of the banjo and the mandola, an instrument similar to the mandolin, and he took great pride in his abilities. “There isn’t a song written that I can’t play,” Al brags to Sonny in his letter. Besides playing music, Al was also a big fan of listening to it, and was allowed to play records in his cell as well. He recommends a few songs to his son in the letter as well.

While he was always denied special privileges while in Alcatraz, Al somehow managed to get a band put together for the amusement of the prisoners. According to an article on SFGate.com, “the gangster begged the warden for permission to form a small band. The warden relented, the inmates sent away for instruments and Capone made music behind bars.” According to A History of Alcatraz Island, The Rock Islanders “were a staple on the island until the prison closed,” and Al did play with them regularly during his time there. He even wrote a song! “Madonna Mia,” a song about a man’s undying love for his woman, was written as a gift for his “good friend,” Father Vin Casey, a Jesuit priest who visited prisoners in Alcatraz to offer spiritual guidance. “With your true love to guide me, let whatever betide me, I will never go wrong,” go some of the lyrics. Experts aren’t sure if the song refers to Al’s love for the Virgin Mary (Al was a devout Catholic), or if they were meant for his loving wife, Mae–but either way the song is a “beautiful…tearjerker” according to Rich Larsen, founder of Caponefanclub.com. Larsen supposedly had a recording made of the song back in 2009, but I was unable to find it anywhere.

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A framed copy of “Madonna Mia” with photo also sold for around $60,000 dollars. Photo Source: AP/SFGate

 

Al closes his letter with encouragement to his son: “Well Sonny keep up your chin, and don’t worry about your dear Dad, and when again you allowed a vacation, I want you and your dear Mother to come here together, as I sure would love to see you,” he wrote. He signed the letter with “Love & Kisses, Your Dear Dad Alphonse Capone.” While these words might seem surprising to those who think of Al as a cold-blooded, ruthless killer, for anyone who knew him this tenderness was nothing new. Al had always been a devoted family man—and he was human, too. 😉

 

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E X T R A   E X T R A :

If you’re interested, here’s Al’s actual letter, courtesy of Smithsonian.com:

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C is for Cocktail: Chicago Politics Inspire Original Recipes on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight

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A “Crooked Cowboy” cocktail in honor of William “Big Bill” Thompson. Photo Source: WTTW Chicago Tonight

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At the end of July 2016, WTTW’s Chicago Tonight blog started posting cocktail recipes—and not just any cocktail recipes. CHICAGO HISTORY cocktail recipes! 😀

What does that mean? Well, it turns out that each post in this Chicago Tonight series pairs a notable Chicago political figure with an original cocktail recipe designed to fit them. So, not only do you get a recipe for an exciting new cocktail, but you get to learn about Chicago history while you make it! What more could you possibly want, right? 😉

So, without further ado…here are the cocktails!

The “Old Shoe” in honor of Governor Adlai Stevenson

The “Pushcart Tony” in honor of Mayor Aton Cermack

The “Crooked Cowboy” in honor of Mayor William “Big Bill” Thompson

The “New Deal, Old School” in honor of Representative/Senator Paul Simon

The “Blood Sport” in honor of Representative Dan Rostenkowski

The “Kentucky Colony” in honor of Mayor Carter Henry Harrison

The “How’s Harold” in honor of Mayor Harold Washington

“The Man on Five” in honor of Mayor Richard M. Daley

“The Hinky Drink” in honor of Alderman Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna

The “Lord of the Levee” in honor of Alderman John “Bathhouse” Coughlin

The “Swing Bridge” in honor of Mayor William B. Ogden

The “Mayor Bossy” in honor of Mayor Jane Byrne

The “Cautionary Tale” in honor of Mayor Michael Bilandic

The “Bridgeport’s Revenge” in honor of Mayor Levi Boone

The “Submachine” in honor of Alderman and Representative William Dawson

The “Null and Void” in honor of Thomas Hoyne, the mayor that never was

Be sure to check out Chicago Tonight’s website for more in this ongoing series.

And while you’re there, be sure to check out the perpetual awesomeness that is “Ask Geoffrey” as well! 🙂

~*~

 

 

Posted in C is for Cocktail series, drink recipes, link post | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Fact and Fiction in Episode One of AMC’s “The Making of the Mob: Chicago”

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Photo Source: Tivitto

So a few days ago I finally had a chance to watch the first episode of AMC’s The Making of the Mob: Chicago. Since this year’s season is set in Chicago and follows Al Capone, I figured I’d start reviewing the episodes here, and maybe set a few facts straight while I’m at it. Unfortunately it’ll take me a bit to catch up (they’re on episode 6 as of tonight), but hopefully these posts will still be interesting to you all.

