Before the 20th century and the development of modern medicine, death came early and often. Maladies considered minor today were scourges in 18th and 19th centuries. Disease combined with complications of childbirth and exposure to harsh elements led to a high mortality rate. One way people coped was to wear memorials of loved ones in the form of mourning jewelry.
The Henry Ford holds a comprehensive collection of mourning jewelry dating from the early 18th century through the late 19th century. Recently, we took the opportunity to examine and conserve a group of approximately forty pendants and brooches dating from the late 18th century to the early 19th century
Fashions and forms of mourning jewelry varied significantly over time. The earliest American mourning jewelry pieces were rings, created in the 17th and early 18th centuries, inscribed with the name and usually the age of the deceased. In many instances epitaphs such as "gone but not forgotten" were included. Later in the 18th century and throughout the 19th century, pendants and brooches vied for popularity with rings. These pendants are some of the most enigmatic examples of morning jewelry – they take form of pictorial miniatures, painted on ivory, meant to be worn or held as keepsakes with images of the dearly departed.
The images follow a standard formula, usually a landscape with a weeping figure standing in front of a monument with the name of the deceased, date of death and an epitaph, as in the rings. The figures are dressed in the Neoclassical fashions popular in the early days of the new Republic, when Americans saw themselves as latter-day Greeks and Romans. These included design elements such as urns, plinths and geometric forms derived from Classical architecture. The figures were painted with sepia-colored ink, sometimes combined with dissolved human hair from the deceased. Backgrounds typically included landscapes featuring "weeping" willow trees and an inscribed monument to the deceased.
The pendant dedicated to Samuel Ralston, who died on 10 January 1795, might serve as a model mourning miniature – the front side shows the ubiquitous weeping woman holding a child by the hand. She mourns in front of a monument with a triangular top, surmounted by an urn. The monument base is inscribed, "How transient is human happyness [sic]." An angel floats in the sky above, carrying a scroll with the haunting epitaph, "Welcome to Bliss . . . . " The reverse side is equally revealing about the nature of these keepsakes. A glass-enclosed insert is filled with a woven snippet of the deceased's hair, another tangible remembrance. This was a common feature in many mourning pendants.
The use of hair as a keepsake reaches its peak in a pendant containing the hair of three members of the Potts family. This is an unusual example – the pictorial scene is absent, replaced with decorative and distinctively arranged samples of hair. From the inscriptions on the front, we know that the earliest was W.R. Potts, who died on 28 August 1779, at the tender age of 19 months. The second was Eliza. Potts, who died on 19 November 1787 at the age of 32. On the reverse is a woven section of hair from Benjamin Potts, a toddler, who died on 2 February 1797 at the age of 3 years, 11 months. The question is how were these people related? Were they several generations of the family?
The third example is perhaps the most enigmatic in our collection. The front of this unknown memorial is decorated in a typical landscape scene with two weeping figures in front of an urn-topped monument. An angel flutters in the sky, breaking up the epitaph, "Not Lost but Gone Before." Interestingly, a male figure is shown on the right, kneeling before a second monument. Who is this figure? The reverse image is extraordinary -- a detailed interior bedroom scene. We are viewing the deceased lying in a large poster-type bed next to a male figure holding a child. We can assume that his wife has died, leaving this gentleman with a motherless child. The interior is complete with windows, a decorative floor covering, rendered in an odd perspective, and a side chair supporting a coffin. The coffin is decorated with skulls, a motif intended to describe the transitory nature of life. What is the meaning of this scene? Was it to console, remind, or both? Is the figure on the front side a representation of the grieving father on the reverse? Perhaps. This piece raises questions about the individual who commissioned it and the rather ambitious artist who created it.
Mourning jewelry, especially those pieces with pictorial imagery, provides an insight into the trials of everyday life in the centuries before the advent of the modern world. It is difficult for us to imagine the level of mortality which led to the everyday use of such objects. To those who commissioned these mementos, they provided a tangible reminder of a beloved family member. Today, we view them as representations of a now vanished world.
Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.
This selection of postcards represents a uniquely American blend of Hallowe'en traditions that by the early 1900s included the popular activity of sending and collecting these holiday-themed greeting cards.
