April 12, 2018

Ephemera 101: When are you going to clean under your bed?

By Zoe Ann Stoltz, Reference Historian

ephemera 1 : something of no lasting significance 2 : paper items (such as posters, broadsides, and tickets) that were originally meant to be discarded after use but have since become collectibles

When mom ordered me to “clean under my bed,” she was not referring to the dust bunnies.  She was despairing over my teenage clutter: movie calendars, church bulletins, pamphlets, tickets, and so much more.  Fortunately, a lot of folks were not raised to worry about such clutter.  Rather, they collected and savored programs, advertisements, bulletins, and more. Some of these memorabilia find their way to the MHS Research Center’s Ephemera Collection.

Recently two pieces of ephemera from 1918 landed at the MHS Library.  These century old documents offer informative glimpses of Helena as well as Montana’s cultural environment.  The first is a theater program dated April 4, 1918 from Helena’s Marlow Theater. In hopes of understanding the context of the piece, I searched the 1918 Helena Independent. I discovered that just the day before, April 3, was the Marlow’s grand opening and Helena’s social event of the year!  Newspaper headlines described the “Capital Elite in Force.”  The sheer spectacle of scenery and costumes of “Show of Wonders” amazed the crowd.  However, the Independent critiqued the chorus as “young and pretty and shapely,” but “not a real voice in the lot.”  Also reported was a generous gift of $50.00 for “Red Cross Women to Attend Marlow Opening,” sent by the vacationing Senator T. C. Power. [1]

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The Helena IndependentApril 3, 1918
Marlow Program
April 4, 1918
MHS Research Center Ephemera Collection



























The program itself delivers a plethora of historic information.  It lists the schedule for the Marlow in the coming weeks, from vaudeville and musical performances to “black face comedians” and drama.  Fisher’s Millinery, the State Nursery & Seed Company, and Montana Phonograph Company are just a few of the dozens of businesses advertised.  The leaflet also lists the Theater’s stockholders and firms connected to the Theater’s construction.  In short, the program offers an exciting glimpse into Helena’s businesses, society, and the era’s entertainment culture. [2]

Montana State War Conference, May 28-29, 1918
MHS Research Center Ephemera Collection

The second booklet is for the May 28-29, 1918 Montana State War Conference, coincidentally, held at the recently christened Marlow Theater. Numerous delegate organizations are listed.  Governing bodies such as the Red Cross, Liberty Loans, Federal Food Administration, Extension Bureau, and County Councils of Defense are predictable.  The presence of groups such as YMCA, Rotary Clubs, and Knights of Columbus reflects the depth of mainstream participation. The Conference’s patriotic goals were highlight by musical performances of Marseillaise, America, and Battle Hymn of the Republic.  Newspaper reports emphasize the diversity of backgrounds represented by speakers. They included Lt. Paul Perigord, a Catholic priest turned soldier, and Dr. James A. B. Scherer, Lutheran Minister and expert on Japanese relations.  The Independent declared that “in Montana, politics, religion, sex and creed have been forgotten.” The common goal was to “help the national government win the war.” [3]   The many organizations represented at the Conference played integral roles in not only uniting Montanans, but in monitoring and regulating individual behavior. 

While the Marlow program creates images pertaining to 1918 recreation and entertainment, the Montana State War Conference pamphlet reminds readers of the countless organizations and coordinated efforts necessary to win the war.  Two very different perspectives of 1918 Montana, both accessed through items not meant to last a house cleaning – ephemera. 


[1] “Helena Theater Opened, Capital Elite in Force,” pg. 1 & 7,  “Senator T.C. Power Gives $50,” pg. 8, Helena Independent, April  3,1918.
[2] See Montana Historical Society Research Center Ephemera Collection, “Helena (Montana)-Theatres-Marlow Theatre.”
[3] “History is Debated by Councilmen,” Helena Independent, May 28, 1918, pg. 1 & 6.


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