One of the exhibits I saw at the Library of Congress last week was called “Hope for America: Performers, Politics, and Pop Culture.” It looked at the way performers have interacted with politics with particular reference to Bob Hope. (As a sidelight, I saw two Presidential Medals of Freedom that day—Bob Hope’s in this exhibit and Sandra Day O’Connor’s at an exhibit at the Supreme Court next door).
One item that particularly struck me in the Hope exhibit was the comedy LP (that’s “long playing record for those of you under thirty) called The First Family, which was recorded in 1962 and was a “good-natured parody” of John F. Kennedy and his White House. The reason this item resonated for me is that we had a copy in my house when I was growing up. In fact, I learned a lot of what I knew as a child about the Kennedy White House by listening to this record. I also learned to do impressions (and yes, if you ask me, I’ll do my JFK at a book event).
The question I left this part of the exhibit with was this: Am I so old that ordinary items from my childhood now belong in a museum? It’s a sobering moment the first time you see something that used to lie on the floor of your childhood closet carefully preserved behind glass. This wasn’t the first time for me, but it did bring back memories of long afternoons spent doing nothing other than listening to records. Among my favorites was a set of the English actor Cyril Ritchard reading Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. I heard those records dozens of times before I ever read the books, and they are at least partly responsible for my becoming a Lewis Carroll collector. (As another aside—how did all these records end up in our house? My parents did not seem like the type to listen to either children’s books on records or political comedy).
Now, I have a nice collection (at least I think it’s nice) of records related to Alice. Some, like those featuring Ginger Rogers or Jane Powell are 78s that predate my childhood, but I have plenty of LPs as well—from the sublime Cyril Ritchard sets to the ridiculous Magilla Gorilla in Wonderland.
But the last question I had to ask myself as I stood in the Hope exhibit was this—what is on the floor of the closets of today’s children that will be worthy of display in a museum exhibit when they are a mere 52 years young?