The colonial American traditions of Hallowe'en centered on celebrations of the harvest, fortune-telling, and even matchmaking. Later immigrants brought new layers of customs and practices, including the jack-o-lantern that is perhaps today's best-known symbol of the American holiday. By the 1890s the growing print media publicized Hallowe'en from its pockets of regional variation across the country, making it a truly national affair. Over time, the holiday became a community observance of eerie fun for all ages.
Based on early 20th-century Hallowe'en celebrations, our annual Greenfield Village Hallowe'en is one of our most attended public events. Since 1981, we have often given guests attending this evening program a reproduction postcard as one of the treats. (This year's Hallowe'en postcard, pictured above, was designed by Ellen Clapsaddle in 1917.) As an amusing addition since 2010, we have created a photo opportunity vignette using an enlarged version of the postcard giveaway. Our Phoenixville Post Office also offers for sale and mailing a selection of Hallowe'en postcard repros from past years, starting in the autumn.
In the last third of the 19th century, an unprecedented variety of consumer goods and services flooded the American market. Advertisers, armed with new methods of color printing, bombarded potential customers with trade cards. Americans enjoyed and often saved the vibrant little advertisements. We’ve just finished digitizing over 800 trade cards from The Henry Ford’s collection, including this example promoting a theatrical event. Visit our collections site to read the back, which promises “a Gorgeous Pagent [sic], Bewildering to the Mind and Dazzling to the Senses.”
Thanks to this week's co-author Saige Jedele, Curatorial Assistant at The Henry Ford.
It is amazing how the roots of innovation can be essentially lost over time. Technological advancements now arrive at such a staggering rate that the gadgets of the past—that very ones that led us to the present—are forgotten and virtually unknown. Phonevision is one such invention.
Developed by the Zenith Radio Corporation and its founder/president, Eugene McDonald Jr., Phonevision was the first pay television service the world had ever seen. As early as 1931 the company had looked into the idea of subscription television, believing that many stations couldn’t survive on advertising dollars alone. In July 1947, Zenith announced the Phonevision system, which would allow films, Broadway plays, sporting events and other special programming to be broadcast in the home—commercial free. Homeowners with a special receiver/unscrambling device connected to their television set would select from a list of available content and then call Zenith to request the program they wanted to see, which would then be transmitted at designated times via telephone lines into the receiver. A $1 charge, per program, would be added to the homeowner’s monthly phone bill.
In these early years of television, McDonald theorized that TV and the advertising industry were caught up in a “vicious triangle,” where advertisers wouldn’t spend money without a large audience, but large audiences wouldn’t watch without quality entertainment, and the private companies that owned stations didn’t have the money to pay for such programming. McDonald—an interesting figure, who could be described as part Steve Jobs, part P.T. Barnum—believed his pay-as-you-see model wouldn’t just benefit the television industry and consumers, but would also “save the film industry financially unless someone fumbles the ball.” Not one for false modesty, he was fond of quoting a friend’s prediction: “The American family, put on the road by Henry Ford, will be brought back home by Gene McDonald.”
The biggest obstacle facing Zenith was the reluctance of the film companies to license their product. The movie studios didn’t want to upset theater owners and they were bound by contract to keep music from films off of TV. To negotiate with the movie studios, Zenith hired an IRS collector by the name of James P. Finnegan. He was so convincing that the studios not only relented, they didn’t charge Zenith a dime. Mr. Finnegan was later indicted by a federal grand jury for various misdeeds.
In 1949, Zenith received authorization from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to test its service, and would begin the experiment the following year in Chicago, with three hundred households signing up to try Phonevision.
Subscription television made its global debut on May 1, 1950, with the tryout lasting ninety days. “It was successful far beyond our expectations,” McDonald declared, while the Theater Owners of America—somewhat unsurprisingly—had a conflicting opinion, and proclaimed Phonevision “a monumental flop.” According to Zenith’s numbers, Chicago families had viewed films 1.73 times a week, which was almost four times the average movie-going rate over the same period (McDonald, exaggerating somewhat, claimed it was thirty-three times the average). Even though all the films aired during the test were over two years old, 92% of those who used the subscription service said they would rather watch from home than go to the movies. It appeared theater owners were in trouble and Phonevision was on its way to sweeping the nation.
More testing was conducted during the spring of 1954 on WOR in New York City. This time airborne signals were used instead of phone lines (the public wasn’t involved). The results were overwhelmingly positive, proving the system worked even in densely populated areas with tall buildings, resulting in a change to an “over-the-air” transmitter set-up (though the name Phonevision could have been considered obsolete at this point, Zenith stuck with it). The company had also developed different means to watch programming. One way was via a coin box decoder, while another device would unscramble the picture after the viewer entered the correct combination.
