Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

A Scrapbook Documenting the Original Interiors of the Dearborn Inn
One of the great attractions in Dearborn, inextricably linked with Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, is the Dearborn Inn. A unique historic institution, the hotel was conceived by Edsel and Henry Ford as their vision of a “real New England Inn” welcoming travelers transiting through the Ford Airport, located adjacent to the Inn, across Oakwood Boulevard. Within several years of the inn’s opening in 1931, the airport closed as Ford exited the aviation business. The inn, however, has endured and prospered, as a first-class hostelry serving visitors to The Henry Ford, Ford Motor Company and the Dearborn community. The building, designed by noted Detroit architect Albert Kahn, was created as his update of an 18th- or early 19th-century New England inn, complete with all of the conveniences necessary for the discriminating traveler in the 1930s. Henry and Edsel Ford viewed the inn very much as the “front door” of Dearborn to the rest of the world, and they gave Albert Kahn and his designers free rein to create a singular structure.

The management of the inn was contracted to the L. G. Treadway Service Company of New York City, which operated a chain of historic inns in New England. The Treadway Company was responsible for the interior arrangements, subcontracting the furnishings to a variety of sources, local and national. Most of the furnishings were reproductions of 18th- and 19th-century antiques according to Treadway’s advertisements. Today, the inn is operated by the Marriott Hotel Corporation, which maintains the high standards of décor, ambience and service set during the 1930s.

I was first introduced to the Dearborn Inn in the summer of 2008, when I interviewed for my current position at The Henry Ford. Having come from a similar curatorial position in New England, I was familiar with real 18th-century inns, including the first inn of the Treadway chain. I was charmed by the 1930s “Colonial Revival” ambiance of the Dearborn Inn and the conscientious service that the Marriott Corporation maintains. When you walk into the elegant lobby and are warmly greeted by the staff, it seems like time stands still. Now that I am a five-year resident of the community, I continue to visit the inn on special occasions and make it a point to bring out-of-town guests there.

One of the many joys of working at The Henry Ford is the opportunity to make new discoveries in our vast collections. This is a story of one of these discoveries.

In the late summer of 2012, the Museum’s Chief Registrar brought a large loose-leaf scrapbook containing a variety of photos, ledger pages, correspondence, fabric samples, design renderings, and floor plans. All of the individual samples were carefully identified as to their location in the building, the name of supplier, and item or model number. Several pages are accounting price lists for each room. The samples were meticulously arranged, most as overlays, and glued into the cardboard pages. Nearly all of the glue on the samples had dried out over the decades and the samples were loose

Even after a cursory examination it was clear that this was a careful documentation of every aspect of the furnishings to the smallest detail. Over time, the pages were shuffled out of order, making a clear examination nearly impossible. Nevertheless, our Registrar believed that this scrapbook documented the original furnishing plan of the Dearborn Inn.

Index Page of the Dearborn Inn Scrapbook Furnishings of Public Rooms of "Dearborn Inn," Dearborn, Michigan. (THF 229146).

Examining the scrapbook was at once a delight and a challenge – after carefully arranging and rearranging the loose items, concurrently shuffling through pages, we stumbled on the index page, which was the “Smoking Gun” identifying the Dearborn Inn. We can only surmise the original purpose of the scrapbook, perhaps as an aid to staff in reordering furniture and fixtures, carpets, wallpaper and draperies that had worn or broken through heavy use in a commercial environment The text on the index page states, “This collection of pictures, cuts, drawings, samples and swatches is to be used in connection with the complete itemized inventory of Dearborn Inn equipment and furnishings (bound separately), [sic] and file of Purchase Orders and Invoices." To date, we have not located those documents.

Once we located the index, we quickly reassembled the scrapbook into its original arrangement and began the process of evaluating this treasure.

Cover of "Hotel Monthly," August, 1931 as seen in the scrapbook (THF 229147).

“Hotel Monthly” article.

