Monday, February 25, 2013

Meet Our Historic Fashion Consultant

by Abigail Cucolo

Hello, all! My name is Abigail Cucolo and I am the new consultant here at the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum, working with the lovely Barb Cerny and the museum's vintage fashion collection.

Have I mentioned how excited I am? Because I am. SO EXCITED! Excited to be in Alaska (first time!), excited to be surrounded by wonderful fashions and cars through the decades and centuries, and excited to get my hands on a thesaurus at some point, because I really need to start using synonyms for “excited”…
Abigail did the illustrations shown
here as part of her graduate work.
I adore historic costume, an interest probably sparked by a love of period drama (which can be detrimental to your health- I think Downton Abbey is trying to make us all severely depressed) and Jane Austen (we should petition to bring back the cravat. Am I right, ladies!? Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, swoon!).  This originally led to my pursuance of a BFA in Fashion (minor: Art History) at the Savannah College of Art and Design. While getting a superbly well rounded fashion education at that institution, one of my required classes was History of Fashion (rightly so). This is where I discovered the complete and utter magnificence that is the semiotics of clothing. Any lover of period drama going into the class would be enthusiastic. The romanticism attached to corsets and petticoats and layer upon layer of silk makes us dream of another place, another time, when chivalry and honor ruled the mores of the day. But what you learn when studying the evolution of the silhouette is that clothing is much more than aesthetics- it communicates and represents so much about the wearer’s identity: geography, politics, social class and values- and just how uncomfortable and physically detrimental some of those romantic corsets and petticoats were. 

With a newfound enthusiasm for the symbolism of clothing, I went to the Arts University of Bournemouth to obtain my MA in Costume. A wonderfully independent course (really helps you work on your self-discipline!), I chose to focus my studies on a sociological approach to women’s historic costume; specifically, the costume of the New Woman at the turn of the 20th century. A wonderfully tumultuous and progressive period for women’s rising independence, the shifting attitudes and increased activity witnessed during that time were well represented through the fast evolution of women’s clothing.

Because of my interest in the historical aspects of clothing, I started volunteering and interning in museums (shout out to Shippensburg University’s Fashion Archives and the US Army Heritage and Education Center!). When back in the States, I began an internship at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History (a once in a lifetime experience), where during a project I met the curator from the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum. I discovered that she was preparing an exhibit of a topic very close to my heart: the American New Woman. Alden O’Brien (the curator) was kind enough--especially after my embarrassing verbal explosion on how much I loved this period of costume--to take me on as an intern assisting with the installation of this fabulous exhibit Fashioning a New Woman (highly recommended!!! I swear I am not being partial. The displays are numerous, enlightening, and beautifully engaging). It was while working on this exhibit that I was introduced to garment gurus Colleen Callahan and Newbie Richardson. Experts on silhouette, display, and preservation of historic costume, they work with  museums and the like to create exhibits that are the most involved to present, but most popular to put on: costume exhibits, of course. These genius ladies helped did a workshop here at the Fountainhead Museum a few years ago, and when Barb mentioned needing help, Colleen (the brilliant woman!) suggested me!

And so here I am, readers, fashion and car enthusiasts alike! So happy to be helping Barb and Tim with their beautiful collection! So happy to bring you all more glimpses of that beautiful collection! And so excited…no, thrilled! to be witnessing a proper winter!

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Skagway Street Cars

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Courtesy of Candy Waugaman
Alaska's automotive history is full of colorful characters, most notably Robert Sheldon. Skagway pioneer Martin Itjen, however, surely deserves to be among the top five. Itjen was born in Dorum, Germany and came to Skagway by way of Florida for the Klondike gold rush in 1898. After unsuccessful attempts at prospecting and then working for the White Pass and Yukon Railroad, he started an undertaking business. In his spare time he ran Skagway's first hack, which doubled as a taxi and coal delivery service.

