Fourth of July Parade and Rodeo, Long Ago in Redwood City

Fourth of July Parade float, Redwood City, around 1960.

Fourth of July Parade float, Redwood City, around 1960.

Around 1950, when I was very young, the Redwood City Fourth of July Parade and Rodeo was a very big deal. For one thing, the rodeo and carnival, where we went on rides, won bowls full of guppies or live baby ducks, ate corn dogs and cotton candy, and occasionally escaped the ever-watchful eyes of our parents, were the highlight of every summer.

For another, the parade floats were not designed by professional float designers and covered with exotic flowers and seeds that we had never heard of. The floats were thought up and built by their sponsors, often fraternal organizations or small businesses.

Float celebrating the Pulgas Water Temple, around 1960.

Float celebrating the Pulgas Water Temple, around 1958 – 62.

Redwood City had plenty of benevolent and fraternal organizations:  the Lions, the Elks, the Moose, the Foresters, the Masonic Groups, and the Odd Fellows are just the ones I remember.

Float built by  Redwood City Foresters of America branch, around 1948 or 1949.

Float built by Redwood City Foresters of America branch, around 1948 or 1949.

I can date this float, loosely, because I am the little girl in the center, wearing cowboy boots. The young woman behind me was a local beauty queen. This float used rolls and rolls of aluminum foil — which was very “modern” and was no longer needed for the war effort.

"Cowgirls" riding on the Foresters' float. Redwood City, around 1949.

“Cowgirls” riding on the Foresters’ float. Redwood City, around 1949.

There were marching bands (the sound of bass drums thrillingly vibrating in my stomach as they passed.) There were baton twirlers and platoons of horses. The Sheriff’s posse rode, and so did many private citizens who dressed in Old California finery and decked their palomino horses in silver-encrusted saddles. Veterans marched, including some survivors of World War I, and the two or three day rodeo meant that the entire Independence Day weekend had a western flavor. My parents always dressed up in cowboy clothes. My father wore a black ten gallon hat, like the ones seen in 1930’s western movies. Here’s one worn by Tom Mix.

My father was a Forester, and enjoyed helping to build floats like this one:

A rocket -- or a firecracker -- blasting off on a float made by the Foresters. Early 1950s.

A rocket — or a firecracker — blasting off on a float made by the Foresters. Early 1950s.

That’s my father, in his black ten gallon hat; he was very proud of this float, because every once in a while the rocket emitted a mighty roar and a cloud of icy smoke. There was a fire extinguisher inside the rocket. I got to ride on this float, too.

The rocket sounded very loud when you were riding next to it.

The rocket, fueled by a fire extinguisher, sounded very loud when you were riding next to it.

There was no problem finding little girls and boys who had cowboy outfits. These were the years of tiny black and white TV sets where we watched The Lone Ranger and Tonto, Roy Rogers (and his horse, Trigger,) Hopalong Cassidy (and his horse,  Topper,) Red Ryder and Little Beaver, and The Cisco Kid and his sidekick, Pancho. Those of us who didn’t have TV sets could read about their adventures in the Sunday Comics (The Lone Ranger ) or listen to them on the radio.

"Buckaroos" costumes made from McCall sewing patterns, McCall catalog, May 1950.

“Buckaroos” costumes made from McCall sewing patterns, McCall catalog, May 1950.

McCall pattern 1504 for a boy's western costume. May, 1950 catalog.

McCall pattern 1504 for a boy’s western costume. May, 1950 catalog.

"Rodeo Queen" costumes ; McCall pattern 1505, May 1950 catalog.

“Rodeo Queen” costumes ; McCall pattern 1505, May 1950 catalog.

Here’s another look at the Foresters’ float with the big silver star and a group of “Rodeo Queens:”

A flag at one end, a star at the other. Foresters' float, Redwood City, late 1940's.

A flag at one end, a star at the other. Foresters’ float, Redwood City, late 1940’s.

Here, it is passing the Hull Brothers Hardware store and the Luxor Taxi Cab offices.

Hull Hardware store and Luxor Taxi Cab office. Redwood City, late 1940s.

Hull Bros. Hardware store and Luxor Taxi Cab office. 4th of July Parade, Redwood City, late 1940s.

For a horse-crazy little girl like me, the morning of July 4th had a special aroma. The parade used to form up in the streets north of Broadway and follow a parade route up Arguello Street, turning East onto Broadway. Our house was on Hopkins near Arguello, and the horse and rider groups often parked their horse trailers along our street. My father always filled two big galvanized tubs with fresh water for the horses and put them on the curb in front of our house. After the horses had been there for a glorious hour or so, my Grandma B. and my Great Aunt Alice (two dignified ladies in their seventies) would appear with cardboard boxes and brooms. They swore there was nothing like horse manure for growing roses.

May your Fourth of July memories be as happy as mine.

Ye Olde Town Band, Redwood City, circa 1958-62.

Ye Olde Town Band, Redwood City, probably late 1950’s or early 1960’s.

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Golden Afternoons, Vintage Photographs

Remembering My Father

Giggling in my father's arms, late 1940s.

Giggling in my father’s arms, late 1940s.

Like most children, I took my father for granted. It was only when I became a woman, in the 1960’s, that I realized how different he was from most men born in the early 1900’s.  And how lucky I was to have a father who never even considered treating his daughter differently than he would have treated a son.

My father leveling a construction site, with me in his lap. He built the two houses in the background with his own hands.

My father leveling a construction site, with me (very briefly) in his lap. He built the two houses in the background with his own hands, in 1933.  As far as I know they’re still standing.

He did manual labor all his life, and, being a housemover, he had to know everything about building a house: laying the foundations, doing the wiring and plumbing, carpentry, framing and finishing, putting on a roof, installing floors and kitchens and baths, stuccoing and painting, even laying bricks and paving the driveway. He assumed his daughter would also need to know these things. Once, he let me “help” him drive a steamroller!

My father showing me how to lay a course of bricks on the front of a building.

My father showing me how to lay a course of bricks on the front of a building. (The bricks are level; the camera was tilted.)

Unlike most modern children, I could see my father working. He didn’t disappear in a suit at 7:30 each morning and return just before I went to bed. His clothes smelled of paint or cement or new-sawn wood or creosote. Sometimes they had a whiff of car oil or gasoline, because he could also take an engine apart and put it together again. (A teenager in 1920, he started with model T cars and early tractors, so he mastered their principles while they were relatively simple machines.)

My father on an early tractor. He learned to plow with a horse, so he loved "modern improvements." He had shoveled a lot of horse manure before getting the tractor.

My father on an early tractor. He had learned to plow with a horse, so he loved “modern improvements.” At the end of a long day, he didn’t have to shovel out the barn anymore.

