October marks that time of the year when we dress up as ghouls and goblins, decorate our homes with spiderwebs and skeletons, and indulge in all manner of frightening things. As a nod to these spine-chilling 31 days, the IDHH is featuring the fascinating use and art of tombstones and other grave markers. As diverse as the great variety of funerary traditions around the world, grave markers serve not only the utilitarian purpose of demarcating the physical space where an individual might lie, but also reflect the social values and traditions of a specific period or people. Cemeteries and other burial places held great significance from the earliest days, as providing a place for the dead was thought to be an important family obligation. This significance would eventually extend to larger communal graveyards and burial places as inclusion in these spaces became exclusive to community members, often excluding foreigners, criminals, and other unwanted groups.
The tombstones and grave markers within these communal spaces have communicated a number of ideas to visitors over time. As a work of art, the craftsmanship and skill in the construction of the tombstones can be an aesthetic pleasure in its own right. Such artistry leads people to create gravestone rubbings with charcoal and to capture graveyard scenes through painting and photography. The construction and grandiosity of these markers may also impart a sense of prestige or wealth, such as in the image below of Carrie Eliza Getty’s large tomb in Chicago. Of course, tombstones also act as a memorial to previous generations, prompting us to seek out the histories of those buried there, like of the Mabie family and their influential 1840s circus show in Wisconsin. Whether viewed as art, icon, or historical marker, tombstones offer a (spooky) glimpse into the values and customs of those who are no longer with us.
Here are a few of our favorite items featuring tombstones from across the Midwest:
A staple lunchbox food, picnic addition, or food on the go, the sandwich is so ubiquitous these days that we might eat or make one without ever stopping to wonder about the history of this versatile dish. With August as National Sandwich Month, the IDHH would like to highlight this humble entrée and the many ways it’s permeated our everyday culture. While something resembling the sandwich has most likely existed since the consumption of meat and bread began, legend has it that John Montagu, 4th earl of Sandwich, once dined on sliced meat and bread while playing at a gaming table so that he could continue to play as he ate. Indeed, the name was adopted in the 18th century for the earl, but probably due to his requests for the dish in London society or perhaps from a penchant of his to eat sandwiches while working at his desk. Regardless, Montagu’s social status lent the food credibility, and the sandwich soon became fashionable fare on the European continent.
The food item’s simplicity and versatility allow it to be a suitable choice in a variety of environments. Just as welcome in the lunchbox of an elementary school student as a busy professional, the sandwich can be arrayed in a myriad of ways, dressed up for foodies or made as plainly as possible. The World War II poster featuring the character “Jenny on the job” illustrates how the sandwich was used as part of an appeal to a sense of manliness and competence for female workers stepping into roles traditionally filled by men, who were overseas fighting in the war. As versatile as the food itself, the word “sandwich” may also refer to non-food items as well, such as the town of Sandwich, Illinois, the Sandwich Range in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, or the sandwich mathematical theorem.
Have are a few of our favorite sandwich-related items from the collection:
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View even more items related to sandwiches on the IDHH.
Happy World Cat Day! Also called International Cat Day, the holiday was first established by the International Fund for Animal Welfare in 2002. However, national holidays celebrating our feline friends have observed in countries around the world for decades. To celebrate, the IDHH spotlights items from Illinois State University’s collections.
First, behold the artwork of talented youngsters who loved their cats enough to immortalize them in pencil and watercolors. The paintings below are from the International Collection of Child Art and were created by children ages 8 through 13 from Colombia, Wales, and the U.S. The children’s attention to detail show how dear their furry friends were.
Next, here are toys from Japan featured from the Ethnology Teaching Collection, including a papier-mâché cat in a basket and the famous good luck charm of the waving cat, or ‘Maneki-Neko’. These figurines were placed in shop windows, inviting customers in and waving good-bye on their way out.
The IDHH celebrates Father’s Day by highlighting families of performers from Illinois State University’s Passion for Circus collection. Captured by photographer, Sverre “Bex” Braathen, the photographs are from a collection of nearly 10,000 that includes thousands of black and white photographs from the 1930s and thousands more color photos from the 1940s and 1950s from circuses all around the United States.
Below is a selection of several father-daughter and father-son acts, Alfred, Sr. and Alfred, Jr. Burton from the Ringling Barnum Circus, the Naitto family, Ala and his daughters, Nio and Margie, also of Ringling, and Ernest and Ernestine Clarke of the Tom Mix Circus. The Burtons performed balancing acts on high pedestals. The Naittos were high wire and tightrope performers. The Clarkes performed floor routines. Ernest was famous as a somersaulting leaper in his own Clarkonian Flying act of the Ringling Brothers circus.
Finally, several images capture Astrid and Ernst “Franklin” Schlichting of the Ringling Barnum Circus. Astrid, thirteen years old, performs hand balancing routines with her father, acts that require tremendous strength and concentration.