Possibly the most interesting item included is found on the second page, following the index: A bound copy of the trade publication Hotel Monthly from August 1931, includes a feature article on constructing and furnishing the Dearborn Inn. The index describes that it “contains valuable reference material”. The article goes into great technical detail on the construction, emphasizing the modern features found in the inn.

Two-page photo spread of the Dearborn Inn lobby with textile and wallpaper samples.

Blueprint of lobby furniture placement. Numbers are keyed to accounting price lists.

My favorite pages are two-page spreads illustrating the original lobby in photographs and the blueprint of the furniture arrangement. What is truly amazing are the fabric and wallpaper swatches. When one compares them with the black and white photographs, one gains a true sense of the colors and textures of the lobby. On separate pages are photographs of individual pieces of furniture. This partner’s desk and the chest of drawers are still in the lobby.

Left (THF 229201), antique reproduction partners desk and bombé secretary. Several of the partners desks are still in the lobby. width=

Antique reproduction chest of drawers. Several of these are still in the lobby (THF 229200).

The use of reproduction antiques is best seen in the guest rooms. This is described as the “Mahogany Bedroom” and contains a group of 18th-century high style pieces including a slant-front desk and tea table and wing chairs. These are mixed with vernacular Windsor and "Hitchcock" chairs. The botanical wallpaper is reminiscent of an 18th-century print.

Two views of the “Mahogany Bedroom” (THF 229288, THF 229298).

Wallpaper and fabric samples from the “Mahogany Bedroom” (THF 229290).

Wing chair, candle stand and stool from the “Mahogany Bedroom” (THF 229291).

Windsor and “Hitchcock” chairs from the “Mahogany Bedroom” (THF 229292).

In all, the scrapbook is a wonderful record of a truly remarkable structure. The images presented here are the highlights, intended to provide a glimpse into a genteel past. As I mentioned, the inn remains a bastion of 1930s service, décor and gentility.

For a detailed history of the Dearborn Inn throughout its history, the best source is Jennifer Czerwick Ganem’s Images of America: Dearborn Inn. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2011.

Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts. The Dearborn Inn scrapbook has opened up exciting new areas of research. While documenting the scrapbook, Charles discovered new stories of the Dearborn Inn's past. He continues telling these stories in future installments.

Collections References

Dearborn Inn, hotels, scrapbooks

Reflecting upon Nelson Mandela’s death on December 5, journalist and former news anchor Dan Rather remarked, “Mandela’s legacy is on a line with those of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King—both of whom inspired him...”

The Henry Ford owns important historical objects that convey meaning and provide relevance for this line of courageous freedom fighters.

Mahatma Gandhi—champion for Indian nationalism in British-ruled India—gave Henry Ford this spinning wheel in 1941. Gandhi’s gift represented a commitment to world peace that he and Ford shared. Mandela often called Gandhi a role model.

Folding portable spinning wheel used by Mahatma M. K. Gandhi. (Object ID: 42.142.1)

Mandela acknowledged others in the long struggle for human rights. He once said, “Before King there was Rosa Parks. She inspired us…to be fearless when facing oppressors.” Mandela claimed that Rosa Parks’ courageous act sustained him while in prison. He was overjoyed to meet her in 1990, soon after his release from prison. The bus in which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in 1955 to a white man represents a decisive moment in the American Civil Rights movement.

Rosa Parks Bus (Object ID: 2001.154.1).

President Obama at Henry Ford MuseumIn noting Mandela’s passing, President Obama recounted that his first experience in political activism was a protest against apartheid, and Mandela became a personal inspiration to him. Obama reflected, “Never discount the difference that one person can make.” Such perspective may have been present as he sat on the Rosa Parks bus during a 2012 visit to Henry Ford Museum.

With humility and respect for these extraordinary leaders, we hope that these objects and stories can both remind us of all that Mandela stood for and help contribute to ongoing conversations about social justice in our country and the world.

Donna R. Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. Photo by Ted Eytan.

