According to a friend’s Facebook status, yesterday (January 19th) was National Popcorn Day. Oh good, thinks your creatively challenged blogger, I can put a popcorn popper on the blog today! The problem is that we don’t actually have one in the collection. (Five waffle irons, but no popcorn popper!) Unwilling to give up on the National Popcorn Day idea, I went to the closest thing we do have in the collections: a popcorn cup (unused) from the Bethesda Theatre Café, previously known as the Bethesda Cinema ‘n’ Drafthouse, originally known as the Boro Theater.

The Boro, one of two movie theaters in Montgomery County designed by architect John Eberson, opened in 1938. Eberson was a renowned theater designer, and the Boro and the Silver (in Silver Spring) were both stylish, luxurious “movie palaces.” The first movie to play there was “Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife,” starring Claudette Colbert and Gary Cooper. Thanks to impending development, the theater closed in April, 2001; the last movie shown was “The Wedding Planner.” Eberson’s theater is still standing, albeit with a modern apartment building built on top of it, and has been reconfigured as a live theater venue.

“Give me a break,” some of you are thinking, “that thing is not old.” Well, no, it isn’t. And I agree that it would be rather more exciting if this was an unused popcorn box from 1938. However, the Historical Society collects for the future, as well as collecting things from the past. This is not to say that I am going around to every theater in the county, grabbing empty popcorn boxes. This particular piece was collected because it is part of the larger story of the Boro Theater, which operated more or less continually for over 60 years; along with the popcorn box, the theater’s owner also gave us an old film take-up reel found in the projection booth (probably dating from the theater’s middle years), and pieces of the original 1930s carpeting and wall fabric. As well, it is sometimes advantageous to collect modern ephemera before it vanishes – thrown away, as I would imagine (hope) the vast majority of paper popcorn boxes are. My future counterpart, the Historical Society’s 100-years-in-the-future curator, may well be absolutely delighted to have a rare 2000s-era popcorn box to show his or her visitors, who by then will probably be watching 4-D movies in their own homes, eating astronaut ice cream (sorry, my vision of the future is not terribly imaginative today), having never set foot in that old-fashioned thing called a “movie theater.”

Don’t worry, historical artifact sticklers, I’ll go back to the more distant past next week.  But I think it is important for our audience to get at least a sense – possibly a somewhat garbled one today, but if you want more, email me! – of the whys and wherefores of historical museum collecting.

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