Ephemera and the Lincoln Park Traps

Dan Bryan, December 6 2012

Diversey Harbor, ChicagoDiversey Harbor is located near the former Lincoln Park Traps club. (click for source)

A newly released book by Marty Weil, Jumping off the Page, is written for people who love history, pop culture, and the joy of discovery. One of the topics covered in this book is the long history of the Lincoln Park Trap club in Chicago, which operated for nearly 80 years after it's founding in 1912.

Jumping off the Pageuses ephemera as a passageway to the exploration of fascinating, unusual, and seldom studied aspects of history and pop culture. Each chapter begins with a photograph of an old document, letter, broadsheet, booklet, pamphlet, or advertisement. The reader is taken on a journey —- entered through the doorway of a single piece of antique paper -— that brings them into contact with eccentric characters, interesting objects, and amazing places.

Historical use of ephemera

Only a relative handful of books have explored the world of ephemera. The few books that have done so fall into three camps:

  • Those that explore the collectible value of ephemera.
  • Those that identify and explore ephemera for its own sake.
  • Those that use ephemera as a means to tell a story.

It is in the latter category of ‘story-telling' where Jumping off the Page fits best. There are several books that use ephemera to entertain and educate. In Charles Phoenix's Southern Californialand and his other books, the author uses amateur photographers' slides -— found by the author at flea markets and antique shops —- to highlight middle-class life in America at mid-century. In Lisa Kirwin's book, More than Words: Illustrated Letters From the Smithsonian Archives, the author features hand-written letters and correspondences that contain interesting drawings and illustrations.

However, none of the books in this category use ephemera in quite the same way as Jumping off the Page. That is, this book uses printed ephemera as a springboard into the histories of the people, objects, and places suggested by it. (From this perspective, one could draw a parallel between Jumping and Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, whereby Brown uses clues from Da Vinci's masterpiece,The Last Supper, to tell the fictionalized story of The Holy Grail.)

The Lincoln Park Traps club

In 1914, the Charles William Store offered one of the most progressive mail-order catalogs in the U.S. One of the essays in Jumping off the Page covers how this store brought the sophistication of New York to other parts of America. The specific example used in this piece is that of L.C. Smith guns and a unique sports facility on Chicago's lakefront, the Lincoln Park Traps, where they were used. Opening in 1912, the Lincoln Park Traps operated for many decades as a skeet shooting club near Diversey Harbor. The sport of skeet shooting was invented in 1915, by Charles Davies, and was at first practiced with live pigeons. In the 1920s and thereafter the sport evolved to use clay pigeons on a large scale. The steady pop of shotguns firing and of exploding clay pigeons became a feature around the middle section of Lincoln Park.

Lincoln Park Traps BadgeA badge from the Lincoln Park Traps

During the era of Charles William's catalog the skeet range was a retreat for Chicago's upper class. As the years went by however, it became accessible to citizens from all walks of life and it was long a pillar of the sportsman community in northern Illinois. The Lincoln Park Traps survived until 1991 when concerns about EPA regulations as well as local political opposition led the Chicago Park District to evict the club from Lincoln Park. It was estimated that at least 400 tons of lead had settled into the bed of Lake Michigan during the operation of the club. None of this has been removed in the intervening years.

Other topics of ephemera -- Springsteen and the Order of the Carabao

In addition to the story of the Lincoln Park Traps there are also essays about Bruce Springsteen and Ronald Reagan's use of his music in the 1984 election, as well as a hand-signed card of the Order of the Carabao and an exploration on its importance as a military social club in the early 20th century.

The inspiration for this project comes from Mr. Weil's interactions with the thousands of individuals who visit the popular ephemera blog and have responded enthusiastically to this presentation of history -- one inspired by vintage pieces of ephemera.

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About the Author

Dan Bryan

Dan Bryan is the founder and editor of American History USA. He holds a B.A. in American History from the University of Chicago. He has created this site to empower Americans of all backgrounds to increase their historical literacy.

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