In the fall of 1954, ABC passed on airing a television ad for the service, and in April the following year CBS followed suit, stating, “Phonevision is not a product, it’s a controversial issue.” Zenith was not amused, charging CBS with “arbitrary and unwarranted censorship.” In May, the go-ahead was given for a month of testing on WMAL in Washington, DC, so Zenith could audition Phonevision at a broadcasters’ convention, as well as for the FCC and Congress, with fifty systems installed in the capitol building (the company was still attempting to secure the all-important FCC approval of Phonevision as a broadcast service). In June, Zenith licensed Phonevision to the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the Channel Islands, having inked a similar deal for the Australian and New Zealand markets the previous year.
Eugene McDonald Jr. passed away in 1958, but Zenith’s belief in Phonevision was unwavering, and by 1961 the company had invested millions refining their subscription television system. Yet the jury was still out at the FCC.
The company’s next test, in collaboration with RKO General, would take place in Hartford, Connecticut. Beginning June 29, 1962, UHF station WHCT would continue to broadcast commercial television during the day, but switch to Phonevision programming in the evening. By 1964, Zenith began to have doubts about the service, and though the Hartford test lasted until January 31, 1969, they never obtained the subscriber numbers needed.
Come April 1969, word was that FCC approval was imminent, and while Zenith was still optimistic about its product, it was cautiously so. By the time the FCC made its decision in 1970, finally giving pay television the green light, Phonevision was no more. Part of its downfall could be attributed to the fact that programming was still only viewable in black and white.
Over-the-air systems reappeared for a period beginning in 1977 (ON-TV, an example of what was available in the Detroit market, broadcast films via WXON in the evening hours), but ultimately lost out to cable television. Pay-per-view TV, which took hold in the early 1980s, can be traced to Zenith’s service, as can the very idea of purchasing commercial-free content for home viewing. Today, movies and television shows can be downloaded via Amazon and iTunes and watched on devices like Roku and Apple TV, while untold hours of media can be streamed on Netflix and other services that offer “on demand” content—without commercial interruption. While it is also possible to view said content on mobile devices—far from our television sets—in a sense, Eugene McDonald Jr. has finally brought us all back home.
Nearly a decade after his death, Mr. McDonald was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame, for, among other accomplishments, his role in the development of subscription television. The service he so passionately promoted ultimately failed, but the concept has proved incredibly successful. Though Phonevision is now largely forgotten, it was the true beginning of pay TV.
Bart Bealmear is a reading room assistant in the Archives & Library at The Henry Ford.
Hallowell, Mary Louise. The Cable/Broadband Communications Book, 1977-1978, Communications Press, 1977.
Mullen, Megan. The Rise of Cable Programming in the United States, University of Texas Press, 2003. More here.
Segrave, Kerry. Movies at Home: How Hollywood Came to Television, McFarland & Company, Inc., 1999.
Sterling, Christopher H. Biographical Dictionary of Radio, Routledge, 2011.
The Zenith Story: A History from 1919, Zenith Radio Corporation, 1955.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As every visitor discovers, The Henry Ford is about more than cars and trucks. But if its other exhibits are its heart, The Henry Ford’s world-class automobile collection might be its soul. For the first time, that collection is captured in one major book – Driving America: The Henry Ford Automotive Collection.
Showcasing 100 historically-significant vehicles spanning a century-plus, Driving America puts a spotlight on the collection’s perhaps unexpected diversity. While it reflects Henry Ford’s fascination with American progress, the collection combines vehicles from nearly every major (and a few not-so-major) automaker, both foreign and domestic.
Indeed, one of the collection’s most famous vehicles, the 1931 Type 41 Bugatti Royale, was born in Europe. In an essay, Bob Casey, The Henry Ford’s former Senior Curator of Transportation, explains that after its original owner fled Hitler’s Germany, the Royale was abandoned in a New York junk yard.
Eventually rescued by Buick’s Charles Chayne, the Royale was donated to The Henry Ford in 1957, where it still delights a half-century on.
