Sorry, folks: these dime donuts are for historical display purposes only.
For the last several years, my wife Anne and I have spent our respective birthdays together finding some new place or attraction to visit as a one-day road trip — partly as an excuse to spend time together on this most wondrous day, partly to explore areas of Indiana we’ve never experienced before. My 2015 birthday destination of choice was the city of Fort Wayne, two hours north of home. Her 2015 choice last Saturday was Terre Haute, an hour west of here. In Part 1 of this three-part miniseries, you saw our final stop of the day, the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center, which absolutely made her day.
Our first stop of the day was something completely different: the Clabber Girl Museum and Bake Shop. The longtime purveyors of baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch, and other products under assorted brand names have their factory and corporate HQ in downtown Terre Haute. We happen to be fans of baked goods, and this wouldn’t be our first trip to a museum about baking ingredients (cf. the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis). It didn’t hurt that the museum is free.
The concept of baking powder and the company itself each date back to the mid-1800s. The latter was a natural outgrowth of the Hulman Company, whose titular founders were German immigrants bringing their mercantile business over to American soil. Their brick storefront dates back to 1892; their famous baking powder was launched seven years later. Yadda yadda yadda, they do pretty well by bakers across the country.
The museum serves multiple functions: celebrating their success, walking through the food biz back in the day, and recreating their forefathers’ historical context for new generations. More than a few artifacts on display invoked the specter of World War II, which we hadn’t expected at all. In that sense Clabber Girl and the Holocaust became oddly connected bookends to our self-guided Terre Haute tour. As Anne puts it, effectively she spent her 45th in ’45.
A sampling of sights:
Remember the days when your neighborhood grocer wasn’t afraid to stack canned goods in amusing shapes? Today’s supermarket execs fret about the cans falling, getting dented, and developing lethal food germs in the air pockets. I do miss the artful joy of literal food pyramids.
Clabber Girl hardly had a monopoly on the baking powder scene in those days. These cans represent less than half the competitors they eventually vanquished.
The Clabber Stagecoach presumably made special deliveries to their top clients and maybe brought their own security to thwart roving hordes of pastry thieves.
The Clabber Safe where the Clabber Bigwigs kept their Clabber Millions.
Sample World War II newspapers and radio hits.
These magazines form the basis for my next thesis, “Gender Roles in World War II: Did They Have Some?”
Auto racing fans may recognize the name of Hulman & Company: they also own the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the world-famous Indianapolis 500. Tony Hulman bought the whole thing, race and track and all, after the war in 1945 because he thought it would be a great way to promote Clabber Girl. Pictured here as an example is driver Eddie Sachs’ #25 car, which he drove in the 1964 Indy 500.
Victorian antique furniture from one of the Hulman households, with some pieces over a century old.
The text of an actual letter from one of the Hulman patriarchs would probably make large parts of Twitter cry.
One room of the museum recreates an old-timey mom-‘n’-pop grocery where Clabber Girl products might have been sold. Not all the featured products are theirs, nor are these all antique cans. Several of these are modern cans with old-not-old labels printed and affixed to them. We saw corners coming loose on several, and noticed jars of “vintage” peanut butter with 2009 expiration dates on the lids.
Some canned goods have aged more gracefully than others.
If you’re a time traveler who wants to help defeat Hitler, you should try going back to 1935 and inventing fast-food restaurants 30 years early so our guys will have a most excellent array of explosives at their command.
The Clabber Girl Bake Shop is an even better reason to visit. They have breakfast dishes, lunch sandwiches, and plenty of pastries and cookies for the whole family. Behold Anne’s chocolate almond pastry, which buries everything I’ve ever nibbled at Starbucks.
And this was one of their “brookies”, just a brownie baked/smashed into the top of a cookie. Made possible by the marvelous magic of baking powder.
This racehorse (GET IT? HAW!) stands in the Bake Shop window for reasons not explained to us. We saw another painted horse during our walk through town, so I’m thinking this is part of a local art series.
Clabber Girl! Available now while Americans still remember how to cook for themselves.
Next time: what else we saw in Terre Haute — sculptures, poetry, comics, and potatoes. To be concluded!