Civil Rights

This year’s holiday season is definitely special. The first day of Hanukkah (25 Kislev, 5774) overlaps with Thanksgiving Day (November 28, 2013). Call it Chanksgiving; call it Thanksgivukkah; call it what it is: a rare intersection of the Jewish and Gregorian calendars. Unless either or both calendars change, 25 Kislev won’t intersect with the fourth Thursday of November until the year 79,811! To commemorate this extraordinary meeting of two holidays closely associated with food traditions, let’s look at a Hanukkah staple: latkes.

Although deep-fried turkey achieved some popularity on American Thanksgiving tables over the past decade*, foods fried in oil are much older and more symbolic traditions for many Jews during Hanukkah.

Hanukkah celebrates a 165 B.C.E. victory over Syrian-Greeks who had seized the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. According to Rabbinic tradition the Jewish victors, a rebel army known as the Maccabees, set out to purify and rededicate the defiled temple but could only find one day’s worth of ritual oil. Miraculously, the small amount of purifying oil burned in the temple’s lamp stand, or menorah, for eight days!

Remembering the Miracle of the Oil

Lighting the menorah is another Hanukkah tradition that plainly commemorates the miracle of the oil. Many Jewish families light a branch of this special candelabrum each night of Hanukkah in remembrance of the Temple’s historic rededication.

Left, James Levi, who donated this family heirloom to The Henry Ford, recalled Hanukkah evenings spent admiring the menorah’s candles while enjoying latkes with his family. (2005.121.62, Gift of Constance & James Levi). Right, This box of Manischewitz menorah candles depicts several Hanukkah traditions. The company, America’s largest manufacturer of processed kosher food products, also sells latke mix! (2010.2.176, Gift of Susan Wineberg).

Many foods, especially desserts, are prepared with or fried in oil during Hanukkah to commemorate this miracle. But perhaps no recipe is more closely associated with the holiday than the latke – whose name can be translated to mean “little oily.”

By the mid-19th century, when German immigrants brought latkes to America, the little potato pancakes were a product of centuries of transformation. Hanukkah pancakes probably began in southern and central Europe as dairy treats: cakes of soft cheese fried in butter or oil and accompanied by sour cream. In other areas, where cooking oils were scarce and expensive, fried foods were usually prepared with animal fat. Cheese and butter were also hard to come by in these regions—besides, Jewish dietary laws forbid mixing meat and dairy products. Innovative cooks fried cakes of batter or vegetable patties instead.

Then, slowly, the potato took root in European cuisine. French and German cooks incorporated the starchy South American transplant into existing dishes around the turn of the nineteenth century. Some German Jews fried cakes of grated potato in schmaltz, or rendered poultry fat, to serve alongside a Hanukkah goose.

In the coming decades, as Europe’s population boomed and other crops failed, the inexpensive and abundant potato became an important staple across the continent. Eastern European Jews borrowed potato recipes from their German coreligionists, and the potato latke – along with applesauce, its newest consort – became the most widespread Hanukkah pancake.

Jewish Americans continued the potato latke tradition. In the early 20th century, when vegetable shortening – and, later, vegetable oil – became available, fried latkes with sour cream were once again a kosher dairy option. The versatile latke, already a cornerstone of Hanukkah tradition, only grew more popular in the United States as the holiday transitioned from a modest occasion to an elaborate domestic celebration throughout the 1900s. Not unlike fine olive oil, you’d be hard pressed to find a twentieth-century Jewish cookbook that doesn’t include latkes among its Hanukkah recipes.

Check out The Henry Ford’s Benson Ford Research Center for books that help document and preserve the latke’s traditional place on the Hanukkah table. And for more on these storied little pancakes, see Gil MarksEncyclopedia of Jewish Food.

Hanukkah in Postwar America

Holidays numbered among the many changes Americans experienced after World War II. In this “baby boom” era, American families celebrated with new traditions and more decorations, gifts, and parties than ever before. Jewish organizations published books and manuals that suggested ways to maintain centuries-old domestic religious traditions, and the 1950s saw a revived and enhanced American Hanukkah. In addition to preparing special foods, families might light several menorahs, exchange gifts for eight nights, decorate their homes, and host gatherings.

