Category Archives: Vintage Photographs

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.


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.


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

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.)


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 As far as I know, this image is in public domain.

Orange County orange crate label from 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




Filed under 1900 to 1919, 1920s, 1940s, Uncategorized, Vintage Photographs, World War II

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.]


Filed under 1900 to 1919, 1950s, Tales I Was Told, Vintage Photographs

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.







Filed under 1920s, Golden Afternoons, Vintage Photographs

Redwood City Grammar School, Possibly Eighth Grade, 1914

Redwood City Grammar School, 8th grade, 1914

Redwood City Grammar School, probably 8th grade, 1914 (Click to enlarge)

A picture, printed as a postcard, labeled Redwood City Grammar School, 1914. r c grammar school 1914 caption 500 dpiMy aunt Dot (front row) identified this as her eighth grade graduation.

Correction posted 4/27/14:  I have come to suspect that this is really a sixth or seventh grade picture. If school pictures were taken near the beginning of the fall semester, Dot would be barely 14 in 1914, which makes sense for an eighth grader.  However,  I am beginning to mistrust all the dates on her photo identifications.

My Aunt Dot wrote on photographs, both backs and fronts, and she often had more than one copy of the same photo. As I sort through the hundreds of pictures, loose and in albums, I am finding many that have contradictory information on the front and back, or information that calls the identification of another picture into question.

Yesterday, I found a group of photos which have 1917 written on the front and back, or on the front and in the album, and which say they are of seventh or eighth graders at the Grammar School. Some say, “Graduation Day, June 23.” She looks older in these pictures, but, since she was born in the fall of 1900, she would be rather old (16 in June) for eighth grade. So, in future, I will trust any date the photographer printed on the picture, like the one above,  more than I trust Aunt Dot’s hand-written information.

Her brother Mel (third row up, on the far left) was less than a year older, so apparently they were in the same class. As usual with 14-year-olds, some of these students are still children, while others look quite grown up.

World War I had begun in Europe in the summer of 1914; America did not officially enter the war until April 2nd, 1917. No doubt some of these young men enlisted when they were old enough.

To make viewing the details easier, I have divided the photo into three parts, from left to right. r c grammar school 1914 1000 dpi highr c grammar school 1914 ctr 1000 dpi highr c grammar school 1914 right 1000 dpi high


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Filed under 1900 to 1919, Vintage Photographs

Raising Frogs and Food Foraging, 1930s to 1950s

The ads at the back of Depression-era magazines offer a variety of ways to “Make Money at Home” – everything from selling Christmas cards to painting lampshades – but the advertisement that really got my attention was this one:

Advertisement from Delineator, March, 1937

Advertisement from Delineator, March, 1937

Raise Giant Frogs!

I was under the impression that frogs do a pretty good job of raising themselves, without human intervention. I didn’t grasp the point of the ad until I enlarged it and read the fine print: 1937 march raise giant frogs Delineator 72This is an ad from . . .

The American Frog Canning Company.

It was a legitimate business located in New Orleans; online I found a photo of the canning company, a facsimile copy of the company’s book “Frog Raising,” a picture of their product ( a can of frog legs) in an article by , and a more extensive ad which reads:

“Raise Giant Frogs. Sell up to $5 per dozen. A New Industry! Millions used yearly! Markets waiting. Price Steady. Pleasant, outdoor work. Easy to ship to any part of the country. Nation-wide market at your command.

“A SMALL POND is all you need to start with five pairs of ‘Nuford Giant Breeders.’ Expand with increase. WE BUY! As originators of Canned Frog Legs, we are developing one of the world’s largest frog markets. In addition to other markets, frog raisers can also ship to us.

“MEN & WOMEN! Investigate this interesting, new work. . . . Send for our illustrated, FREE book [“A Future in Frogs”] explaining our offer in detail. Write today. American Frog Canning Company, Dept. 133-B , New Orleans, La.” [Today, poultry companies sell chicks to farmers to be raised, and then buy the birds back when they are ready to be slaughtered; the frog business seems to have worked the same way.]

Frog Legs for Dinner

This was not just a “Southern” or exotic food. Although I was surprised by the Frog Canning ad, I was even more surprised to find this photo of my parents’ old friends “frog gigging” [pronounced with a hard “G”] in the late 1930s or 1940s. [These are all urban people who lived in a town 27 miles south of San Francisco.]

My honorary 'Uncle' Milt and 'Aunt' Lillian showing off their catch.

My honorary ‘Uncle’ Milt and ‘Aunt’ Lillian showing off their catch. California, 1930s or 40s.

I don’t think they intended to can these frogs; Everyday French Cooking, by Henri-Paul Pellaprat, says that when making Grenouilles Sautées Fines Herbes, Grenouilles Frites, or Grenouilles en Beignets, you should allow 6 American frog’s legs or 12 European frog’s legs per serving. (American frogs really were giants!)

