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Under the Paper Moon

By Robin Mays, Farm Educator 

The recent “Super Moon” was a reminder of why humans have always been drawn to the moon. (No tidal pun intended! LOL) Many ancient civilizations worshipped the moon and the constellations of the night sky. It also serves as a symbol of happiness or of love and romance.  

One can be “over the moon” with happiness or “moon” over someone. We can “shoot for the moon” or “promise the moon” to someone. Something happens only “once in a blue moon” or we can love someone “to the moon and back.” 

In the early part of the 20th-century, the moon played a large role in song lyrics, too. The 1908 tune, ‘Shine-On Harvest Moon’, was recorded by numerous artists and remained popular for decades! ‘By the Light of the Silvery Moon’ was another romantic ditty from the era. One Bing Crosby hit suggested one could “swing on a star and carry moonbeams home in a jar!” And who can forget the 1934 ballad, ‘Blue Moon’? 

By the time the song, ‘Paper Moon’ became popular in the 1930’s, the tradition of taking photos in front of an artificial moon was well established. They were often called ‘Man in the Moon’ portraits. Because the moon had become synonymous with love, happiness and good times, these moon photos were especially beloved during the dark days of the Great Depression.  

Because few people owned cameras and sittings in a professional studio were pricey, ‘moon’ photo booths popped up at county fairs, arcades and carnivals or occasionally in an empty storefront in a struggling downtown. For as little as a nickel, you could have the image of yourself and a loved one preserved for posterity. 

In some families, as with my husband’s parents, the picture on the moon is one of the few photos we have of them from that time. I believe it was taken in Point Pleasant, WV, about 1940.  

The moon photos were a real departure from the formal portraits of the late nineteenth century. People posing on paper moons seem to be having a good time and are often laughing or even cavorting for the camera- something that was never seen in studio portraits. A Google search for “vintage paper moon photos” will return some fun images. 

Undoubtedly, the prosperity following the second world war and the affordability of Kodak cameras spelled the demise the Paper Moon photo booths. But, if you would like to relive that snapshot in time, come out to Gallant Farm, Saturday, August 20, from 6 to 8 pm for “An Evening Under a Paper Moon.” Pose with a loved one on our moon while listening to music performed by the Meek Quartet. A variety of carnival games will keep the young ones happy, too! 

If you have a vintage ‘man in the moon’ photo, bring it along! We would love to add a copy of it to our collection. 

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