Friday, April 29, 2022

Peddling Plaster of Paris

Bernardi smiling and holding his hat to the cameraWithin Dartmouth College's Photo Files Collection, we have several folders titled "Hanover People". Browsing through those folders, one discovers the faces of many of Hanover’s residents all the way back to the 19th century. There are images of men, young and old, babies, and women of all ages in crinolines, bustles and corsets. Many are identified by names written on the back of the photographs in pencil.

In addition to their name, a few have been annotated with the word "Characters". One such character was Americo Bernardi, a peddler who visited primarily college towns all over the nation to sell statuettes and other objects made of plaster of Paris. Bernardi applied for a license to sell his wares in Hanover on May 25, 1908, and for the next 25 years, Dartmouth College was one of his regular spots. The pictures in the Photo Files Collection show him peddling his masks and statues on the steps of Webster Hall around 1927 during one of Bernardi’s last visits to Dartmouth.

Bernardi selling figurines on the steps of Webster HallAccording to an entry in the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine of January 1933, Bernardi left the United States to return to his "Sunny Italy" because he was "feeling kind of homesick." Bernardi is also quoted as saying: “Now when I get home I will start drinking some of my ginger ale I told you about. I will try to save some for you when you come to visit me…Remember me to the President and also the Dean and Miss Bianchi; also, all my friends."

Bernardi, to whom students gave an insensitive sobriquet that was related to his heritage, also pops up in a 1926 notice in Banta’s Greek Exchange, an American magazine about college fraternities and sororities. There the writer comments on Bernadi’s remarkable memory: “If the name of a friend of college is mentioned, [Bernardi] will name his fraternity and hometown.” The notice also mentions his return to Borgo a Mozzano, Tuscany, in his native Italy because he “made his pile” and at the age of fifty wanted to enjoy life with his wife and six children.

To browse through photographs of Bernardi and other Hanover characters, visit Digital by Dartmouth Library's Dartmouth Photo Files Collection online and search for "Hanover people." You're also welcome to come to Special Collections and explore the original photographs in person.