Travels with Grace: The Bullfight

Posted on September 10th, 2019 by

This week’s entry for our 2019 #TravelTuesday series: Traveling with Grace, continues her trip through Mexico. Today’s post requires a content warning – below Grace describes the bullfight she attended and some readers may be disturbed by the imagery and discussion. To read more of Grace’s travels, click here.


Sun. July 14th. This morning at 10 we went to Xochimilcho (Land of Flowers). It was a beautiful ride and on the way we got a clear view of Papo and the sleeping Lady crowned with snow. They weave a fanciful Romeo and Juliette sort of legend around them. We see several of the leading moving picture studios of Mexico and several beautiful monuments including that to the Commoner President Obregón. At one place we saw a number of charros on horseback with wonderful tooled leather saddles, fancy bridles and embroidered felt sombreros. Also, a woman in a gorgeous sequin studded skirt who was queen[?] of something or other. Sunday is the day for weddings here and we passed several churches elaborately decorated with flowers. Outside the churches are side-walk markets where we saw food, dresses, underwear, pottery, linens and of course the usual baskets and bouquets. At Xochimilcho is another and much larger market of everything imaginable. (Here on Sunday women are washing in a public through.)

We boarded a little boat, a cross between a gondola and a skiff each with its own name picked out in flowers on the canopy and we sat on little rush bottomed chairs for the trip up the lagoon, one of the most unusual things I have ever seen. The boats are pushed with a pole by the boatman who stands in the back and there are large and small ones, some holding as many as 20 people. Some still larger were power driven. The smaller ones could be rented by the hour or day and families bring their lunches and have long tables on board. There are boats with cameras to take your pictures, boats with soft drinks on ice, boats with all manner of edibles, boats full of musicians who serenade with native instruments and everywhere boats of flower venders with lovely corsages of orchids, gardenias, roses, pansies, sweet peas, carnations and many others filling the air with fragrances, others selling postcards and souvenirs. At the head of the lagoon on an island is a large and attractive looking restaurant for those preferring to eat on terra firma. There are little canals opening from the big lagoon where the boats turn in to park a while if they so desire. Altogether it is a most beguiling scene which I am sorry to leave.

We return to the Maria Cristina for a very good Sunday dinner and at 3:30 six of us, excluding a young man from Jacksonville with whom we got acquainted and who bought one of the block of tickets I had to get for a box, started out for the bull fight. The crowds of automobiles and pedestrians leading from all directions to the stadium reminded me of Preakness day at Pimlico only more so. The stands seat 50,000 and the arena is 160 ft. below street level. A band was playing as we entered (it was quite a feat to push me thru the gate) and the stands were about half filled. The crowds and multi-colored costumes look like a vast tapestry in perspective. At 4 promptly a black garbed man on a black horse comes out of a door and rides across the arena to the judges stand, sweeps off his hat, bows, then backs his horse in reverse across the arena. This is the signal for the show to begin.

Toreo de la Condesa. Via.

Three matadors in lovely gold and silver brocaded costumes, 2 picadors on padded mounts, and a variety of bandellerios, toreadors, etc. come out and parade around. They go in and when the arena is empty the bull comes out. The first 5 bulls were coal black, the 6th almost white. The toreadors wave pink capes, the cape work is one of the highlights, and make passes at the animal, then the picadors come up with their long spears and each is allowed to stick the bull 3 times. Then the bandellerios stick 2 bandelleros each into his neck and then the matador starts to work with his sword wrapped in a bright red scarf. It is very interesting to watch their foot work, quick and graceful. Sometimes they change swords several times and when they stick it in the wrong place which happens often the toreadors pull it out by catching the hilt in their capes.

Several times we saw the picadors unseated and the horses roll over when the bull charges them. The first matador was thrown and injured slightly. They put a patch over his eye. But he got up and continued thru 2 rounds. The third one was the best and the crowd cheered him wildly. He received many bouquets and cloaks which he threw back and handkerchiefs waved madly, a sign of high approval, but being a [noise???] the judges would not allow him an ear. At the end however he was borne out on the shoulders of a wildly cheering crowd. When the bull finally drops to his knees foaming at the mouth and covered with blood one of the toreadors gives him the coup de grace and then 3 mules, a gray between 2 blacks are brought out by boys in red suits who hook the carcass to the drag and the mules run like mad. Sometimes they are so frightened that they run around several times before the boys can get the gook on the bull. Before the last bull was speared many from the audience ran out into the arena and crowded around the matador and the others but did not seem to embarrass them.