Itjen was also Skagway's Ford Dealer and worked as a boat builder, boarding house keeper, and sawmill operator. It's possible that Itjen's first automobile was the Veerac light delivery truck pictured at right. In one of his tour books he claimed it was the "first gasoline car in Skagway," even though Sheldon's runabout predated it by several years. This truck probably helped inspire Itjen to expand his hack service, and around 1923 he built a "street car" from a Packard and began giving tours of the gold rush town. Well-known for his enthusiastic stories about Skagway and its characters, Itjen was also described as a warm, humble and inventive man with a knack for poetry.
Courtesy of Klondike Gold Rush NHP, Rapuzzi Collection

For 50 cents, Itjen provided a two-hour tour of Skagway's points of interest, including the wharf where Soapy Smith was shot to death. He built up to four street cars. One had an effigy of Soapy Smith that saluted on command and blew the bus exhaust out his cigar. Another had a growling, animatronic bear mounted on front that signaled with the appropriate paw when the bus turned (you can see a video of it in our museum).

Courtesy of Klondike Gold Rush NHP,
Rapuzzi Collection

In 1935, Itjen took one of his buses to Hollywood as a publicity stunt to promote Skagway tourism. He boldly called on Mae West to "come up and visit me sometime," and she did! Photos of the pair appeared in more than 200 newspapers around the country, and Itjen paid for his entire trip from selling postcards of them together. Itjen continued to run a street car in Skagway until the onset of Word War II forced him to shut down the business in 1941. He died the following year.

Courtesy of Klondike Gold Rush NHP,
Rapuzzi Collection
Itjen collected numerous Alaska artifacts and passed these on to his good friend and fellow collector, George Rapuzzi (shown at right with Street Car #1). In 2007, the Rasmuson Foundation purchased the Rapuzzi collection and donated it to the Municipality of Skagway. The Skagway Museum and Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park have been carefully inventorying the collection ever since. In October they identified a 1908 Packard engine as belonging to Street Car #1, which is also in their collection.

Martin Itjen may be long gone, but his legacy lives on through the current Skagway Street Car Tour. If you're ever in Skagway, don't miss it!

Martin with his streetcar for a fifty cent fare
Will show you when and show you where
The High Spots were, for he was there.
He'll start at nine and takes till noon
To show you Skagway in the Klondike boom.
If you miss this, you have missed it all
And have not seen Alaska at all.
Take a bite if you can't take it all.

Street Car #2 (built on a Ford chassis)

Monday, February 11, 2013

In the Shop: 1934 Packard

by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

A few weeks ago we moved our 1934 Packard 1107 convertible touring into the shop for the first time since its arrival in Fairbanks. This was the only museum car we hadn't driven yet (not counting the handful of too-fragile cars like the 1905 Sheldon and 1904 Stevens-Duryea).

When we fired her up, water poured out the top of the radiator and made a mess over the hood and radiator shroud. We discovered that the overflow tube had been plugged and there was no room for any expansion. So, we set about fixing those problems, only to find that the drain cock for the radiator had been brazed shut.

Once that was fixed, we drained and flushed the system several times and then took a test drive around Wedgewood Resort. When driving one of these big cars in the snow, you best keep awake, as those old tires have no traction! Also, with all the weight up front, stopping and going are a challenge.

Otherwise, the Packard seemed to run fine. Of course, at 10° F, things don't heat up much! After we let the car sit for awhile while warm, we started it again. We saw signs of compression leaking out under the left head, which meant it was time to tear into the engine.

Once we started on the head removal, it became apparent that we would have to do more than just replace head gaskets. All the manifold bolts were loose, as were the head nuts. Several of the head studs are set too deep and threads are stretched, so we will remove all the studs and replace them with new acorn nuts. The short block looks like it was built by someone other than whoever put the top end together. After removing what must have been two large tubes of silicone sealant, we are now cleaned up and ready for the new gaskets to arrive.

I think my Tuesday work crew had a lot of fun pulling the engine apart, and I sure appreciated the help. Lifting the manifolds off is a rather heavy project in itself! Stay tuned for a report on the finished project.

