Thursday, January 15, 2015

I Hear a Rhapsody

Long Beach,
ca. 1941 

This elegant, scallop-edged menu comes from the fabled Sky Room in the old Hilton Hotel in Long Beach, California. Based on a variety of factors, I guessed that it was from the early 1940s, but pinpointing a more exact date proved to be difficult. Trying to determine the year of an undated menu is never easy, and I was about to give up on this one, when the word “rhapsody” came into focus. This was the clue that I had been searching for—it must have originated in 1941. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The White Mountains


The Presidential Range comprises seven mountains—all named for U.S. presidents—situated within the picturesque White Mountains of New Hampshire. Mount Washington is the highest peak in this contiguous, twenty-five-mile line of granite summits, precisely positioned where high altitude systems from the Great Lakes and Canada collide with warmer air from the southern states and eastern Atlantic. As a result, the unpredictable weather can turn deadly in winter, renowned for sub-zero temperatures and the fastest wind gusts on earth. In summer, the conditions are much calmer, affording spectacular views in all directions on a clear day. A small stone hotel was built atop the mountain in 1853, followed sixteen years later by a cog railroad, the first in the world. In the early 1870s, the old hotel was replaced by a cushier one, as tourism began to take root throughout the United States.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Freedom from Want


Artist Norman Rockwell painted this iconic scene in 1943, depicting a family sitting around the dinner table on Thanksgiving Day. “Freedom from Want” was the third painting of his Four Freedoms series inspired by President Roosevelt’s State of the Union Address two years earlier. Unlike the freedoms of speech and worship, and the freedom from fear, the concept behind freedom from want was not commonly understood, or accepted, as a universal freedom. Perhaps for this reason, this picture was also called “The Thanksgiving Painting.” Since menus are not usually employed for meals at home, five menus from Thanksgiving 1943 show us what was happening elsewhere, as the world remained engulfed in the largest war in history. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

To the Lighthouse

Miami Beach, 
 ca. 1968 

When I look at this menu, I can’t help but imagine what it would’ve been like if the English writer Virginia Woolf, and her husband Leonard, lived in Miami in the late 1960s…

“Yes, it’s fine if we go tomorrow,” Ginny called out from the kitchen. “But there’s no sense in us getting there early. The place is always packed at this time of year.” 

To her husband these words conveyed a feeling of annoyance, as if the matter was not really settled. Each year on their anniversary, as if drawn by some need, they returned to The Lighthouse, where they recounted over dinner the joys and sorrows of their marriage. Feelings of irritation turned to anger, as he brooded over her remoteness. Had there been a gun handy, or a bat, who knows what might have happened next, such were the extremes of his emotions at moments like this. “Then it’s settled. But wait, you’ll see; it won’t be crowded,” Len said, pouring himself a Scotch before stepping out into the yard to breathe in balmy evening air. “Yes, it will be fine,” she called back, not knowing he had already slipped out of earshot.

Monday, August 11, 2014

An African-American Waiter’s Ball


Any document relating to an early African-American union is a rarity, such as this booklet from a ball held by the Tremont House Waiters’ Association in 1892. Reflecting the traditional values of this group, the nine-page booklet contains a menu, a concert program, and the order of dances, as well as the names of the officers and management committee. Its most revealing feature is a portrait, perhaps of the association president, which expresses the calm and confident spirit of the time and place. Unbeknown to these waiters, this joyous social gathering marked the apex of their collective lives. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Caffeinated Heroism

Akron, Ohio

This menu from a veteran’s reunion in Akron, Ohio in 1885 features an unusual dinner based solely on the basic rations of a Union soldier during the Civil War—coffee, pork, beans, and hardtack. Although hardtack was typically not served at such reunions, it had been the source of many jokes during the war, and came to be regarded as the most nostalgic of the army foods. However, for these veterans from the Buckeye State, even the coffee had a special meaning. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Tempest on the High Seas

S. S. Liberté, 

The great luxury liners were perhaps never more glamorous and exciting than on the day of departure. As passengers arrived and the final provisions were loaded on board, scarlet-jacketed bellboys hurried back and forth to the cabins, delivering flowers, telegrams and champagne. And when the tugboats began to nudge the leviathan from her berth, brightly-colored streamers rained down from the upper decks onto the crowd shouting “bon voyage” from the pier. I witnessed this spectacle firsthand, sailing to Europe with my parents in the spring of 1959. At the time, it was not unusual to travel by ship; half of the people who crossed the Atlantic that year did so by sea, and there was arguably no better way than to book passage on the S. S. Liberté, the flagship of the French Line, renowned for its palatial Art Deco interiors and fine cuisine.1 During my week aboard this ship, there were two things that were particularly memorable; having the meal of my dreams and catching occasional glimpses of one of our fellow passengers, a stripper named Tempest Storm.