Saturday, June 3, 2017

Echoes of the Jazz Age

 1919-1929 


“The Jazz Age is over,” declared novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1931, nine years after he coined the phrase. The era generally encompassed the years between November 1918, when World War I ended, and the stock market crash in October 1929.1 This period of economic prosperity and cultural transformation marked the birth of modern America. Lifestyles were impacted by automobiles, telephones, motion pictures, radio, and household electricity. For the first time, more than half of the people lived in towns and cities and women could vote. Although these trends had been evolving for decades, they accelerated in the 1920s, sparking a powerful backlash. The conservative counterassault manifested itself in the anti-radical hysteria of the Red Scare, the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, the ratification of National Prohibition, the passage of stricter immigration quotas, and the rise of Fundamentalism. Fifty menus reveal parts of this vast, complicated story. Some recall forgotten events; others provide unwitting evidence of societal issues that are with us to this day. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Suprême of Shark

New York City, 
1884 


This illustration fills the interior of a menu from the 1884 banquet of the Ichthyophagous Club.1 Active in New York from 1880 to 1887, this group of socially prominent men met once a year to feast on various types of unpopular seafood, endeavoring “to overcome prejudice directed towards many kinds of fish, which are rarely eaten, because their excellence is unknown.”2, 5 In addition to ichthyologists, who worked in the branch of zoology dealing with fishes, the club comprised naturalists, philanthropists, and gourmets. Indeed, the seal in this cartoon is holding a bottle of Cordon Rouge champagne. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

A Spectacle of Horror

New York City, 
1904 


It was a beautiful Wednesday morning on June 15, 1904, when mothers and youngsters from Lower Manhattan’s Kleindeutschland (Little Germany) gathered at the pier adjacent to East River Park. They had arranged for a passenger steamer named the General Slocum to transport them to a picnic ground on Long Island’s North Shore. A thousand tickets were collected at the plank—a number that did not include 300 children under the age of ten. Soon after they departed however, as the ship passed 97th Street, the crew saw puffs of smoke rising through the wooden floorboards. When they tried to put out the blaze, the rotten fire hoses burst. One newspaper described it as “a spectacle of horror beyond words to express—a great vessel all in flames, sweeping forward in the sunlight, within sight of the crowded city, while her helpless, screaming hundreds were roasted alive or swallowed up in waves.” Most of the 1,021 people who died were women and children. A rare menu from the General Slocum, hauntingly dated to the day after the accident, recalls one of the worst disasters in American history. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

O Sweet Grows the Orange

Boston, 
1852 & 1859 



The Burns Club of Boston used to host a banquet on January 25 each year to commemorate the birth of Robert Burns. When the birthday fell on a Sunday, the celebration was moved to the following day, as shown by this menu from the Stackpole House in 1852, two years after the club was established.