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Co-Opting a Mormon Story for General Commerce

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 02, 2011

This ad for Travelers Insurance appeared in the Saturday Evening Post of October 30, 1943. I’m guessing that the 1940 release of the movie “Brigham Young” or the 1938 release of “The Miracle of Salt Lake” had made the Mormon account of the seagulls and the crickets familiar enough to that generation for it to be useful to Madison Avenue.

An early review of our “Mormonism: A Historical Encyclopedia wondered why we had devoted even a little space to the seagulls and crickets (a succinct account, including the enduring meaning of that event, written by Edje Jeter) when there were so many other, more significant historical happenings that didn’t get their own entries. It’s because we felt that that story would be familiar to a broad audience and was one of the terms that someone who picked up the Encyclopedia might actually look for.

I feel so vindicated.



13 Comments »

  1. This is a really nice old ad and would look lovely framed, wouldn’t it? Out of curiosity, I looked around and it seems like copies of this issue are pretty available and not to pricey: I didn’t find anything over $20.00.

    I’ll have to keep it in mind for a gift!

    Comment by Mina — August 2, 2011 @ 2:20 pm

  2. What is it that the woman is dumping from her bag?

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 2, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

  3. Yeah, I myself was wondering why the sinking of the Lusitania didn’t have an entry when the seagulls did. Maybe if the Lusitania had a monument on temple square…

    Comment by Matt W. — August 2, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

  4. Mina, I bought (but haven’t yet framed) three ads from the 40s featuring my grandmother’s silver(plate) pattern. Some of those old ads have spectacular graphics!

    That’s a bag of dead crickets, I think, J. She’s pulled them off her crops and is now going to drown them in the ditch. I think.

    Was there a Mormon aboard the Lusitania, Matt? Maybe we could adopt it as the church equivalent of a state ship sinking and put up that absent monument. (You remind me of a post I want to right about a Mormon connection to a passenger aboard the Lusitania, too.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 2, 2011 @ 2:50 pm

  5. Having gone nearly blind trying to read the ad copy, I hope you’ll forgive any errors.

    But, the ad says that the seagull monument is the only one ever erected in honor of a bird–and my dim memory suggests that they’re wrong. (Of course, maybe during wartime you just don’t acknowledge anything good that might have happened in an enemy country.) Somewhere in the Cathedral in Ulm, in southern Germany, is a statue of a sparrow. The reason the sparrow is honored, while not as heroic as our seagull story, is nonetheless a nice tale:

    According to legend, construction of the spire of the Ulm Munster was halted while only halfway completed when a wagon carrying a large wooden beam – loaded sideways – arrived at the narrow city gate. After contemplating how best to proceed, the mayor of Ulm gave the order to tear down part of the city wall, but before the order was carried out, a sparrow-like bird was observed maneuvering a long twig into its nest – lengthwise! Following the lead of the sparrow, the beam was turned, the wagon passed through the narrow gate, work was resumed, the cathedral was completed, and the legend of the Ulmer Spätze was born.

    The only problem with this story is the idea that someone drove a cart any distance at all with a long beam tied crossways. Or that birds are smarter than people. Or even if some people are dumber than birds, it’s a bit hard to believe that a whole city full of people were outwitted by a sparrow. (Another apparent difficulty–the story seems to have first appeared in the 18th or 19th century, long after the cathdral was built. Obviously, there’s a problem with provenance.)

    I’ve found some descriptions of the sparrow sculpture (monument), but, alas, no photographs. Yet.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 2, 2011 @ 4:06 pm

  6. And it seems that a sparrow flew off with an “e” from “cathedral.”

    Comment by Mark B. — August 2, 2011 @ 4:09 pm

  7. Ardis- I was just being silly. I think the idea of someone complaining that the crickets and seagulls, which is one of the most widely known LDS stories in the universe, is obscure and unimportant is funny.

    Comment by Matt W. — August 2, 2011 @ 8:44 pm

  8. I knew that, Matt — but the best way to deal with silliness is either to treat it seriously, or to out-silly it!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 2, 2011 @ 8:55 pm

  9. Great find! Oddly, the illustration is both lovely and disturbing at the same time.

    Comment by David Y. — August 3, 2011 @ 12:13 am

  10. Mark B. I wonder if it wasn’t a migratory, African “sparrow” carrying that twig. Probably could have handled the beam, too.

    (I am unaware of any Ardis bans on MP – but I’m probably in trouble anyway).

    Comment by Grant — August 3, 2011 @ 9:19 am

  11. It’s just a sort of a policy I have, Grant — you’re in trouble whether you say anything or not, and regardless of whether Monty Python is involved. Just MP (my policy).

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 3, 2011 @ 9:30 am

  12. Time to clean my glasses. I was certain (before I opened the post) that the last word in the title was CONFERENCE, not COMMERCE. Failed expectation… :-)

    Comment by Paul — August 3, 2011 @ 11:20 am

  13. FWIW Mark B (5), the Portuguese have a story about a rooster called the “Galo de Barcelos,” but I’m not sure that there is a statue to the Rooster — there may be.

    Comment by Kent Larsen — August 4, 2011 @ 12:29 am

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