E P I S O D E   O N E :   A   R E V I E W 

First off, let me say I was pretty impressed by the first episode of Making of the Mob: Chicago. In spite of its flaws, this show has way more to offer regarding actual history than I expected from a cable TV show about the mob. While this may sound harsh, one need only sit through a few godawful mafia “documentaries” full of “experts” to understand the level of schlock inherit in anything made about the mob for public consumption. Part of this is thanks to Hollywood and TV. Thanks to shows like The Sopranos, the public expects a certain level of violence, glamour and drama regarding the mob, or for mob guys to act a certain way—and if that means forgetting or distorting facts for the sake of entertainment, so be it. While that’s fine for entertainment purposes, if you want to actually learn about any of the real history behind this stuff, that usually means you’re out of luck. So, I found it refreshing that Making of the Mob: Chicago generally toned things down in favor of presenting Al and his world in a more nuanced historical light.

Given the numerous Capone luminaries the producers consulted while making this show, however, I shouldn’t be surprised. The interview clips in this episode alone were practically a Who’s Who of Capone scholarship. Laurence Bergreen, author of the popular 1994 biography Capone: The Man and the Era, was prominently featured. So was Jonathan Eig, author of Get Capone: The Secret Plot That Captured America’s Most Wanted Gangster (2010). John Binder, former professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, author of The Chicago Outfit, and consult for numerous History Channel programs about Al, also made an appearance or two. Even Robert Lombardo, who’s authored numerous scholarly works about organized crime, got to put in a word or two about Torrio’s brothels. And Dierdre Capone, Capone’s niece and one of the few people still alive who knew Al personally, was featured more than once within the episode. There was one rather glaring exception from this roster, however: Richard Lindberg, noted Chicago crime author. According to the Tribune, the producers “blew it” by not contacting him, and I’d have to agree: the man has written over 20 books about Chicago crime, and they are all excellent. Regardless, they’ve got an impressive group of experts going so far, and maybe we’ll see more as the series progresses.

Fact or Fiction? Big Jim Colosimo

Thanks to these notable contributors, much of what they say in the show regarding Al’s early years squares more or less with what I’ve read. However, there is one major flaw with this episode that I’d like to point out, because it makes me sad.  The way they portray Big Jim Colosimo is totally wrong.

Don’t believe me? Well, read on! 🙂

To begin with, let’s get a look at the real Big Jim. Here’s a nice photo:

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Big Jim Colosimo, looking dapper as ever. Photo Source: Tumblr

Rather debonair, no? Check out that mustache! He’s a pretty snappy dresser, too. I like his hat, and the cane lends a touch of elegance. You can see somewhat where his nickname comes from, too: he’s big, sure, but not fat—more broad-shouldered and stocky. And he looks confident, too. Confident and rich.

Basically, he looks nothing like this guy on the far left:

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Andre King, the actor playing Big Jim, is on the far left of this picture (the guy playing Torrio is in the middle and the guy playing Al is on the far right). Photo Source: AMC

Now let me be clear: I’m not knocking Andre King on his performance. He’s fine. It’s the writers and producers I disagree with—because not only does Mr. King not even have a mustache (!), the personality he portrays and the facts the producers attribute to Colosimo don’t fit with the real Mr. Colosimo at all.

To begin with, Big Jim wasn’t called “big” because of his size. He earned that nickname due to his jolly personality and lavish spending habits. An affable, outgoing, and friendly sort, Big Jim was “a popular, jolly extrovert” who “positively broadcast ambition”—a strong presence that only became intensified as he moved up in the world (Schoenberg 41).

Jim started his underworld career as a poor street sweeper for the city’s sanitation department in the 1890s. A natural born leader, Colosimo managed to organize his fellow Italian sweepers into a series of social and athletic clubs—clubs that voted in local elections (Bilek 38). This brought him to to the attention of Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna and John “Bathouse” Coughlin, the corrupt alderman of the First Ward who’d made Chicago’s notorious red light Levee district legally possible. In exchange for Italian votes, Kenna and Coughlin made Colosimo a precinct captain of the First Ward. They also hired him on as a collector for protection fees from the scores of illegal gambling joints, saloons, and brothels they allowed to operate within their ward.

