Tobogganing at Cranbrook

If you grew up in the Midwest you’ve likely been sledding at some point during the winter months. But have you ever been on a toboggan run?

According to the Olympic Movement:

Sleighing is one of the oldest winter sports. Descriptions of the sport can be found in 16th-century literature, but as a racing sport it can be traced to the mid-19th century, when British tourists started sliding down snowbound roads in the Alps. British and American holidaymakers built the first toboggan run in Davos in 1882.

Images in the archives’ historic photograph collection indicate there were once two such runs on Cranbrook grounds.

Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The first photographs of a toboggan run date from 1928 and feature an elevated wooden platform and slide situated by an ice-skating rink at the northern edge of Cranbrook School campus, where the Williams Natatorium now stands. A November 1, 1928 notice in the Birmingham Eccentric provides further evidence: “Construction on a toboggan slide for the Cranbrook students has begun, according to school authorities. It will run down the large hill from behind the school, possibly across the canoe lagoon, and will be ready for use when enough snow permits.” A November 12, 1928 Cranbrook School Crane notice confirms its construction that year: “A toboggan slide is being constructed behind the tennis courts. The starting platform will be of wood, jutting over the hill just north of the courts. The course will begin here and stretch down over the hill into the lagoon. This sport will be greatly enjoyed by all of us.” Perhaps Cranbrook School students were inspired by the Olympic debut of the skeleton event that year in St. Moritz, Switzerland?

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Circa 1930s. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

Whatever the impetus, by the late 1930s, photographs show a different structure in a decidedly different location, suggesting the 1928 run had been replaced. Following more closely the natural contours of the hill, this toboggan run appears to have started by the Institute of Science and run in the direction of Kingswood Lake, through the existing tree line. A map in the archives refers to this area as “Suicide Hill.” Could the toboggan run have helped earn the hill its name? This image certainly shows an exhilarating ride.

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Circa 1930s. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

A February 1945 Cranbrook Schools Crane story corroborates the building of a second run: “The toboggan slide, built six or seven years ago…” The article goes on to report that outsiders had begun using the slide at all hours of the day and night, and so Cranbrook Foundation took steps to prevent unsupervised use by erecting a padlocked fence around the upper half of the runway. “The slide is to be used only when a reliable person is in charge.”

While the first toboggan slide featured in a February 1929 Cranbrook School outdoor party, to which a few girls were invited, a picture of the second toboggan run in the 1938 Kingswood yearbook Woodwinds implies that it was with the construction of this run that girls were now really participating in the fun. Just how much in its early years is unclear, since tobogganing is not part of the 1939-1940 Kingswood list of social activities along with other winter past times, such as ice skating (Kingswood School Records, 1930-1985). But, by 1944 its popularity seems assured. The December Sports News section of  The Clarion announces the outdoor sports opportunities once snow made them possible: skiing, skating, and tobogganing. A couple of years later, the toboggan is still a prominent winter activity of Kingswood students, as a December 1946 issue states, “Until the snow and cold weather comes, the winter sports group will walk. However, when snow and ice really arrive, this group will toboggan, skate, and ski.” And again, in Dorm News of the March 1947 issue, the slide is mentioned as an example of one of the perks of being a boarding student: “Another advantage that we have is that we can use the toboggan slide on Saturday and Sunday afternoons as well as during sports periods.”

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February 14, 1947. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

How long the second toboggan run was in use is uncertain. A February 1948 Clarion issue shows a photograph of sophomores tobogganing right outside Kingswood School, and by 1949 issues, tobogganing (along with other winter outdoor activities) is no longer mentioned. Other images in the historic photograph collection show that in 1955 Cranbrook students were sledding on the hill from Cranbrook Art Museum to Cranbrook House, with no toboggan slide in sight. It would seem that the days of the toboggan run were over.

It’s important to note that these gaps in documentation of the toboggan runs illustrate the challenge often faced in understanding our past. Accurately recreating historical events relies solely on available facts (written, visual, or verbal). Do you have evidence of the operation of a toboggan run at Cranbrook? Help supplement the historical record and let Cranbrook Archives know!

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist

Come to the great hall, where the Yule log sparkles bright!

“Come to the great hall, where the Yule log sparkles bright!” is the jester’s call to commence the Christmas Pageant. Ninety years ago today the first Cranbrook School Christmas Pageant was held on Friday, December 20, 1929. Seeing a need for symbolism and tradition, Dr. Vernon B. Kellett, a Cranbrook School teacher of German, Latin, and Music (1929-1943), initiated the pageant to recreate an old English Christmas banquet as it is thought to have been celebrated in the baronial castles of the middle ages.

