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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


Anonymous July 22, 2009 at 9:41 AM  

This is my favorite kind of ad. I love that it's basically a mini-drama, and we're left to fill in the blanks with our imagination. I'm not sure which is more intriguing- the straight up interpretation, or wild speculation. The melodramatic teenager still lurking somewhere in my head wants to think that this woman fell wildly in love with this gentleman during the course of the train ride, and was prevented by circumstance (illness? amnesia? locked in an attic?) from attempting to contact him for an entire year. But I suppose that is just a wee bit unlikely. ;-)

Anonymous July 22, 2009 at 10:58 AM  

Even before I read your commentary, I wondered if the very pointed reference to the "red leaved trees" was some sort of code. I agree...hmmm... - Darby

Pam July 22, 2009 at 6:36 PM  

@Emily, I love these too. I can't wait to publish a book where I get to let my imagination run wild. ;)

@Darby, it's the "red leaved trees" and the name of the paper that struck my eye too. But I side with Emily - I'd rather believe it's real!

Unknown July 30, 2009 at 12:35 AM  

Maybe if he was wounded one of the ladies was helping him down from the car and he slipped and they thus "embraced" accidentally.

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