But even when he was shaking folks down, Big Jim was well-liked, particularly among madams and prostitutes. His visits, whether for business or please, “unfailingly cheered…[(the prostitutes)] with his playful yet courteous badinage,” according to Capone biographer Robert J. Schoenberg (42). Colosimo enjoyed the ladies of the night so much, he even married one: Victoria Moresco, a Sicilian madam with a brothel on Archer Street, became his wife in 1902. Together, they established a series of bars, brothels and gambling houses throughout the Levee District. Big Jim was particularly well-known for keeping scores of cribs, cheap rooms with a rotating cast of whores. He also helped form a highly profitable white slavery ring.

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Victoria Moresco, Colosimo’s first wife. Photo source: MyAlCaponeMuseum.com (you can see many more photos of Colosimo there too)

In spite of his vice business, however, Colosimo saw his popularity skyrocket with the city’s elite when he opened Colosimo’s Cafe at 2126 South Wabash in 1910. A lavish nightclub featuring a world-class chef, good wine, and famous entertainers like opera singer Enrico Caruso, the Cafe quickly became a popular nightspot for the rich and powerful of Chicago, criminal or otherwise. “Patrons came to drink at the renowned mahogany-and-glass bar, and to eat in its dining room, whose walls were covered with green velvet and gold filigree,” wrote Laurence Bergreen in Capone: The Man And The Era (Bergreen 81). “Beneath chandeliers made of solid gold, racketeers mingled with society figures and famous performers. Colosimo adored the opera, and his pal Enrico Caruso regularly patronized the cafe, as did Clarence Darrow, the distinguished lawyer, and a good part of the city’s power elite” (Ibid). Once it obtained national renown, any given night would see a mix of “sporting figures, big businessmen, collegians, gangsters, journalists, politicians, the rich, the chic, the famous and the infamous, the tourists”—plus pimps, whores, thieves, and all manner of criminal riffraff (Kobler 39). Law-abiding folks relished the scandal of heading into the notorious Levee District for a bit of nightlife, and the underworld welcomed them with open arms. Big Jim himself was something of an attraction, too: “He had a verve, a a bluff, a zesty Southern Italian humor,” wrote John Kobler in Capone: The Life and Times of Al Capone (Kobler 40) that drew people to him. “A big, fleshy man, he would move with ursine tread from table to table, gesticulating grandly, charming the women and amusing the men, ordering champagne and cigars on the house” (Ibid). Big Jim loved playing host, and his patrons loved him for it. 

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A postcard of the interior of Colosimo’s. Photo Source: MyAlCaponeMuseum.com (more photos of the Cafe can be found there as well)

 

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This advertisement for Colosimo’s Cafe highlights the entertainment, food, and variety of company to be found at the cafe. Photo Source: Chuckman’s

Besides playing host, Colosimo’s other great love was showing off his massive wealth. A flashy dresser with a penchant for “swan white…immaculate linens,” Big Jim had a particular taste for diamonds (Kobler 40). Herbert Asbury, in his seminal work Gem of the Prairie, sums up Colosimo’s love affair with diamonds pretty well:

“His massive figure, clad in snow-white linen and a suit of garish checks, blazed with diamonds. He wore a diamond ring on every finger, diamond studs in his shirt front, a huge diamond horseshoe was pinned to his vest, diamond links joined his cuffs, and his belt and suspender buckles were set with diamonds. He bought diamonds by the hundreds from thieves and needy gamblers, and cherished them as other men cherished books and paintings. He carried them in his pockets in buckskin bags, and spent most of his leisure time playing with them, pouring them from one hand to another or heaping them in little piles upon a black cloth” (312).

When he wasn’t obsessing over his diamonds, Colosimo was being driven around the city in one of his two limousines, each with a uniformed chauffeur, visiting his sumptuously appointed houses full of servants and “bronze and marble statuary, deep rugs, yard upon yard of unopened books bound in full morocco, rare coins” and other wonders (Kobler 40). All this wealth came from a combination of brothels, gambling, and saloons, which netted him an estimated income of $50,000 a month, a ludicrous amount of money during the early 1900s (Bergreen 81). Handing out $1,000 bills to down-on-their-luck gamblers was nothing for this man (Kobler 40).

