Here is the first of a series of Thanksgiving-related posts, although this particular one doesn’t really have much to do with the holiday at all: only pumpkins. There is something about the pumpkin–the word, the shape, the associations–that renders it particularly suitable for satire and caricature, political and otherwise. You can place a pumpkin in a scene and immediately send forth a message, without words. The image conjures up nativist, patriotic associations for Americans, while the Cinderella connection and sheer rotundity seem to be the central message of European illustrations. I put “pumpkin” in the search engines of some of my favorite digital archives and this is what I got, in chronological order:
First off, a too-easy “pumpkin”: poor Daniel Lambert, the largest man in Britain, who was forced to put himself on display out of extreme poverty in the early nineteenth century. He died at age 39 and 739 pounds in 1809.
Two pieces of political ephemera from the Library of Congress: a sheet music cover of the “Know Nothings Quick Step” dated 1854, featuring the American symbols of pumpkin, turkey and badger framing the “European invaders” who were so threatening to the anti-Immigration Know Nothing Party, and a Civil War-era pictorial envelope of former General George McClellan, who ran against Abraham Lincoln in the 1864 presidential election after being relieved of his military duties; I assume this is a pro-Lincoln piece.
An 1871 caricature of French Third Republic minister Ernest Picard, from the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
Finally, two illustrations from Puck Magazine (1871-1918), always a source of great historical images: “Uneasy Turks” from 1908 (a time of popular revolution in Turkey not unlike the “Arab Spring”) and “Thanksgiving: a study in Proportion” from 1912. The latter seems to be a rather modern commentary on the trivialization of the holiday: a very small church is dwarfed by material symbols of the day’s amusements: feasting (pumpkin and turkey), entertainment (theater mask), and sports (golf clubs, shotgun and riding crop).