Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Bit Of Popcorn Flavored History

I recently received an email from a cousin in Oregon with this old photo of an antique popcorn wagon:

Now, this is not just any old-time popcorn wagon. This is the one which was operated by my grandmother on a downtown street corner of McMinnville, Oregon for thirty years. This is the popcorn wagon from which my family received Christmas gifts every year of caramel corn and red and green popcorn balls. This is where my sister and I sometimes used to spend the day when we visited Oregon for the summer. This popcorn wagon has lots of memories for me and for my family:

My grandmother, a divorced mother of six, supported her family by selling popcorn and by renting out apartments in her large, old Victorian home. It was a family business and in the evening, we might be expected to help out mixing up huge batches of caramel corn in the giant copper kettle (that's my sister on the stairway watching):

Because we only visited in the summertime, we never got to help make popcorn balls. But we certainly helped (well, we were young so perhaps I should say we watched, not helped) with the making of caramel corn. This is my mother sometime in the 1950s putting it into bags after it'd been spread out to cool:

My sister and I searched through all our old photo albums for photos and newspaper clippings. "Mom Jenkins Knows Her Corn" was a favorite sign in downtown McMinnville, Oregon for thirty years:

And it became known widely across the state from human interest stories which appeared in many cities' newspapers:

In January of 1966, my grandmother retired and sold her popcorn wagon:

It was loaded up and hauled to a museum in the State Capital of Salem, Oregon:

That's McMinnville's J.C. Penny store in the background. Just around the corner is the city's only movie theater. She made it a point to be making popcorn when the movie crowd let out so that the aroma would draw them over to buy a bag of REAL popcorn (and she also roasted peanuts):

These are only a few of the many newspaper clippings from around the state, but you can see that it became a beloved symbol of old time goodness, honest dealing and wholesome food:

I found this City Vendor's License from 1952 interesting, mostly because it cost forty dollars. That was a lot of money back then, especially for an elderly lady with a big family to support:

Eventually, the museum in Salem decided it no longer wanted to display the old popcorn wagon. Local civic groups in McMinnville rescued it and the last I knew, it was displayed proudly in the City Fire Department Building. But I'll always remember it sitting next to J.C. Penny in downtown McMinnville:

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