By the time Capone showed up on the scene, Colosimo was the most powerful vice lord in the city. Having survived the collapse of the Levee vice district, he’d managed to rule Chicago’s underworld “for a longer period than any other one man in the history of the city” (Asbury 312). With so much power and so many people at his disposal, threatening people physically, as he does in Episode One to Al of all people, would be completely unnecessary—and it wasn’t really his style, either. Though he was considered by many to be little more than a brute “without honor or decency,” he was more personable than the AMC show gives him credit for (Ibid). Big Jim was the kinda guy who threatened with a smile and cheery words, not brass knuckles like AMC depicts. When Chicago’s notorious Everleigh Sisters were attempting to revive their famous club, Big Jim came by to give them an ultimatum like any other vice lord—but he did it by making them spaghetti:

“Take it or leave it, tell ’em,” Big Jim said, setting down enormous, reeking bowls of what looked like bloodied worms. “Pitch in,” he added, a faint warning now lacing his tone, and it was clear he meant more than just the spaghetti. The sisters choked down their pasta. Their guest filled the room with his hulking presence and cheery patter, but they felt very much alone (Abbott 267-268).

This is a far cry from slipping on a pair of brass knuckles and going to town on Al Capone. 

But why threaten anyone at all when you’re not forbidding anything?

Unlike what Episode One depicts, nothing I’ve read said that Big Jim specifically forbid Torrio and Capone from getting into bootlegging in his name. In fact, most of my sources claim the opposite was true. Lloyd Wendt’s classic Lords of the Levee claimed that Big Jim was involved in bootlegging from the start: “Prohibition had added to Big Jim’s enormous wealth…He was the leader of the Italian community that had promptly and profitably gone into the alcohol-cooking business, and his gangsters were beginning their control of the wholesale bootlegging rackets” right around the time he was killed (Wendt 341). John Kobler claims that Colosimo “neither opposed or actively supported the proposal [to get into bootlegging]. Content as long as he received his share of earnings from…Torrio…he left him free to act as he thought best” (Kobler 69). Schoenberg also notes that Jim was “already into bootlegging—in a safe little way” as well (Schoenberg 61). While Big Jim might have dragged his heels when Torrio suggested they expand,he never outright forbid anything.

AMC is correct, however, in pointing out that Big Jim had become complacent over time. Whereas guys like Torrio saw an immense opportunity to consolidate wealth and power in Chicago via a vast city-wide network, Big Jim was content to run his famous Cafe and spend time with Dale Winters, the hot young wife he’d divorced Victoria for. He already had tons of money, friends, and power—why seek out more?

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporation

Big Jim with Dale Winters, his new wife—and his probable downfall. Photo Source: Tumblr

His new wife Dale Winters didn’t help much, either. A twenty-five year old singer, Winters first met Colosimo when she auditioned for his club—and vice lord fell for her hard. Soon he was spending all his time swanning her about town, neglecting his underworld compatriots and business “in favor of the artists and the swells from uptown,” riding on horseback with her through city parks, and encouraging her singing with voice lessons and tutors (Kobler 66). In March of 1920, two months before his death, Colosimo “divorced his wife and business partner, Victoria Moresco, and within three weeks he and Dale Winter were wed…The courtship, divorce, and May-December marriage were the talk of Chicago…Colosimo, old, fat, and hopelessly in love, was vulnerable” (Bergreen 82). Distraced by his wife, Big Jim’s vice empire had become a tempting target, and his lack of interest in Torrio’s deals “encourage[d] the jackals to turn on the lion and divide up his kingdom” (Kobler 69).

Just who those “jackals” were, though, is more a matter of debate than what AMC presents. To begin with, Frankie Yale wasn’t considered a suspect until much later in the investigation. Their first suspect was actually his ex-wife, Victoria Moresco, who was said to be upset with the divorce proceedings. While this lead never bore fruit, a more likely alternate suspect may have been the Black Hand. Not only did Big Jim have a history of being hit up for payments—it was the reason he’d hired Torrio to begin with—he also managed to piss them off more directly. Here’s the story a “friend” of Big Jim told the papers:

“Several years ago a gang of Black Handers used to frequent his place. Jim knew what theri game was, but so long as they did not molset his firends he let them alone. They demanded $2,000 from an Italian who was a friend of Colosimo. Big Jim told them to lay off. They threatened to blow up the man’s home. The night they were going to get the $2,000 as they supposed, another gang waited for them under the Rock Island subway, a few blocks from the saloon. Three of the Camorra were killed. From that night Colosimo was a marked man” (Kinsley H1-H2).

There are accounts that Torrio may have also killed some Black Handers while acting as Big Jim’s bodyguard (Kobler 47). This may have given them a solid motive for revenge—but if they did kill him, it seems highly unlikely that they would leave his body still covered in diamonds.

