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Monday, April 1, 2013

Canceled: Easter Monday Blues

As everyone knows, the threats and rumors of a cancellation of the traditional White House Easter Monday Egg Roll due to sequestration eventually disappeared, and the eggs did in fact roll, much to the delight of the lucky children (and adults) who participated!  White House tours, unfortunately, are another matter.

Among the rich visual collections of the National Museum of American History's Archives Center are many items with holiday themes, some religious and some secular, and some being a combination thereof.  Yes, I'm still in a holiday mood (or mode), having referred to St. Patrick's Day in my previous blog, and musing about Mother's Day and Father's Day in earlier pieces.  (When bloggers suffer blog-block, they're often advised to consider holidays as subject matter.)  At this time of year, Easter comes to mind, which brings me back to an image from a prior blog, Donald Sultner-Welles's simple, color-drenched study of Easter eggs.

Untitled color transparency by Donald H. Sultner-Welles, ca. 1960s.
Donald H. Sultner-Welles Collection, NMAH Archives Center
Several images from the Scurlock Studio records depict African American families of Washington, D.C., dressed up for Easter church services, or participating in a mass baptism.

"Easter Baptising, Shiloh Baptist Church / Washington, D.C., March 28th 1937.  Rev. E. L. Harrison, Pastor."
Photograph by Addison N. Scurlock.  Scurlock Studio Records, NMAH Archives Center

The Easter holiday is as commercialized as Christmas, of course, although in a less blatant or pervasive manner, since it is not yet a life-or-death occasion for merchants.  But the card below advertises Western Union's special Easter greeting services, again utilizing the "egg" imagery.  I think you have to watch old movies in which telegrams are delivered in person by a uniformed Western Union messenger to appreciate how this service could make the recipient feel special, and what we've lost without such customs.  I haven't checked the date that Western Union's personal delivery service ended, but it apparently was many decades ago.  I first became aware of this loss to American culture after I moved away from home following college graduation.  I wanted to send my parents a very special wedding anniversary greeting (they were married on July 4), so I sent a telegram, assuming that the traditional uniformed messenger would deliver my greeting in person, to their delight and surprise.  Wrong.  Guess how Western Union conveyed the greeting?  They telephoned my parents!  Not only was my desired effect of a surprise greeting by a smartly uniiformed messenger not achieved, my parents were mystified and half-offended.  They wondered why I felt a need to pay a stranger to call them rather than to just pick up the phone and speak to them directly.  When I explained, they said I watch too many old movies.

"Greetings by / Western Union / for Easter / April 12, 1936."
Western Union Telegraph Company Records, NMAH Archives Center

Finally, I close with another Scurlock "Easter" photograph that I couldn't resist--in this case, depicting a Negro Leagues baseball player named Easter!

[Negro Leagues baseball players Luke Easter of the Homestead Grays and Josh Gibson, ca. 1930s.]
Attributed to Addison N. Scurlock.  Scurlock Studio Records, NMAH Archives Center

David Haberstich
Archives Center, National Museum of American History


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