The month of June has a lot going on, filled with holidays, traditional events, and newly instituted month-long celebrations. These “National [X] Month” designations cover topics from the pleasant and fun (accordions! audiobooks! roses!) to the serious (men’s health, torture awareness).  So many places to find blog inspiration!  A Fine Collection has already featured artifacts related to Father’s Day, end-of-year recitals, graduation, and Flag Day, and last week I accidentally took care of National Dairy Month, so let’s take a look at some collections items that relate to other exciting June moments.

 

June is National Candy Month. This is a glass hobnail candy dish, 6″ diameter, probably made by the Fenton Art Glass Company of West Virginia. Milton Allman and Ordella Shingleton were married in 1949; they moved to Bethesda soon afterward. Thanks to Mrs. Allman’s careful record-keeping, we know that the wedding presents included four candy dishes: a silver dish, one with an aluminum lid, a “Fostoria stem” dish, and this “pink curled edge dish” from Mr. and Mrs. Lambert. (On a related note, Berthy Girola Anderson of Rockville’s 1929 list of wedding gifts included eight bonbon dishes, out of 151 items: in other words, the accumulated loot was 5.3% candy dish.) Donated by William Allman.

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June is National Safety Month. Here’s a Boy Scouts of America merit badge booklet on that topic, copyright 1971 (1977 printing); it was used by Scoutmasters Stanley Berger and Jim Douglas, Troop 219, which met at Millian Methodist Church in Aspen Hill. The book still has a 55 cent price tag from J.C. Penney – probably the store in Congressional Plaza, Rockville (bonus photo at end of this post). Donated by Stanley L. Berger.

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June is Adopt-a-Cat Month (also Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat Month); June 4th was Hug Your Cat Day. We have many photos of historic Montgomery County cats in our collections, but this one can’t be resisted: Lloyd Brewer, Jr., of Rockville hugging one of the family cats, circa 1928. Donated by the Brewer family.

Lloyd Brewer, Jr., with cat

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June is National African American Music Appreciation Month. Our collections include 94 jazz and swing records from the 1920s-40s (mostly 78s) amassed by several generations, with their last home in Bethesda before donation to MCHS. (That’s a roundabout way of saying most of these records were probably purchased in Chicago.) The collection includes this eight-side “Ellington Special,” put out by Columbia Records in 1947. The notes inside the cover inform us, “In this, the first post-war album in its Hot Jazz Classics series, Columbia takes special pride in presenting for the first time eight historically significant and musically distinguished recordings by Duke Ellington and his orchestra. None of the sides in this collection has been available until now . . . [This set is] the rarest of treats for connoisseurs, collectors, Ellington admirers, and just plain jazz fans.” Though all four records in the set are present and intact, the cover has not fared as well; the front and back are detached, and the spine is gone completely.  It appears that this was a frequently played and enjoyed album. Donated by David and Joy MacDonald.

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June is National LGBT History Month. We don’t currently have much in our collections to reflect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender experience in Montgomery County – something we’d like to rectify – but we do have a recent artifact: a yard sign showing religious support for the Civil Marriage Protection Act (Question 6), the November 2012 Maryland ballot question that would allow same-sex marriages in the state of Maryland.  Question 6 passed, and the Act went into effect on January 1, 2013. The 18”x27” plastic sign with vinyl lettering reads, on both sides, “AMEN – Advocate for Marriage Equality Now – United Church of Christ.”  Signs and posters are a nice graphic way for museums to tell the stories of local concerns and political questions. Because it’s proclaiming the views of a specific group (in this case, a congregation), this sign helps illustrate some of the nuances of the debate that more generic “Vote Yes” / “Vote No” signs might miss.  (Interested in learning more about community activism topics in Montgomery County’s history? Visit our next exhibit, opening on June 28, 2014!) Donated by Emily Correll.

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There are many, many more options for June celebrations, including National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, for which I could find nothing in our collections (help us fill in that gap, if you can!).  You can while away an afternoon looking up “June national month” on the internet, if you choose.  But first, as promised, a photo of the J.C. Penney Co. at Congressional Plaza, Rockville, circa 1960s.  The store has since closed, and the center has been remodeled, but I’m sure long-time residents will remember this version of Congressional. (If anyone can give me a better “no earlier than” date based on the car models or other details, please clue me in.)  Photo donated by Edward A. Abbott.