Though most historians today agree that Frankie Yale was the one who really pulled the trigger, not all agree that Torrio hired him to do the deed. Interestingly, Laurence Bergreen—whose interview clips AMC relied on heavily for the section on Colosimo’s murder—never actually said that Torrio hired Yale to off Big Jim in his book, Capone: The Man and the Era. Rather, he felt that Yale was, as a hit man, “far too prominent to kill on commission” and had instead “murdered Colosimo to satisfy his own expansionist goal of ruling the Chicago vice trade” in an attempt to “destabilize” the Chicago vice empire from afar (Bergreen 84). With Big Jim dead, reasoned Bergreen, Yale could easily step into his shoes.

Of course, as we all know, that’s not how things went down. Torrio took that role up and eventually passed it onto Al, who held the reins of Chicago crime until his conviction in 1931. But given the rest of Big Jim’s colorful history, I thought it was a shame that AMC reduced his role to that of a stereotypical mob boss, rather than showing him as he was: one of the last lords of the Levee, a holdover from an earlier time in Chicago crime. 

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Overall, I enjoyed the first episode of Making of the Mob: Chicago. More than anything, I was pleased to see AMC showing Al in a more sympathetic light. I appreciated that they took care to emphasize how Italian immigrants struggled to find work during those times thanks to widespread prejudice and crushing poverty, making crime a viable career alternative for many. They also highlighted how devoted Al was to his family, even attempting to “go straight” in Baltimore as an accountant. Whatever else you may say about Al, it becomes pretty clear in reading about him that he cared deeply for his family, and it’s nice to see them use this to humanize him, rather than just writing him off as a violent, remorseless killer. 

Personally, I can’t wait to see where this series goes next! 🙂

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WHERE TO WATCH:

If you live in America, have cable, and get AMC, you can catch it on Monday nights at 10/9 central time. Otherwise, you can stream the episodes as they appear here on AMC for free.

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Do you watch AMC’s The Making of the Mob? What did you think of Episode One? What do you think of the series as a whole? Please comment below! 🙂


Works Cited In Order of Appearance:
Bilek, Arthur J. 2008. The first vice lord: big Jim Colosimo and the ladies of the Levee. Nashville, Tenn: Cumberland House.
Schoenberg, Robert J. 1992. Mr. Capone. New York: Morrow.
Bergreen, Laurence. 1994. Capone: the man and the era. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Kobler, John. 1971. Capone; the life and world of Al Capone. New York: Putnam.
Asbury, Herbert. 1940. Gem of the prairie, an informal history of the Chicago underworld. New York: A.A. Knopf.
Abbott, Karen. 2007. Sin in the Second City: madams, ministers, playboys, and the battle for America’s soul. New York: Random House.
Wendt, Lloyd, and Herman Kogan. 1943. Lords of the levee; the story of Bathhouse John and Hinky Dink. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co.
Kinsley, Philip. “$10,000 in Cash Prizes for Solutions!” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jun 16, 1929. http://search.proquest.com/docview/181028899?accountid=3688.
Posted in 1920s criminals, Al Capone, TV show review, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The “New Woman” Series Strikes Again: The Flapper Bob

 

Remember my friend Sarah’s series on The New Woman that I posted about earlier here and here? Well, Sarah came out with another post yesterday in this series that was too hard to pass up. If you’re wondering, it was all about this:

bernice bobs her hair saturday evening post cover

Clearly, this woman regrets bobbing her hair! Sadface. Photo Source: Pintrest

Bernice Bobs Her Hair by Coles Phillips. The Saturday Evening Post, November 6, 1920.

In her excellent new post, Sarah discusses the controversy behind a woman getting her hair bobbed. While these days getting your hair cut short is no big deal, during the 1920s it was a radical socio-political act: a woman who cut her hair wasn’t just removing hair. Rather, she was symbolically cutting herself off from the Victorian and Edwardian ideals of her mother and grandmother, and publicly declaring herself part of a new generation.

Unsurprisingly, not all women were comfortable with such a dramatic change, especially at the beginning of the decade. While it might have been “smart” to cut one’s hair, it wasn’t done lightly. This 1924 song  “Shall I Have it Bobbed or Shingled?” sums up their conflicted feelings rather well, actually:

 

So if not all women were comfortable with it, why did so many do it? You’ll have to read Sarah’s post to find out. If you’re interested in early women’s history, her post is definitely worth your time—and so is the rest of her series. Here are the other topics she’s covered so far:

Flapper Jane Goes Shopping for Make-Up

Safer, Handier and Sexier: Flapper Jane Appropriates the New Make-Up

Shameless, Selfish and Honest: The New Breed of Woman Who Dominated the XX Century

So go ahead and check out her blog. You’ll be glad you did! 🙂

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Posted in 1920s fads, Social Customs of the 1920s | Tagged , | 1 Comment