We began our school Winter Break last night. After three days of hectic busyness and two half days for parent conferences, we were released to go home and enjoy our days off. We return to school Wednesday after a four-day weekend.
LOL it’s hard for me to call this winter break, and I keep accidentally saying ‘Spring Break’. This is because it’s been 70 degrees outside or warmer! It’s been that warm all week. This morning I went out to enjoy the pre-dawn and listen to peepers and roosters and faraway dogs in the still darkness. It was 62 degrees.
One thing I enjoy doing at the start of any long weekend or school break is after school on the Friday, heading up to Ila to The Special Store. This is a second hand store stuffed with beautiful things, at rock bottom prices. Everything from tchotchkes, to vintage jewelry, to art, mid-century modern furniture, books, vinyl albums, fine bone china and mostly anything else you can think of. The store rotates its inventory depending on which estate sale they have obtained it from.
For me, it’s like going to a museum and looking at beautiful things. I love looking at beautiful things. Even better, given their prices, I can afford to purchase beautiful things. Or funky things, or unexpected things. It’s all a delight. Let me share what I found yesterday.
I got a 55 year old church fan, a 100-year-old field guide to mushrooms- in German, a small spiral notebook/journal, a calculator, a craft item I’ll give as a gift, two gardening/yard things- one a hand painted mock birdhouse, and a large plant pot holder, a pack of 10 foam bookmarks I’ll use with my small reading group, and 3 packs of decorative cocktail napkins.
All for $10.
The collection includes several articles I needed (garden items, calculator), some I will be able to give as gifts (bookmarks, craft beads, journal, napkins) and a couple I just like because I like them (fan, mushrooms). It’s all good.
Let me share about while I was there.
I had a nice chat with the nice lady who staffs the place. Then as I put the mushroom field guide on the counter and went about shopping, an amateur mycologist came in and saw the book. He was so excited. Then he noticed it was in German. He found me in the next aisle, saying, lol,
“Fraulein, do you know this book is in German?”
Do you read German?
Because I like vintage books and I like mushrooms. Win-win.
He looked at me like people normally do, like I wasn’t normal, lol.
But then he went on and showed me thru the book which mushrooms are which and told stories about when he went mushroom hunting. I told him about well-known New England Mycologist Sam Ristich (who used to be my landlord).
I enjoy shopping there not only to look at beautiful things, but the history. The fan was just charming. I liked to imagine ladies furiously fanning in church, before air conditioning came in. It’s fun to think of the history you’re holding in your hand, where it has been, and what happened to the people who last held it.
Thirdly, the other part about shopping at the Special Store is the fun I have when I get home. I like to learn things. I was holding what I suspected to be an interesting and important book, and a very old church fan.
How did I know the fan was old? The telephone exchange on the back: LIberty 8-4176. Time to research!
I spent a good hour learning about the old telephone company (which I grew up with) Bell Telephone, nicknamed Ma Bell.
The Bell System was the system of companies, led by the Bell Telephone Company and later by AT&T, which provided telephone services to much of the United States and Canada from 1877 to 1984, at various times as a monopoly.
In the 1950s after WWII, Ma Bell realized that the telephone exchanges were going to have to be expanded. Each central office could only handle 10,000 subscribers, and after the War, the influx of people returning home and the acceptance of the phone as a normal appliance caused a plan to be formulated to expand to all numbers. They proposed moving away from the word-exchanges to an all-number dialing exchange, the one we have now with 7 digits and area codes. Previously, they had chosen exchanges with easy to pronounce words that would not likely be misunderstood, such as BUtterfield (memorialized in the Liz Taylor movie Butterfield-8) or PEnnsylvania such as the one memorialized in the 1945 song Pennsylvania 6-5000.
Wikipedia explains the named Pennsylvania exchange served the area around Penn Station in New York. The two letters, PE, stand for the numbers 7 and 3, making the phone number 736-5000, not including the later area code 212 for Manhattan. The number is best known from the 1940 hit song “Pennsylvania 6-5000”, a swing jazz song.
Americans identified themselves in relation to the phone exchange, and also identified each other by the exchange that indicated the area in which they lived. The American public so loved their alphabetic word phone exchanges that this proposal to go to all numbers was met with heated hate.
This plan was vehemently opposed by many groups that popped up. There was even a legal injunction for a while. The man who’d proposed the all number dialling, John Karlin, was once called ‘the most hated man in America.’ But in the end of course, all numbers prevailed.
