Monthly Archives: December 2013

The 1940s Christmas Village Putz House

DSC03253When I was a child my mother had these little cardboard houses with glitter all over them.  There was a hole in the back to put a light.  She also had little metal figures to go with the houses.  With them she made a Christmas Village under the tree.  As I grew older the houses and figures were relegated to storage.  Until one day my kid sister and I found them again. We made our own Christmas Village in between our two rooms.  I think we did it a few more Christmases after that.  I remember how much I loved looking at our little town all lit up.  It looked like such a wonderful place to live.  But, as with all children, my sister and I grew up and lost track of the little Christmas Village houses and people.  My parents moved and who knows where these things ended up.

Lately, I found myself longing for them (probably my novel was doing that to me) so I did a little research and I found out the Christmas Village houses and the metal people were a tradition throughout the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. They were sold in five and dime stores and in catalogues like Sears & Roebucks.  The “best” I read came from the 1930’s, during the depression.  Although people could not afford much during that time, they could afford a “putz house” for under the tree.  I wonder if the ones my sister and I played with were from the 1930s when my mother was a girl.  Fascinated by the history of these little houses I headed for ebay where I found plenty for bidding and for sale.  I figured if I couldn’t have the Village from my mother I could begin my own.  So that’s what I did. They make me feel closer to the characters in my novel.

Skiers

These houses were originally made in Japan so, of course, the importing of them stopped during the war.  One story I read was about Ted Althof, a well-known collector, who met an older woman who had worked at a five and dime when Pearl Harbor was bombed.  The day after the bombing her boss told her to collect anything made in Japan and put it on the curb to be taken away. American toy companies began producing them (Martin, 2010).

These houses are amazingly simplistic in their construction–we would never accept them today–but this simplicity seems to add to their charm. Despite being simplistic they are delicately made.  They have little cellophane windows which a breath could  tear.  It’s incredible how many houses have their cellophane windows still in tack.  It makes me a little nervous.  They’ve survived 60 and more years before they got to my tree. What if they can’t survive me?  Such responsibility!

Woman & Man & Bench

What do these houses and metal figures have to do with the lives of LGBT folks (the subject of my novel) living secretly in New York City in the 1940’s?  Well, one of my missions with this novel is to show that LGBT people have been living everywhere through every time and they’ve been celebrating the same traditions that everyone else celebrates, including putting little glitter houses under their Christmas trees.  They have never been alien beings despite having a long history of being treated that way.

Today there is gobs of information on the net about this tradition (its origin and history) and there are collectors who talk to each other in chat rooms and discussion forums.  I don’t think I’ll ever go that far, but there is something very comforting about waking up in the morning and looking down on the quiet little village under my tree and imagining what life might be like in a place like that.

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Martin, M.J. (2010). ‘Putz’ House Christmas Villages of the early 20th century bring out nostalgia for collectors. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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“Number, please.”

i-love-lucy-phone“Get off the phone.  I need to make a call.”

When I was small I would hear my grandmother yelling into the phone. “Get off the phone.  I need to use it.  You’ve been on the line too long.”

And sometimes the other woman would yell back, “Stop listening in on my call!”  It was just another argument with the woman who shared Gram’s phone line.  Yes, Gram had to share her phone line with one or two other people she didn’t know and had never seen; when they were using the phone Gram could not.  This was a party line and it caused lots of arguments. So why did people back then have a party line? Because a party line was much cheaper than a private line. If you’ve watched re-runs of “I Love Lucy,”  and who hasn’t, you’ve heard Lucy argue with the other party who won’t get off the line.  It’s funny and it works as a comedy bit, but it never could’ve really happened at that time.  Lucy was making her calls on the Eastside of Manhattan in the 1950s. New York City had abandoned the party-line in the 1930’s.  The party line certainly still existed in the surrounding areas, like Long Island where my Gram lived, but not in New York City.

Despite Lucy’s party line calls being an anachronism, the show preserved a bit of our every day history.

What about your Grandma or  your Great Grandma? Share on this site.

