Thursday, December 30, 2010

MAGPIE TALE: Mary and Strange Gloves

Here it is after a bit of an absence: our last
Magpie Tale of 2010. The rest are here.

Sylvia Anh-Krasny usually showed up at her shop, Dr. Strange Gloves, at the corner of Chervil and Castner just before noon. The shop opened at 8 a.m. and had a surprisingly brisk early morning business from the commuter crowd since they were just two blocks away from the Castner-Grand Army Circle subway stop.

It was Sylvia's idea to have the large portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln in the window, draped with a black, sheer veil through which Mary's penetrating gaze was easily visible. Sylvia could speak endlessly and authoritatively about Mary and would sniff dismissively at those who chuckled and called Mary the "Patron Saint of the Shopping Addiction Movement."

"And what's wrong with that?" Sylvia would ask. "Are you opposed to capitalism?"

The exact stories about Mary's excessive consumption during her White House years vary, but it is generally said that in 1863 she bought over 300 gloves, mostly in New York and most of them were never removed from their packaging. Accounts vary on whether this happened during the course of three or four months, but most recount it with disdain and judgment as if there were something wrong with Mary buying something she loved and in mass quantities.

"Many people want to call Mary's fondness for gloves a 'sickness' and warning sign of her eventual institutionalization," Sylvia would tell a customer considering a $1,700 pair of silk and gold thread embroidered mittens. "Well, consider this: what would have happened if Mary hadn't bought those gloves? Yes, her mental health was fragile in the middle of a civil war, a troubled marriage, a recently deceased child and mounting public opinion against her. This was an age before Zoloft, before Freud, before women's spa retreats in Baja California or the Mediterranean. Mary bought a lot of gloves which grounded her through that fragile time. And consider this: most of those gloves cost $30 or more -- more than a month's salary for even middle class Americans in the mid-19th century. And these gloves were made by local artisans, women and men with many young mouths to feed during a time of war and scarcity."

Sylvia brushed back her flawlessly coiffed silver and eggplant rinsed locks. She looked heaven-ward and let out a wistful sigh. "Mary Todd Lincoln was, in a word, a patriot and the proto-feminist. Each of the purchases of those 300 gloves represented a brighter day in some micro-entrepreneur's household. She knew that most of those glove-makers were women, women dealing with the realities of a war-torn nation. Yet people choose to judge a woman who did no harm, caused no pain and relieved hers by injecting money into the fragile economy. If that's crazy, then send me to the asylum."

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At 7:49 AM, Blogger Tess Kincaid said...

Gosh, I love your Mary stories, Mr. Thief!

At 8:11 AM, Blogger kathew said...

The things I didn't know about Mary Todd Lincoln...well told !
Happy 2011!

At 8:29 AM, Blogger ArtSparker said...

I love what you've done with the place.

At 8:59 AM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Tess - I really would love to write an opera about Mary. She is really the stuff of both Greek tragedy and opera...and the home shopping channel.

Kathew - Mary is definitely my favorite nutty First Lady.

Susan - Thanks. Did you make it to the toy theater exhibit? It's really tremendous. The Spanish Merchant of Venice set with an opaque background was one of my favorites.


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