Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Tasty Trinity

by Connie Cortright

Now that Memorial weekend is over, our thoughts turn to summer. Vacation. Camping. Cookouts. All those fun relaxing days. (I wish.) And of course S'mores.

How did the combination of graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate come to be? It seems that the convergence of those three ingredients happened shortly after the three were produced for mass market. Hershey's bars were made during World War I and shipped overseas for the troops, but after that, they expanded the market domestically. Graham crackers were introduced and marketed in 1925, and the marshmallow was hooked up with the campfire idea back in 1917. In fact a brand of marshmallows sold starting in 1917 under the name of Campfire Marshmallows.

These three ingredients came together during the early 1920s when the marshmallows were roasted over a campfire and squeezed between the two graham cracker pieces along with a square of Hershey's chocolate. This yummy treat was brought into modern culture when the Girl Scout Handbook titled "Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts" published the recipe in 1927. At that time the treat was called "Some Mores" since everyone wanted more after they tasted the first one. Sounds reasonable to me.

By 1937 the recipe circulated far and wide and was generally a favorite for all campers or anyone who sat by a campfire. The title of the snack changed to the short-hand version of "S'mores", which is still the common name for this treat today.

Since then, S'mores has become a staple for anyone with a campfire. In fact, you can get S'mores in any type of snack items from ice cream treats, to pop tarts, to cupcakes, or pies with the same three ingredients and same great taste.

In fact, there is a National S'mores Day on August 10. So practice up your S'more making until that important day this summer and enjoy this favorite treat over a campfire, or sitting in your kitchen.

Has your mouth started watering yet?

Information taken from History of Marshmallows and History of S'mores

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Where in the World is "Shipwreck" Kelly?

by Connie Cortright

If you lived during the 1920’s, you’d probably be able to answer that question correctly, "He's sitting on a flagpole." What? Sitting on a flagpole? Yup. People were so desperate to find new forms of entertainment – before the days of television- that they flocked to see anyone doing something as different as pole sitting.

It all started in Hollywood (not surprising) by a film promoter as a way to advertise a new film in 1924. He hired a part time actor, Alvin Kelly to sit on top of a flagpole for 13 hours and 13 minutes. It brought so much publicity that “Shipwreck” Kelly became a star overnight and got offers to do the same for other theaters.

The fad quickly spread across the country with other pole-sitters trying to outdo Kelly. The length of time turned into days as the competition expanded. By 1930, “Shipwreck” broke the all time record by sitting on a flagpole for 49 days in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Would you have gone to see him sitting up there?

I think we all have a question ready to burst forth. How in the world did this work? Kelly would attach a small square platform to the top of the flagpole and climb up there to sit. I have no idea how he could stand (no pun intended) sitting there so long without going crazy from boredom.

A basket would be hoisted up there on a pulley system to bring him food and beverages. I read that he liked drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes for much of the day. (I’d need books to read, at the very least, if it were me.) He had a blanket when it got cold at night. He would sleep by catnapping, hooking his thumbs into a hole in the flagpole. When he started swaying, the pain in his thumbs would rouse him enough to right himself before he’d topple over.

And what about the other question? I’ll let someone else explain. And when nature called? Shipwreck would use a hose along the side of the pole or a bowl would be brought up by the same pulley system that delivered his lunch... he would use a blanket as a modesty curtain.... well c'mon... who would want to look up into the sky and see.... that?!”

He was so popular that he was treated like a hero. Kids would emulate him and try pole-sitting themselves. Parents encouraged the young imitators in this pursuit because of the publicity it brought to the family. Must have been part of the Roaring Twenties mindset. I can’t imagine that weird phenomenon getting to be so popular today.

With the onslaught of the Depression in the early 30’s, flagpole sitting pretty much came to an abrupt end. The Roaring Twenties were over and people had more important things to think about than how long someone could sit on top of a flagpole. From our perspective, I can’t imagine how or why it lasted as long as it did.