He taught me to use and care for tools correctly, to drive a nail with two strokes (“One to set it, one to drive it,”) to paint walls and patch holes, to clean my brushes properly, to take pride in my work and in not taking shortcuts; to plan a job and do it safely. He expected me — a girl — to be responsible, fearless, confident that I could learn to do whatever had to be done. [When I attended a woman’s college, I found these skills much appreciated in the drama department. I knew how to use tools, and I was willing to get dirty. And, because I was afraid of heights, I specialized in stage lighting, spending hours climbing ladders. My father taught me to overcome my fears, not be limited by them.]

I think my father took this picture. I always felt this delight when he came home from work.

I think my father took this picture, because I always felt this delight when he came home from work.

I think the only time I really disappointed him — although he didn’t say anything — was when he discovered that I didn’t share his appreciation of the internal combustion engine. He must have been looking forward to teaching me how to clean a carburetor, but I only lasted a couple of nights. When I asked him to teach me to change my own oil, he said, “By the time you clean up and wash your clothes after crawling under the car, you’d be better off taking it to a gas station.”

Nevertheless, he taught me to fish — and clean the fish and cook it — and to shoot. I was about nine years old, able to handle the .22 rifle, but he said the recoil from his deer rifle would be too much for me. Nevertheless, he taught me to load it and unload it — if you’re not going to be afraid of guns, you need to know when they are and aren’t safe to handle.

My father, after a fishing trip. 1970s.

My father, after a fishing trip. 1970s.

When we visited him on a work site, sometimes we’d have a picnic lunch with him. Once, he caught a gopher snake and brought it to me, so I could watch it curving back and forth, over one stick and under another. He showed me how beautiful it was, and how to tell a “safe” snake from a rattler. He made sure I knew that not all snakes are bad — that some are very useful and deserve our respect. He showed me a nest of baby mice on another occasion (uncovered while clearing a field) — but I found their hairless, translucent skin repulsive. I could tell, however, that he thought they were tiny miracles; he was sad that they had been stripped of their safe little home. He was very careful with them. He also taught me not to pick wildflowers. When I insisted on taking a bouquet home with us, he remembered to show me they were wilted and no longer beautiful that night. I never picked wildflowers again.

My father and mother in front of the house he built for them before their marriage.

My father and mother in front of the house he built for them before their marriage.

Since all my uncles — and most of their friends — were in the building trades, my father built the house I grew up in, with some help from pals and brothers who were plumbers, tile setters, carpenters, etc. Down in the cellar of this little vine-covered cottage, I found a heart inscribed in the concrete, with my parents’ initials and the date of their marriage: 1933 — the depths of the Depression.

Wedding day, flanked by my mother's siblings.

Wedding day, flanked by my mother’s siblings.

My father came from a family of six-footers, and he was not only extremely tall, but freakishly thin all his life. When Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was described as very thin but exceptionally strong, with “sinewy forearms,” I had no trouble believing it. Once, we found an old tuxedo my father had worn when he and my mother went out dancing, decades before I was born. “On the day I married your mother,” he told me, “I was six feet four inches tall, weighed one hundred and forty pounds, and thought I was a helluva good-lookin’ fella.”

In spite of his long, thin body, my father was very strong, and was still doing manual labor in his late fifties.

In spite of his long, thin body, my father was very strong, and was still doing manual labor in his sixties. The most he ever weighed was 172 lbs.

His friends sometimes used him as a unit of measurement, as in this photo, where his arm span shows the size of a giant tree in Yosemite.

My 6' 4" father showing how big a tree is on a visit to Yosemite; 1930s.

My 6′ 4″ father showing how big a tree is on a visit to Yosemite; 1930s.

This photo of my parents and me in front of their small house in Redwood City implies more prosperity than we usually experienced. My mother, decked in a fur stole, had continued to work as a secretary during the first years of their marriage — a two-income couple.

Happy times. My father liked to sing, "just Molly and me, and baby makes three; we're happy in my blue heaven."

Happy times. My father liked to sing, “Just Molly and me, and baby makes three; we’re happy in My Blue Heaven.”

My arrival, 12 years after they wed, came as a pleasant surprise for two people over forty who had given up hope of having a family. But it undoubtedly put a strain on their budget, as did my mother’s cancer surgery a few years later.

My father owned a small house-moving business; in the post-war years when highways were being built and downtown areas were being improved, there were plenty of houses that needed moving. When someone’s home was in the way of a new freeway, their wooden frame house could be jacked up off its foundation, put on “Blocks” and wheels, and towed to a new location. This was skilled work, since no one wanted big cracks to form!

Two two-story houses being moved to a new location. About 1950.

Two two-story houses being moved to a new location. About 1950. Redwood City, CA.

My father is the tall figure on top of the house. Telephone and electric lines sometimes had to be cut temporarily or moved out of the way so the roof would have clearance. A man on the roof also watched for problems — a position that was doubly dangerous. My father did it himself.

In many construction trades, no work can be done when the weather is too wet. As a child, I remember visiting my Uncle Monte (who drove a bulldozer) on a weekday in the winter. I expected him and my father to be happy, as if a rainy day was like a day when you didn’t have to go to school, but supporting a family through a wet winter was no “holiday” for working men. Every morning, my father’s foreman and best friend, Walter, would drink a cup of coffee at our kitchen table while they planned the day’s work.

Walter, my father, My mother, and me, with a housemoving crew, late 1940's.

Walter, my father, my mother, and me, with a housemoving crew, late 1940’s.

I remember a long, rainy December when the morning meeting was grim. Christmas was coming, we had medical bills to pay, and the ground was too saturated for housemoving. Walter suggested that, as there was no work, they should call all the men and tell them not to come in till next Monday, if the rain broke by Saturday. My father said, “We need to find something for “X” to do; they just had a baby. Tell him to come in tomorrow and service the tractor and the truck.” These were jobs my father, himself, normally did on rain days, to save money. “And “Y” needs some work; his wife is in the hospital for an operation. Give him a day and a half; tell him to come in and clean up the yard (sorting lumber, etc.)” My mother, listening, was furious — we were looking at a pretty lean Christmas, ourselves. She called this “playing the Big Shot.” It was true that my father was generous to a fault. But he also felt a responsibility to his men.

My father and me, dressed up for Easter. early 1950's.

My father and me, dressed up for Easter. early 1950’s.

After my mother died, in spite of her bitter misgivings about him, my father took good care of me. He trusted me to use my common sense, and he believed in me. (I was never a “latch-key kid,” because we never locked our house.) He showed me  — by example, working with me — how to do laundry, and clean the floors and wash dishes; he taught me to cook, and he loved to cook, himself. When I was little, he made me pancakes in the shape of airplanes and cats; now, he cooked fabulous spaghetti bolognese, taught me to love vegetables and fresh fruit (as he did), and, on the occasions when we could afford a porterhouse steak, he practically danced around the kitchen, singing:

[A] turn to the right, a little white light, [I hurry] to my Blue Heaven. Just Molly and me, and baby makes three, We’re happy in My Blue Heaven. . . .” He sang very well. And he always gave me the tenderest part of the steak. because he wanted me to love it as much as he did.

