The Buttolph Collection of Menus at the New York Public Library has grabbed my attention and I’m wondering if I should start a new blog called “Menu Masala.” A food history nerd could spend a lot of time looking for menus with compelling art, analyzing the how contents have changed over time, searching for special event menus with notable attendees, or menus from historically interesting sites. This post features menus from the last two categories.
The first is the menu for the 14th Annual Dinner of the Society of American Magicians, which was held in 1918 at the Hotel McAlpin (in Manhattan at Broadway and 34th Street, now an apartment building). Of note are the attractive image from the cover (shown below) and the listing of the executive officers on the second page of the menu (not shown). The great Harry Houdini was the President of the Society for 1917-1918 (he lived from 1874-1926) and I found it exciting to see his name in an off-stage context. The food on the menu served seems typical for the time — celery is in the appetizer section, of course — and none of the items seem connected to magic. It isn’t clear whether some diners needed to pull their entrees out of a hat, or if others (like Houdini) needed to escape from padlocked chains before they could dine. I’m sure that there were some formal performances for the group, and plenty of informal ‘shop talk.’
|Cover page of menu for Society of American Magician’s 14th Annual Dinner, from Buttolph Collection of Menus at NYPL
The next few images are related to the 1917 Christmas Dinner aboard the battleship U.S.S. Oklahoma (BB-37). The ship was commissioned in May 1916 and entered the European war zone in mid-1918 to protect transport ships, so this was dinner was probably held under relatively peaceful conditions. The menu covers most traditions with meat offerings of turkey, ham, roast beef, and sides like sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and herb dressing (a.k.a. stuffing?). Of course, they served celery: celery relish and celery in branches.
|Cover page of 1917 Christmas menu aboard U.S.S. Oklahoma, from Buttolph Collection of Menus at NYPL
|Menu for 1917 Christmas dinner aboard U.S.S. Oklahoma, from Buttolph Collection of Menus at NYPL
The Oklahoma had a relatively uneventful WWI — most of the casualties were related to the 1918 flu pandemic. She met a terrible end at the start of WWII: hit by Japanese torpedoes during the attack on Pearl Harbor, she capsized, resulting in over 400 crew killed or missing. Salvage operations were attempted and the ship was eventually moved to a dry dock for repair, but she was too old and damaged for a restoration to be worthwhile, so she was decommissioned in September 1944. Oddly enough, after being sold for scrap, she sunk while being towed from Hawaii to California in May 1947, and lies somewhere at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. You can read more about the U.S.S. Oklahoma at the Naval History and Heritage Command.
|The U.S.S. Oklahoma passes Alcatraz Island in 1930
- “Hotel McAlpin – Society of American Magician’s 14th Annual Dinner” (1918), Buttolph Collection of Menus, Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. Downloaded from the New York Public Library Digital Collections. No known US copyright restrictions. Link
- “U.S.S. Oklahoma Christmas Menu” (1917), Buttolph Collection of Menus, Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. Downloaded from the New York Public Library Digital Collections. No known US copyright restrictions. Link
- Hand colored photograph of the U.S.S. Oklahoma passing Alcatraz Island in 1930 from Naval History and Heritage Command. U.S. government product (U.S. Navy photograph).
Random link from the archive: L.A. Times Food Section