A 1955 edition of "Jewish Home Beautiful," published by the National Women's League of the United Synagogue of America, provided instructions for a Hanukkah dessert supper party. Along with decorations, gifts, and sweets, the author calls for “two large platters of lotkes.” (Object ID 91.352.1) (THF111653)

This 1953 Union of American Hebrew Congregations publication included a recipe for potato latkes served with applesauce.
2005.29.32 (THF111662 and THF111669).

Saige Jedele is a Curatorial Assistant at The Henry Ford and lover of most things potato.

*Frying has been a popular turkey preparation in areas of the Southern United States since at least the early 20th century.

holidays

The Henry Ford Museum has hundreds of pieces of silver and pewter on display. We’ve recently been making upgrades to the cases and labels in this exhibit, and as this work has progressed, we’ve also taken the opportunity to clean, conserve, photograph, and update our documentation for this material. We currently have about 50 of these beautiful objects available for you to peruse on our digital collections site—everything from this early 18th century tankard to a complex mid-19th century compote—and we will be adding more over the coming months.

pewter, silver

October 24, 2013, was a Thursday like any other Thursday in the offices of The Henry Ford—until 5:48 PM rolled around. At 5:48 PM precisely (not that we were counting), we completed digitization of our 20,000th collections item! There was much rejoicing and taking of celebratory screenshots of our collections management system.

Having seen this goal on the horizon, we had already discussed which item should be the auspicious 20,000th. We settled on something both significant and (we felt) celebratory: a photograph of the first industrial robot, Unimate, serving a drink to George Devol, its creator.

Unimate Machine Serving a Drink to George Devol, 1970-1985.

We also arranged to have cake, celebrating the many staff in the institution who work on digitization in large and small ways.

celebrationcake

And, we commemorated some of the notable digitization projects we’d worked on over the past few years with stickers created from our digital collections images.

Can-Do Stickers

Long-time photographer Rudy Ruzicska proudly showed off his stickers to Henry Ford.

rudy-henry

There is a good reason we made such a big deal out of this milestone. Even though digitization is a relatively new process for The Henry Ford (and for many other museums and archives), the potential of getting our collections online is enormous.

Case in point, only about 9% of all the material we’ve digitized thus far is items currently located in public areas in the Museum or in Greenfield Village. About 60% of our digitized content is located in our archival stacks, previously accessible only through a visit to the Research Library in the Benson Ford Research Center. About half a percent of our digitized collections are items currently on loan to another institution, ranging from a few miles away (this Hudson, for example, is currently on loan to the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Collection) to halfway across the world (as witness this Rolls-Royce hood ornament, currently located in China). The remaining 30% or so of the collections items we’ve digitized are neither on public display nor accessible through the Research Library—they are items the public (and even many of our staff and volunteers!) would never otherwise get to see.

This is where the digital world offers a whole new way for our visitors to learn the stories behind our collections—not just by paying us a visit in person, but by making a virtual visit to the treasure trove of documents, photographs, and objects that we hold in trust for current and future generations.

We hope you enjoy viewing all of our growing digital collections. If you have a suggestion for what we should digitize next, or have thoughts on how we can make these digital collections more useful and meaningful, please let us know in the comments below!

Ellice Engdahl, Digital Collections Initiative Manager at The Henry Ford, is already counting down to our next digital collection milestone.

artifacts, digital collections

Many people know that The Henry Ford has in its collection the presidential limousine in which President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. This limousine is currently on display in Henry Ford Museum.

But our Kennedy-related collections encompass much more than this limousine. They include materials that relate to such topics as his presidential campaign, inauguration, vision for a New Frontier, media coverage of his assassination, and the public commemoration after his death.