Fortunately, although the skies were threatening all afternoon, it did not start to rain until after the 6th bull fight started, and we stuck it out till the last. Everybody started to throw their rented cushions into the arena, and it was a free-for-all. When I returned to the hotel one of the bellhops asked me how I liked the spectacle and on being told I enjoyed it very much he was overjoyed and said I was the first American he ever heard say this.


Thanks for reading “Traveling with Grace,” a series where we’re sharing (and annotating) posts from the travel diaries of Grace Amelia Hecht, native Baltimorean, b. 1897 and d. 1955. As mentioned in my introductory post transcription errors sometimes occur and I’ve made my best guesses where possible, denoted by [brackets]. – Rachel Kassman, marketing manager


 

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More Than An Outfit

Posted on September 9th, 2019 by

A blog post by Director of Collections and Exhibits Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.


As we wind down our Fashion Statement and Stitching History From the Holocaust exhibits (both closing this coming Sunday, September 15!), it occurred to me that while I wrote many (many) words about the clothing and photographs on display in Fashion, both in the show and for the online extras, I never actually pulled together a blog post. Let’s remedy that!

Contemporary looks at the style choices and expression of artists like Billie Eilish and Lizzo and recent retrospective studies of the fashion of icons such as Ella Fitzgerald and Elton John, help to remind us that, celebrities or not, our clothes make a statement – both intentional and unintentional.  What we choose to wear – to work, to school, to shul, to the grocery store, walking the dog – makes an impression on those around us; sometimes it’s the impression we’re hoping to make, sometimes not. That stylish outfit, expensive coat, or band t-shirt says “you’re one of us” to some people, but says “what were you thinking?” to others.  In an ideal world, how an outfit makes YOU feel would be paramount – but after all, people are judgey… and that outfit may end up in a museum someday, and there’ll be a whole new set of judgements and appraisals made. One of my goals in Fashion Statement was to encourage visitors to think critically, but also empathetically, about the choices made by others and themselves: what stories do our clothes tell the world?

As curator, I started with a ridiculously long list of artifacts I wanted to include and stories I wanted to tell… but in the end, only certain things made the final cut. I’m happy to say that through all the revisions and refinements, I managed to retain two pieces that I wanted to include from the very beginning, and to arrange them in a way that lets them have a bit of a conversation with each other.  These two are wonderful in and of themselves, but also tell an interesting story together: the blue skirt (third from right in the photo above) and the black sequined dress (far left).

Gown, circa 1905. Silk georgette and crepe embellished with beads and sequins. Gift of Judith Davidson Greenfeld and Margery Greenfeld Morgan. JMM 2008.130.1a-b.

Ida (Chaya) Leikseich Berman (1877-1954) emigrated from Russia with her husband and newborn daughter, landing in Baltimore on July 5, 1900. In 1910 the family – three more children were born in the US – lived on Eden Street, while husband Michael found work as a “street peddler.” By 1920 they had managed to save enough to purchase a building at 125 N. Front Street (near the old Shot Tower, just north of Jonestown), where they ran a second-hand shop. They attended Shomrei Mishmeres, an Orthodox congregation, in the old Lloyd Street Synagogue.

Ida acquired this Edwardian “occasion” gown, made of silk georgette and crepe and embellished with beads and sequins, from an unknown seamstress; it’s possible that she made it herself, though there were plenty of sources for both materials and talent in East Baltimore at the time. It’s well-made, with a complicated top; hand-beading (the sequins may have been pre-strung); a lined and belted top, and a double, flounced, trained skirt. The S-bend silhouette that this dress was designed for was achieved through a blousy top, trained skirt, and (almost certainly) judicious corsetry.

This vintage ad, circa 1905, shows the newly “correct” fashionable posture for women, achieved with the help of a straight-front or “S-bend” corset.

This look was extremely fashionable for the middle of this decade, which could show us that Ida was up to date… though it is possible that the dress itself dates from later in the decade, and she was in fact a few years behind the fashions. Without knowing the particular ‘occasion’ for which it was worn, it’s hard to know if the maker and wearer were of-the-moment, or a little behind the times.

