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Happy Thanksgiving!

We’re always finding fun things in the archives, and a recent discovery overlaps with Thanksgiving, food, and material culture.  Not only is the find timely, but as a culinary historian by training, I get extremely excited over anything “edible” in the archive.  Lately, I’ve been interested in the material culture aspects of archives because I’m on an ephemera kick.

Ephemera — which sounds a little like a disease, but I promise is not — is actually a plural version of the word ephemeron, and is the term for printed materials designed to be transitory in nature.  Unlike works such as the US Constitution which are intended to be preserved forever, ephemera have a fleeting quality to them.  Like cherry blossoms in spring time, ephemera are timely and relevant, but not intended to be in permanent use.  Menus are an excellent example of this because they change.  Menus can change with the seasons (asparagus is expensive in the fall!), when the eating culture of the place evolves (think back to 1995 on the East Coast — did you ever see sundried tomatoes on most menus?), when certain foods become vogue (how many readers now know about Greek yogurt or pomegranates?), or when the restaurant hires a new head chef. 

And that’s just what we found!

Menu from the 1st Signal Company's 1935 Thanksgiving dinner

 

Thanksgiving menu, 1937, Fort Monmouth Station Hospital

 

The actual menu from 1937. Pretty cool, right?

If you notice the way the menu itself is written, there’s a lot on the page that is itemized – like the pickles and the salad dressing – that would just not be on a modern menu. I also find it interesting that cigarettes and cigars are on the menu!  The menus from 1935 and 1949 are nearly identical in content. 

Our modern restaurant-going sensibilities might see these things as quaint or old-fashioned, but I’d argue that they were not out of place for their time. There are indicators, like the professional layout and care taken to immediately preserve them, that these were special and fancy.

It’s hard to ‘see’ a paper’s texture from a scan, but the two from 1935 and 1937 are on heavy card stock and the covers are embossed. Now, here’s one from 1949, which has a distinctly different ‘feel’ to it. Even from the digitized version, I think you’ll be able to see what I mean.

A post-WWII menu from Fort Monmouth

This one has some discoloration on the front, but is otherwise in good shape.  It’s more yellow in the scan than in person; it’s a 30 lb manilla colored paper for the cover, and regular semi-gloss paper (like standard printer paper) inside.  The paper is not as thick, and it’s printed in brown ink – only one color – and there’s no embossing on this one.  Which leaves me feeling like I have more questions than answers now that I have all three!

Why were the menus during the Great Depression so much fancier?  Who was the intended audience for the meal?  Who paid for the food?  The menus all have a unique aspect, though, that a regular restaurant menu wouldn’t have.  Inside each lists the names of each company’s members.  There’s rosters inside, which can be an interesting search tool. 

Do you think one of your relatives served at Fort Monmouth during these years?  Maybe one of them is listed inside!  How cool is that?  (Hint: It’s extemely cool.)  If you’d like to see full scanned versions of these, please contact us, and we can send you searchable PDF versions.  We can be reached via the comments section of the blog, or to one of our email addresses: christine.t.reilly.civ@mail.mil; susan.l.thompson7.civ@mail.mil; or floyd.r.hertweck.civ@mail.mil

Wishing you all a safe and wonderful holiday! 

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