While we already had many Kennedy-related collections, the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination gave us the unique opportunity to expand upon these collections. In keeping with our interest in highlighting innovation stories at The Henry Ford, this new collecting focused on President Kennedy as a social innovator—that is, the ways in which his impact radically altered the status quo in our society. Using this approach, we focused our recent collecting upon the following topics:

  • Kennedy’s unprecedented use of the medium of television to influence public opinion
  • The reinforcement of the Kennedy image in popular magazines
  • President Kennedy’s establishment of a Peace Corps
  • Kennedy’s stepping-up of America’s space program to eventually land a man on the moon
  •  

    Here is a sampling of our collections relating to Kennedy’s presidency, his role as a social innovator, and his enduring legacy.


    (Object ID: 2001.79.1) Political campaign bumper sticker, 1960.

    Using giveaways like this campaign bumper sticker, Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy launched an exhaustive campaign in 1960 against Republican opponent Vice-President Richard M. Nixon. Despite charges that he lacked experience and that his Catholic background would hurt him, Kennedy eventually won the very close 1960 election.

    (P.833.132854.3) John F. Kennedy Inaugural Parade on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C., January 20, 1961.

    On January 20, 1961, John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s swearing-in as 35th President of the United States was followed by an official parade up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. As shown in this photograph, President Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline rode in a 1949 Lincoln that had served Presidents Truman and Eisenhower. The presidential limousine we generally associate with President Kennedy was not completed until June of that year.

    (Object ID: 2013.91.1) Souvenir Card, President John F. Kennedy at televised Press Conference, April 3, 1963.

    From the outset of his presidential campaign, Senator Kennedy seemed to understand instinctively how to harness the power of the new medium of television to influence public opinion. The first televised debate between Senator Kennedy and Vice-President Nixon was considered a key turning point in the 1960 Presidential election. As President, Kennedy also held live televised press conferences, like the one shown on this souvenir card.

    (Object ID: 2013.71.1) Look Magazine, “Our New First Family,” February 28, 1961.

    Americans were enchanted by the Kennedy family and they wanted to know more, always more. Photographs and feature articles of young President John F. Kennedy and his attractive family fostered a sense of intimacy between the Kennedys and the American public—and, of course, sold magazines. Life and Look magazines, the popular documenters of American life at the time, often featured behind-the-scenes photo-essays of President Kennedy and his family.

    (Object ID: 2013.75.3) Look Magazine, “JFK’s legacy: The Peace Corps,” June 14, 1966.

    Kennedy viewed his vision for a Peace Corps as an opportunity for young Americans to spread hope and goodwill across the world while also serving as a new weapon against the Cold War. By 1964 this program—which had been established March 1, 1961—had received an all-time high of over 45,000 applications. In 1966, less than three years after President Kennedy’s tragic death, Look magazine commissioned Norman Rockwell to portray Kennedy’s Peace Corps legacy for the cover of its June 14, 1966 issue.

    (Object ID: 2013.54.1) Souvenir Card, Astronaut Alan Shepard Receiving Distinguished Service Medal from President Kennedy, 1961.

    President John F. Kennedy’s vision to explore the "new frontier" of outer space was an overt Cold War strategy against the Soviet Union, which had launched the first man into outer space on April 12, 1961. Kennedy’s bold vision for a stepped-up space program—that would land a man on the moon before the decade was out—ignited the public’s imagination. Americans cheered every new achievement. This souvenir card shows President Kennedy awarding NASA's Distinguished Service Medal to the first U.S. astronaut, Alan Shepard, three days after his successful space flight on May 5, 1961.


    (Object ID: 97.1.1798.3) Teletype Message with Wire Service News Coverage of John F. Kennedy Assassination, November 22, 1963.

    From the moment of President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas, reporters struggled to make sense of exactly what happened and how events unfolded in ensuing moments, hours, and days. Our collection of teletype dispatches, newspapers, and magazines reflect how breaking news of this tragic event was reported and how it changed over time.


    (Object ID: 2013.50.23) Commemorative United States Postage Stamp fro John F. Kennedy, 1964.

