Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ephemeral city: Cigarette package


Several years ago I gutted and renovated a 1924 bungalow just west of the Country Club Plaza. As the old plaster walls and ceilings came down they surrendered little reminders of former residents: Rusty tools, broken toys, shoes and brittle pieces of clothing, tarnished costume jewelry, etc. Individual items led me to research their times and places, and I wrote about many of the them. An empty package of Chesterfield cigarettes carried a blue tax stamp dating to 1943. This piece, which riffs on events and advertising from that year, appeared in slightly different form in an early version of this blog.

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In Kansas City two men approach a third and ask for cigarettes. He says he has only one. They call him selfish, then beat him senseless. In the ambulance he smokes his cigarette.

In New York, exiled Archduke Otto of Austria takes a deep drag on a cigarette. Says, "Churchill smokes, Roosevelt smokes, I smoke, but not a puff out of Hitler, Goebbels or Hirohito. Perhaps that is what makes them vicious."

In Sicily the Nazis allow their fighting men six cigarettes per day. One German soldier pulls a wounded American from a shell hole, carries him to a command post, gets him medical treatment, gives him black bread, water, wine and a cigarette.



In San Francisco, ship workers walk off the job because of a ban on smoking.


The Unparalleled Record of America's 1,000,000 Ship Workers, Breaking New Records ... Winning More And More Smokers With Their Milder Better Taster. In Thousands More Pockets Every Day you will find CHESTERFIELD ...

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 In Washington the War Production Board bans glycerine from cigarettes; it's needed to make explosives. The Office of Price Administration says rumors of cigarette brands being reduced of eliminated are baseless. President Roosevelt marks 10 years as Commander in Chief. Photographers want pictures. He strikes the pose cartoonists favor: Chin out, cigarette holder clenched rakishly between his teeth. Says, "Let's make one this way, boys."



There's No Busier Place than Washington, D.C. It's the Control  Room of America's Mighty War Machine. And CHESTERFIELD is the Busiest Cigarette in Town. It's On the Job Every Minute Giving Smokers What They Want.

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 In the Bronx Zoo a penguin's egg rests on a nest built of sticks, Crackerjack boxes, fish heads, peanut shells, matchbook covers and cellophane cigarette wrappers.

In Nigeria doctors dress wounds with sterilized cigarette wrappers.

In New Guinea's jungle an American soldier touches a glowing cigarette to the leech on his arm.

In the United States high blood pressure kills thousands each year.  A new book recommends moderate exercise, weight loss, rest. Quit work early. Don't worry. Avoid arguments and Turkish baths. Sex is beneficial; however, chronic low-grade sexual excitement is not. Moderate daily alcohol is fine. Also, two and a half cups of coffee and ten cigarettes.


But not at night. Bomber pilots are said to be able to spot a glowing cigarette from several thousand feet.


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 Ezio Pinza, in costume as Boris Godunoff, strides through the wings of the Metropolitan Opera House, scatters stagehands, snuffs out the butt of a cigarette.

Fats Waller slouches at a piano in an empty theater, running notes around a languid "Tea for Two." He wears a blue shirt, two-tone suit, rainbow tie, Alpine hat. His eyes are half closed against ribbons of smoke from his cigarette.


A Hollywood stripper, billed as The Redheaded Ball of Fire, dances her backside too close to an irate wife's burning cigarette.

You've Got To Be Top Quality To Get Your Name Up In Lights. That's Why You'll See CHESTERFIELD'S Famous White Pack All Along The Great White Way ...

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In a cheap Houston hotel 48 persons, mostly old men, die in a fire ignited by a smoldering cigarette.

In California a woman driving through a remote forest is pulled over by the highway patrol for tossing out a lighted cigarette.


In Idaho a farmer, using gasoline to clean a water pump, lights a cigarette. At the hospital he tries lighting another. Bandages on his hand, soaked in medicine, catch fire.

Hats Off To America's 6,100,000 farmers ... They Give You What Counts Most. Food for our Fighting Men, Food for our Workers, Food for All of Us. CHESTERFIELDS Deliver the Goods to Smokers Who Know What They Want.

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A man tumbles through the sky under a crescent moon. His parachute flowers, pops, plucks him back. Overhead, more pops, one after another. Below, an arc of pale flowers drifts toward tiny rings of fire on the stony surface. Moments earlier he'd been crouching in a bucket seat, staring at a light bulb, flying 500 feet above the Mediterranean Sea. There was some flak, not much. Then the red light. Stand, hook to the wire, wait: Green light. He carries a machine gun, bayonet, grenades, medical equipment, rations, and cigarettes.

Another man tumbles through the sky under a cold sun. Below, a swirl of shadows and yellow taxis. He wears a gray suit, brown shoes, tan overcoat, and he carries papers: 22 years old, five feet ten and a half inches, 157 pounds, brown hair, blue eyes, former sailor, medically discharged. Moments earlier he'd been standing on the observation platform of the Empire State Building, almost a quarter mile above the streets of Manhattan. Just before climbing the parapet and raising his hands over his head, he tossed away a cigarette.

Here's Real Smoking Ammunition Tucked in the Pockets of our Fighting Men, Ready for Instant Service. Where a Cigarette Counts Most, CHESTERFIELD Serves Smokers Well ...


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