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Say hello to the Chevy Chase Bank Check Card Man!

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This foam, fabric and plastic costume was used in the mid-2000s to advertise Chevy Chase Bank’s check card services.  It measures 5’6″ tall and 18″ deep, and features check-card-replica info on the front and back (including ‘valid’ dates 2003-2006, and the name “Mr. I.M. Convenient”) and an exceedingly happy expression.  The lucky wearer peered out through the black mesh inside Mr. Convenient’s smile.  The full costume included red shoe covers and large white gloves, though those were lost before donation.

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Chevy Chase Bank was founded in 1969 by B.F. Saul II, grandson of B.F. Saul I, whose eponymous real estate company (founded in 1892) is still in business.  As the bank’s name implies, it was a local company, based in Chevy Chase and Bethesda.  Originally called the Chevy Chase Savings & Loan Association and later Chevy Chase Savings Bank, the company was renamed Chevy Chase Bank in 1994, and local residents may remember the distinctive red-brick, columned-front bank branches that popped up around the area in the late 1990s and 2000s.

Mr. Convenient and his friend, a seven-foot-tall walking ATM (which costume, alas, we do not have), were sent out to bank-related events and openings, and participated in various public and charitable activities.  For example, I found this awesome photographic evidence of Mr. Convenient playing basketball, at Towson University’s “Annual Mascot Madness” in 2009. There seem to have been a few other copies of Mr. Convenient out there, but it’s clear that, basketball-playing or no, our guy got some action; one of the interior shoulder braces has broken off, and the plastic eyeballs are scratched and chipped. (Other than that, the costume is in pretty good shape.) The large armholes on the sides, and an open bottom, allow for some movement, but I imagine that the humans who portrayed Mr. Convenient had their fair share of mishaps nonetheless.

An inside view, as it were

An inside view, as it were

The bank was acquired by Capital One Bank in 2009, and in 2010 the Chevy Chase name was officially removed from use.  In 2012 the B.F. Saul Company donated this costume, and other 1990s-2000s bank-related ephemera, via James M. Goode, the company’s historian and archivist, and his assistant Peter Penczer; the latter kindly modeled Mr. Convenient for us, as seen in the photo below.

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Once the bank changed owners and names, the check card mascot was no longer needed – at least not by the bank.  As an historical artifact, he can still be a contributing member of society!  Of all the past-businesses-related pieces in our collections, this costume probably has the best visual impact.  After all, not every artifact smiles back.

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The Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County held its second annual “Magical Montgomery” festival in Silver Spring, on September 29, 2001 – only a few weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11th of that year.  In response to those events, the AHC asked artist Rosana Azar to organize a Healing Mural, to which visitors could contribute their own images and words.  Last year the AHC donated the mural to the Historical Society.

Physically, this is a canvas banner around 6 feet tall and over 50 feet long.  Emotionally, it is a reminder of those days and weeks after the events of 9-11, when Americans and others were still processing – or trying to process – what had happened, and how it would affect us.  Visitors wrote messages of love and support in English, Spanish and other languages; personalized it with hand- and footprints in paint; and drew and painted images of flags, doves, peace symbols, flowers, trees, hearts, and many others.  Today, ten years later, the memories brought back by the words and images on the mural are (to me, anyway) both immediate and far away.  I remember thinking that nothing would be the same… and yet now, reading some of the thoughts expressed here, I have trouble putting myself back in that place where the whole world had changed.  And that, my friends, is why museums collect artifacts.  Time passes, and memories fade and change despite our best intentions; sometimes we need the physical artifacts to anchor those memories and bring them back to the surface.

Well, that’s a little more philosophical than I meant to get today, before I pulled the banner out to take photos.  See?  Even us seasoned curators – professional rememberers – need the artifacts to bring those memories back.  Feel free to comment, share your own memories, argue with me about forgetting things, whatever you like.  In the meantime, here are some more images from the banner.

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.