Scatter-brained thoughts on story-telling from Rudolph to the G. Fox Elephant

December 23, 2014 · Collections ·

As we approach 2015, what things from 2014 should we keep and what things should we throw out? I thought of this as I finished reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to my son. It dawned on me how many things we pass on to the next generation in terms of traditions, stories and folklore and how we decide what to keep. Story-telling and traditions happen throughout the year but the holidays seem especially loaded – from the imaginary (Santa Claus, Rudolph, etc.) to the religious (birth of Jesus, Maccabees) to the cultural (Kwanzaa, Las Posadas) – it’s a season for oral history and tradition elements.

For me, the holiday season just isn’t complete without making sugar cookies, as it brings back memories of family time growing up, and they are simply delicious, duh. Spending time with family and friends and listening to each other expressing narratives of our lives and tales of days past are usually a highlight of the final weeks of the year. It is one of those times, we reflect on the old and the new simultaneously.

Traditions and stories impact our experiences and shape our lives and who we are, to an extent. As parents, we choose which stories and traditions we want to hold onto and bring to our children to experience and which we no longer care about. We are shaping our kids lives and experiences in everything we do from the littlest things, like choosing a brand of chocolate chips, to the larger things, like religion and philosophies.

Photo: Screen shot from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, 1964. Copyright Rankin Bass

What do we pass onto the next generation and what things do we, in essence, throw out? I recently came to a crossroad as I attempted to “pass on” one of my favorite nostalgic holiday shows, “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” to my son. Culture has certainly changed since this show was made in 1964. As I watched, it struck me how this show would never be made in 2014, with the unsupportive dad and the fact that being different makes one a “misfit” to be separated from the rest of society. It seems, even “timeless” classics like Rudolph and Frosty are dated and reflect a period of time in our culture.

We all make decisions on what parts of the past and today that we want to hold onto, both collectively and individually. For instance, and to stick with the holiday theme, a recent acquisition at the Connecticut Historical Society was a patch-work quilt-style elephant from G. Fox (see image), that I am calling the “G. Fox Elephant”.

While the G. Fox Elephant has a strong intriguing visual itself, hearing the story of its acquisition adds to the impact of this piece.

Photo: G. Fox Elephant at the Connecticut Historical Society

Photo: G. Fox Elephant at the Connecticut Historical Society

The Story of the G. Fox Elephant (so far):

The CHS received an email from a woman in Vernon, Connecticut, who said she had a stuffed elephant that had come out of the G. Fox Department store in Hartford when it closed in 1993. Often times when a store closes to the public there is a sell-off of its retail merchandising items, such as fixtures and shelving, and this was the case in 1993 when G. Fox’s parent company, May Department Stores, sold off these assets to other retailers. The woman’s brother was assisting someone who was purchasing shelving from this close-out sale to retailers. While in the loading dock at G. Fox packing a truck of shelving, he noticed a dumpster full of elaborate stuffed animals. Unfortunately, only one animal fit into the truck, and so the endangered G. Fox elephant was placed onboard and transported away from oblivion. To the recollection of the donator, the elephant was a part of the seasonal display, located on the 13th floor, where “Santa” lived. From 1993 to 2014, the elephant lived in a cooler (to protect it from mice) at a family farm in Vernon, when the donor made the decision that this piece should be preserved for future generations to enjoy. Where was the elephant acquired? Did Beatrice Fox Auerbach find the G. Fox elephant during her worldwide travels and import it along with an ark load of others? While we don’t know the whole story (yet) of the G. Fox elephant, the fact that it still exists, creates a desire to find out more, doesn’t it?

From obscurity to museum collection – how many things do we take for granted daily in our disposable society? What should we preserve and what should we throw away? History isn’t just about the past, it’s about today and decisions we make daily on what to preserve and pass on to future generations. Just look at the popularity of social media sites like Facebook and Instagram and photographic sites like Photobucket and Flickr! We are trying to preserve those “moments” (or seconds in the case of Snapchat) and share our lives every day with others! It’s about HIS-story and HER-story (see what I did there? J).

So, what things do we pass onto the next generation and what things do we throw away regarding the story of Connecticut? What objects – from the past and from today – help tell the stories that define our state as a changing place, a community, and an idea? While numerous suggestions have already been made (and can be viewed here), the CHS wants YOU to tell YOUR story from YOUR perspective. Tell us your story here.

Finally, for more on the history of storytelling, I found this article enjoyable to read.

Please note the museum & research center will be closed for Thanksgiving (11/22)