A Monumental Story of Real-Life Serendipity Told Over Many Parts: Chapter 3 – The Time Period

{Spoiler Alert: This is a series of blog posts detailing the real-life story of a 100-year-old item that was lost 13 years ago and how it found its way home in 2021. Follow along from the beginning of this story at Chapter 1: It Arrives and Chapter 2: Meet Angela}

Juice joints, flapjacks, Model T’s, Kelvinators and Radiolas. Mass culture, Sinclair Lewis, giggle water and Gloria Swanson. The Harlem Rennaisance, votes for women and the woman – Edith Bolling Galt. Jazzy foxtrots, upside-down cakes, and the Great Depression. This week we are back with another installment regarding the story of the lost one-hundred-year-old item and how it is finding its way back home after a 13-year quest for answers and owners.

Welcome to Chapter Three of a Monumental Story of Real-life Serendipity Told Over Many Parts. If you are a new reader to the blog, you’ll want to start at the beginning with chapters 1 and 2. If you have been following along since the mystery package arrived, let’s do a little recap to catch up.

It’s been just over a month since the second installment was shared. This is what we know so far…

  1. The lost item is 100 years old.
  2. It was found by a random stranger named Angela, in an office supply store in a suburb of Atlanta, GA thirteen years ago.
  3. Over the course of the following thirteen years, Angela searched for the original owner of the item, but to no avail.
  4. In 2021, a Facebook group helped Angela eventually uncover some clues about the item.
  5. In July 2021, Angela read an archived blog post that connected the item to the Vintage Kitchen.
  6. A few weeks later the item arrived in the Vintage Kitchen via UPS in a cardboard mailer of medium thickness.
  7. The lost item is valuable, important and definietly something that someone would miss.
  8. The lost item is now in the care of the Vintage Kitchen where it will be couriered on to its final destination in the coming months.

The time period connected to the mystery item is the 1920s, so today I thought it would be fun to take a look at what life was like in that decade of American history to help give this piece of the past some context. Perhaps it will help all the armchair sleuths out there figure out some more clues as to what the lost item could actually be.

Known as one of the most dramatically diverse decades, the 1920s saw carefree decadence and life-altering depression. It was a dry decade due to Prohibition which lasted from 1920-1933. And it was the dawning of a new age for women as they fought for their independence thanks to the right to vote amendment passed on August 18th, 1920.

Clockwise from top left: First Lady Edith Boling Galt Wilson; 1920s fashion; Votes for Women badge; hairstyles of the 1920s; the awakening of feminism; actress Gloria Swanson.

The 1920s was the first time that a woman carried influential political power in the White House as Edith Bolling Galt assisted her husband, the 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson after he suffered a stroke during the last year and half of his presidency. Edith not only cared for him physically but also became his social secretary, his press liaison, and his political interpreter shuttling information to him about problems affecting the world. In short, Edith became a critical component in his decision-making process regarding matters of the country.

During the Roaring ’20s, hairstyles were bobbed, waistlines were dropped and the more fun and carefree your attitude, the closer you were to being called a flapper. On the big screen, Gloria Swanson was dazzling movie-goers in the silent movie Something to Think About. Released in 1920, it became the top-grossing film of the decade, earning $9.16 million dollars at the box office. Book worms were buried in the pages of anything and everything written by Sinclair Lewis – who authored not one, not two, but five bestselling books in the years between 1920-1930. Can you name which five those were? If you guessed Main Street, Dodsworth, Babbitt, Arrowsmith, and Elmer Gantry then you get a gold star for your vintage fiction knowledge!

Clockwise from top left: bestselling author Sinclair Lewis; top song of 1920 goes to Dardanella; Prohibition signs posted at all bars and restaurants; black culture blooms during the Harlem Rennaisance; and everybody’s favorite automobile, the Model T.

The foxtrot song Dardanella, written in 1919 became the runaway hit of the 1920s just as the first radio stations were forming, bringing music, news, and special programming into homes across the country. Black culture was celebrated in art, literature, and jazz music, giving African Americans their first real opportunity for creative expression and social prominence during the Harlem Rennaisance. For thirteen years from 1920-1933, prohibition made it illegal to get a drink at a bar or a restaurant, but creativity reigned supreme when it came to cocktails disguised in teacups in speakeasies, juice joints, and underground nightclubs.

On the kitchen front, food favorites of the 1920s came in the form of flapjacks, pineapple upside-down cake, cod cakes, and anything served with wiggly, jiggly Jell-O. In the absence of legitimate cocktails due to Prohibition, restaurants got creative and served diced fruit in cocktail glasses, instantly coining the term “fruit cocktail” and making it a popular mainstay on menus for the next forty years. The vacuum cleaner, the washing machine, and the in-home refrigerator were all introduced as modern necessities on the domestic front and the kitchen sink and all kitchen countertops were standardized to a height of 36″ inches (which is still the standard height today too!).

1926 ad for Kelvinator refrigerators that appeared in the Home Builders Catalog.

In the 1920s, urban lifestyles were on the rise as more people fled the countryside and rural sections of America to live in fast-growing cities. Urbanization offered more opportunities in the way of advancement, both financially and career-wise. 50% of the American population traded in rural life for a city setting during this decade. As a result, a sophisticated and stylized cosmopolitan life emerged giving birth to streamlined design favored in the elegant Art Deco movement that mirrored the glitz and glam of affluent city dwellers and their cityscapes.

