Department Store Mannequins, L. Frank Baum, and Automatonophobia, of course

Six things (or more – but who’s counting) about the history of department store MANNEQUINS that everyone needs to know   1. The Dutch word mannekijn, which meant “little man,” evolved to mannequin in France, where it first referred to an artist’s jointed model. By the 1800s, shops in Paris used full-size mannequins made of wicker or paper mache to display clothing. 2. Around the turn of the 20th century, the first department stores in the United States used mannequins made of wax. When sun hit the store windows they had an unfortunate tendency to melt. 3. A living human being could also be called a “mannequin” if her job was to model clothing in a dressmaker’s shop, a department store fashion show, or while standing frozen in a store window. At least the human mannequins didn’t melt.     4. These wax figures had glass eyes, and were individually crafted. Lips, eyebrows and eyelashes were painted on by hand. Full, lush hair was painstakingly woven into the head so that it resembled the long, thick manes worn by fashionable women known as Gibson Girls.     5. Before going on to write the Wizard of Oz series of books, L. Frank Baum worked in a department store doing window displays, and he is considered a pioneer in the field. He edited the first trade magazine that was devoted to the subject, and enthusiastically promoted the importance of window displays as a selling tool. Not that he believed in deceiving people with hyped up promises of fulfillment through superficial means…     6. Automatonophobia is the irrational fear of figures such as dolls, wax figures, puppets, prostheses and ventriloquist dummies that are made to represent a real, living, conscious being.   I must say, though, I question if that kind of fear is truly irrational....

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Feminine Hygiene Products — Stephanie’s Mini-History (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1 — The Bloody Reality)   Have you ever seen a menstrual stain on something a woman was wearing?   Or in the chair she just got out of? I haven’t. Not once. That’s kind of amazing. How do women do it? Because, lets face it: feminine hygiene products are not that great. Leaking can and does occur.  I suppose underwear conceals the evidence of most accidents, but I also suspect that women are so deathly afraid of showing a patch of red anywhere near the crotch area that they make pretty darn sure it’s not going to happen. This takes energy and focus. Energy and focus that might’ve gone elsewhere, like breaking through the glass ceiling, writing opera, or, it would seem, inventing better “feminine hygiene products.” I find it amazing that people could drive cars, talk on the telephone, treat anthrax, and build skyscrapers before women had the option of going to a drugstore to buy a tampon.   This has not been, however, a failure of “know-how” so much as a moral stance of “no way.” Homemade versions of sanitary napkins and tampons have existed since ancient times. The ability to mass produce them should theoretically have come in tandem with the industrial revolution. But disposable forms of sanitary napkins weren’t widely available until around 1920, and tampons weren’t commonly sold in stores until 1934. The problem wasn’t a matter of conception; it was getting the public to go with the flow, so to speak.   At the tail end of the 19th Century, disposable sanitary pads could be found in mail order catalogs and were occasionally carried by drugstores.   Various companies tried to market them and failed. Different brands came and went. There were lots of reason the idea didn’t take. One was cost. Women were used to making their own from rags that would be laundered and re-used. The idea of constantly buying something that would be used once and thrown out had not yet taken hold. Another problem was quality. The pictured ad for “Aristocrat” Sani-Naps ran in a trade magazine for druggists. They boast that their napkins have “no dirty waste or floor sweepings as frequently found in Sanitary Napkins.” Those napkins must’ve been manufactured by the “Proletariat” brand.     Figuring out a way to mass produce a product to block the flow of menstrual blood seems to have been hindered by a huge mental block.   It took a long time for anyone to design napkins that were soft enough to be comfortable as well as highly absorbent. (Actually, I’m not sure that’s really been achieved yet.) The genius necessary to perfect the tampon took even longer to emerge....

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Astor Place Vintage Enhanced

I was so happy when my editor told me I’d get to include some photographs in ASTOR PLACE VINTAGE. I immediately began to go through months and months of images I’d accumulated on my computer hard drive from the Library of Congress and other sources. These photos had been a huge source of inspiration throughout the writing of my novel. They’d also been a huge distraction that undoubtedly slowed down my progress. I was constantly burning out my eyeballs staring into my computer screen at public domain photographs from the turn of the century. I’d click away on one picture after another, unable to tear myself away, get to my writing, or bed, or even the refrigerator. After winnowing down my choices, I presented my editor with about fifty photos. She gently broke it to me that I would have to limit myself to about a dozen. Despite my disappointment, I knew she was right. After all, ASTOR PLACE VINTAGE is a novel, and the job of the novel writer is to create a reality through prose and narrative, not supply it “ready-made” with period photographs. But now that the novel is out,  there’s no reason I can’t post lots and lots of photos and illustrations here that conjure up the world of ASTOR PLACE VINTAGE. So that’s just what I plan to do, from time to time, when I’m unable to get to my writing, or bed, or even the...

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Hitching a Ride

Making Shopping Fun The limit of the human race’s stair-climbing tolerance seems to be six floors. The will to buy seems to be unlimited. So it’s only natural the very first elevators and escalators turned up in department stores. My first memory of riding an escalator is in a department store, and I bet that’s the same for many of us. What kid doesn’t worry about getting trapped underneath one of those stairs that disappears under the floor, or wonder where those stairs go and how they start out new at the top? Before Shopping Bags Were Invented People have been trying to figure out how to get from one place to another without using any effort since we learned to stand upright on two feet – especially when we had to lug stuff. In ancient Greece, Archimedes figured out a system of ropes and pulleys for hoisting stuff. In the Coliseums of A.D. 80, rope and pulley devices were used to bring wild animals up to the arena where they’d be slaughtered by gladiators. At least the animals didn’t have to climb up any stairs before sacrificing their lives for the entertainment of others. As they say in real estate: location, location, location. A famous hoisting device in medieval times was a basket used at the monastery of St. Barlaam in Greece, which stood on a peak about 200 feet above the ground. This was the only way supplies could get up to the monastery or down. That monastery is now on the market at rock bottom prices. In 1743 King Louis XV had a “flying chair” that could take him from the balcony of his palace bedroom up one flight. This was operated by manpower, with his servants raising or lowering him as he desired. He’s lucky they didn’t tell him to take a flying leap off his balcony instead. Elisha Graves Otis invented one of the first functional passenger elevators, and that was installed in a five-story department store owned by E.W Haughtwhat & Company of Manhattan in 1857. His sons later went on to buy up a bunch of patents and pull off a bunch of mergers to make the Otis Elevator Company the premier people-moving empire it is today. A Huge Step Forward for Mankind One of the first big names to come on the scene with an actual working escalator was Jesse Reno, who created an “inclined elevator” as a novelty ride by the Old Iron Pier at Coney Island in 1896. Passengers traveled on a conveyer belt at a 25 degree angle. Fun! Because Taking the Train to Brooklyn is Too Much Trouble By the 1870s in New York City, where a...

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