Adventurous Eating

My parents were adventurous eaters and cooks; having tasted frog legs at a French restaurant in San Francisco, they probably decided to duplicate the dish at home. Although I don’t have a picture of my folks holding frogs, they often went hunting and fishing with my honorary “uncle” Milt, my “aunt” Lillian, and our neighbor, Vic.

Vic, Milt, and my mother, 1930s. Milt is wearing my mother’s enormous sun-hat as a joke.

Vic, Milt, and my mother, 1930s. Milt is wearing my mother’s enormous sun-hat as a joke.

My mother and my "Aunt" Lillian fishing in the 1930s. Lillian is wearing mens' overalls.

My mother and my “Aunt” Lillian fishing in the 1930s. Lillian is wearing men’s overalls.

Hunting, Fishing and Foraging

Whether because of the Great Depression or just because they had adventurous palates, my parents and their friends enjoyed foraging for food long before Michael Pollan wrote about it in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. My mother could hardly pass a field of wild mustard without pulling over to pick fresh mustard greens for dinner. [Ah, the bygone days of pesticide-free fields….]

My mother fishing; proud of her very pale complexion, she wore this gigantic straw hat for gardening and outdoors work.

My mother fishing; proud of her very pale complexion, she wore this gigantic straw hat for gardening and outdoors work. It lasted into the 1950s!

My parents took me fishing in the 1950s. I remember the taste of a freshly caught trout, breaded with cornmeal and sauteed over a campfire – a treat modern children may never know, now that many rivers and lakes have pollution levels so high that some fish are too toxic for children’s small bodies to digest.

My father fishing in the 1930s

My father fishing in the 1930s

My father and his friends also went deer-hunting every year. Out of respect for the deer, every bit of meat was used. One family friend made delicious home-made jerky to use up the scraps; another mixed lean ground venison scraps with ground pork for juicy grilled patties.)

My mother and a friend clowning on a duck hunting trip. Her Marcel-waved hair dates this to the late 1920s or early 1930s. I can’t explain the saw.

My mother and a friend clowning on a duck hunting trip. Her Marcel-waved hair dates this to the late 1920s or early 1930s. I can’t explain the saw.

Friends also brought us duck and pheasant in season (biting down on a tiny piece of shot that had escaped the cook’s examination was not pleasant!) I preferred chicken.

Mushrooms and Huckleberries

For my parents, mushrooming was an occasion for a picnic in the woods. However, the fact that I’m alive to tell about it is pure luck, since they believed – WRONGLY! – that, if you cooked the mushrooms with a silver coin in the pot, and the silver didn’t turn black, the mushrooms were safe to eat. This is NOT TRUE, so don’t try it!  We only survived because they were better than they realized at identifying edible fungi.

Getting scratched while picking wild blackberries made me appreciate their sweetness all the more (and eating them warm from the sun – instead of putting them into the bucket – was irresistible.)

Me, about six years old, learning to pick fruit.

Learning to pick fruit. I’m about 6 years old. I don’t know why I’m wearing a purse!

We picked wild huckleberries in the Half Moon Bay mountains every year. The coastal fog was cool and pleasant. I still love the combined smells of scrub brush and sea air. Huckleberries look rather like blueberries, but are not good to eat right off the bush. My parents made huckleberry pies, huckleberry jam and jelly, and huckleberry syrup for our pancakes (It was probably just jelly that didn’t ‘set,’ but we didn’t waste food.) When I was seven or so, accidentally putting my foot through the roof of a pack-rat’s nest in the undergrowth was always interesting: pack-rats pilfered bits of broken crockery, silverware, cigarette lighters, pens, and other small items from people’s farms and mountain cabins.

Grenouilles Sautées in the Making

Milt, Vic, and Lillian. Milt has a bag of frogs.

Milt, Vic, and Lillian. Milt is holding a bag of frogs. The shadow of the photographer — my mother — is visible. The short dress dates this to around 1940.

By the time these frogs were collected for dinner, my parents and their friends were not foraging for food out of necessity, but for the fun and companionship of an outing in the open air, ending with a feast.  And don’t feel too sorry for these frogs; they were on their way to a heavenly rendezvous with olive oil, garlic, and butter.


Filed under 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, Vintage Ads, Vintage Photographs

The Icebox Battle, a Story from 1930 or so…

An Iceman, 1929, and an Electric Regrigerator, 1928

An Iceman, 1929, and an Electric Regrigerator, 1928

The story that follows came from my father. I’m not sure when it happened, but late 1920s or early 1930s seems likely. If – IF –it happened as he said….