Throughout the 1920s, westward expansion offered new travel opportunities via railroad to parts of the country that seemed not easily accessible. It also allowed for products, produce, and consumer goods to move about the country at breakneck speeds introducing regional items to a new broader audience. And car travel, thanks to the affordable Model T, and the burgeoning automobile industry that followed, cars made road trips a new possibility, giving birth to an entirely new tourism-based marketplace that included roadside motels, diners, gas stations and repair shops. For less than $300 in 1924, you could buy a brand-new Model T (exact price: $265.00, which is equivalent to about $4,000.00 today), enjoy a turkey dinner at a nice restaurant ($1.25) and stay in a hotel for as long as you liked at $2.00 a night.

Even though the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression would close out the 1920s, overall the decade was viewed on a whole as being optimistic, creative, and progressive. With a focus on innovation and development as well as the arts, feminism, expansion, and a newfound bohemian spirit, the essence of the mystery item is wrapped up in several layers of 1920s pop culture mentioned here, especially surrounding new opportunities and new ways of looking at life. Several clues directly leading to the mystery item are hidden in this post, so keep your eyes peeled!

As discussed in Chapters One and Two, this item involves many more people than just Angela and the Vintage Kitchen. While the story continues to unfold, we will keep revealing new details about the mystery item as we get closer to reuniting it with the people and place where it belongs. In the meantime, If you would like to take a guess as to what the mystery item might be, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Join us next time for Chapter 4 as we talk travel, and set the wheels in motion for transporting the item to its final destination.

Mabel in the Market: The Search for a 1920s Doughnut Shop

Somewhere between the 1920’s and the 1930’s my great-grandmother Mabel had a doughnut shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. This has been family lore for generations but like other interesting tidbits that lurk around the ancestry closet… a New York City Rockette, an indentured servant, a lost family fortune… there isn’t a lot of information or validation to support this entrepreneurial endeavor. But in a couple of weeks I hope to change all that.

Mabel grew up in Iowa, the youngest child of an 11 member family.  She trained to be a teacher in the rural country schools surrounding her hometown…

Mabel, aged 18 pictured in her teacher’s attire about 1905

But once she met and eventually married William Earle she gave up the teaching profession all together.

Mabel’s Wedding Portrait taken in November 1907, and a photograph of William Earle, unknown date

Earl, as she called him, was a salesman for the National Biscuit Company but he suffered from some sort of health issue that was bothered by the heat of the Iowa summers. So a few years following the birth of their only child, Phillip, they packed up and headed west in a 1917 Model T Ford towards the cool climate of Seattle.

All three of them – Mabel, Earle and Phillip, plus their belongings traveled half the width of the U.S. (over 1800 miles) in this car – the  1917 Model T Ford.

This was 1922 and my grandfather Phillip remembers sitting in the back of the Model T on top of bed rolls and tents, squished between pots and pans and spare tires. It took them 8 weeks to get to Seattle where they eventually settled into the Capitol Hill neighborhood overlooking downtown. William Earle went to work as a foreman at a biscuit cookie factory.  Presumably this would be the time period that Mabel also went to work – in her doughnut shop in the bustling big city market. By 1940 Mabel and Earle would say goodbye to the city sweet treat businesses of factory and farm market to take on country life once again in a move out to the far suburbs to pursue dairy farming. That put an end to the doughnuts at least in the professional sense.

Mabel’s poem to her granddaughter on her 5th birthday written in 1947.

Mabel was a very creative lady – a clever writer, a sketch artist and a baker. We have a few of her recipes in the family cookbooks but no mention of any prized doughnuts and no mention of any experiences running a business at Pike Place Market, which makes for an interesting little mystery.

Depression era photo of Pike Place Market chicken vendors. Photo courtesy of pauldorpat.com and the Seattle Public Library.

 

What must have it been like to be a  female entrepreneur in the early decades of the 20th century? Especially as a newcomer in a much bigger, more metropolitan city and with no professional experience to bolster her confidence? How did a country school teacher become a city doughnut maker? What made her start and ultimately what made her stop? Did she do it by herself or have a partner? How big was her space? What did it look like? What were her hours and how many doughnuts did she make in a day? And maybe most importantly, why doughnuts?!

Pike Place Market first opened in 1907 and quickly became a cross-cultural beehive of people and products offering everything from fresh fish to flowers, art to textiles and practically everything inbetween.  You can feel the excitement in this 1914 ad from the Seattle Star as the market gained momentum…

Advertisement from The Seattle Star April 17, 1914. Photo courtesy of

By the 1930’s, when Mabel was making doughnuts, the market was bursting and bustling with success and sales. There was a sizzle in the air of possibility and potential that must have felt catching and all-consuming. When I head out to Seattle in the middle of June I hope to answer all the questions raised about Mabel and her doughnut endeavor. I hope to be able to walk in her shoes for a time and learn more about what must have been one of the most interesting and intriguing periods of her life. Perhaps a doughnut recipe or two will even be discovered!

Stay tuned for more on this front as I report directly from the Market mid-month. In the meantime, cheers to mysterious Mabel and her doughnuts. Happy National Doughnut Day!