Social Buttons

Monday, March 19, 2012

1864: The Brooklyn Sanitary Fair, Part 2

A Winslow Homer illustration of the Post Office at the Sanitary Fair
Immensely popular, the Brooklyn and Long Island Sanitary Fair ran from February 22 to March 8, 1864, and raised over $400,000, the highest sum of any Sanitary Fair in the country up to that time. Housed at the original Brooklyn Academy of Music premises on Montague Street, the Brooklyn Sanitary Fair drew masses from throughout the region. The March 12, 1864 issue of Frank’s Illustrated Newspaper describes the jovial crowd at the Fair:
Everyone seemed to be in the best possible humor—old men smiled though grimly—when their favorite corns were trodden upon, and the ladies didn’t seem to mind in the least having the gathers torn out of their dresses.
For nearly three weeks, the Academy became a microcosm of Brooklyn society. Three temporary buildings, connected to the Academy by bridges, were erected. Throughout the Fair’s quarters were several restaurants, art galleries, a soda fountain, and over a dozen vendors offering various goods made by local industries. The Sanitary Fair even had its own daily newspaper, The Drum-Beat, as well as a Post Office.

Stamp from the Brooklyn Sanitary Fair, with certificate of authenticity

Of all the Brooklyn Sanitary Fair’s attractions, the Post Office was perhaps the most popular. Located in the Proscenium Box to the right of the stage, the Post Office was staffed primarily by young ladies dressed to the nines, and it served as a site for playful flirtations. Messages, written predominantly by men, were posted to other fairgoers for the price of either 15¢ or 25¢. (It has been suggested that the higher rate was for messages written in verse.) The male fairgoers would attempt to impress their addressees—as well as the Post Office staff—with the mellifluence of their speech or the bravado of their verse, while the women of the Post Office pronounced their judgments by displaying the best messages of the day on a wall outside of the office. Up to 5,000 messages were posted during the Fair, and the Post Office raised over $800 ($11,000 in today’s USD) in the sale of stamps alone.

Stamp from an earlier Brooklyn fundraiser for the Sanitary Commission

The objects pictured here, along with many others from the Brooklyn Sanitary Fair, are currently on view in From Brooklyn to the World, the archival exhibition celebrating BAM's 150th anniversary.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.