By the time I was born, my Aunt Dorothy wasn’t speaking to either of her brothers.  She didn’t approve of the woman my Uncle Mel had married – although (or perhaps because) both women worked for the same company and sometimes sat across the desk from each other. And, after the Icebox Battle, she wasn’t speaking to her brother Harris, either.

Aunt Gertrude, Uncle Harris and their son, 1921

Aunt Gertrude, Uncle Harris and their son, 1921

Harris, her elder brother, was married and had two children whom she adored. gerry mimi742

In fact, the Icebox incident that ended so badly took place at a family gathering at his house.

Harris was married to my Aunt Gertrude, who had sailed to America from Finland (according to family legend) after just missing the Titanic and switching to a different ship.

Aunt Gertrude in 1917

Aunt Gertrude in 1917

My Aunt Gertrude once saved me from a terrible accident while I was staying at her house. After playing outside on a cold winter day, I came into the kitchen where she was cooking dinner, and stood with my back to the stove to warm up. The gas burner set one of my braids on fire. Gertrude leaped out of her chair and clapped both of her bare hands over my flaming hair, so fast that I had no time to be frightened or hurt. Of course, we had to cut both braids short to make tham match, so there was no hiding the accident from my mother…. But I enjoyed that visit; Gertrude was a skilled weaver, and, as she worked on a large linen tablecloth, I could hear the “thump, THUMP!” all the way out in the back yard.

Their house had a living room that opened into the dining room through a wide archway. I think I remember that the sofa was placed a few feet in front of that opening. There was plenty of room to walk around either end. When no formal dinners were planned, Gertrude set up her loom in the dining room, which was the only room big enough to hold it.

But on the night of the Icebox Battle, the dining room was being used for a dinner party, with Harris and Gertrude, Dorothy and her husband, my mother and father, and possibly my grandmother and a great aunt or two.

Aunt Dorothy, in the 1920s

Aunt Dorothy, in the 1920s

Like my mother and father, Dorothy and her husband both had jobs. They were childless; Dorothy was married to a career Army man, and they lived on the Presidio, in officer’s housing. So Dorothy had more disposable income than her brother and his wife, and she could afford to be “modern.”That night she made the mistake of bragging that she had just bought an electric refrigerator. She was going on about the convenience of not having to empty the ice-melt pan every day, and not having to have blocks of ice delivered regularly by the iceman – when silence fell. mel redwood ice delivery cropped

Dorothy had forgotten that her uncle owned the Redwood City Ice House, that both of her brothers had been icemen, and that Harris still worked there. The dinner she had just eaten was paid for by his Ice House job.

Dorothy was small, but she had a temper. So did Gertrude, who asked how dared she buy a refrigerator! Didn’t she realize she was “taking food out of the mouths of her brother’s children? What if everybody got rid of their icebox and stopped buying ice?”

Dorothy said times were changing, and you had to keep up with progress. She may have added something about old-fashioned people from Finland….

Gertrude said – well, I don’t know what she said, but one of my aunts got her face slapped, and got her own face slapped in return. I’m not sure which of my aunts threw the first punch. One of my aunts gave her sister-in-law a black eye, after which, according to my father, the hostess landed a return punch that sent Dorothy flying right over the back of the sofa, “ass over teakettle!” (I’m quoting. My father rarely used that kind of language in front of me, so it was memorable.)

Poor Uncle Harris. He hadn’t had a chance to say a word, but somehow Dorothy decided it was all his fault.

General Electric Refrigerator Ad, Ladies' Home Journal, Jan. 1936

General Electric Refrigerator Ad, Ladies’ Home Journal, Jan. 1936

NOTE: As I said at the beginning, this story was my father’s explanation of the start of a family feud. However, Dorothy did love her niece and nephew, and this photo from the late 1930s shows them all gathered around the table, with Harris sitting at the head, Gertrude standing behind him, and Dorothy at the far left of photo.dinner party739 Did they make up temporarily for the sake of the children? Or, if this was the disastrous dinner, then Dorothy waited till 1937 or ’38 to buy a refrigerator. The “handwriting on the wall” of the Ice House  – its approaching fate – should have been pretty visible by then!


Filed under 1920s, 1930s, Tales I Was Told, Vintage Ads, Vintage Photographs

The Iceman Cometh, and Goeth, and Leaveth a Trail of Water on the Floor

Redwood City Icehouse, delivery wagon. Notice the man on right holding a block of ice in ice tongs.

Redwood City Icehouse, delivery wagon. Notice the man on right holding a block of ice in ice tongs.

In the 1950s, my grandmother used the words “Icebox” and “Refrigerator” interchangeably. Married in the 1890s, she’d had an icebox for several decades longer than she’d had an electric refrigerator in her kitchen. My parents also said “the icebox” fairly often. My husband, whose parents grew up on small farms in Texas, claims he never heard anyone say “refrigerator” until he met me. Some of the upper-class girls in his high school in the 1960s said “fridge.” He thought it was short for Frigidaire, a brand name electric refrigerator.

