Last weekend we were joined again by Dr. Arnold Blumberg who delivered another fantastic talk. Still Crazy After All These Years: Classical Monster Mashes was inspired both by our current exhibit Paul Simon: Words and Music and tomorrow nights spooky celebrations.
Monster Mash Cover
Dr. Blumberg predicts that of the novelty songs with a strong connection to Halloween almost 75 to 80 percent were all produced in the same year, 1958. This surprising figure came about as a result of a clever marketing strategy from the makers of many of the classic horror movies. As a result of a rerelease of these movies on TV there was a renewed interest in horror. This eventually led to the production of horror themed novelty songs, as it became clear that these songs had huge earning potential more and more were produced. One of the most successful was of course Monster Mash, but as Dr. Blumberg discusses there were many, many more.
Please enjoy this recording of Dr. Blumberg’s talk and perhaps share with us your favorite Halloween novelty song.
Happy Halloween, blog readers! I’d thought of featuring some of our photograph collections in honor of the holiday, but many great images of costumed Halloween celebrants were posted last year – so instead I’ll go in a different direction, with a seemingly costume-y (or even frightening) artifact that actually has a sweet story behind it.
Edmund Kahn (1881-1955), from Centreville, Maryland, attended the University of Maryland dental school in the early 1900s. According to family stories, Edmund the student was dating a young woman from Baltimore, Gertrude Fried (1882-1954). When the time came to pop the question, he was unable to afford a traditional engagement ring; instead, he made one himself, representative of his future profession: a small ring of red Plasticine with a gleaming fake molar in place of a gemstone.
Eventually, the story continues, Edmund proposed again with a ‘real’ ring. He graduated from dental school in 1904; he and Gertrude were married at the Madison Avenue Temple, Baltimore, on December 22, 1907. Dr. Kahn went on to practice dentistry in West Baltimore – sharing an office with his brother Howard, a physician – for over fifty years.
Left: Edmund Kahn, 1904 (JMM 1990.191.011). Right: Gertrude Fried with her brother Hiram, 1889 (JMM 1990.191.008).
In his 1904 graduation portrait, above left, Edmund Kahn’s expression is serious and studious – not necessarily the kind of guy you’d expect to give his girlfriend a handmade novelty ring. Gertrude Fried, however (above right in Atlantic City, NJ, 1889), has the rather mischievous, ready-to-be-amused look of someone who might enjoy showing off a molar ring to her friends.
The ring is well-crafted; even if there was a convenient model tooth lying around after class, time and effort went into making the band itself. In other words, this wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment creation or gift. Perhaps the idea was based on an inside joke the two shared, or maybe it was a complete surprise. We don’t know how the proposal(s) went down, or if Gertrude ever really wore the ring. Nonetheless we know it was important enough that the family saved it, and the story that went with it, for many years. Eventually Janice Kahn Friedman, Edmund and Gertrude’s daughter, donated the ring to the JMM, along with other family pieces.
…This post got away from the intended Halloween-factor pretty quickly. Let’s bring it back: First, why is the ring that nice reddish color? Take a look at its cousin, a small partial plate also made by Edmund Kahn, for the answer: gum-colored Plasticine was easily to hand, apparently.
Left: JMM 1991.035.023; right: JMM 1991.035.024
And here’s a detail view of a rather macabre photograph from our collections, showing Edmund Kahn’s dental school class posed around an (occupied) autopsy table in 1904. For the occasion, the students added a cheerful skull-and-crossbones motif to the fronts of their smocks, and someone has caused the lab’s anatomical skeleton to strike a pose. Edmund is at the far right; in this setting, he looks more like a person who would make his girlfriend a tooth ring.
Detail view of JMM 1991.035.020e
Still not scary enough for you? Try an internet image search for “antique teeth” or “partial plate.” And then call your dentist.
A spooky blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts from Joanna click HERE.To read even more posts about our collections click HERE.