More information can be found on this website

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Dance the Night Away

by Connie Cortright

During the month of May, high school seniors look forward to their prom dances. That tradition, older than the 20s and 30s, still continues today. However, there is one very popular dancing tradition that is not around anymore. That is the dance marathon.

Dance marathons got started during the Roaring Twenties for entertainment. These events were hosted and promoted in towns across the country. The winner of the contests were the last dancers on the floor still standing. The amazing thing about these was the length of time they lasted, some longer than two months.

The pairs of dancers, who all started on the first day of the marathon, were required to be in constant motion, picking up one foot and then the other, 45 minutes of each hour. The other 15 minutes were the rest period. As the hours wore on, those were the only minutes they could collapse on a cot behind a curtained area and sleep. They even ate - twelve meals a day - while they were dancing with food provided by the sponsoring organization. The participants stood next to a high table, placed on the dance floor, and ate while keeping their feet going.

The dancing couples became accustomed to sleeping on their feet. One partner would be the "carrier" dragging the sleeping partner around the dance floor. In some cases the sleeper would have his/her hands
tied around the carrier's neck so that they wouldn't fall. They were disqualified when someone's knees touched the floor, so the carrier had to make sure this didn't happen. When the women were carriers, this must have been a challenge.

During the Great Depression, marathon promoters went from one town to the next holding these events. For many people who didn't have jobs during these hard times these marathons provided a roof over the heads of the contestants and food for empty stomachs. Many dancers actually became "professionals",  couples driving from one marathon to another as a means of making a living. These professionals outlasted any inexperienced dancers, winning prizes of hundreds or even a thousand dollars.

Huge crowds, paying twenty-five cents per person, came to these events for entertainment. The emcees would focus on one couple or another trying to raise the drama in the contest so the town people would return night after night.

When interest in the the marathon lagged, or it got down to the last few couples, the promoter would schedule special elimination events and advertise them on the radio to get the crowd coming back again. These elimination events could be hour long races around the dance floor with the couples tied together or other types of events. The idea was to get the weaker couples to collapse on the floor getting the contest to end sooner. After dancing more than a month these torturous races caused injury for the contestants. In some cases contestants died during these events.

Toward the end of the 30s, the marathons became more inhumane. The promoters grew rich from the misery of the contestants. After several years, states started outlawing these marathons. By the end of the 30s, the era of the dance marathon ended. World War II brought a complete halt to these events because the unemployed young men were now employed by the US Army.

Information taken from

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Getting With the Beat

by Connie Cortright

Tommy Dorsey Band
Last week we started a discussion of music during the 30s, but I left you hanging with the fact that it was important for communities to be entertained by big band music at the band shells built by the WPA project across the country. Today I'd like to describe what big band music was all about to anyone who might not know. Of course, words can't really describe what music is...

As you can see from the picture, this type of music usually used 12-25 instrumentalists. It covered several types of instruments: brass -- trumpets and trombones; woodwinds -- saxophones and clarinets; stringed instruments -- violin, guitar, bass, and piano. I guess that's why they called it big band music. It was very common to have different sections of the orchestra break out into solos during a song. Often the bands also included vocalists.

Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee
Big bands started out playing jazz in the early 30s, but later developed into more of a swing tempo. By the 40s they played swing entirely. Different bands had the reputation for different types of music. Bob Crosby played dixieland style while Benny Goodman played hard driving swing.

Before 1935, the bands mostly played in local venues trying to hit the big time. They would play one-night stands, touring the country, going from town to town for concerts that didn't pay much. It was a hard life and often led to drinking and addictions.

The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra started out this way. In 1935 the stress of touring across the country led to a disagreement between the brothers causing them to split into two bands. The Tommy Dorsey Band went on the road separately and made it to the big time in the early 40s by recording some top 10 hits.

During World War II, several big bands toured with the USO lifting the morale of the troops fighting on foreign soil. When the soldiers returned home, the swinging rhythm of big band music stayed popular until into the late 50s.

Click here if you want to listen to a sample of music:  You Tube - Best of Big Band

Information taken from Wikipedia - Big Band and Tommy Dorsey - Biography