My father, in his eighties.

My father, in his eighties.

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Filed under 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, Golden Afternoons, Vintage Photographs

Grocery Shopping and the Birth of the Supermarket

"Through the Turnstile to a land of Adventure!" Ad for the new Piggly Wiggly grodery stores, The Delineator, January 1929.

“Through the turnstile to a land of Adventure!” Ad for the new Piggly Wiggly grocery stores, The Delineator, January 1929.

Through the Turnstile to a Land of Adventure

The sale this month [January 2015] of Safeway stores to Cerberus Capital Management, which also owns the Albertson’s supermarket chain, reminded me of this advertisement from January 1929, when the supermarket was a new idea. It shows a woman with a market basket who has passed “Through the turnstile to a land of Adventure:”  a Piggly Wiggly supermarket.

At the start of the nineteen twenties, most people had never seen a grocery store where shoppers selected their own produce and canned goods.

Shopping at a grocery store; photo by Barnaba from Better Homes and Gardens, July 1930.

Shopping in 1930; photo by Barnaba from Better Homes and Gardens magazine, July 1930.

In the early 1920s, the customer approached the counter, made a request, and the clerk selected the merchandise for the shopper. Much of the merchandise was kept behind the counter. [In France, in 1978, I selected my own apple from a display at an open market, and was immediately scolded by the furious proprietor. Customers did not select their own fruit! One could look, but not touch, and the best produce was reserved for regular customers.]

Ordering groceries by telephone. Ad for Fleischmann's Yeast, Delineator magazine, August 1924.

Ordering groceries by telephone. Ad for Fleischmann’s Yeast, Delineator magazine, August 1924. The grocer wears a suit vest, an apron, and sleeve protectors.

People wealthy enough to have a telephone ordered groceries this way and had them delivered. This was such a common practice that, during World War I, the government asked women to go to the store and pick up their own groceries, to free up manpower (and “grocery boys”)  for military service.

World War I official request, published in Ladies' Home Journal,. July 1917.

World War I official request, published in Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1917.

Piggly Wiggly Advertises a Revolution in Grocery Shopping

The first Piggly Wiggly store, opened by Clarence Saunders in 1916, in Memphis Tennessee, had to introduce its customers to self-service shopping.

“There were shopping baskets, open shelves, and no clerks to shop for the customer – all of which were previously unheard of!” — Official Piggly Wiggly Site. Click here to read the Company History.

Piggly Wiggly Ad, full page, The Delineator, January 1929.

Piggly Wiggly Ad, full page, The Delineator, January 1929.

In 1929, shoppers had to be taught how to shop at a Piggly Wiggly; they also had to be convinced that self service was better than being waited upon by clerks. [I am still less than thrilled when I have to do self-checkout at Home Depot and the supermarket. I can’t help thinking about all the jobs that have been lost, how hard it is to get help while shopping, and how often the checkout does not go smoothly.] 

Piggly Wiggly ad, Jan. 1929. By this time, the chain had over 3000 stores "used daily by 2,500,000 women!"

Piggly Wiggly ad, Jan. 1929. By this time, the chain had over 3000 stores “used daily by 2,500,000 women!”

The full-page advertisement showed shelves of canned goods accessible to the shopper, who could handle and inspect the merchandise:

A Piggly Wiggly shopper with a basket selecting her own purchases.  Allowoing the customer to handle the merchandise was still a new idea in this 1929 ad.

A Piggly Wiggly shopper with a basket selecting her own purchases. Allowing the customer to handle the merchandise was still a new idea in this 1929 ad. [Are the diamonds with numbers Piggly Wiggly’s square price tags, mentioned elsewhere in the ad?]

1929 jan p 53  text choose RS piggly wiggly market btm

Elsewhere, the ad has to convince the shopper that she is better off without having a clerk to help her:

Piggly Wiggly ad, Jan. 1929, The Delineator magazine.

Piggly Wiggly ad, Jan. 1929, The Delineator magazine.

“Women like to tell their friends about this unique method of shopping.  They enjoy discussing its advantages.  Old customers send us thousands of new ones every week.

“In a few swift years women have made this plan of household buying a nation-wide vogue.

“With their new, wide knowledge of real values the women of today want to choose for themselves. When they shop for foods, they want no clerks to urge them. To them, this special plan is an easy way to give their families delicious meals at less expense.” — text of Piggly Wiggly Ad, January 1929.

The man behind the counter, Armour meat Ad, Ladies' Home Journal, July 1917.

The man behind the counter, Armour meat Ad, Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1917. Grocery clerks like him would be eliminated in the new supermarkets.

“Famous packages, familiar jars and cans, fresh inviting fruits and vegetables — each item with its big square price tag, at Piggly Wiggly.  And no clerks!

“You linger or hurry as you please. Take what you like in your hands, examine it at leisure. You compare prices, make your own decision — uninfluenced by salesmen.”

Subtle Advertising Language

Students of advertising should study the vocabulary of this ad. Certainly, the ability to see the price of every item and to compare them is a help to careful budgeting. But there is also a subtle appeal to the independent “woman of today” who can “choose for herself” and make her “own decisions.”  They are freed from high-pressure salesmen (the clerks in all these ads are men) and from the humiliation of having to ask the clerk for something cheaper. Also, in a world where shopping was still a daily chore, words like “linger” and “leisure” and “vogue” are emotionally powerful.

Of course, “Consistently lower prices are assured by our unusual and economical plan of operation.”

Which brings me back to the Safeway-Albertson’s merger under Cerberus Capital Management;  according to Andrew S. Ross, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle:

“There are elements of deja vu for Safeway. In 1986, it was taken private in a $4.25 billion leveraged buyout by led by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. The deal worked out wonderfully for KKR, which made $7.2 billion on its initial $129 million investment when it sold its stake in 1999. Not so much for the tens of thousands of Safeway employees who lost their jobs as a result of mass store closings and other cuts.”

No gains without pains. . . .  But let’s return to the 1920’s. Imagine stores without endless aisles wide enough to accommodate shopping carts (yet to be invented — or needed). There were no frozen foods. The same fruits and vegetables were not available all year round. There were no scanning devices, or universal price codes.  There were no stickers on apples and pears, and no wax on cucumbers or tomatoes. It was safe to eat a raw egg or a medium rare hamburger. Cellophane was a new invention, not used for wrapping foods until the mid-1920’s.  Imagine a time when entering a store through a turnstile was an adventure! Never mind that the new turnstile was an anti-theft device.  “Just walk through the turnstile and help yourself!” How delightful.

Top of Ad for Piggly Wiggly stores, The Delineator, Jan. 1929.

Detail, ad for Piggly Wiggly stores, The Delineator, Jan. 1929.