Sequined evening gown, by Jacques Doucet, ca. 1902, from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The exuberant sequins on the bodice look modern, but other examples of sequined gowns from this era can be found. Nonetheless, this isn’t necessarily a look or style that we might, today, expect to see on an Orthodox woman; but perhaps Ida – like many of her fellow recent immigrants – enjoyed the newly-available opportunity to embrace the highs of American fashion.  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries there was a certain amount of head-shaking and even mockery (including from members of the group themselves, like novelist Anzia Yezierska) of recent immigrants ‘trying too hard’ to emulate the upper classes, or simply being too ignorant to understand what established, mainstream Americans deemed “good taste;” it was feared they were doing themselves a disservice, locking themselves into greenhorn or pitiable status. But today some scholars are hoping to return some agency to these people by showing that many immigrants knew exactly what they were doing when they chose elaborately decorated, expensive, or ‘flashy’ clothing, whether because they were purposefully enjoying a newly-available abundance, indulging in personal tastes unreachable in their previous circumstances, or deliberately setting themselves apart as a sub-group, akin to more recent subculture attire like zoot suits, or punk gear.

Skirt, 1900-1905. Flannel with velvet trim. Gift of Hyman Siegel and Helene Siegel Sherman. JMM 1985.132.1.

Rebecca Harris Siegel (1869-1934) brought this skirt with her when she, her husband Harry, and at least three small children emigrated to Baltimore from Russia in 1901.  They settled in East Baltimore, where census records show that her husband worked in local shops, including a retail confectioner’s in 1910, and as a foreman in an overall factory in 1920. The family stayed in East Baltimore until the early 1930s, when Rebecca, now widowed, moved to lower Park Heights.

Though practical, this flannel skirt is not without a certain amount of style. The material and construction are good quality, and it features three decorative bands of a contrasting velvet trim along the bottom hem. The family thinks this skirt may have been what she was wearing when her ship docked in Baltimore. Without her own testimony, we don’t know if that’s the case – whether she told this to her children, or if it became a story they told themselves over time.

“Recently arrived persons at Ellis Island, NY,” 1907. Photograph by Underwood & Underwood, Library of Congress.

The drawstring at the waist suggests that Rebecca adapted it to wear during one or more of her eight pregnancies (including at least two children born in the US). The many mends and repairs, as well as the overall use wear, show that she wore and washed it frequently, and took good care of it. (And yes, to those visitors who wondered aloud why it was still creased, we tried very hard – within the allowable boundaries of textile preservation – to make it look its best … but this skirt has been through the literal wringer countless times, and it is what it is.) Though a remnant of the “old world,” it was appropriate for a trip to the market or other everyday activities in her new life in Baltimore, when worn with a suitable blouse and coat.

The skirt was carefully made and carefully repaired, using both machine and hand-stitching. Here, you can see that the stripes on the inner waistband have been carefully matched, even though no one but the wearer would know.

So much for the garments individually. What do these two pieces, when compared, tell us?

They have many elements in common, despite their completely different style and purpose:

>Both were owned and worn by immigrants who arrived (with husband and kids) around 1900, and settled in East Baltimore – in fact both families were living on Front Street in 1910 (Ida at #125, Rebecca at #326). Both women belonged to Orthodox congregations; indications are that Ida belonged to Shomrei Mishmeres, and Rebecca to Anshe Niesen (a Lubavitch congregation, where she’s buried).

>Both garments were carefully saved, and later donated to the museum, by the original owners’ families, who provided us with a little bit of history … but not that much.

>We can learn a lot about these two women today, simply by looking at the materials, use wear, and evidence of care and manufacture.

Another element in common is that both items can lead us into the tempting trap of using a single garment to tell a person’s entire life story. Yes, these pieces can give us some hints, but – especially when what we have, other than physical evidence, is only a few tantalizing details (it was an “occasion dress,” “we think she wore this on the boat”) that seem so helpful at first glance, but in the end are unprovable – those stories we extrapolate are far from representative of each woman’s whole life (and even her whole wardrobe). In particular, we need to avoid using the stark contrast between the dress and the skirt to convey to modern visitors that “Ida was fashionable, and Rebecca wasn’t.”

(Speaking personally, it’s also all too easy to make up increasingly elaborate stories about the people who wore the clothes in our collection … but by sticking as close to the evidence of the textile itself as possible, I can avoid getting too far into the “she loooved flashy clothes!” weeds.)

At the same time, while having only a few pieces of evidence can be limiting or reductive when telling the individual stories of the owners, having both items of clothing helps us to tell a fuller story of immigrant women as a group, going beyond the stock images of recent immigrants fresh off the boat, working in sweatshops, or posed in a family portrait. There are times – whole lifetimes! – that fall in between those photo-worthy moments. It’s important to use all the available evidence to create a more accurate representation of life in East Baltimore in the early 20th century.

