Back before diners were considered revered icons of mid-20th-century American culture, Henry Ford Museum's acquisition of a dilapidated 1940s diner raised more than a few eyebrows. Was a diner, from such a recent era, significant enough to be in a museum?
Happily, times have changed. Diners have gained newfound respect and appreciation, as innovative and uniquely American eating establishments. A closer look at Lamy's diner reveals much about the role and significance of diners in 20th-century America.
Last week The Henry Ford posted this photo its Facebook timeline and asked friends for clues to identify what artifact it depicted. There were some crafty replies.
Some clues related to the artifact’s location in Greenfield Village, others to its former and current functions, others to its name. Examples of some of the clues are:
It seems to have an ornithological theme.
Hoo, hoo, hoo!
Lunch for the night shift.
You can get coffee there first thing in the morning.
A few clues made fortune-telling references, perhaps connecting some of the artifact’s similarities to the wagon Prof. Marvel used in the Wizard of Oz (where he looked into his crystal ball to tell Dorothy what he saw).
And although those clues were slightly off base with what the artifact actually is, the Owl Night Lunch Wagon is somewhat of a marvel on its own.
The Henry Ford's 1890s Owl Night Lunch Wagon is believed to be the last remaining horse-drawn lunch wagon in America.
The social discussion about the wagon inspired The Henry Ford’s Facebook friend Dennis Russell to share this photo.
It’s of his father’s high school class during a Spring 1940 trip to Greenfield Village.
The photo prompted some more investigation about the treasured lunch stand. This information comes from the rich database at The Henry Ford:
In 1927, Henry Ford acquired the wagon from John Colquhoun for Greenfield Village. The wagon was refurbished and parked in the village where it served as the sole refreshment stand for visitors through the rest of the decade and into the 1930s.
The 1933 fare included hot dogs, hamburgers, buttermilk, sweet milk, coffee and pop. (The image itself does not have a date, but Cynthia Miller, curator of photographs and prints at The Henry Ford, said it is circa 1933.)
According to The Henry Ford’s online collections, since its initial arrival in the village, the Owl Night Lunch Wagon has undergone several renovations. The wagon was in dilapidated condition when Henry Ford acquired it. He refurbished it, having it painted white with red trim. It was later "renovated" into a popcorn wagon. Few traces of the original lunch wagon remained. The most recent refurbishment was completed in 1986.
Jeanine Head Miller, The Henry Ford’s curator of domestic life, said that there are some late 1930s photos of the Owl Night Lunch Wagon hitched to a horse, but it was usually stationary, as shown in the above photos.
Early on, the wagon was the only place to get food in Greenfield Village . The Clinton Inn (Eagle Tavern) was dedicated to serving lunch to the children who attended school in the village. Miller also said the wagon wasn’t always in Greenfield Village; it spent some years on the floor in Henry Ford Museum in the horse-drawn vehicle collection.
The Owl Night Lunch Wagon still operates serving up nostalgia and history along with some good food. On the Owl Night Lunch Wagon's menu for 2012, visitors will find:
house made assorted muffins
fresh daily bagels w/ cream cheese
slice of Greenfield Village hobo bread
Becharas Bros. coffee
Absopure bottled water
The Owl Night Lunch Wagon is located in Greenfield Village right in front of the Ford Motor Company building and across the street from the Miller School.
Kristine Hass is a writer and long-time member of The Henry Ford. She frequently blogs for America's Greatest History Attraction