What the world was like, a century or so ago

Menus for Isolated Places, Ladies' Home Journal

“Menus for Isolated Places,” Ladies’ Home Journal, April 1910. My question is this: how “isolated” do you have to be to actually want to eat Corn Pudding and Stewed Raisins for supper?

Our friend and neighbour Ed recently passed on to us some very interesting reading material that he had found in a very interesting place: the attic of his well-preserved well-over-a-century-old home here in “downtown” Queensborough. They were a bit musty and dusty, but turned out to be three magazines – or maybe “periodicals” was more the word back in the day – from the early part of the last century.

One is The Canadian Messenger of the Sacred Heart from July 1924; one is Detective Story Magazine from Aug. 24, 1920; and one is the venerable Ladies’ Home Journal, this issue for April 1910. Wow!

The Canadian Messenger of the Sacred Heart is, as you might guess, a Roman Catholic publication. Most of the articles are a little dull – they’re about things like the benefits of taking part in a religious retreat, not really my cup of tea – but the ads are fascinating. (And in fact, I have to say that the ads are pretty much the highlight of all three publications.)

This one in particular caught my eye:

Dominion Linoleum Rugs

Why? Because here in our 1888 Manse we still have linoleum rugs that may well have been put in around the time of this ad, in 1924. (You can read about them, and see photos, here.) Clearly they were the economical choice (something that would have appealed to the Manse Committee, the church group that always oversaw renovations etc. for the Manse), but, like the ad says, they are also “always in good taste.” Which I happen to believe; I have grown to love our linoleum rugs, beaten up and scarred a bit by the years as they are. I especially love them because linoleum is coming back into its own as an extremely environmentally friendly product.

Other entertaining ads included this one; who knew babies could have quite so many gross ailments (all of which could apparently be cured by Fletcher’s Castoria)?

Fletcher's Castoria

And this one, which was one of several in the Messenger for treatments for corns and bunions. There were a lot of foot problems in that era, apparently. Why? Bad shoes? Anyway, nothing that a corn-salve fairy can’t fix, apparently:

McGale's Corn Salve

I will confess I did not read any of the detective stories in Detective Story Magazine, figuring life was a little too short. But there was a section at the end that was quite fascinating to leaf through. It was headed simply MISSING. Here are a couple of about a hundred entries:

Tinsley, Mrs. Clemmie – She was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky, in 1882 and was last heard of in Louisville in 1912. Her only sister would greatly appreciate any news that would lead to her present whereabouts. Mrs. Cora S. Flowers, 801 Downey Road, Los Angeles, California.

Bilderback, Mrs. Ruie – She was last heard of in Kansas ten years ago. She has dark brown hair and eyes, is about five feet three inches tall and is 45 years of age. She may be known now as Mrs. J.E. Moore. Any news of her will be very welcome to loving daughter, Dimple. Mrs. D.F. Sutherland, RR#4 c/o E.R. Hornby, Evansville, Indiana.

Of course there are missing men in the listings too, but I find the “missing” women more interesting. Why did Ruie Bilderback leave behind her daughter Dimple, perhaps to take up with Mr. J.E. Moore, in Kansas? What happened in Louisville to make Clemmie Tinsley disappear from her family’s life? I suspect the stories behind these women’s lives might make for better reading than the made-up detective stories that are the magazine’s bread and butter.

And then there was the Ladies’ Home Journal, looking a lot different than today’s glossy colour product (though kudos to the LHJ for still being around all these years later). It’s in black and white, for one thing; it’s huge (the pages are about 12″ by 18″) – and I have to tell you, the articles are a mix of dull beyond belief and weird beyond belief.

Take, for example, the full-page spread on “Menus for Isolated Places” – a portion of it is shown in the photo at the top of this post. The writer, one Mrs. S.T. Rorer, introduces it by telling us that her menus were inspired by her recent visit to “the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico.” But really, the menus she puts together are kind of nuts:

More Menus for Isolated Places“Hot canned tongue with tomato sauce”? “Thin slices of nut sausage”? Who would eat that stuff, unless in a place so isolated – say, a desert island – that life depended on it?

And then there’s the one headlined “How Two Boys Got Well”:

How Two Boys Got Well, Ladies'  Home Journal 1910

In it, a mother of two formerly sickly sons tells about how she and her husband cured them by having them sleep in what was essentially an unheated shack in the back yard all year round. I mean, I’m all for fresh air, but “in zero weather,” as Mrs. Fall puts it (and we’re talking Fahrenheit)? Yikes!

Ah, but the ads make all this boring and/or weird text worthwhile. There are several for companies that are still around today, including one of my favourites (since I’m married to someone who was born Franco-American, and also because that company made the tinned ravioli that was a highlight of my childhood – or, wait a minute, maybe that was Chef Boy-Ar-Dee…):

old Franco-American ad

How about the many joys and benefits of Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice, courtesy of the Quaker Oats Company?

old Quaker Oats ad for Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice

And then there’s the machine that truly makes ironing look easy! Where can I get me one of these?

Ironing made easy with the Simplex Ironer

But the best – well, actually, “best” is the wrong word; “most alarming” is more like it – is this one, telling us how utterly wonderful lead-based paint is:

old advertisement for lead paint

All I can say to that is: I hope the readers of the Ladies’ Home Journal in April 1910 knew not to believe or trust every word they read…

2 thoughts on “What the world was like, a century or so ago

  1. I guess fact-checking was a lot more difficult in those days! Or the audience was a lot more gullible.

    Anyways, my reactions to a few of the items:
    1. Fletcher’s Castoria: notice the reference to opiates. I wonder how often opiates were used then?
    2. Just above the McGale’s corn salve ad, notice the Salada Tea ad — still around today!
    3. The missing persons section: Do “Cold Squad” [from CTV: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_Squad%5D & “Cold Case” [the American rip-off from CBS: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_Case%5D know about this?
    4. Menus for Isolated Places: “Broiled Salt mackeral, Boiled salt Cod, Corn Pudding”…mmmm..mmm..mmm! Perhaps MK will serve this in her Queensborough cafe.
    5. “How Two Boys Got Well”: What, no CAS in those days?!
    6. “The Stars of Cereal Creation”: As children, we used to get both puffed rice & wheat frequently for breakfast but didn’t really relish them. What is interesting is the description of how they are made: essentially just like popcorn [without the butter]. Hmmm…maybe there is a market for puffed wheat & puffed rice [with butter, of course] for movie theatres.
    7. Simplex ironer: I bet that cost a pretty penny! Notice in the lower middle the line in bold typeface: “Only 1c an hour for gas or gasoline heat”. I wonder what was the difference [in those days] between gas and gasoline? [I don’t think propane or methane were common petroleum products then.] Maybe “gas” referred to naptha gas.
    8. National Lead Company: What, we don’t use lead in paint anymore?!! Such a shame…

    • Great comment, GG! I will lend you the magazines if you’re interested – there are lots more ads with fascinating (and funny) details in them. Re your #3: I have to say the missing-persons thing in Detective Story Magazine is what really sticks with me. Such stories there must be behind those little tidbits!

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