Other than these two garments – and, in Rebecca’s case, a few other articles of clothing – we have very little else in the collections about these women. Left: A machzor (prayer book), in Hebrew and Russian, dated 1855, owned by Ida Berman. Gift of Judith Davidson Greenfeld and Margery Greenfeld Morgan. JMM 2008.130.2. Right: Photo of Rebecca Siegel in the late 1930s. Gift of Hyman Siegel and Helene Siegel Sherman. JMM 1985.132.4.


 

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Travels with Grace: Crossing Into Mexico, 1940

Posted on September 3rd, 2019 by

This week’s entry for our 2019 #TravelTuesday series: Traveling with Grace, follows along as she heads over the border into Mexico. As mentioned in earlier posts, the language and prejudices used in Grace’s writing are very much of her time and may be disturbing or uncomfortable to read, for instance, her description of the indigenous peoples of Mexico leaves much to be desired. To read more of Grace’s travels, click here. 


International Bridge, Laredo, TX, 1940-1960s. Via.

Mon. July 8th. We left San Antonio at 11 AM. Reached the International bridge at Laredo about 2:30 where we had quite a long wait to get our papers O.K.’d  and our baggage examined. An insurance agent was very helpful, got us a policy to cover the car while in Mexico and helped us thru the customs. The ride was rather monotonous until about an hour before we reached Monterey when we started climbing the mts. and the temperature became more agreeable.


Vintage Postcard, Hotel Ancira, Monterrey, Mexico. Via.

Monterey is a pretty Spanish city nestling in a circle of mts. There is a square in front of our hotel the Gran Ancira where musicians sit and serenade the tourists. The Cathedral is very imposing and this hotel quite pretty in Spanish style, beautiful paintings, heavy carved furniture, iron grill work. We have a handsomely furnished sitting room next to our bedroom. The shopping section is large and merchandise well stocked. Outside the city are beautiful orange and avocado groves and attractive haciendas. In the country we pass many Mexican cowboys with broad sombreros, on horseback. Large herds of milch goats contest the roads with the cows and we have to pull up short to avoid hitting them. It is quite hot here in the middle of the day and everyone takes a siesta, some men lying in the ditches by the road-side, others, beneath their [Tuedes???] and wagons. The little burros are heavy laden with fagots of wood or hitched to loaded wagons. There are many varieties of cacti along the way small and big, some very decorative, as well as a variety of palms and banana trees.


Vintage 1940s Mexico travel poster, Mexican Tourist Association. Via.

Tues. July 9th. We leave Monterey and ride 160 miles to Victoria passing only a few very small villages en route. Many names of ranches are posted along the road. Thatch-roofed cottages and queer looking rustic animal enclosures abound and here and there one sees a handsome stucco “Escuela.” The people are very friendly and courteous, smiling salutations and going out of their way to direct us. They are working on the roads everywhere which they keep in very good condition. Arrived at the Sierra Gorda hotel (Victoria) about 4. It is surprising what comfortable modern hotels they have in these small towns (35,000 inhabitants). The only mishap on the way was when our hatbox broke its moorings on the road and scattered its contents over the road but fortunately Milton saw it in time thru the rear-view mirror and salvaged nearly everything.


Hotel Funicion Zimapan Mexico Postcard. Via.

Wed. July 10. We left Victoria at 9:30 and the ride to Zimapán was one of the prettiest and most interesting I have ever had. At times we feel like we are riding thru the African jungles. The vegetation is so dense and the natives so primitive living in their grass and mud huts thatched with palm leaves the doorways open to the passing world. We can look in and see the mud lined walls and simple woven fiber chairs. Cows, pigs, chickens, goats comprise their riches. Here and there a little adobe tile-trimmed cottage looks like a palace by comparison. As we approach the mts. the scenery becomes wilder and more majestic, the roads curve sinuously upward, the valleys show intricate patchwork patters far below. Here and there a river threads thru the valley. Corn is planted right up the steep mt. side alternating with banana groves. Horses and goats climb the mt. sides like monkeys. Bright wild flowers abound. I wish I knew the names of them but I only recognize the bougainvilla and African daisies, trumpet vines and mimosa. Quaint old Spanish churches with carved images and tall belfries mark every village. After steady climbing we reached Zimapán about 6:45 a small village but the hotel Funicion is most attractive and up to date. Like all Mexican hotels it is tiled throughout, has interesting pictures by Diego Rivera in the dining room lavishly trimmed with iron grill work. A man plays the piano quite well during dinner. Later we visit the pretty little chapel and talk for a while with the other guests on the terrace. It is moonlight, the air bracing yet balmy. There is a large swimming pool on the terrace. The proprietor gave me his own room and bath on the first floor as there is no elevator.


