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Nothing New Under the Sun

Jessie: Thinking about the past while at the seaside in Maine

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending Books in Boothbay with many talented and charming writers including our very own Barb Ross. Because the event was being held an hour and a half from my house and the route was taking us north along the Maine coast on a Saturday we left early. Extra early. So early in fact, that we had time to stop at an antiques shop for a look around. There were many lovely things to peruse including two beautiful old typewriters I had trouble leaving in the shop. The one thing I couldn’t leave without was a copy of a magazine, Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, June 1899.

The magazine featured articles on the Navy, women as travelers and the story of vanilla, as well as a serialized novel and a number of poems. But what really captured my attention were the advertisements.

Some ads were disturbing like one hawking a Home Rupture Cure which calls itself “A Marvelous Blessing for Those who are Ruptured”. The ad never stated exactly what was ruptured. My husband thought it referred to eardrums. I voted for back troubles because I don’t want to think about a home hernia cure.

Bicycles were big business in 1899, as were cameras and watches. You could purchase a printing press for just $5.00 or a newspaper press for $18.00. I spotted a handsome roll top desk I would love to own, complete with pigeon holes and free shipping for $19.85.

Travel ads filled several pages. I found myself wondering what it would have been like to take a fourteen day cruise from NYC to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland for only $60.00. Or to enjoy “Summer’s Paradise in Lake Erie” which claims to be “Just Far Enough North”.

There were ads for cancer cures, insomnia aids and work-at-home schemes. Weight loss medications, exercise equipment guaranteed to turn weaklings into Olympians and baldness solutions filled the back quarter of the magazine. Foot powders, dandruff solutions and aids to digestion were all enthusiastically endorsed by earnest sounding doctors and housewives who assured readers they too were skeptical until they tried the products for themselves.

As I leafed through the magazine I was struck at which things change and which do not. The people in the photographs and drawings sport hairstyles and clothing that would be out of place today but their worries, concerns and cravings wouldn’t be. We still want to save time in the kitchen with convenience foods and we worry about teething pain in babies. People still search for more effective headache treatments and soaps with superior cleaning power.

All those ads made me feel like maybe the world isn’t changing as quickly as it sometimes seems to be. Maybe a hundred years from now someone will happen upon a magazine and chuckle at our interest in organic foods, time saving devices and beauty products. And maybe they’ll be struck at how they are still fighting the battle of the bulge, worrying about their children and falling for get-rich-quick schemes. I just hope no one is still suffering from ruptures of any kind!

Readers, which types of products and pastimes do you think will still be around in a hundred years? Which ones do you hope won’t be?

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