Icebox, Montgomery Ward Catalog, 1894-95. Hinged flap at bottom.

Icebox, Montgomery Ward Catalog, 1894-95. Hinged flap at bottom.

I was surprised to see that the Montgomery Ward catalog called this icebox a refrigerator in 1894; to my folks, a “refrigerator” was an electric appliance.

The Icebox

As I recall, from seeing one at a rural cabin, the icebox usually had thick wooden doors – for insulation. In the basic model there were two compartments, lined with rust-proof metal; the bottom one held the food and the top one held a block of ice – as much as 40 lbs. Being a solid block, rather than cubes, it took several days to melt completely  – I have no idea how the housewife dealt with all that meltwater. It collected in a pan inconveniently located on the floor, behind that hinged flap at the bottom, and she had get down on her knees and empty it daily to be sure it never overflowed.

When I asked my Grandma about “icebox” and “refrigerator,” she explained that, if you had an icebox,  the iceman brought a fresh block of ice to your house on a regular basis. What she recalled was the mess.

The Iceman

Iceman Delivering Ice, from an ad, 1929

Iceman Delivering Ice, from an ad, 1929

The Iceman was supposed to come to your back door (if you had one) and take the shortest route to the kitchen – or back porch, if that was where the icebox was. He carried the block of ice with ice tongs, and he usually had a pad of folded burlap sacking on his shoulder, so he could rest the ice there; the sacking was supposed to absorb the drips from the melting ice – a real problem with summer deliveries. But sometimes a lazy iceman came to the front door, carried the ice at his side instead of on his shoulder, and left a trail of water all the way through the house – and then walked through it on his way back to the delivery truck! That’s what stuck in Grandma’s memory. It must have taken a determined iceman to do that in her house, because her family, the Lipps,  owned the Ice Company!union ice motor truck robert lipp cropped

The Iceman Cometh

If you’re interested in Eugene O’Neill’s play, The Iceman Cometh, I do have a few things to say about it – but, since I don’t want to encourage plagiarism, I’ll say them in as casual and indirect a format as I can. (The old adage applies: If you steal from one writer, that’s plagiarism. If you steal from many writers, that’s research.)

The title of the play is a reference to an off-color joke which would probably have been familiar to most of O’Neill’s audience. It begins, “A husband comes home from work early on a hot day. He hollers upstairs to his wife, ‘Has the iceman come yet?’ “. . .

When reading or staging a play by O’Neill, it’s very important to pay attention to his references to poetry, songs, jokes, catch-phrases, and popular culture in general. If O’Neill mentions a popular song, it’s usually worth looking up all the lyrics. With the internet, there’s no reason not to! In Ah, Wilderness! For example, there are many such references. An audience of O’Neill’s contemporaries probably got them all; now we have to have program notes written by a dramaturg.

Popular Culture and the Iceman

In The Iceman Cometh the central character, Hickey, is a salesman. Telling jokes was part of the salesman’s stock in trade. Jokes about traveling salesmen were very common. (No pun intended.) Most played off the idea that door-to-door salesmen frequently found themselves in sexually tempting situations – they were often alone in the house with women they could flirt with, while the menfolks were away.

So was the iceman.

Ad for the Herrick Outside Icebox, June 1924

Ad for the Herrick Outside Icebox, June 1924

This ad for an icebox that can be serviced (ahem) from the outside of the house would appeal to women who were tired of mopping up the trail of dripping water that ran through the hall and living room to their kitchens every time the iceman came.

I suspect it also would have appealed to jealous husbands. (Notice how handsome this iceman is.)

The Iceman as Metaphor

By using the archaic – and biblical — verb form “cometh” instead of “comes,” O’Neill set his audience up for a double meaning, warning that a variation on the old joke was in play. (Speaking of “archaic,” did you hear about the archeologist whose wife wanted to get him a really special birthday cake?  She had the bakery write “Happy Birthday” in ancient Greek . Her husband was delighted, but when his guests tried to eat the cake, it tasted awful. “Well,” said the archeologist, “That just goes to show that we can’t have archaic and eat it, too.”) “Cometh” is a hint that the metaphorical Iceman, Death, is just offstage, waiting in the wings. Eventually he makes his entrance. No joke.

If you’re still waiting for the punchline of that joke O’Neill referred to, here it is:

“The wife hollers back, ‘No, but he’s breathing hard!’ ”

If you’ve seen or read The Iceman Cometh, you’ll understand how it all cometh together….


Filed under 1900 to 1919, 1920s, 1930s, Vintage Ads, Vintage Photographs