    Stunned and disillusioned Americans embraced commemorative items relating to President Kennedy after his death. These items, including books, magazines, phonograph records, and this postage stamp, helped people mourn and enabled them to re-connect with their charismatic—and now deceased—leader. Commemorative items recalling the optimistic era when John F. Kennedy was President and Jacqueline Kennedy was First Lady are still popular today.

    Check out these and many more of our Kennedy-related collections via the links below:

  • JFK Remembered: Presidential Campaign
  • JFK Remembered: Inauguration
  • JFK Remembered: On Television
  • JFK Remembered: Public Image
  • JFK Remembered: Space Program
  • JFK Remembered: Peace Corps
  • JFK Remembered: Assassination
  • JFK Remembered: Commemoration
  • Donna R. Braden, Curator of Public Life, was in third grade when President Kennedy was assassinated. She would like to thank Cynthia Read Miller, Curator of Prints and Photographs, and Charles Sable, Curator of Decorative Arts, for their assistance in writing this blog post.

    JKF, limousines, presidential limousines

    This month, we mark the 50th anniversary of one of the most dramatic – and traumatic – turning points in American history: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. In that single instant, the perceived calm of the postwar era was shattered and “The Sixties” – civil rights legislation, Vietnam, the counterculture – began. Few artifacts from that day are as burned into public memory as the 1961 Lincoln Continental that carried President Kennedy through Dallas.

    The car, code named X-100, started life as a stock Lincoln convertible at Ford Motor Company’s Wixom, Michigan, assembly plant. Hess & Eisenhardt, of Cincinnati, Ohio, stretched the car by 3½ feet and added steps for Secret Service agents, a siren, flashing lights and other accessories. Removable clear plastic roof panels protected the president from inclement weather while maintaining his visibility. The car was not armored, and the roof panels were not bulletproof. The modified limo cost nearly $200,000 (the equivalent of $1.5 million today), but Ford leased it to the White House for a nominal $500 a year.

    The X-100 during its initial customization, 1961. (P.B.90912)

    It was a perfect marriage between car and passenger. The Lincoln’s clean, modern lines broke away from the showy chrome and tail fins of the pervious decade, and they seemed to mirror the young president’s turn toward a “New Frontier.” Kennedy used the limo many times during his thousand days in office, and it became tied to him in the public consciousness even before the tragedy in Dallas.

    President John F. Kennedy and King Hassan II of Morocco ride through Washington, D.C., March 1963. (2011.241.14.38)

    After the assassination, officials from the Secret Service and the FBI examined the car and removed any potential evidence, and then ordered that it be rebuilt and returned to duty. While this decision is astonishing in retrospect, it was one of simple practicality. The president needed a parade car, and it was much faster to modify the X-100 than to build an entirely new vehicle. The $500,000 project (some $3.8 million today), dubbed the “Quick Fix,” produced a true armored car. Titanium plating reinforced the doors, body panels and floor. Filters in the heating and cooling systems protected against poison gas. The now-permanent roof, fitted with bullet-resistant glass, provided a compromise between safety and visibility. In a final change, the car’s deep blue paint was replaced with a more somber black.

    The rebuilt X-100 at the White House, October 1964. (2011.241.14.45)

    The rebuilt car served Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter before being retired in 1977. By then it was 16 years old and outdated in both appearance and equipment. It returned to Ford Motor Company, which in turn donated it to The Henry Ford in 1978. The limousine quickly became one of the most important pieces in the museum’s collection.

    Fifty years after the assassination, the car has lost none of its power as an icon of American change. Visitors still pause to reflect on the limousine, whether they are older adults who lived through those painful November days, or young children whose parents weren’t even born when the car came to The Henry Ford.

    By Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation.