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Cranbrook School Christmas Pageant, December 1940. Copyright Cranbrook Archives

For nine decades, students, faculty, and select guests have gathered in the Commons at six o’clock in the evening during the last week of term before the Holiday recess, awaiting the Court Jester’s greeting and invitation to proceed to the Great Hall. On the occasion of the first Christmas Pageant, the great dining hall was reported to have been illuminated by thousands of candles at tables and in windows, where the candle flames gently flickered against the frosted panes, creating a warm ambience of bygone times. Mrs. Stevens, the Headmaster’s wife, was a contributor to the candlelit backdrop. Mrs. Kellett, Miss Walker and other faculty ladies wore commendable costumes, which were based on those of the fifteenth century.

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Cranbrook School Christmas Pageant Procession of the Boar’s Head, December 1940. Copyright Cranbrook Archives

Throughout the years, the pageant has kept tradition and followed the same program of readings, carols, and processions. To begin, all remain standing to sing an old Latin hymn, “Adeste Fideles,” followed by readings by the Chaplain. As the Chaplain reads the Christmas story from St. Luke, shepherds proceed through the dining hall to a manger scene. Old French and English carols are sung before the Chaplain reads the story of the Magi from St. Matthew. During the reading, three Wise Men appear, and more carols are sung. After the Chaplain reads “The Collect,” the glee club sings “Lo, how a rose e’er blooming,” and then dinner is served. The jester reappears and entertains for the evening.

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Cranbrook School Christmas Pageant Program, December 1937. Copyright Cranbrook Archives

Following dinner are three processions with carols for each– that of the Boar’s head, the Plum puddings, and the Yule log. Then enter the Mummers who perform the “Mummer’s Play.” In the middle ages, Mummers were amateur actors who attended feasts to perform plays. At the first Christmas Pageant, the mummers performed a dramatization of St. George and the Dragon, which was a popular story in medieval England and continues to be celebrated there on April 23rd, St. George’s Day. To bring the evening to a close, the headmaster gives his Christmas greeting and everyone sings the school hymn. Dr. Kellett, the founder of the pageant, also wrote the words to the school hymn and established the first Glee Club and soccer team for Cranbrook School.

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Dr. Vernon B. Kellett, October 1942. Copyright Cranbrook Archives

The first Christmas Pageant was reportedly a resounding success and all who had participated agreed that an inspirational and beautiful tradition had been established for future years. Indeed, it has continued an unbroken annual tradition for ninety years.

–Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

 

Leapin’ Lena! A Kingswood Kangaroo?

In the collection of the Cranbrook Archives, we have a number of objects related to Kingswood School for Girls. These include uniforms, pennants, and one curious kangaroo tagged “Leapin’ Lena.”

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In the Alumni Relations Office for many years, the kangaroo was never the official mascot for Kingswood School Cranbrook (KSC). It was likely part of a popular craze in the 1950s and 1960s, when Collegiate Manufacturing Company, which started out manufacturing school pennants, was promoting stuffed animals as school “mascots” or “personality pets.”

Advertisement for Collegiate Manufacturing Company's College Pets

Advertisement for Collegiate Manufacturing Company’s “Personality Pets.” Source: Kagavi.com

Because she’s in mint condition with her tag still on, perhaps our Lena was a sample from one of the many salesmen Collegiate Manufacturing employed?

Most likely just an alliterative name — think “Mickey Mouse” or “Lois Lane” — the name “Leapin’ Lena” could also come from a number of sources. “Leapin’ Lena” has been used as a nickname for a car; a fictional B-52 bomber in the 1944 movie The Purple Heart; a kangaroo in a Rex the Wonder Dog comic in 1952; and a 1954 Cold War hero pigeon.

I like to think our Leapin’ Lena name came from Rex the Wonder Dog, where the character was part of a story line called “The Saga of Leapin’ Lena.” Lena was a kangaroo from an old vaudeville act, that also happened to foil crime.

A page from Rex the Wonder Dog, Volume 1, #5, "The Saga of Leapin' Lena"

A page from Rex the Wonder Dog, Volume 1, #5, “The Saga of Leapin’ Lena.” Source: vlcomic.com

I really don’t know how this model marsupial got to the Alumni Relations Office, who then gave it to Archives; nor am I familiar with other Kingswood kangaroo mascots (only Kitty Kingswood). Do you know more about our Leapin’ Lena or other Kingswood kangaroos?

Leslie Mio, Associate Registrar

A Mexican Adventure & South American Sojourn

Cranbrook’s founders George and Ellen Booth loved to travel, collecting memories and mementos wherever they went. With Europe at war in 1939, they headed south—way south!

The Booths explored Mexico from the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza to bustling Mexico City. Along for the journey was their nurse and traveling companion, Nellie Beveridge. We’re lucky Nellie was there—her camera documented the journey. Unlike other trips the family made, where we can reconstruct detailed itineraries through letters, postcards, and even menus in Cranbrook Archives, there’s not a lot of documentation about this trip other than Nellie’s slide images:

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Two years later, in the Spring of 1941, George, Ellen, Nellie Beveridge, and Nellie’s camera set sail from New York City aboard the Grace Line South American Cruise. The six-week journey started in Barranquilla, Colombia; moved through the 44-miles of the Panama Canal; and down the South American coast, stopping in Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and across land to Buenos Aires.