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A Guest Post from The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide

Juliana the Novel

A couple of weeks ago I was reading the blog for The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide and found an entry that I found so painfully funny I wanted to share it with you.  The link to their blog is below.  The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide is a journal I couldn’t do without.  It is filled with unknown stories of GLBT history and new slants on known history; it looks at both present and past history from a worldwide perspective, telling of the struggles and achievements GLBT people in other countries. It appeals to the intellect without being pedantic.
Below is their guest post.  Also click the link to check out their blog.

Rainbow Over Sochi

by Richard Schneider on November 27, 2013

“German Olympic And Paralympic Team Kit HandoverRussia’s growing hostility to gay rights has come to the world’s attention as we anticipate the Winter Olympics in…

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A Guest Post from The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide

A couple of weeks ago I was reading the blog for The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide and found an entry that I found so painfully funny I wanted to share it with you.  The link to their blog is below.  The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide is a journal I couldn’t do without.  It is filled with unknown stories of GLBT history and new slants on known history; it looks at both present and past history from a worldwide perspective, telling of the struggles and achievements GLBT people in other countries. It appeals to the intellect without being pedantic.
Below is their guest post.  Also click the link to check out their blog.

Rainbow Over Sochi

by Richard Schneider on November 27, 2013

“German Olympic And Paralympic Team Kit HandoverRussia’s growing hostility to gay rights has come to the world’s attention as we anticipate the Winter Olympics in Sochi. When the German team introduced its uniforms this fall, it was clear that the design referred to the familiar “gay flag” with its six rainbow stripes.

And while fashion critics applauded the attempt to show solidarity with GLBT Russians, they were fairly unanimous in panning the design. “Extremely hideous,” declared one. “Butt-ugly,” sneered another. “A cross between a pot-bellied pig and a parrot,” squawked a third.

The simple fact is, there’s really no way to incorporate all the colors of the rainbow into one ensemble without looking like Joseph’s “coat of many colors” from the Old Testament. So if the price of showing solidarity with gay Russians is the creation of a fashion disaster—well, how ironic is that?”

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Brunch in New York in 1943

The Fifth Avenue Hotel, 24 Fifth Avenue 9th Street Antique Postcard

The Fifth Avenue Hotel at 9th Street, Sidewalk Cafe, 1935


Last night I was with my writing group, The Oracles, some of the most amazingly talented writers I have ever known.  I am so thrilled to be included in their number.  I’m always grateful for the helpful feedback they give me. They’re all playwrights. I am too, only now I’m finishing up a novel. The novel has so much dialogue in it that they graciously let me cast it with fabulous actors so that it can be read at the group for feedback. Last night we finished reading one of my chapters from JULIANA and someone in the group asked if they had “brunch” in New York City in 1943. An excellent question and one I had not considered. (They often send me back to the drawing board to check my facts.) This set me on a course of late night researching until I came up with the answer to that question.

Here is the answer:

There actually was a guy who started the whole thing.  In England in 1895, Guy Beringer thought there should be an alternative to the “postchurch ordeal of heavy meats and savory pies” (Grimes, 1998).  He thought there should be a meal served at noon that consisted of tea or coffee, and marmalade.  He considered this later, lighter meal would make it easier for the Saturday late night “carousers.”  Well, the idea took off.

Brunch didn’t come to the U.S. until after World War I,  but they definitely had it in 1943.  In the forties, the Fifth Avenue Hotel and Ninth Street had what they called the “Sunday Strollers’ Brunch.”  They served sauerkraut juice, clam cocktails, chicken liver omelets in Madeira and calf’s liver with hash browns (Grimes, 1998).

Finding out about the Fifth Avenue Hotel brunch caused me to change the location of my characters’ brunch from the general “nice little cafe around the corner” to the more specific Fifth Avenue Hotel.  This change had significance for me since I lived with two roommates in a one bedroom apartment in the Fifth Avenue Hotel when I first came to the city.

Thank you, Oracles!

References: Grimes, W. (July, 08, 1998). At brunch, the more bizarre the better. New York Times.

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