 

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Filed under 1900 to 1919, 1920s, 1930s, Daily Life "Back Then", Vintage Ads, World War I

Monday Is Wash Day: Day of the Week Towels

Monday was Washday; corner of an embroidered and appliqued Sunbonnet Sue dishtowel. Circa 1945.

Monday was Washday; corner of an embroidered and appliqued Sunbonnet Sue dishtowel. Circa 1945.

Once upon a time, certain days of the week were devoted to specific tasks, and there was a general agreement among housewives that Monday was Laundry Day.  On Tuesday, you did the ironing. Wednesday, you could recover from those backbreaking jobs by sewing, mending, and knitting — at least that work could be done while you were sitting down.

Ad for Fels-Naptha Laundry soap, Ladies' Home Journal, July 1917.

Ad for Fels-Naptha Laundry soap, Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1917.

Thursday was usually ” Go to Market” day; on Friday you cleaned the house.

McCall's embroidery pattern # 120, McCall Needlework Catalog, Nov. 1950.

McCall’s embroidery pattern # 120, McCall Needlework Catalog, Nov. 1950.

On Saturday, you baked for the weekend, since Sunday was “the Day of Rest” (and the day for church attendance.)

Sunbonnet Sue embroidery and applique pattern from McCall's. Pattern # 668, Nov. 1950 catalog.

Sunbonnet Sue embroidery and applique pattern from McCall’s. Pattern # 668, Nov. 1950 catalog.

These day-of-the-week and job-of-the-day patterns had long been popular for use on dish towels, since you needed a fresh towel every day.  It may seem incredible that a housewife’s tasks should be so regimented, but there were good reasons.

Laundry Day

Doing the laundry took all day, starting with rising extra-early to build a fire and start heating wash water; you had to get the laundry on the line early, too, if you wanted it to dry before dark. There were no electric or gas dryers in most homes until the 1950s.  Laundry had to be hung out to dry in your yard, in fresh air, which meant that it was exposed to public view. Most back yards contained two tall posts (picture small, square telephone poles) with four or more clotheslines  strung between them from the crossbars. (Wet sheets took up a lot of room.) For the benefit of people who have never dried their laundry this way, here are some prettified versions of what more compact clotheslines looked like in the twenties and thirties:

Hanging laundry outdoors, Borax Ad, Delineator magazine, February 1924.

Hanging laundry outdoors, Borax Ad, Delineator magazine, February 1924.

I  had a folding laundry line like this one in my back yard  in the 1970s,  and I have a friend who still uses one, because sheets that have been dried in fresh air just smell better than any artificial fragrance on a dryer sheet.

Sunshine Clothes Dryer Ad, Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

Sunshine Clothes Dryer Ad, Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

It seems incredible that proof of cleanliness is now forbidden as unsightly in some (energy wasting) communities. Incidentally, we still use the expressions “hung out to dry” and “clotheslined,” which have a very literal meaning to people born before 1960. (Walking into an empty clothesline in the dark meant it caught you under the chin and left you lying flat on the ground.)

Of course, in the old days, all of your neighbors hung out laundry on the same day you did, so there was some competition as to who had the whitest sheets. In the 1940s , my grandmother always put bluing in her final rinse.

I am still using embroidered dishtowels that I inherited thirty years ago — and they were already old then. I love them, because the embroidery was done on bleached feed sacks, so they are large enough to surround big pots and pans and prevent drips while you dry them, and, after hundreds of washings,  they are very soft and absorbent!

Apparently my aunt had two sets made from the same pattern, since two of her “Thursday — Go to Market” towels are still around:

Thursday "Go to Market" towels; she is carrying a tiny purse.

Thursday “Go to Market” towels; she is carrying a tiny purse.

Tuesday: Ironing Day

At first I thought Sunbonnet Sue was holding an iron, but the Tuesday “iron” towels from this set had a visible ironing board, like these:

Raggedy Ann Day of the Week embroidery pattern from McCall's catalog, May 1950.

Raggedy Ann Day of the Week embroidery pattern from McCall’s catalog, May 1950.

It was vital to iron on Tuesday in case the wash did not get completely dry on Monday. By Wednesday it would be wrinkled and possibly starting to mildew.

In addition to variations on the Sunbonnet Sue quilt motif, McCall’s was licensed to carry Raggedy Ann embroidery patterns and doll patterns.

Raggedy Ann and Andy doll pattern, McCall's catalog, May 1950.

Raggedy Ann and Andy doll pattern, McCall’s catalog, May 1950.

Pattern for Raggedy Ann and Andy Dolls, McCall's 820, 1950.  This pattern must have been available earlier, because I got a homemade doll like this around 1947.

Pattern for Raggedy Ann and Andy Dolls, McCall’s 820, 1950. This pattern must have been available earlier, because I got a homemade doll like this around 1947.

Little Lulu, a comic book character, also starred in a set of McCall’s towel patterns. There’s a copyright licensing mark at the bottom of the ad:

Little Lulu Day of the Week towel embroidery and applique pattern No. 1488, McCall's, May 1950.

Little Lulu Day of the Week towel embroidery and applique pattern No. 1488, McCall’s, May 1950.

Embroidered kitchen towels were often made as gifts, and a set of seven was a very useful housewarming present, but I think my aunt purchased hers at various “charity bazaars” or other fund-raising events. I’m glad she did!

Some patterns disagreed about whether baking and marketing should be done on Saturday and Thursday, respectively; perhaps some towns held their market day on Saturday. In the fifties, my grandmother did her main shopping on Saturday, when my uncle could drive her to the supermarket, but she always baked pies and tarts for the week on Saturday afternoon. If I had a time machine, I’d book a visit to Grandma’s pantry, fragrant with baked goods,  on any Saturday afternoon in 1949. Of course, it would be even nicer if she were there . . . .

 

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Filed under 1900 to 1919, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, Daily Life "Back Then", Kitchens, Vintage Ads

Pink Sinks and Other Kitchen Ideas from the Twenties and Thirties

Pink Kitchen Sink froma and ad for Chipso Dish soap. Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

Pink Kitchen Sink from an ad for Chipso Dish soap. Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

Even those of us who remember the “Aztec Gold” and “Avocado” green kitchen appliances of the 1970s may be surprised by this pink kitchen sink from 1930. (The woman is still dressed in the styles of the 1920s; fashions don’t change overnight.)

I thought this might be a fluke, but an ad from a different company, one that manufactured wooden kitchen cabinets, shows the same green walls and pink sink combination. (And terrible lighting. This kitchen must have been pretty gloomy after dark.)

Ad for Shevlin kitchen cabinets, 1930.

Ad for Shevlin kitchen cabinets, 1930.

“Let Pine Make Your Kitchen Convenient” says this advertisement for Shevlin Pine, from the Shevlin, Carpenter, and Clarke Company; it appeared in Better Homes and Gardens magazine in February, 1930.  Those odd devices under the cabinet are flour and sugar dispensers.