Friday, February 8, 2013

On the Road: Southern California

by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

When January arrives in Fairbanks, it's a good idea to take a little time and head for some sunshine to enjoy. So, last month Wilma and I left town on the good old red-eye flight to San Diego for a few days of rest and relaxation, and to check on some cars we have at Allan Schmidt's Horseless Carriage Restoration shop in Escondido. We spent a couple days visiting my nephew and touring a few museums (auto related). Unbelievably, it snowed a little in San Diego.

We spent some time with Allan and his wife, Beth, and did a little touring with a 1927 Pierce-Arrow limo (above right). We drove to a resort that was rather nice, and being rebuilt after the fires of 2007.  This copper piece of art there was rather impressive to see and obviously took a lot of work to put together.

We also joined the local Horseless Carriage club for a tour with a 1908 Great Western touring car that Allan was working on for one of his customers. This car had just returned from a 2600-mile cross-country tour in Australia, and was brought in to the shop to get it ready for another overseas tour. It is a rather large 2-cylinder mid-engine car that runs rather well, and like all old cars, can and will make you spend a few moments tinkering on it, just to keep you up to speed.

While heading to the tour, the timer decided to part company with the attaching point, thus rendering us sitting in the middle of the intersection. We quickly figured out what was wrong and made a phone call to get some wrenches to make the repairs, and were soon on the road again.

At right are some of the cars that showed up for the tour.  We met a great bunch of folks and enjoyed good food, followed by a show of sheep and cattle dog competition.

Notice that all the folks are dressed in their winter coats, as it was rather cool for that area. The night before it got down to 19° F in the valley where we ended the tour, and for them that is downright cold. It did get up in the high 50s by the end of the day, which wasn't too bad for us northern folks.

Oh, yea, I almost forgot--I was working as well, and did get a few pictures of our American Underslung  in the current stage of restoration at Allan's. That's another story to follow.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Flapper Chic

by Nancy DeWitt

Another 1920s-themed event is coming up in Fairbanks, which means I've been getting questions about how to dress "like a flapper." Just what does that mean, exactly? First, it helps to give some context to the era of The Great Gatsby.

The 1920s was a time of great social change for women. Most notably, they won the right to vote and gained more social freedoms. As they began attending college and working outside the home in greater numbers, it became acceptable for them to live away from their families. Some sources say the term "flapper" was first used to describe these independent women as young birds, flapping their wings and leaving the nest.

The term flapper was more commonly used to describe the 1920s woman who flaunted a rebellious, pleasure-seeking lifestyle. After the dreary war years and the flu pandemic of 1918, young people were ready to embrace life to the fullest. Despite (or because of) Prohibition, drinking became a favorite pastime, along with unchaperoned dating, driving fast cars and staying out late dancing.

Women's fashion embraced this carefree attitude, with dresses becoming looser and sexier. The ideal shape was that of boy, with flattened breasts and narrow hips. Many women wore soft corsets or side-lacing bras to achieve this shape, while some actually bound their chests with bandeaus. Waist lines dropped or disappeared altogether. Hair was worn in a boyish bob, or pulled back with waves on the side to simulate a bobbed look.

Despite their boyish shape, dresses of this era were stylish, feminine and often very ornate. The discovery of King Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922 had a huge effect on fashion, inspiring Egyptian motifs and geometric patterns on dresses, purses and jewelry. The ultimate evening dresses were embellished with beads, sequins, embroidery, lace and/or fringe, often sewn on to a net tunic worn over a colorful underdress.

Dresses of the era were typically calf length, unlike most costume flapper dresses sold today (hemlines did extend above the knees for a brief period in the 20s, but not by much). Scalloped and handkerchief hemlines created the illusion of  shorter dresses. Most were sleeveless and some had extremely low backs. A flapper finished off her look with costume jewelry, nude or pastel stockings rolled down to just below the knees, t-strap shoes, and a cloche, beaded skull cap, headband or decorative hairpiece. She might have also worn a feather boa, shawl or wrap, as shown in our post on 1920s coats.

We have a beautiful selection of 1920s dresses on display in the museum and the Wedgewood Resort Visitor Center. Stop by and get some ideas for creating your own flapper look. Or, check out these resources for men's and women's Roaring Twenties costumes.