    JFK, limousines, presidential limousines

    You may be familiar with the many clocks featured in the Clockwork exhibit in Henry Ford Museum. However, The Henry Ford also has hundreds of clocks in storage, and scores more displayed in different places on the Museum floor and in Greenfield Village. We’ve just digitized about 20 timepieces, including this mid-19th century example, which can be seen in Smiths Creek Depot. View more than 60 clocks and other related objects on our digital collection site.

    clocks, watches

    Prominent architect Andrew Jackson Downing—a big fan of the Gothic Revival—offered house designs in this picturesque style for middle-class Americans in his 1842 book, Cottage Residences. This illustration has the most self-conscious gothic elements—in the chimneys, windows, and the “gingerbread” detail in the central gable. (THF.110992)

    Today when we think of gothic, we picture people dressed in dark clothing sporting dyed jet-black hair and best-selling vampire-themed novels like the Twilight series. America has had an on-and-off love affair with this offbeat, alternate style for the past two hundred years. Yet, what began as deliciously gloomy in 18th-century England took hold in Victorian America as romantic and picturesque.

    Gothic as Mystery and Delicious Gloom

    The idea of the gothic began with 18th-century Englishman Horace Walpole, who created the concept of the romantic-gothic in his fantasy castle, Strawberry Hill, located just outside of London. Walpole’s medievally-inspired “little gothic castle” included battlements, pinnacles, a round tower, fan vaulted ceilings, and pointed gothic arches. Like today’s Goths, Walpole saw mystery in the “dark.” In designing Strawberry Hill, Walpole looked to create an otherworldly—and rather theatrical—environment through the use of mysterious shadows of dark and light. Word spread as others learned of Walpole’s unique creation and gothic elements began to find their way into stylish design—not quite medieval, but not of its time, either.

    Gothic as Romantic and Picturesque

    By the mid 19th century, a popular trend that came to be known as Gothic Revival emerged from Walpole’s vision. For Walpole, the gothic was a personal fantasy world. For those who embraced it decades later, it was an emotionally–infused alternative to the rational Classical design so in vogue in the early decades of the 19th century. The Classical taste was about symmetry and order. The Gothic taste was about emotion, whimsy, and the spiritual. Many Americans thought the Gothic style pretty and charming—so picturesque—and by the mid-19th century, popular American taste was all about the “picturesque.”

    What constituted the Gothic Revival? The kinds of decorative elements one would find on a medieval cathedral like tall spires, pointed arches and trefoils (a stylized three-part leaf design). Where did these design elements appear? On newly-built churches, houses, stoves, furniture, glassware, silver—and even industrial machinery.

    Gothic Sofa

    This elegant sofa is covered with quatrefoil carvings (a stylized four-part leaf design) derived from medieval stained glass windows. This massive, imposing piece was intended to make a fashion statement in a Victorian parlor.

    Cast Iron Andirons

    These tall cast iron andirons—with their double “stack” of church spires—are the very definition of the Gothic Revival. They appear to be lifted from a medieval cathedral—although nothing like them ever existed in the Middle Ages.

    Covered Casket Jewelry Box

    This jewelry box—made of mold-pressed, shimmering, “lacy” glass— features rows of cathedral-inspired, stained glass windows. It was made in the 1830s by the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company in Sandwich, Massachusetts.

    Side Chair, Made by Joseph Meeks & Son, 1835-1860

    New York City furniture maker Joseph Meeks added pointed arches and trefoils (three-part) cutouts to form the back of this simple, yet elegant, side chair in the Gothic style. Made between 1835 and 1860, this chair is perfect for a picturesque cottage.

    Brewster & Ingraham of Bristol, Connecticut between 1844 and 1852.

    This mass-produced “cottage” clock, made by Brewster & Ingraham of Bristol, Conn., between 1844 and 1852, merely hints at the Gothic style with its pointed top and simple spires. Thousands of clocks like this one found a place in American homes during the mid-19th century.

    1840-1860 washstand was purchased by Mary Todd Lincoln.

    Even simple washstands could be adorned with gothic arches. This 1840-1860 washstand was purchased by Mary Todd Lincoln for her Springfield, Illinois home.

    Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.

    gothic, Victorian

    Last week the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong announced the 12 finalists for this year’s class of inductees. Just two lucky toys will make the cut on Nov. 7 to join the ranks of other beloved honorees, such as LEGO toys, Barbie, Lincoln Logs and Hot Wheels. It’s a tough call: is My Little Pony more worthy than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?! This year’s finalists are:

  • Clue
  • Bubbles
  • Rubber duck
  • My Little Pony
  • Toy Army Men
  • Magic 8 Ball
  • Scooter
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Chess
  • Fischer-Price Little People
  • Nerf toys
  • Pac-Man
  •  

    Which two toys would you nominate for the Toy Hall of Fame? Is there a toy you’re hoping someday will make the list?

    We have a variety of toys in our collection here at The Henry Ford, spanning current-day favorites to primitive playthings, including several of this year’s finalists.

    From our collection, here are some of this year’s finalists.

    My Little Pony, Brush 'n Grow Pony: "Ringlets," 1987-1988 (Object ID 2000.71.1).

    My Little Pony

    Hasbro introduced its My Little Pony line of toys in 1983. It was a big seller. The Ponies were not dolls but they did feature two long-important aspects of doll appeal: hair care and fashion. The ponies' hair was a silky mane that could be twisted, braided, and styled. A matching ribbon and comb came with each pony. These toys combined "friendship" and grooming play. In 1986, My Little Pony got her own cartoon series, My Little Pony 'n Friends. In the series, the Ponies, together with the wise little Moochick, the Bushwoolies, and human friends Megan, Molly, Danny, and Spike, kept Ponyland safe from witches, trolls, and the like.

    Magic "8 Ball" Fortune Teller, 1965-1975 (Object ID 96.83.3).

    Magic 8 Ball

    This is novelty version of a crystal ball was introduced in 1946, at a time when forecasting the future was a popular pastime. How it worked: The ball is actually two separate halves glued together (then polished to help make the seam disappear). Inside is a plastic vial, affixed to one end and standing upright. About the size of a juice glass, the vial is filled with a blue liquid, which is made up of a combination of water, blue coloring, and propylene glycol, an antifreeze to keep the solution from turning solid during shipping. Floating in the liquid is a polyhedron, whose 20 sides bear 20 different answers in raised letters. The clear plastic cap that seals the cylinder not only assures that the blue solution won't leak out, but doubles as the little window through which you view your answers.

    Toy Army Men, 1950-1960 (Object ID 2000.0.38.20).

    Toy Army Men

    In the 1950s, toy makers began producing military toys that celebrated World War II as a historical event. Along with Civil War and Robin Hood playsets, catalogs featured playsets that allowed children to reenact World War II battles. Ship models were advertised as a way for boys to relate to their veteran fathers. Bags of cheap hard plastic army men, two or three inches tall, were a common toy to 1950s boys, allowing them to restage World War II battles. This type of war play continued into the 1960s and culminated with the introduction of Hasbro's GI Joe doll in 1964. While initially inspired by a television show, GI Joe came to represent the average soldier, evoking memories of fathers' experience in World War II and the Korean War. The point was to imitate the real world of adults in the military and connect fathers with sons.

    Chess Set and Storage Box, 1800-1850 (Object ID 29.1359.49).

    Chess

    Chess is one of the oldest and most popular board games. It is played by two opponents on a checkered board with specially designed pieces of contrasting colors, commonly white and black.

    Play Family Farm, 1968-1975 (Object ID 96.86.1).

    Fisher-Price Little People

    Often play sets were miniaturized sets of household items, like dishes and kitchen appliances, or real-life settings like farms or circuses. The "Play Family Farm" (Fisher-Price #915) has been produced continually since 1968. When the barn door is open, a mooing sound can be heard. The silo is designed for storing accessories.

    Lish Dorset is the social media manager for The Henry Ford. She’s pulling for My Little Pony and Fischer-Price Little People to take the National Toy Hall of Fame honors this year.

    toys, vintage toys