Flour and sugar dispensers, 1925. This is probably a Hoosier Cabinet, as advertised in Delineator magazine.

Flour and sugar dispensers, 1925. This is probably a Hoosier Cabinet, as advertised in Delineator magazine.

“The one room exclusively a woman’s, and so the kitchen should reflect cheer and charm as well as provide comfort and convenience” was the caption for this 1924 article, actually an advertisement.

Kitchen cabinets, 1925. Ad in Delineator magazine.

Kitchen cabinets, 1925. Ad in Delineator magazine.

When I had my kitchen repainted a few years ago, the painter/carpenter took one look at my built-in broom cupboard and said, “Most of my clients would kill for one of these!” Apparently most of her clients were so hung up on cherry cabinets, marble counter tops, and stainless steel appliances that they forgot to plan storage room for mops, brooms, dusters and vacuum cleaners. Not so, in this 1925 “dream kitchen.”

Detail of ad (probably for Hoosier cabinets) from Delineator, 1925.

Detail of ad (probably for Hoosier cabinets) from The Delineator, 1925.

The Kitchen Sink

Notice the big space under the pink sink.

Notice the big space under the pink sink.

There was a school of art known as “kitchen sink realism;”  my memory of our friends’ kitchens, installed during the 1920s and thirties and still in use in the forties, was not of stacks of dirty dishes but of a big hole — instead of cabinet doors — under the sink, sometimes concealed by a cheery cloth curtain, and sometimes just left empty for ease of reaching the garbage pail.

The area under the kitchen sink was often exposed, like this one, pictured in Feb. 1930.

The area under the kitchen sink was often exposed, like this one, pictured in Feb. 1930.

It was also a good place to store a step ladder or kitchen stool, as Little Red Chair points out in her charming “1920s Kitchen Tour.” Better Homes and Gardens magazine featured this “device for holding and draining moist garbage” in a page of useful gadgets in April 1930:

A device for holding kitchen tools and moist garbage, 1930.

A device for holding kitchen tools and moist garbage, 1930.

“It hangs beneath the sink, beside a catch-all for soaps and brushes.  These utensils come in pleasing colors.” Very attractive, I’m sure. At least that sink has a faucet that allows you to mix hot and cold water; many didn’t:

This pink sink has separate faucets for hot and cold water; one is hidden by the soap box. It was easy to scald your hands.

This pink sink has separate faucets for hot and cold water; one is hidden by the soap box. It was easy to scald your hands, but an improvement over no hot water tap at all.

There were tremendous changes in kitchen design between 1924 and 1937.

“How to Equip the Modern Kitchen,” from an ad for Hoosier Cabinets, 1924:

"How to Equip the Modern Kitchen," March 1924. Delineator magazine.

“How to Equip the Modern Kitchen,” March 1924. Delineator magazine. The plumbing under the sink is exposed.

Thirteen years later, this ad for the Whitehead Planned Kitchen also featured purchased cabinets, instead of built-ins, but the Whitehead Steel wall and base cabinets could be permanently linked by stainless steel countertops and backsplash:

Whitehead Steel Cabinets ad, Delineator, April 1937.

Whitehead Enameled Steel Cabinets; ad from The Delineator, April 1937. There’s an electric range, and a Westinghouse dishwasher right of the sink, but now there’s no place to put the kitchen stool. Win some, lose some!

This “moderne” kitchen had a wall of glass bricks and a louvered window (with no old-fashioned curtains.) And that un-lovely view of the U-bend under the sink has been replaced by a custom cabinet with a built-in garbage can:

"This refuse container is attached inside sink door. Provides for the bag system of disposal." Whitehead ad, April 1937.

“This refuse container is attached inside sink door. Provides for the bag system of disposal.” Whitehead ad, April 1937.

The streamlined kitchen below was described in an editorial article in Woman’s Home Companion, October 1937. The “noiseless counter tops” are linoleum, like the floor (they were certainly cheaper and lighter than modern countertops); “Soffit lights under the wall cabinets illuminate every working surface, with a central fixture for general lighting.” [Too bad there’s no light over the sink at nightime. Didn’t they wash dishes after dinner?]

A "Well-Planned Kitchen" described in Woman's Home Companion, October 1937.

A “Well-Planned Kitchen” described in Woman’s Home Companion, October 1937.

There are three work areas: sink and refrigerator, left,  and a work counter, right, are shown. The stove, with its flanking countertops and floor cabinets,  would be behind you in this view. One work area is that countertop with room to sit while you work. These cabinets also seem to be pre-fab enameled metal. (Ikea didn’t invent the piece-by-piece kitchen. Hoosier cabinets were free-standing, too.)  The wall cabinet to the left of the sink has a perforated door to give air circulation to the ever-present garbage pail.

I certainly recognize that kitchen color combination of yellow and red plus black, and those triangular display shelves from my childhood. My parents’ friend “Aunt” Lillian had them — decorated with Fiestaware pitchers and her collection of colorful, souvenir salt and pepper shakers; but my favorite thing in her kitchen was a black cat clock that rolled its eyes and twitched its tail. Sometimes having a sense of humor is better than having impeccable good taste!

To read about a more primitive kitchen from 1949, click here.

 

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Filed under 1920s, 1930s, Appliances, Bathrooms, Cars, Daily Life "Back Then", Kitchens, Vintage Ads

A Pump in the Kitchen, 1949

Ad for Myers Water System, Better Homes and Gardens, February 1930.

Ad for Myers Water System, Better Homes and Gardens, February 1930.

This ad is a mother’s fantasy circa 1930, when the kitchen sink might or might not have a faucet and running water. (And if you really want a ‘farmhouse sink,” take another look at the one in that ad.)

A Visit to the Dakotas, Autumn, 1949

My mother, my Grandma, and me, in Las Vegas, 1949.

My Mother, my Grandma, and me, passing through Las Vegas, 1949.

In 1949 my mother loaded me (too young for school), her own mother, and a few suitcases into a second-hand Studebaker and set out on a three month road trip to New York, with stops along the way at points of interest. washington's boyhood home 500

We also stopped to meet — and stay with — distant members of my father’s family in the midwest and the Dakotas. For the three generations — Grandmother, Mother, and me — who grew up on the San Francisco Peninsula, with the green slopes of the Coast Range to the west and the Bay and Mt. Diablo to the east, the flatness of the Dakotas was not attractive. I remember watching miles and miles of dull brown scenery (it was November) through the window of the car, and finally a tiny pointed object — I thought it was a distant Christmas tree — appeared on the horizon. It got bigger as we came closer, as if it were growing, and resolved itself into a church steeple. We had reached a town.

Norwegian Lutheran Church, Milnor, North Dakota. Photo fron archives of NDSU.

Norwegian Lutheran Church, Milnor, North Dakota. Photo fron archives of NDSU.

