3/26 — The Tom Show (3)

  For today's class I want you to look at pictures — some of the many images that the "Tom Shows" effectively burned into the national retina through those thousands and thousands of performances between the 1870s and the 1920s. We have only a few photographs of the shows themselves; you'll be looking at them. Each performance, however, announced itself with dozens of posters, postcards, flyers and other promotional materials, and these visual materials remained behind long after the show had ended and moved on to the next town or city. You'll be looking at large numbers of them. We can start class by sharing the images that seemed to have the most to say to each of us, about the way these materials helped the nation shape its idea of itself and its past as it headed into the 20th century.
  The first group of pictures I want you to look at, though, are illustrations for the book version of
Uncle Tom's Cabin. As you'll see, after 1892 there were many new editions of the novel coming out as the Tom Shows traveled the country, and many of them were illustrated. We can compare the imagery of the Tom Show to both the words of Stowe's text, and its various visual interpretations.

  • Collected Illustrations
        This link will take you to a page of links to almost all the hundreds of illustrations in 18 different American editions of UTC, 1852-1929. I don't dare ask you to look at all of them, but take these three columns — FRONTISPIECE (13 illustrations); CHAPTER 20 (34 illustrations); CHAPTER 32 (22 illustrations) — and work down them looking at the choices each illustrator or publisher makes, including what scenes or characters they include, which ones they exclude, how they invite readers of different historical eras to "see" the story.

        These are all the photographs of the show itself that I've found, including one set taken from the 1903 Edison-Porter film that we'll be looking at as a movie in two weeks.

        Look through the last three flyers listed on this page: "Generic 16-Page Flyer," "The Standard Combination" and "Moyer Brothers' UTC."

        Tommers called these posters "paper," and advance agents for the Tom Shows made sure to "paper" a company's route by putting up as many posters as possible, on fences, barns, buildings, &c. The smallest of these posters are about 3' x 4', but you could order them in multiple formats, including multi-block posters that were perhaps almost half the size of modern highway billboards.

        These were were more likely to be handed out than sent through the mail, and as you'll see, many were clearly designed to be handed out to children. As I said, you're looking at an awful lot of Tom Show images for today's class, but that was also true of America between 1875 and (say) 1920 or 1930.

  • OPTIONAL: If you want to see more pictures from the illustrated editions of the novel: ILLUSTRATIONS HOMEPAGE. If you want still more Tom Show images: IMAGES FROM UTC ONSTAGE HOMEPAGE. And I'm not asking you to look at playbills for the Tom Shows (as we looked at playbills for the play in the years before the War), but the playbills tell lots of stories too; if you want to look at them: 74 PLAYBILLS, 1867-1927.