Chocolate-covered amidst the statuary

Today’s Zippy takes us to the shore of Lake Erie, in the roadside realm of Dolly Dimples (but, startlingly, it will end with the minstrel-show character Rastus and the Cream of Wheat box; you never know where things will go these days):


DD is actually selling chocolates, statuary, and tchotchkes, not hamburgers. Her head is indeed unrealistically gigantic, but even with this selling point she’s probably not going to leave Silver Lake NY to pursue a failed movie career in L.A. (note the whimsical tense-aspect-mood semantics of intending to pursue a failed career).

The store. From the store site:

(#2) Valvo’s, Silver Creek NY (on Lake Erie, southwest of Buffalo NY): “The largest and most unique chocolate store in Western New York”

(#3) Map of the region: Rochester is at the upper right corner (for regular readers of this blog: Perry NY (more or less in the middle) is the location of the Burlingham family farm, where Ann, Gillian, and Kathryn grew up)

In the company’s own words, they offer:

Statuary: Cast stone figurines of all styles, shapes, and sizes. This includes animals, urns, benches, tables and lawn decor.

Sponge candy: A amazing candy with a luscious crunchy center – much the same as a honeycomb. It melts in your mouth, covered with our unique pure chocolate. Milk chocolate, orange chocolate, or dark chocolate.

Gifts: A wide variety of unusual never before seen items to please each and everyone of us. A touch of whimsy, nostalgic, one of a kind, for everyone.

From the site, their history:


Dolly Dimple(s). I don’t know why the store chose this name for their fiberglass mascot, though Wikipedia tells us that “Dolly Dimples” is a  “traditional name for large ladies who once made their living with freak shows at circuses and carnivals” — the Fat Lady of the circus. Valvo’s Dolly has an ample bosom and sturdy thighs, but is slim-waisted and far from fat. But she’s perky and cute, with lots of (presumable) personality.

And for Zippy‘s creator, Bill Griffith, who’s something of a scholar of comics history, she no doubt brings to mind a classic character from the strips. From Wikipedia:

Dolly Dimples was a syndicated comic strip character created by early American female cartoonist Grace Drayton who appeared in various William Randolph Hearst/King Features Syndicate publications. Over the period 1903 to 1933 she was known by the various names “Toodles” (1903–1904), “Dottie Dimple” (1908–1911), “Dimples” (1914–1918), and finally “Dolly Dimples” (1928–1933).

… As described by King Features’ archivist, the character “was a little girl who stumbled into mischief around the house or in the vicinity of an adult, who would suffer for it and/or give out a punishment.” She was usually accompanied by a little boy and a cute puppy.

Into Cringeland: the Dimples strip for Christmas 1915. One of a handful of strips available on the net:

(#5) Dimples attempts to befriend two poor children, Topsy and her little brother Rastus

If you’re a modern white American and this strip doesn’t make you cringe, you are a stone cold racist. But bear in mind that that the strip represents Dimples and her mother as benevolent — outrageously condescending, but good of heart. The strip comes from the era of Jim Crow laws in the American South (the late 19th and early 20th century); it’s a re-presentation of the relationship between Little Eva and Topsy in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1851–52), in which the black characters are depicted with equal parts of earnest anger and condescension; and the grotesque travesty figures of the black children come from black folks in 19th-century minstrel shows, as turned into barely human cartoon figures, especially in re-tellings (again, sympathetic but condescending) of the Little Eva / Topsy story for the Jim Crow age.

As I have done on other occasions on this blog, I ask you not to avert your eyes, not to look away, but to stare these images (and texts) squarely in the face. As Bob Dylan once wrote, in hot anger,”Bury the rag deep in your face / For now’s the time for your tears”.

First, an image of Little Eva and Topsy from Stowe’s time:

(#6) Lithograph by Louisa Corbaux, 1852, for Stowe’s book; Topsy is dark-skinned and nappy-haired, but otherwise has features much like a random white child (Little Eva is shown in a saintly, dreamily angelic pose, scarcely a creature of this earth)

By 1908, we get a Topsy utterly transformed by the conventions of the minstrel-show stage, even in a book written from great sympathy with the Negro cause, as it would then have been called:

(#7) From The Story of Topsy From Uncle Tom’s Cabin, illustration by John R. Neill — a sympathetic little book with the resolution (p. 57) “when Topsy grew up she became a teacher in far-away Africa, among people of her own kind and color”

I remind you: this is the top of the line, this is the good stuff, in a tradition copied by Grace Drayton in her Dimples strip (#5).  Even for female characters; blacks in general are like wild-animal children, but black men are dangerous as well, while black women are merely sex-drenched. Yes, I’ll get to Rastus in a moment; some black men are happy slaves.

About the book in #7, from the Uncle Tom’s Cabin & American Culture website:

The Story of Topsy: This [unsigned] story was originally published in 1908 in a single volume as The Story of Topsy From Uncle Tom’s Cabin as part of Reilly and Britton’s “Children’s Stories That Never Grow Old” series. The illustrations are by John R. Neill, best known as the illustrator of the many volumes in L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” series.

In the same year the publishers combined Topsy’s story with “Little Black Sambo”‘s, [– as] The Story of Little Black Sambo, by Helen Bannerman, illustrated by J.R. Neill (Chicago: Reilly and Britton, 1908)

Rastus and the happy slaves. From Wikipedia:

Rastus is a pejorative term traditionally associated with African Americans in the United States. It is considered offensive.

“Rastus” has been used as a generic, often derogatory, name for black men at least since 1880, when Joel Chandler Harris included a black deacon named “Brer Rastus” in the first Uncle Remus book. However, Rastus (a shortening of Erastus, the Greek name of, especially, Erastus of Corinth) has never been particularly popular as a black name. For example, the 1870 census reported only 42 individuals named Rastus in the United States, of whom only four were Black or mulatto.

Rastus — as a stereotypically happy black man, not as a particular person — became a familiar character in minstrel shows. This is documented in Every Time I Turn Around: Rite, Reversal, and the End of Blackface Minstrelsy by Jim Comer, in fiction such as Adventures of Rufus Rastus Brown in Darktown (1906) and Rastus Comes to the Point: A Negro Farce, in popular songs such as Rastus, Take Me Back (1909) and (Rufus Rastus Johnson Brown) What You Going to Do When the Rent Comes ‘Round (1905), on radio, and in films, most notably the Rastus series of short films, with titles that included How Rastus Got His Chicken and Rastus Runs Amuck.

Rastus is also the name of the African-American character that first appeared on packages of Cream of Wheat cereal in 1893 and whose image remained the Cream of Wheat trademark until the 1920s, when it was replaced by a photograph of Frank L. White, a [black] Chicago chef in chef’s hat and jacket. His face has been featured on the box with only slight modifications until the present day.

Early Rastus selling Cream of Wheat:

(#8) Complete with stage Black English

And his current descendant:

(#9) Rastus, still working in the kitchen with Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben

Note on the vagaries of posting. My postings often take odd and unexpected turns; I go where my sources lead me. I had no idea that a Zippy set in a quirky store in upstate New York would take me to Rastus advertising Cream of Wheat. Two more strange journeys from the past few days:

— in my 9/19/19 posting “A Sousa thump”, recollections of the Reading PA of my young years somehow ended up in the 1847 Mexican War

— in my 9/18/19 posting “The outrage of a new menu”, Al’s Diner in Chicopee MA took me to the slave economy of the early 18th century

One Response to “Chocolate-covered amidst the statuary”

  1. JJM Says:

    Cringeland indeed! Though our own prime minister here in Canada obviously never got the message.

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