We were going to spend the night at a house in that town. I don’t know the name of the town, but our relatives definitely did not live on a farm. They had neighbors on all sides. Almost as soon as we entered the house, the housewife ushered us into the kitchen to show us a wonderful home improvement that her husband had just finished installing . . .

Ad for Fairbanks-Morse Home Water System, Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

Ad for Fairbanks-Morse Home Water System, Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

. . . she finally had running water in her kitchen! In America, in 1949. But it didn’t come out of a faucet; a pump, like the one in this picture, was attached to her drainboard, and she could lift the handle and pump cold water right into the sink. She was thrilled. (And well she might be, compared to lugging heavy buckets of water in from the yard for washing and cooking and bathing.) As I remember, the drainboard and sink were dark gray (probably zinc), not porcelain or tile like the ones I was used to seeing in Redwood City:

Most homes I visited  in the 1940s had a kitchen sink like this one, from Better Homes and Gardens magazine, Feb. 1930.

Most homes I visited in the 1940s had a kitchen sink like this one. From Better Homes and Gardens magazine, Feb. 1930.

Our happy hostess still had to heat all her water on the stove, but she didn’t have to go outside for it, which was a good thing, because it began to snow that night.

Of course, without running water there was no flush toilet in the house. I suppose the chamber pot under the bed was too big for a child to use (or already full), so, in the middle of the night, my mother had to throw on an overcoat and her galoshes, dress me the same way, and take me outside to use the outhouse. She had a flashlight for the purpose, but there were no streetlights or lighted windows to soften the blackness of a night when snow was falling. And there were no fences between the back yards, so it was easy to get disoriented.

When we came down to breakfast the next morning, our hostess had already received a crack-of-dawn visit from her irate next-door neighbor. Someone from our house had used this neighbor’s outhouse! This was incredibly rude, and might start a feud that lasted years. There was no denying it — a track of footprints in the snow led from our back door to the wrong outhouse. In the daylight, we could see that the two outhouses were perhaps fifteen feet apart. (Both houses had located these noxious outbuildings as far from their back doors as possible, close to their property lines.)

This adventure stuck in my four-year-old mind — the pump in the kitchen and the trip to the outhouse — because Redwood City had had municipal water and sewage lines for a long time. (Those in Menlo Park were built around 1917 to accomodate Camp Fremont Army Base.) Our friends, the Halletts, still lived on their family’s ranch in Woodside — my father once kept a herd of cattle there — but by 1949 their farmhouse kitchen had hot and cold running water, and their bathrooms had flush toilets and warm baths, just like houses in town.  By 1930, Better Homes and Gardens magazine had plenty of ads for home water systems that could be installed on farms or in towns where people depended on well water.

Water for the Mere Turning of a Tap: The Kitchen Faucet

BHG apr 1930 p 161  top oldest water system myers147“Down the centuries stretches the immemorial line — carrying home the daily water supply from stream and lake, from spring and pond, from cistern and fountain, from well and pump — in an unbroken chain of Yesterdays. Today the picture changes. Modern housekeeping, with its emphasis on cleanliness, its insistence on sanitation, hygiene, comfort and convenience, requires water in greater quantities than ever before. Human effort, however willing, cannot keep up with the demand. Nor does it need to when a simple low-cost machine and a few lengths of pipe supply more water for the mere turning of a tap, than could be delivered by many weary hours of carrying.”

Myers water system ad, Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

Myers water system ad, Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

Most of these water systems (“for operation by hand, windmill, electricity or gasoline engine”) cost about $75 in 1930, which was a lot of money, when you could buy a kit to build an entire pre-fabricated five room house for $483:

Aladdin ready-to-build house kits, 1930. Ad from Better Homes and Gardens.

Aladdin ready-to-build house kits, 1930. Ad from Better Homes and Gardens.

In just one magazine, I found ads for water systems from the F.E. Myers & Bro. Company,  General Electric, General Motors’ Delco Light (which made the ‘Waterboy’ system, ) and Fairbanks-Morse.

BHG feb 1930 feb p93 myers water system no pump and carry 500“Housekeepers who are still struggling with the old pump-and-carry method of water supply, might think ‘There is something wrong with that picture.’ But it really takes very little coaxing to get ‘help with the dishes’ when there is plenty of water always on tap and no heavy buckets to lug. The task is so shortened that even the youngsters enjoy it.  Living beyond city water mains no longer means doing without running water. Thousands of suburban and country homes are being modernized each year with the help of the reliable MYERS Self-Oiling Water Systems. A few cents worth of gasoline or electric power per day, gives you complete service — running water any time, day or night — in kitchen, bathroom, laundry — for lawn and garden — for garage, stock watering and fire protection.”

Most Americans take faucets with hot running water in the kitchen and bath for granted. But my grandmothers grew up without them. And even in 1949, in a small town in the Dakotas, one woman’s life was vastly improved when she got, not a “water system,” but a primitive hand pump installed in her kitchen. We have it easy.

(In many places in the world, women and children still walk miles a day to carry water to their families. Charities like Oxfam and Heifer International , among others, make it possible to donate a water pump with life changing results. Oxfam America received a Four Star (excellent) rating from Charity Navigator. Heifer International spends 23.6% of its income on fundraising, and received only Two Stars, but a family that receives a goat, a heifer, or a flock of chickens is required to give one of their offspring to another villager, and I like that idea.)

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Filed under 1940s, 1950s, Appliances, Bathrooms, Daily Life "Back Then", Kitchens, Vintage Ads, Vintage Photographs

The Christmas Orange

I can’t look at the news coverage of “Black Friday” — the day when stores traditionally sell so much Christmas merchandise that their red ink finally turns to black — without thinking of my Father’s and my Uncles’ Christmas memories. orange christmas 2

Their father was “a hard man;” selfish and sometimes cruel. He regarded his eight sons as a cheap source of labor, and, at the turn of the century, that labor was hard. Once — once! — one of my uncles told me a happy memory of his father. My own father had none.

But, at Christmas, although they did not expect — or get — toys and presents, they did get . . .

orange for christmas

. . .  an orange.

And my father and my uncles remembered that orange as the best tasting thing they had ever eaten. They remembered those Christmas oranges for seventy years. The spoke about them every Christmas. No modern orange — available by the bag — ever tasted as good to them as that one — their only orange of the year. No orange was ever as sweet, or as juicy, as the orange they found in their stockings on Christmas morning.

Growing up in California, I found it hard to imagine a time when oranges were scarce and exotic. By the 1950s, when I was old enough to ride around town on my bicycle, orange trees, lemon trees, and even grapefruit trees could be seen growing in front yards all over Redwood City. But my father was born early in the 1900s, when oranges came by train. The fact that they ripened in December, when other fruits were scarce, made them a valuable source of vitamins (The word “vitamin” didn’t exist until 1912.)

Orange Col orange crate label from imagejuicy.com. As far as I know, this image is in public domain.

Orange County orange crate label from imagejuicy.com. As far as I know, this image is in public domain.

