by Debbie Coleman-Topi
Today's “gamers” are electronic device wizards. But, a little more than a century ago, games were anything but high-tech and utilized everyday items such as string, paper bags and household kitchen items.
A “Parties of the Past” exhibit explores games from the 1800s through the mid-1900s. While a few were boxed games, most utilized scant items but required a vivid imagination.
The exhibit runs through Saturday, July 28 at the Ben Ferrel Museum, 2020 Ferrel St., Platte City and highlights the most popular amusements of the 1800s to mid-1900s.
The museum is opened from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday, July 24 and Friday, July 25, and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 28.
The exhibit includes parlor games, musical instruments, photos of parties and dances, period clothing and samples of party wares.
Most items in the exhibit were donated on loan by Platte County area residents and “represent Platte County experiences,” said curator Lisa Wittmeyer, who gathered objects and information.
The following museum volunteers helped comprise the displays: Craig Kirkpatrick, Zelda Reeber, Cheri Lomas and Sue Hurd VanAmburg.
The exhibit aligns with the museum's mission of telling the stories of those who have called the Platte County area 'home,’ she said, adding that photos show Platte County area folk frolicking during their free time.
In doing research, Wittmeyer drew heavily from information in the “Annals of Platte County, Missouri: From its Exploration
Down to June 1, 1897; With Genealogies of its Noted Families, and sketches of its Pioneers and Distinguished People,” written by William Paxton.
A Platte County attorney, Paxton wrote the 1,182-page history of the area.
Although born in 1840 in Kentucky, Paxton moved to Platte County where he became a well-known political figure and businessman. A label marks the chair, in the museum's dining room, where Paxton sat as he wrote.
“He recorded so many things that happened in Platte County,” Wittmeyer said, adding that his information was “very helpful for giving the exhibit authenticity for its Platte County roots.”
She added, “He was just prolific, accurate and interested in what happened.”
One game description details how players took turns spinning a wooden bread bowl or circular tray dubbed the “trencher,” while calling out the name of another player who must catch the item before it stops spinning.
A boxed candy display features detailed information about popular candies from the 1800s through 1940s which, perhaps surprisingly, can be found on store shelves today.
Some exhibit items are photos and memorabilia from dances held between the 1920s to 60s.
One depicts a Leap Year dance held during the later 1800s at Ford's Hotel in Parkville, which no longer exists. The dance was a role reversal masquerade in which women invited men and attendees dressed in costumes and disguises.
Another popular dance during mid-1900s, was held at Bean Lake Pavilion and a photo depicts the costumed band performers and instruments at the gathering.
In addition, a display of musical items includes organettes or roller
organs, which were small table-top players used in churches and home dances.
A Victrola (record player) and a vast collection of records also are included. Other dance-related items include a handmade square dance dress worn by a girl from a Parkville farm who often went square and round dancing at a barn at the then Melody Farm during 1940s and 50s, Wittmeyer said.
A man's shirt dates to the mid-1800s and other clothing ranges from the 1920s to 1950s.
Several items were worn by Merydith Schroeder, who sang at Platte County churches and attended area dances. In fact, most of the dresses on display belong to Barbara Schroeder, Merydith's daughter-in-law, Wittmeyer said.
Unlike today's games which are mainly played “for fun,” some of the displayed early games centered on special occasions, such as holidays or seasons. Some even included an intended purpose, such as the special Valentines party and matchmaking parlor games of the 1800s, which were intended to spark romance.
One, known as the “marriage game,” typically was played by children and teens and required boys and girls to each choose the name of a famous person of the same sex whose identity they assumed. Boys took turns “proposing” to a female of their choice. The female either denied or accepted the proposal but was obligated to tell why. The purpose was to give young people the opportunity to think about and explain what they were looking for in a prospective mate.
Wittmeyer said, “They were great ways to get to know each other and learn interactive teamwork.”