Monday, June 02, 2008

Juicy, Plump, Red Tomatoes

I'd never seen a typewriter quite like this before. But that's why I go to places like Historic White Pine Village in Ludington, Mich., to examine its trove. Whether in Dallas or West Fargo or rural Iowa or urban Osaka, just to name some of the places I've visited such museums, interesting objects are always lying around open-air museums. Occasionally you see astonishing ones.

The typewriter, with its odd wings holding the keys, was merely interesting. I found it on the desk in the museum's reformulated doctor's office -- always good places to visit, to remind you that the tools of medicine have improved over the decades. An early 20th-century medical office isn't quite as scary as, say, a mid-19th century office and its objects. Still, the glass-and-brass anaesthetic machine at White Pine's medical office, probably the pride of some Michigan doctor ca. 1910, looked like something Edison tinkered together as a lesser invention, and maybe something that would lend itself to unfortunate mishaps if not used exactly right (oops, forgot to mix in the oxygen).

Across the street -- so to speak -- was the clock room, with its weird non-synchronous tick-tocking coming from dozens of clocks lining three-and-a-half walls. Among other things, I learned the name of a whole genre of clocks I'd never heard before, though I recognize the shape: the Ogee, or the Og Clock. And, for that matter, that there are such things as grandmother and granddaughter clocks. (UK clockmonger John Shone writes about them here.)

What North American open-air museum doesn't have a one-room school? The White Pine Village one-room school had all the accouterments, too: uncomfortable desks (we could sit in them), slates for writing, a potbellied stove that would probably have warmed only the teacher, a portrait of Washington, a 44-star flag -- current to 1890-96, between the admissions of Wyoming and Utah -- lunch pails, a yellowed poster picturing "Our 22 Presidents" (current to Cleveland's first term), and a dunce cap. Come the day when the self-esteem movement has fizzled, such gear will make a comeback, mark my words.

Pretty much every open-air museum has a general store as well, complete with various shelves, barrels and other old-time merchandising devices, and White Pine did not fail in that regard either. Naturally some old-time merchandise was also on display, including a handful of deathless brands such Clabber Girl and Morton Salt. Others on the shelves weren't quite as familiar: Steamship Brand Molasses Candy, Union Leader Smoking/Chewing Tobacco, Dexo cooking grease. And then there was White Star Brand Tomatoes, pictured below.

This is a closer look.

What on Earth is that hammer and sickle doing on the label? The label adds that the tomatoes were distributed by the Cooperative Central Exchange of Superior, Wisconsin, a Finnish-American organization. Remarkably, you can read all about the cooperative here, including the fact that "... during the split within the Socialist Party of the United States in the early 1920s, key members of the CCE staff supported the left-wing faction, which favored recognition of the Third International and which was to become the Workers' (Communist) Party of America."

So that's it. Bolshie tomatoes, and not afraid to put it on the label.

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At 6:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As Lenin might have said (had he been speaking English for some reason), "Communism equals Soviet Power plus rural electification and canned tomatoes." ANK

At 6:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Erratum: Electrification, not electification


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