In the 1980s I lived in southern California, and commuted on the “Orange Freeway.” (I was always disappointed that surface of the Orange Freeway was black, yellow, and white, just like all the other freeways.) Once, I found myself in the city of Orange. I was concentrating on my navigation and not paying much attention to the scenery — just buildings and more buildings. Suddenly the car was filled with a sweet aroma that had nothing in common with truck exhaust and gas fumes: orange blossoms! At a stop sign I looked over and saw that there was one surviving orchard filled with orange trees at the side of the road. “The Orange Freeway.” “Orange County.” “The City of Orange.” All at once, the names made sense to me.

I don’t understand why oranges were still a rare treat in the early 1900s; oranges had been commercially grown in the Los Angeles/Riverside area for decades. Even people in the snow-covered midwest could get oranges by train — although they must have been relatively expensive; a crate of oranges was a fine Christmas gift.

1920s Christmas Toys

This photograph, from my mother’s family, shows that, by the 1920s, children no longer had to be satisfied with a single orange at Christmas:

Children and toys, early 1920s

Children and toys, early 1920s

These well-cared for children were my mother’s nephew and niece.

Boy and his sister, early 1920s

Boy and his sister, early 1920s

 

Children and their toys, early 1920s

Children and their toys, Redwood City, early 1920s

I can’t say that all these toys were Christmas presents, but I see a baby carriage with a baby doll, a Flyer and another toy wagon, a stuffed dog, a sailboat, small toy cars and trucks, a swing (the children are sitting in it), a toy car big enough to ride in, a tricycle, and many other items too small to identify. Not all of these toys came from their parents; my mother and two of her siblings were childless in the 1920s, so this boy and girl — my cousins — had gifts lavished on them by their aunts and uncle and grandmother.

1940s Christmas Toys

Little girl with Christmas toys, about 1948

Little girl with Christmas toys, late 1940s. I count 14 dolls, a doll swing, a doll cradle, and a toy piano.

This happened again when I was born, in the 1940s. By then, those cousins were adults. There hadn’t been a small child in my mother’s family for decades, and my father had seven brothers. . . . Most adults enjoy shopping for toys, when they have disposable income, and I had such a rich haul that I couldn’t think of names for all my dolls. I started naming them after the person who gave them to me. I think I’m the only little girl in town who had a baby doll, dressed a long white christening gown, who was named “Uncle Ole.”

Christmas on the ALCAN Highway, 1940s

Uncle Ole was in the construction business. During World War II he helped to build the highway — considered a military necessity — that ran from the West Coast through Canada and north to Alaska. Driving trucks, bulldozers and other grading equipment in freezing weather, the men who undertook this work endured harsh, miserable conditions. After putting in a long day — exposed to the weather — they slept in “tents” which had wooden frames covered by one layer of tent material. There was no insulation. There was a heater in the center of the room, but it didn’t really heat the tent. At Christmas, the men received a crate of oranges. Ole’s roomate put an orange on the wooden rail above his bed, intending to eat it for breakfast.

In the morning, the orange was hard as a rock — frozen solid by the sub-zero weather inside the tent. When Uncle Bert told me about those wonderful Christmas oranges of his childhood, his Uncle Ole told me about that war-time orange.

Imagine eating an orange so delicious — and so rare — that you can still taste it after seventy years.

orange christmas 2

 

 

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Corn Syrup and Candy Were Good for Kids (in 1930s Advertisements)

"Doctors Recommend Karo for Growing Children" Karo Ad, Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

“Doctors Recommend Karo for Growing Children” Karo Ad, Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

There’s something very American about turning corn into high fructose corn syrup and then turning that high fructose corn syrup into candy corn, the Hallowe’en treat.

Sally Edelstein’s blog, Envisioning the American Dream, recently posted a World War II advertisement for Budweiser [!] Corn Syrup that dated to 1943 (Click here.)

“Candy is part of the field ration and sweets are served generously to our armed forces everywhere. Sweets served in war plants have greatly stepped up human energy and production,” claims the ad.

This ad for Karo Syrup is even earlier, dating to 1930:  p 127 doctors recommend karo syrup  narrow better homes april 1930p 127 doctors recommend karo syrup text better homes april 1930

“There are 120 calories per ounce in Karo — almost twice the energy value of eggs and lean beef, weight for weight . . . Serve plenty of Karo; keep the children strong, healthy and happy.” [Nowadays we would call those “empty calories.” Who knew? Karo would gladly send you free nutritional advice on “The Food of the Infant and Growing Child.”]

In 1937, the Dionne Quintuplets were used to endorse all sorts of products. Surely they owed their healthy appearance to Karo Syrup:

"Of course we eat Karo."  The Dionne Quintuplets in an ad from Ladies' Home Companion, Feb. 1937.

“Of course we eat Karo.” The Dionne Quintuplets in an ad from Ladies’ Home Companion, Feb. 1937.

The 1930 Karo ad assured parents that “Karo, doctors have found, does not cause a child to develop an abnormal taste for sweets.” I’m surprised not to have found an ad claiming that 4 out of 5 dentists recommend candy for children.

From an ad recommending citrus fruit juice for children, The Delineator magazine, June 1934.

From an ad recommending citrus fruit juice for children, The Delineator magazine, June 1934.

“Tooth decay and mild-to-severe gum troubles are found in nearly four out of five American children, records show.”

I’m probably just jealous of all those kids whose parents believed the ads saying that candy was good for them; my parents only allowed candy in the house at Christmas, Easter, and Halloween. (I wasn’t happy about it then, but, perhaps coincidentally, I’m now a senior citizen with a full set of healthy teeth. Thanks, Mom.)

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Filed under 1930s, 1940s, Vintage Ads

Hallowe’en Memories

Halloween, Emerson Elementary School, probably 1951or1952

Halloween, Emerson Elementary School, probably 1951 or 1952

I am the masked figure in the middle. Back in the 1950s, we actually felt sorry for the few students who had to wear Hallowe’en costumes purchased from the dime store, like the one on the left. Most of my friends were able to improvise a costume from their parents’ or older sibling’s closets. The black mask with a lace veil (possibly dating back to the 1920s) had been worn by my mother, who also suggested that I should be a “Gypsy Fortune Teller.” [We were not aware of the persecution of the Romany people back then.] The necklace with coins was also from one of her old masquerade costumes (“Arabian”, as was the bolero), and she added a hem to a flowered child’s skirt and produced a flowered hankie headscarf to finish the look. The girl on the right is a female Lone Ranger. Most kids had a cowboy or cowgirl suit in the late 40s and 50s. They were often Christmas presents. Here I am riding a float in a Redwood City Fourth of July Parade in the late 1940s:

Fourth of July float, Redwood City, late 1940s.

Fourth of July float, Redwood City, late 1940s.