The link above goes to Karlin’s obituary in the NYT, revealing an interesting and accomplished man to be sure. America should know about him. Here is just a snippet:
But his research, along with that of his subordinates, quietly yet emphatically defined the experience of using the telephone in the mid-20th century and afterward, from ushering in all-digit dialing to casting the shape of the keypad on touch-tone phones. And that keypad, in turn, would inform the design of a spate of other everyday objects.
It is not so much that Mr. Karlin trained midcentury Americans how to use the telephone. It is, rather, that by studying the psychological capabilities and limitations of ordinary people, he trained the telephone, then a rapidly proliferating but still fairly novel technology, to assume optimal form for use by midcentury Americans.
I learned all that as an internet detective wanting to discover the age of the fan I was holding. Given the exchange on the back, it seems it was made between 1958-1965, no older because all-number dialing came in then.
I also had fun researching the Mary Carter Paint Store, touted on the back of the fan as “World’s Largest Operation of its Kind”.
This store has an interesting history. It was a successor to a store founded in 1908, and became the Mary Carter Paint store in 1958. Owner James Crosby diversified into land and real estate development, and ten years later dropped the paint store and became Resorts International. Resorts International. Crosby opened the first legal casino in Nevada in 1978, and expanded to Paradise Island Bahamas, Atlantic City and so on. It’s funny that a paint store became one of the largest real estate development conglomerates in the world. Even Donald Trump briefly held the company, then Merv Griffin bought it.
The Paint Store was the subject of a FTC lawsuit because of the advertising on the back of the fan. Most fans had some sort of printed advertising on the back. On mine, it states that every second gallon is free. Case Law online explains,
Respondent paint company had a practice of advertising that for every can of paint purchased the buyer would be given a “free” can of equal quality and quantity. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ordered the paint company to cease and desist from the practice as being deceptive under 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act since the paint company had no history of selling single cans of paint; it had been marketing two cans; and had misrepresented by allocating to one can what was in fact the price of two cans. The Court of Appeals set aside the FTC’s order.
It’s so fun to research about American history. The store had three versions, one with Jesus as the Good Shepherd (the one I got) one of The Last Supper, and one with two small children praying.
Portland State university History Portland State University history has a synopsis of the church fan:
The church fan is a familiar icon of the Southern black religious experience. Cut out of heavy paper and stapled onto a wooden handle, the fans provided some measure of relief during services that could last several hours in a hot and humid climate. Following the advent of air-conditioning in the 1950s, the fans all but disappeared from white congregations, but remained in many African-American congregations, having become rooted in church culture. The fans commonly featured an advertisement for a local funeral home on the reverse side, underscoring the role of the church played in the local community beyond a place of worship.
Here is another take on the history of church fans as described through one North Carolina man’s historical collection.
Collection of church fans represents Southern hospitality
“Aunt Susie would come down from Raleigh, and my mother would serve her a piece of her pound cake,” McNeill said, remembering his 5-year-old self holding a fan printed with an image of Jesus ascending into heaven. “And I fanned Aunt Susie while she nibbled her cake. So Southern hospitality then was a sweet tea and a sweet Jesus.”
Since then, the Bladen County and part-time Wilmington resident’s fascination with the instrument of church air conditioning and funeral parlor advertising has grown to a 30-year collection of more than 150 church fans from the turn of the century to modern times.
“I see my fans as historical artifacts, vanishing relics of the American South,” McNeill said. “Part of the appeal is nostalgia.”
McNeill’s oldest fans are woven straw, grass and reed fans, some rainbow-hued, from African-American churches. Many have religious images – Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus as a shepherd holding a lamb, a 1950s child kneeling with her white-gloved hands pressed in prayer.
“I have many different interpretations of The Last Supper, which seems to be a common theme in fan iconography,” he said. “Another thing I’ve noticed in my collecting is that the image of Jesus has evolved from a Renaissance image of him with a long beard to a more modern Jesus with a trimmed, short beard.”
One public misconception about church fans is that only funeral homes advertised on the backs of them. But McNeill has fans advertising tobacco houses, tire dealers and auto repair shops. Some list three- and four-digit phone numbers.
See, I’m not the only one…
For mere pennies, I entertained myself for hours. I learned about American culture and history, and I have a small piece of it to hold onto. Way cool.
This has gotten long so I’ll stop here and make another essay tomorrow about the mushroom book and botanicals in general. Have a wonderful Saturday!
Second Hand Stores-
Here’s Why You Should Definitely Be Shopping At A Thrift Store
10 reasons why thrift stores are awesome
Reminiscences of the old letter exchanges
Look Back, Chicago!
Fannin’ the Heat Away
A time when hand fans cooled church-goers
Material History of American Religion Project: Church fans