Driving America is filled with such trivia, providing a greater close-up than is possible on a museum floor. Across nearly 300 pages, vivid illustrations capture details such as the 1957 De Soto Fireflite’s pushbutton transmission, and the 1980 Comuta-Car’s label-maker dashboard. Technical specifications for each vehicle are also included.
In this regard, Driving America, like the collection it beautifully, thoroughly documents, honors not only The Henry Ford’s focus on the everyday extraordinary, but the automobile’s defining role in life as it’s known, or might someday be.
Driving America, featuring a forward by Jay Leno and an introduction by Edsel Ford II, is available at The Henry Ford’s on-site gift shops and online shop. Special collector’s editions are also available.
Justin Mularski is a writer based in Detroit. He occasionally forsakes his laptop to read of times long past, cheer for the Tigers, or make lists of home improvement projects he’ll never actually complete.
During the first weekend of September, Greenfield Village celebrated the exciting sounds, scents, and sights of hundreds of vintage vehicles from the 1890s through 1932 during the 63rd annual Old Car Festival, America’s longest running antique car show. Many proud antique vehicle owners not only bring their cars, but get into the spirit of the event by dressing to match their car’s era which adds to the special ambience of this particular weekend long event.
Annually on the Saturday night of the festival, many visitors gather at the reviewing stand near the Thomas Edison statue to listen the talented Hotel Savarine Society Orchestra perform many of the popular songs of the 1920s while watching a group of energetic and enthusiastic dancers outfitted in elegant mid-1920s period clothing perform such dances as the Charleston, foxtrot and tango. Just as all the reproduction clothing and accessories in Greenfield Village are researched, designed and created on sight by The Clothing Studio of The Henry Ford, so are the vintage looks worn by the dancers.
This year, The Clothing Studio team worked collaboratively with the Creative Programs staff to create a more formal, “dressed up” head-to-toe 1920s look for the Old Car Festival dancers than in years past. The Roaring Twenties represented a break with traditions and the start to the modern age. It was a prosperous and exuberant time in history and, of course, the fashions of the time reflected this vibrancy. One of our challenges with creating these period accurate looks was that the clothing and accessories were not just for show – they also needed to be functional and durable since the dancers would be strolling through the village prior to spending two very active hours dancing outside.
Since men’s formal wear has generally changed little in over a hundred years, male dancers were elegantly dressed in a mix of black tuxedo styles which were appropriate for that era and remain stylish today. For formal occasions in the 1920s, men wore their tuxedos with white gloves and (when outdoors) top hats or even bowler hats. Special classically inspired touches such as suspenders, French cuffs with cufflinks and shoe spats helped to create an authentic look for each of our gentleman dancers.
As for the ladies, The Clothing Studio focused on many of the fashionable trends of the era celebrating new-found freedoms women enjoyed in the 1920s ranging from the right to vote to more relaxed fashions which finally freed women from the constraints of the corset. Bare arms and the appearance of bare legs with nude colored seamed stockings as well as shorter skirt lengths were visible signs of new celebrated relaxed attitudes. Some of the trends featured in the stunning outfits worn by our Old Car Festival female dancers included beaded fabrics, tiered shirts, drop waists, straight simple silhouettes and embellished shoes.
If you missed the vintage cars and fashions featured at this year’s Old Car Festival in Greenfield Village, be sure to mark your calendar for next year’s 64th annual Old Car Festival in September. Every year there is always a different mix of amazing vintage cars (and fashion) to enjoy.
Written by Tracy Donohue, General Manager, The Clothing Studio at The Henry Ford. Photos by Lindsey Grudnicki.
I’m keenly interested in the move toward self-driving cars, so an article in USA Today caught my eye last week: “Self-driving cars? They’re (sort of) already here.” As the headline suggests – apart from the parenthetical hedge – the autonomous auto isn’t a far-off fantasy anymore. The odds are that some of us will be playing Michael Knight before the end of the decade.
While it’s easy to get wrapped up in the exciting things Google is doing with its fleet of autonomous Prii, just as earlier generations were wowed by Norman Bell Geddes vision of automatic cars in his Futurama at the 1939 World’s Fair, it seems that self-driving cars aren’t going to arrive in a technological flash. Rather, they’ve been sneaking up on us bit by bit for a century.
