Signs are everywhere. They are out there in our daily lives pulling us in, telling stories, directing us places, and can sometimes transcend their function to be an icon of local culture. Recently out for a glamorous night at the Captain’s Ball, the Busy Bee Café neon sign grabbed the spotlight. One of the largest and most technical objects in the collection, the sign’s style and connection to a longtime and beloved restaurant makes it an artifact of what it means to be “Dubuque.”
A testament to a horrific aspect of a horrific war, this artifact also speaks to the human desire for remembrance.
This month’s featured artifact comes to us from Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. For thousands of years, the shells of the windowpane oyster have been processed there into an affordable and durable substitute for glass. The windowpane oyster, known by its scientific name of Placuna placenta, is a mollusk and is edible, although it is sought mostly for its shell for use in windows, jewelry, and artwork. Unlike the transparency of glass, capiz is translucent, allowing light in while also affording privacy.
Although it may resemble a trampoline, this is a fire safety net designed to catch those leaping from burning buildings. Patented in 1887 by Thomas F. Browder and manufactured by the Atlas Safety Equipment Company, the Atlas Life Saving Machine was an important fire response tool for close to a century until it was phased out for new technology. The net was designed to fold for easy storage, and to easily snap open for quick deployment.
Cane Swords, also known as swordsticks, are a type of concealable weapon. Designed to resemble a common walking stick, they secretly contain a blade inside. Often, the blade released by pressing a button near the handle, which detached the sheath and freed the handle and blade. Cane swords were typically intended to be self-defense weapons.
Before the convenience of electric irons, smoothing one’s clothing and other textiles could come at great peril. Solid metal irons with metal handles, called sad irons, were placed directly in fire or on a stove. After heating, they were retrieved with a thick cloth and used to iron until they cooled and the process repeated. Unsurprisingly, picking up and wielding heavy, heated metal often resulted in serious burns.
This blue felt boxing robe was worn by Edwin “Red” Sabers of Dubuque. Born in 1920, Sabers was an exceptional athlete and a renowned boxer with the Catholic Youth Organization in the welterweight class. In 1939, when he was 18, he was one of 16 boxers invited to fight in preliminary matches before the Chicago CYO-Ireland international bouts. He defeated Red McCuskor of Chicago at Soldier Field, Chicago, in front of more than 35,000 people.
This smooth, cream-colored, satin wedding dress with long sleeves was worn by Dorothy Philomena Link when she married Arthur Paul Frommelt on February 25, 1938. Dorothy’s mother made this quintessential 1930s style gown with a Peter Pan collar and a small v-cut neckline with white beaded leaves below it.
This photo of Dubuque’s City Hall building from circa 1890-1910 shows just how little it has changed over the years and reminds us that the Farmers’ Market has a very long history here. Shown in the photo is the Iowa Street (west) side of City Hall and appears to have people gathered for the Farmers’ Market, which has been located in the outdoor area surrounding City Hall since 1879. Originally established in the 1840s at Flat Iron Park, Dubuque’s market is the oldest farmers’ market in Iowa.
Elk Chocolates were a signature product of the M. M. Johannsen Candy Company, established in Dubuque around 1907. The business originally took up two floors of its building at 260 Main Street, but in less than a year, its footprint had doubled as its reputation for delicious treats grew. The company even sent traveling salesmen out to neighboring states to grow the business further.
Johannsen featured high-end chocolates and hard candies. They sold “satin finish” candies that were shiny and glossy, making them more lavish than their competitors.