Home sweet home

Pittsburgh, an ordinary day in 1923. The city is bustling about its usual business, until—without warning—a small airplane dips down from the skies and towards sidewalks and streets. It weaves around buildings, skims dangerously close to pedestrians, working the city into a panic, until suddenly the rogue flier opens its hatch, and hundreds of candy bars—a tiny parachute attached to each—float down to the hands and mouths of the citizens of Pittsburgh.

Otto Schnering of Chicago’s Curtiss Candy Company was the mastermind behind this wildly successful Baby Ruth advertising campaign, but it was candy expert and historian Beth Kimmerle who shared this delectable story with a room full of hungry listeners at a talk she delivered last Friday afternoon at the University of Chicago’s John Crerar Library. Kimmerle spoke congenially and informally about Chicago’s history as a center of candy production, detailing the rise of the confectionary industry with whimsical anecdotes and a colorful slideshow that featured old-fashioned candy advertisements and pictures of different sweets throughout the years.

Programmed to support the exhibit “Sweet Home Chicago: Chocolate and Confectionary Production and Technology in the Windy City,” which was curated by Kimmerle and is currently on view at Crerar, the talk was more of a discussion than a lecture. Kimmerle frequently engaged her audience, which was mostly comprised of senior citizens, many of whom seemed to be veterans of the candy industry. “Does anybody remember the Sears candy counter?” she inquired, her youthful manner and stylish outfit suggesting that she might not. (She did.) “It was strategically placed right next to the toy department.” Listeners nodded their heads in agreement. One woman pointed to a plate of hard candy pictured in a slide, noting that one piece was shaped like an asparagus, another a pea pod. Kimmerle smiled. “I love doing this in front of people—there are things you never notice yourself.”

Kimmerle spoke for about 45 minutes, ending with a “Stay sweet! Happy Halloween!” and encouraging attendees to head to the lobby, where the exhibit was on view and a particularly sugary array of finger food awaited. Her listeners didn’t need to be asked twice. A particularly elderly patron muttered as soon as applause had commenced, “So where’s our candy?” (Clare Fentress)