One might trace their development all the way back to Charles Kettering’s electric starter on the 1912 Cadillac. Sure you had to flip the switch, but that car cranked itself. If not to 1912, then maybe you trace the self-driving car to 1940 and the practical Oldsmobile Hydra-Matic transmission. Surely a car that shifts its own gears is a forerunner to a self-driver. And if not GM, then you might credit Chrysler and its “Auto pilot” feature introduced in 1958. Sure, the marketing folks who named it may have over-promised a bit, but that early cruise control system certainly was an essential step toward autonomy.
Much more sophisticated systems entered the market in the last decade or so. Lexus gave us “Dynamic Laser Cruise Control” with the 2000 LS 430. This device not only maintained a regular driving speed, it also automatically slowed or stopped the car in reaction to traffic ahead. (It also proved that fancy marketing names were still very much in style.) Adaptive cruise control, like the technologies before it, made its way from luxury marques to more modest models and is now a rather widely available option. The same is true of parking assist systems, in which the car can steer itself into a parking space. They first appeared in Lincoln and Lexus models, and then migrated to Ford and Toyota offerings.
“Active lane keeping” appears to be the big story for 2014. We’ve had passive systems, in which an alarm sounds if the driver weaves or drifts, for ten years, but “active” systems are just that – active. Infiniti’s Q50 will steer itself should the driver let go of the wheel while at speed, even through broad curves. The feature is a combination of camera and radar units that “read” the road and a “drive by wire” setup through which the front wheels are steered by motors wired to the steering wheel. (There’s no mechanical connection between the front wheels and the steering wheel.) Granted, it’s up to you to get the car on and off the freeway but, while there and with the cruise control and lane keeping engaged, the Q50 essentially drives itself.
Infiniti stresses that its active lane keeping is a driver assist system. It’s meant to ease the burden rather than take it all, but that’s no different than any of its technological predecessors. All of these devices seem destined to meld into a fully functional autonomous car some day, and that day might just be sooner than any of us think.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford
Over time, people have marked the deaths of their loved ones in many ways. One popular method in the 18th and 19th centuries was the wearing of mourning jewelry, which often incorporated the hair of the deceased. We’ve just added close to 50 more stunning examples of mourning jewelry and other memorial items to our digital collections, including the mourning brooch depicted here, a ring dating to 1716, and a doll’s coffin.
Hallowe’en is one of our favorite times of the year here at The Henry Ford and although we’re suckers for tradition, guests should expect some surprises on the horizon at this year’s spooky celebration.
You see, for us, it’s not about the scream-inducing theatrics, but the history and background of Hallowe’en. That’s why the aesthetics we use to transform Greenfield Village are inspired by the 20th century to the early ‘60s.
Wondering how we know so much about what Hallowe’en was like more than 100 years ago? Well, let’s just say we know how to do our research; it’s not an easy or short process, though.
Our creative team works on Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village 365 days a year.
“We are constantly researching and looking into anything that triggers our thought process. Additionally, new technology that can we can incorporate is always emerging,” says Jim Johnson, our Senior Manager of Creative Programs.
Dennison's Bogie Book: Suggestions for Halloween & Thanksgiving, circa 1925 (Object ID: 90.228.474).
Our most inspirational and useful sources of information regarding Hallowe’ens past come from party guides and pamphlets ranging from the early 20th century to the 1960s and Dennison’s Bogie Books.
Surprisingly, Hallowe’en was a much different holiday when it first began, as compared to the terror-ridden night of horror we are accustom to nowadays.
Hollows Eve actually started as a night of romance, even more so than Valentine’s Day. It was a night of finding your future companion by way of a fortune teller or completing a special list of activities at midnight so the face of your true love would be revealed.
In fact, the trick-or-treating tradition we all know and love did’nt come into play until the 1930s and was not prominently practiced until the ‘50s.
This year, we’ve decided to implement a masquerade theme, featuring a nod to some classic literature and Frankenstein circa 1820s, complete with new visual, lighting and sound effects, fresh characters and a twist on some of our program staples. (Sounds pretty cool to me.)
“Although we will have a few new elements,” Jim explains, “It’s not about what’s new, it’s about what’s ‘cool’. We’re more focused on ‘looking back’. This year’s program is very cool and definitely sparks the imagination of people of all ages.”
Well, there you have it. History buffs we may be, but we’re nothing if not cool. We believe it’s all about continuing to evolve and that is exactly what we intend to do through our Hallowe’en event and beyond.
Brianna Garza is a media relations intern at The Henry Ford.