As you can see, these four little girls all came equipped with cowgirl outfits, as did the adult rodeo “queen” behind us. We all wanted to be Dale Evans and ride a beautiful horse (hers was named “Buttermilk”) and catch rustlers and other miscreants.

Hallowe’en Costumes:  You Used What You Had

Other popular and easy, no-purchase-necessary Hallowe’en disguises were:

“Hobo”– burnt-cork stuble on your face, a raggedy, old, man’s jacket with patches, your Dad’s old felt hat, and a bundle tied in a bandana hanging on a stick over your shoulder.

“Doctor” — a toy stethoscope around your neck plus a mirrored eye reflector on a headband (a cheap “doctor” set from the 5 & 10 cent store), worn with an old, white, man’s shirt as a lab coat. Shirt and Necktie required. I don’t remember the “lab coats” being smeared with “blood” but some may have been.

“Nurse” — a white dress or white apron, a starched nurses’ cap (paper would do,) plus a toy nurse’s bag with a red cross on the side (also from the dime store, it was a toy you already had, not one purchased for the occasion.)

Nurse's cap, 1932.

Nurse’s cap, 1932.

“Princess, Good Witch, or Ballerina” — your big sister’s many-layered, white or pastel crinoline petticoat worn over your bathing suit. A Princess got a gold foil crown or a tiara (usually your mom’s or sister’s from a long-ago dance); a Ballerina usually wore her shoes from dance class plus a tiara and maybe some lipstick and rouge; and a Good Witch added a wand with a home-made foil star on top. (The Good Witch from Wizard of Oz was an option for girls whose sisters had pink crinolines.)

“Pirate” — pants cut short and ragged at the bottom, a striped tee or Mom’s big-sleeved blouse, a bolero vest (could be from your old cowboy suit, minus fringe,) with a black or red head scarf, plus an eyepatch. Striped socks were a plus. Wooden sword optional. One gold hoop earring — clip-on — mandatory.

What all these outfits had in common was: You used what you had. Some kids had home made-costumes sewn from store-bought patterns and cloth. But at my house, and most of my friends’ houses, we improvised. (You can see some 1950’s children’s Hallowe’en costume patterns at the blog witness2fashion. Click here.)

Outhouse Tipping

My parent’s generation grew up in Redwood City before and during the First World War. Halloween pranks then were often destructive and sometimes pay-back for real or imagined mistreatment. Windows would be “soaped” — written on — at houses where treats were not forthcoming, and the neighborhood grouch, who cursed the kids who stole his apples, might receive some rough treatment.

In those days before sewage treatment plants and municipal sewer systems, teenaged boys occasionally got into deep doo-doo by waiting in the dark until their victim had entered his outhouse. A gang of boys would sneak up behind the little building and try to push it over — preferably with the occupant still going about his business inside. This was an ill-advised stunt, since, once the outhouse started to tip, the pusher might fall into the suddenly exposed cesspit underneath it. That could be a life-threatening experience, and, even if you were quickly rescued, you were also quickly apprehended  — and easy to identify!

The Gate Up the Flagpole

Both my parents grew up in Redwood City, so my father and his seven brothers knew my mother and her siblings from childhood. Once, over Thanksgiving dinner in the 70s, my father and my mother’s older sister began reminiscing about Hallowe’ens gone by. Dorothy recalled a great injustice suffered because of a Halloween prank:  Somebody stole the front gate from her home, and it was eventually discovered hanging from the top of a flagpole downtown. Her father was furious. “Pa thought Mel and I knew who put it up there, and he gave us a beating because we wouldn’t tell. But we couldn’t tell, because we really didn’t know!”

My father looked at her with some surprise. A slow grin began to form on his face, but he tried to suppress it. “Dorothy, really. . . . Couldn’t you guess?”

I saw the scales drop from her eyes. All at once, a little girl who had been unfairly punished looked out from her 75- year-old face.

She stared at my father across the table for a long, long time. (Dorothy was a master at family feuds, as I described in  The Icebox Battle. ) Then, slowly, she relaxed and became, again, a dignified older lady quietly eating her turkey dinner. We all let out our breaths. I suppose she had realized — just in time — that she was running out of relatives, and that my father was the only person alive who still remembered her as a child; or, perhaps, she had mellowed a bit over the years.
Happy Halloween; save some candy for later, and do not tip over any outhouses.

[Edited for typos on 10/30/14 @ 12 p.m.]

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Dot, Dot, and Dot: A Holiday in the 1920s

Dot, Helen, Dot, Dot, and Adelaide, early 1920s

Dot, Helen, Dot, Dot, and Adelaide, early 1920s

What I love about this photo is the names. Every year, the list of the most popular baby names is published. Names go in and out of fashion; that’s nothing new. This photo of five friends on vacation together — dated 1921 — shows that the name Dorothy (Dot was the common nickname for Dorothy) was very popular around 1902 and the following years. (These women are Dot Barton, Helen Barton, Dot Richardson, Dot Roberson, and Adelaide Owens.)

A Fourth of July Holiday, Early 1920s

My Aunt Dot (on the far left) had many pictures which were taken during this 4th of July vacation in Monte Rio, California, with a group of friends and co-workers in the early 1920s. [She wrote “July 4, 1921” on  most of these photos, but she also wrote “July 4, 1921” on a different set of pictures, taken on a trip to Santa Cruz, California, with a different group of her friends, so the best we can say is that these date from the early 1920s.]  You can see several American flags decorating the porch in this picture:

Friends on the Porch, 4th of July

Friends on the Porch, Monte Rio, 4th of July, early 1920s.

Monte Rio on the Russian River

Monte Rio still exists as a small resort town on the Russian River, in Northern California’s Sonoma County. It was connected to San Francisco by a railroad that ran from Sausalito; before the Golden Gate Bridge was completed in 1937, people from the San Francisco Peninsula reached Sausalito by ferry boat. In other words, this large group of friends was able to get to Monte Rio by public transportation. You can see the railroad tracks in this group photo:

Monte Rio could be visited by train.

Monte Rio could be visited by train.

Sandy Beach on the Russian River

There was a bridge across the Russian River, and a sandy beach for swimming.

Swimmers at Russian River, early 1920s.

Swimmers at Russian River, early 1920s.

One of the women, wearing a checked dress, can be seen at right, taking a picture of two of her friends:

Swimmers being photographed, Russian River, 1920s.

Swimmers being photographed, Russian River, 1920s.

 

On the beach -- note the large sun hats for the women.

On the beach — note the large sun hats for the women.

Some of the photos were taken at the Glen Rita Hotel.

Group at the Glen Rita Hotel, early 1920s.

Group at the Glen Rita Hotel, early 1920s.

The Hotel looks rather expensive; it was also possible to stay in a tent, judging from photos.

It looks like the Dots and their friends had a good time!

Friends walking across the rail bridge, Monte Rio, 1920s.

Friends walking across the rail bridge, Monte Rio, 1920s.

 

 

 

 

 

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