Sunday, August 3, 2008

Ephemera, part 3

Yesterday was the annual "World's Greatest Garage Sale" here in Morgantown, which is actually held in a multi-story parking garage downtown. On the radio they said there were 90 vendors there, though as you might expect, not nearly that many were worth a close look: lots of people selling country "crapts," as I like to call them, and many local volunteer organizations raffling chances to win gas cards.

But, if you recall our previous post, you won't be surprised to know that we got sidetracked by the ephemera. Tom scored with a $10 box full of dance cards from the late 1920s and early 1930s.

They're all from dances held at West Virginia University by various organizations--fraternities and sororities, of course, but also the campus ROTC unit and, my favorite, the General Engineering Society. The cover tells the tale: "Engineers' Dance"...though in my opinion, it should read "Engineers Dance?!"

The interior is equally amusing, with various dances named "Perpetual Motion" and "Oscillator," and the request that attendees check slide rules at the door. That engineers had a twisted sense of humor, I knew. But that they dance? Well, I guess they did in 1927, anyway.

The cards name the featured bands, too, including those with such school-spirited names as Al Mabey's Old Gold and Blue Orchestra and Overt Halloran's Merry Mountaineers. But the group I'd love to have seen live is Bob McGowan's Syncopating Pirates.

A couple decades later, my dad's own dance band, Dave Hathaway's Tophatters, would be featured on such cards. He paid his room and board through his undergraduate and graduate-school days at WVU gigging around Morgantown. I recently saw a postcard from the late 40s that he sent out to advertise his band, which I'll try to post later.

It's easy to look at these cards and see them as remnants of a much more elegant and mannerly past, and to wonder about the woman to whom this collection might have belonged...was she happy to dance with "Mutt" and "Speedy" at the Engineers' Dance? Are the first and last dances marked "XXX" because the guy was so hot she couldn't mention him by name, or because she planned to arrive late and leave early? But I also know that until the late 1960s, women at WVU were kept to a strict curfew and not allowed off campus for any reason without written permission from a parent. So, I have to temper my romanticism with a dose of reality.

Still, I love these darned things, and wish I could dangle one from my wrist and use the tiny little attached pencil to write in the name of the unfortunate gentleman who gets me for a fox-trot partner.

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