2018-06-22 / Community

A Window on the Past

Historical society calls on residents to check junk drawers
By Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo
South Portland Historical Society

These items were recently donated to the South Portland Historical Society. (Courtesy photos) These items were recently donated to the South Portland Historical Society. (Courtesy photos) This past week, we received a donation at South Portland Historical Society that included several terrific examples of historic ephemera that are so treasured at historical societies.

Society member Marilyn Reilly may have had no idea when she donated a pill bottle from Gill’s Pharmacy in Thornton Heights, or the shopping bag from LaVerdiere’s, that we would be so excited about these new finds. I still vividly remember when David Soule came in years ago to visit us, saying “You probably wouldn’t want this, but…” and it was a shoe horn from Stuart’s Men’s Shop. He hadn’t realized that we didn’t have anything from that old landmark business and we were thrilled with that shoe horn. He came in another time to donate some bags that had the Uncle Andy’s Bakery logo on them – another great find.

The adjective “ephemeral” is often used to describe something that lasts for a very short time – something that is short-lived, transient or fleeting. “Ephemera” is a term used to describe items that are often disposable. Most often these items are thrown away shortly after received or, if saved temporarily, then thrown away later when someone is cleaning and/or looking to tidy up to make room for new things.

We most often think of businesses when we think of ephemera: a receipt, shopping bag, matchbook, menu or placemat from a restaurant, a promotional calendar or maybe a pen with a company name or logo imprinted on it. Promotional items were given away with the intent that they be used, or used up, and then thrown away. If one had to put a value on these items, they probably would be considered relatively worthless, but it is the disposable nature of these items that make them so prized at a historical society.

Businesses have come and gone from the landscape in South Portland over the past century. The challenge for us is to document the existence of these businesses. If we have no tangible item from that business, it does pose a challenge to find a way to record its existence, or to include it in an exhibit.

We are calling on South Portland residents to help us find forgotten history by checking any junk drawers that you may have in your home. Look at the contents with a fresh eye, looking for items that have some identifying marks from a local business or organization that was around years ago, or even a more recent business, but one that no longer exists today. It could be a ruler or tape measure, an old pencil, a golf tee, a coaster for a drink, a toy or an old document on company letterhead. We have no idea what you might find, but if the business or organization no longer exists, we’d love to see what you have to see if it might be worthy of preservation. Help us find these pieces of lost history before someone else looks through the “junk” and throws it away.

If you have something that you think might be of interest, please either bring it by the historical society at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106, give us a call at 767-7299 or send us an email at sphistory04106@gmail.com. Thank you for your help in keeping an eye out for pieces of local history.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of South Portland Historical Society.

Return to top