Monday, October 28, 2013

'Til Death Do Us Part

by Erin Doane, Curator

Weddings and funerals are two events that are universally shared by almost every culture on earth.  Our newest exhibit ‘Til Death Do Us Part presents the various wedding and funeral traditions that are practiced in Chemung County.  Join us for the exhibit’s official opening this Saturday, November 2nd from 1:00 to 3:00pm.

‘Til Death Do Us Part on display at 
CCHS through May 2014
It is surprising how many similarities there are among various wedding and funeral traditions.  Maybe it should not be all that surprising.  When you get right down to it, humans are more alike than they are different.  Food is something that everyone has in common.  Hindu brides and grooms share sweets with each other as part of their wedding, as do Muslims.  Jewish and Christian couples often share the first bites of cake at their wedding receptions.  When a loved one dies, it is traditional for mourners to bring food to the home of the deceased’s family.  Muslims offer help, condolences and food for three days while Jews provide a week’s worth of meals to the grieving family because they are forbidden to cook for seven days.

Myra and Jerry Stemerman sharing cake
 at their wedding in 1959
The number seven appears again and again among the traditions.  From the seven days of Jewish mourning and the seven verses of prayer at a Muslim funeral to the seven steps and vows at a Hindu wedding and the seven blessings at a Jewish wedding, the number holds shared cultural significance.
Bride and groom taking the seven steps
together at a Hindu wedding, 2010
In both the Hindu and the Jewish traditions, a bride and groom stand under a canopy during the wedding ceremony.  There is often an exchange of tokens between the bride and the groom.  A Hindu groom gives his bride a necklace of black beads.  The tradition of wedding rings began with Christians and Jews but has also been adopted by modern brides and grooms of other religious backgrounds.  In nearly every tradition the couple signs a marriage contract before witnesses.  For Muslims the nikah is simply a legal document but the Jewish ketuba and the Quaker wedding certificate are often highly decorated and are put on display in the couple’s home.  
Ketuba of Joseph and Mindy Gaieski, 2004
 And finally, among nearly all groups regardless of cultural background or religious belief, the overbearing mother-in-law is a shared cliché.  Come see these similarities and more in person at the exhibit opening this Saturday! 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Vintage LOL Cats and Other Funny Felines

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

Take a picture or video of a cat and slap a funny caption on it and you have Internet gold.   Keyboard Cat, Grumpy Cat, and other so-called LOL Cats have taken the web by storm over the past few years (my personal favorite is Henri, Le Chat Noir, the “French” tuxedo cat in deep existential despair.)  With endless LOL cats to brighten our lives now, how sad it must have been to have lived in a pre-Internet world without cats and their people asking such vital questions as “I can haz cheezburger?”

But alas, we’re not as clever and innovative as we think.  We have merely used our technology to play on a great, eternal, and universal truth: people have always liked funny cat pictures.

As evidence, I would like to bring your attention to the late nineteenth century.  Much like now, this was a cat image golden age.  Due to wider acceptance of the concept of pampered pets, cats with funny sayings adorned trade cards, magazines, and other printed materials.  Below is a series of trade cards from the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (or A&P as we know them now).  They detail love and violence cat-style.

Funny feline appearances were not limited to cartoons and made-up cats.  The era had its own celebrity cats who received the caption treatment.  Below are images of Mark Twain’s cats Blatherskate, Sourmash, Apollinaris, and Zoroaster with the captions that they were given in an 1899 issue of St. Nicholas: An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks:

"Mark Twain's Cats, Before the Dog Interfered"

"The Dog Taps on the Window"
Since this is a very visual topic, I will leave you with a few more of my favorite local cat-themed trade cards.  So next time you’re enjoying a video of a cat in a shark costume chasing a duck while riding a Roomba, remember the historic origins of our crazy Internet obsessions.