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Looking closely at the photographs, we see highlights of the trip included a ride on one of the many funiculars of Valparaiso, Chile, visits to more ancient sites, museums, and markets, and a journey on “the Chair,” a hand-powered lift in the port of Mollendo, Peru.

Inspired by the Booth’s adventures, for this year’s Holiday Splendor event at Cranbrook House we’ve brought together a selection of slide images and items from the 1939 and 1941 trips, along with objects from Latin and South America held at Cranbrook Institute of Science and folk art decorations from Mexico and Peru.

Mr. Booth's Original Office decorated for Holiday Splendor, 2019. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA '21.

Mr. Booth’s Original Office decorated for Holiday Splendor, 2019. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

On both trips, Mr. Booth likely collected souvenirs, one of which, a Peruvian decorated gourd, is on display. On his return to Michigan, it would seem Booth was inspired to collect more Pre-Columbian art from dealers in New York and San Francisco for his burgeoning Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum, which opened in its current building in 1942.

Working with Anthropology Coordinator/Museum Educator Cameron Wood at Cranbrook Institute of Science, Leslie Mio and I were able to study a number of fascinating pieces that Booth collected for the Art Museum and Institute, and see other works of art, domestic objects, and pieces of ancient and modern life from the countries the Booths traveled through. (In the 1980s, the Art Museum transferred many of its ancient pottery and anthropological items to the Institute of Science).

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Nazca double-spout-and-bridge vessel with mask decoration; Pre-Columbian double-chambered jar from Panama; and carved and painted wooden toys of people and llamas from Peru, 1940s. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

One of my favorite pieces we selected from the Institute is a double-spout-and-bridge vessel with mask decoration from the 2nd—4th century by the Nazca people, who lived in what is now Peru. The Nazca culture (100BC-800CE) is characterized by its beautiful polychrome pottery, painted with at least 15 distinct colors. Their vessels were constructed by the coil method and then decorated with a multicolored slip before the vessels were fired. This allowed for bright and permanent colors, and the images served as a way of recording stories for a people without a written language. The sheen of the vessel was enhanced by burnishing after it was fired. This type of vessel was used for ritual purposes, as they are most often found in graves.

The Peruvian decorated gourd (front center-left) collected by Mr. Booth is on display with ancient and 20th-century objects generously on loan from Cranbrook Institute of Science. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

George Booth would have seen pieces like the double-spout-and-bridge vessel on his travels through Peru’s museums, galleries, and archaeological digs. However, this piece was purchased from an American dealer after he returned home. Another, much larger piece, is in the Nazca style but dates to the 1940s and was also purchased by Booth for the museum. It is interesting to see how the ancient, Pre-Columbian pieces and the modern Peruvian works share similar styles, forms, and motifs.

The mantle in Mr. Booth's Original Office, featuring Mexican tin trees and a Peruvian retablo.

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The mantle in the office, featuring Mexican hojalata (tin artwork) candelabra Christmas trees and Peruvian retablo. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

After Spanish invasion and colonization, indigenous cultures and design became mixed with Catholicism. Today, the most prominent decor at Christmastime in South America is the nativity. Retablos, a reverent diorama-altar typical of the Ayacucho region of Peru, combines Catholic imagery with indigenous style and stories, and have been made throughout South America since colonial times. Our retablo was purchased through UNICEF Market, helping to support artisans and charity work in Peru.

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The mantle in the office, featuring Mexican hojalata (tin artwork) and a handmade woven bicyclist. Tin art has been popular in Mexico since the 1500s. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

The ornaments on the tree and along the mantel include hand-carved gourds and clay nativities from Peru, along with painted ceramic candle holders, tin animals, and hand-woven bicyclists from Mexico. These are all types of small souvenirs the Booths would have seen on their travels. In fact, there is a stall selling very similar gourd ornaments in one of the images Nellie took!

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Four Peruvian pottery figures of musicians from the 1940s and models of Mexican castillo (castle) firework frames. Fireworks have been popular for patron-saint festivals and holidays in Mexico since the mid-19th century. Photo by Daniel Smith, CAA ’21.

Leslie and I are grateful to Cranbrook Institute of Science for loaning objects from the areas of the Booths’ trips; to Deborah Rice in Cranbrook Archives for scanning all the great images (you can see more here); and to Michael Sinelli, Gerhardt Knodel, and Kenneth Gross for sharing pieces of Mexican and Peruvian folk art from their own collections to help make our room a festive, holiday scene!

Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

PS: There is one letter from George Booth to his son, Henry, where he writes about Mexico from Los Angeles: “Having passed out of the desert Mexican influence I find I am still greatly impressed with all I saw…I don’t like the bugs of Yucatan…the spots stay with you some time…, however a real traveler never lets such little things bother them–and with it all it in no way distracts from my good opinion of the Country–its history and the people of to-day.”

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