Wednesday, July 22, 2009
I was looking for an entirely different ad when I ran across this one today and I found it really, really interesting. I don't entirely know what to make of it; at face value, it makes very little sense. I feel like there must be a story behind it. Here is the text:
A year ago last September or October two ladies with a child were traveling on the Hudson River cars, one of whom offered a seat to a middle aged gentleman with light whiskers or goatee, slightly gray, who kindly pointed out the red leaved trees, and said he had a number of those at his place, and made himself otherwise agreeable, and when she was leaving him (ten miles this side of where he stopped) gave her a parting embrace, which she has never been able to forget. If the gentleman has any recollection of the circumstance he will greatly oblige by addressing a note to Love Rainbow, Madison square Post office, giving some description of the lady, also name of the paper he gave her.
Hmmm. There are a couple things "wrong" with this picture. The first thing that strikes me is that the ad was written over a year after the encounter took place. What took so long? Was the lady suddenly in desperate circumstances? Was she a widow finally out of mourning?
Second, it's odd the lady offered her seat to the gentleman, when we all know it should have been the other way around, given proper etiquette at the time. Presumably he was handicapped in some way - this being around the Civil War it's possible he had a war wound or something that had left him disabled. Mentioning that might have hurt his pride, which could be why there's no explanation for such a bizarre circumstance. Still, it's intriguing.
Finally, the "parting embrace." Whoa. I've said this before and I'll say it again, for unacquainted middle-class men and women to even touch, outside of things like helping a woman alight from or get into a carriage (or whatever) was just totally unacceptable. Even shaking hands (except when being introduced by someone who knew both parties) was considered a breach of etiquette. Now obviously just because etiquette dictates something doesn't mean people followed it to the letter (as ads like this make clear), but there's a big ol' gap between breaking etiquette by, say, squeezing someone's hand and embracing. People who knew each other - including married couples - wouldn't even embrace in public. It's just wild!
Like the ads last week, I could see this being a code for something else, though who knows what. Frankly, that possibility makes a whole lot more sense to me than the likelihood that this went down as it's written.
Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!
©2009 Pam Epstein