For National Shop for Travel Day: On Steamer Trunks

Thanks, Noah Diamond for slipping me this image of an old ad for steamer trunks. Believe or not, I actually used to own one of these babies. My friend and performing partner Robert Pinnock gave it to me (somehow or other, but it’s all cloudy now) and it used to live in my kitchen, full of my comedy props and costume pieces, right in the middle of everything like Dr. Who’s Tardis, or the one Harpo slept in during the stateroom scene on A Night at the Opera. But of course, back in the day travelers didn’t live in such massive pieces of luggage, they lived out of them. They had to, in an era when trips that only take us a few hours nowadays took several days.

Today is National Shop for Travel Day, at least according to station KXMD in Bismarck, North Dakota, and I find it heartily amusing that vaudeville is such a wide ranging topic that it permits of having something to talk about in relation to this flimsy excuse for a holiday. In observance I’ll do something I have rarely done on this blog, which is share an actual excerpt from my book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous:

Th[e] steamer trunk…was no mere symbol, but a vital piece of equipment for the traveling vaudevillian. Manufactured by the firm of Herkert and Meisel, they were equipped with hanger space on one side, and drawers on the other. Every performer had one, proudly covered in stickers proclaiming his every port of embarkation: (Paris, New York, London, Berlin, Sydney, Singapore, etc etc). Known affectionately as “H & M trunks” these massive pieces of luggage were considered indispensable.

This is not to throw shade on Winship Wardrobes. If anything, I’d imagine they offered a more deluxe and high end product line than H & M, so much of the vaudevillians life being so precarious, resulting in frequent moments like that depicted in this Norman Rockwell illustration.

To find out more about the history of vaudeville please read No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.