Thurs. July 11th. Mrs. Parks came down to my room early to bring me birthday cards from the Smith-Greenhood families. We left Zimapán about 10 after a good breakfast (and I want to record here that meals so far in Mexico have been most satisfactory and far above expectations). We could not get any gasoline when we left here (had half a wank full) and Milton husbanded it with great care closing off the ignition and coasting down all the mts. At the next village we stopped expectantly at the first filling station only to be told they wouldn’t have any in the pumps until tomorrow. So with great trepidation we decided to risk it for another 10 or 12 miles and at the next village we held our breath until the filling station attendant smilingly nodded yes to our eager question and I could have kissed him. Native men and women crowded around us with large trays of different fruits balanced on their heads (it is beautiful to see how gracefully they balance all sorts of things that way) and we bought peaches and figs.

Hotel Maria Cristina lobby, 1940s vintage postcard. Via.

The country as we rode to Mexico City is quite different, broad cultivated fields which the peasants work in the primitive way, though one sees modern machinery in this part of the country. Palm and cactus lined highways lead to the city and 2 large statues guard the entrance where officials stop us to examine the papers for the car and we engage a licensed guide who took us right to the hotel Maria Cristina where we have bedroom, parlor and bath. We are lunch in the parlor and then the guide located a room for Milton. He took us to the Mexican Auto Ass’n, affiliate of the AAA where a lot of lovely birthday mail awaited me. Then we went on a tour of the city. Visited 3 flower markets and the guide bought me 3 corsages[?] for my birthday. At 1 of the markets we saw the most tremendous and elaborate funeral wreathes I ever saw. Visited the swanky residential section, the homes being very ornate and of a modern Spanish architecture with very little if any grounds around them. Saw the business section and bought a real leather hat box for $20 which replaces the one that fell off the car roof and smashed the other day. Mrs. Parks says it’s a bargain, no tax. Saw some beautiful monuments, parks, opera house, historical bldgs., university etc. and then feeling tired called it a day. Dinner at the hotel was good topped with strawberries which grow here 8 months of the year.


Jorge González Camarena (Mexican, 1908–1980), poster for Mexican tourism, published by Tourist Department of the Mexican Government, Visit Mexico, 1940s–1950s. Color lithograph. Harry Ransom Center, Texas War Records Travel Posters Collection, 85.185.44.

Fri. July 12. I went to the International Bank to get an Amerex changed, a very busy place. WE then bought tickets for the bull fight Sun. Next we rode to Toluca, a very pretty ride over the mts. We passed an extinct volcano. It is very cool. In Toluca a bustling town of 70,000 we saw the weekly market like which I have never seen anything before. The Indians for miles around bring in their animals, pigs, chickens, ducks, rabbits, turkeys, serapes, jackets, baskets, blankets, pottery, tortillas, fruits, sweets, the most colorful conglomeration imaginable and such crowds. Our guide just plowed his way thru them with the car and they fell away to either side like the parting asunder of the Red Sea. The faces are most interesting to study, Indian, Spanish, Mongoloid in a motley attire and all ages from tiny babies to old patriarchs, some gay and friendly with smiling faces, others stolid and impassive. They have a sort of carnival in the background with the usual midway attractions. On our way back we see women washing their clothes on stones by the river and even in the dirty stinking canals. Just before going to the trout fish hatchery we rode thru a heavy hail storm the ground quickly covered with white stones. It lightened, thundered and grew suddenly cold. At the hatchery we saw the eggs, baby fish in tanks and the full grown ones in round ponds outdoors. It is a pretty landscaped park and we ate box lunches which we bought at Sanbories[?] in a little glassed-in pavilion with tiled-topped tables. From here we visited the so called Desert of the Lions an old Carmelite monastery with tiny cells and catacombs. Here the Indians are selling their leather goods, silver, blankets and laces and there is a sort of campground with refreshment stands and sidewalk tables. A beautiful ride thru a thick forest of spruce brings us out to another attractive suburb and the guide shows us an excavation in a lava mound where bodies have been exhumed after an ancient eruption similar to what I once saw in Pompeii.


Thanks for reading “Traveling with Grace,” a series where we’re sharing (and annotating) posts from the travel diaries of Grace Amelia Hecht, native Baltimorean, b. 1897 and d. 1955. As mentioned in my introductory post transcription errors sometimes occur and I’ve made my best guesses where possible, denoted by [brackets]. – Rachel Kassman, marketing manager


 

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