New Year’s with the Vienna Philharmonic and Mariana

I have two New Year’s Day traditions.

One is listening to the Vienna’s Philharmonic’s New Year’s concert. Ever since my first visit to Vienna as a nine-year-old in the summer of 1979, I’ve hummed along to the irresistible melodies of the Strauss family’s waltzes and the annual concert that has become a symbol of Viennese culture. Someday, I’d like to return to the Musikverein to experience the concert for myself, but until then, I never miss listening to the live broadcast on WOSU-FM and watching it later in the day on Great Performances.

The other is reading Miss Flora McFlimsey and the Baby New Year, by Mariana. As Vienna sends its New Year’s greeting of hope, peace and friendship to the world, I read the tale of how an unexpected guest visits a little blond doll and an “always perfect” black cat.

Feeling lonely because all the other dolls had gone to a New Year’s party, Miss Flora McFlimsey sits by the fire in her little red rocking chair. Pookoo Cat encourages her to make some New Year’s resolutions. Suddenly the door blows open and in comes a tiny creature with a ribbon tied over one shoulder that reads Little New Year. Miss Flora McFlimsey fusses over the “little shivering thing,” dressing him in a little shirt, fixing him warm milk, rocking him and singing a lullaby. When the clock strikes twelve, the Little New Year opens his eyes, smiles, and disappears.

Mariana wrote and illustrated eight other adventures featuring Miss Flora McFlimsey. When Cindy found a copy of Miss Flora McFlimsey’s Valentine the other day, Mariana became one of our research topics.

According to Contemporary Authors Online, Marian Curtis Foster (1909-1978) was a native of Cleveland who wrote and illustrated books for children under the pseudonym Mariana. During the Depression, she worked on the American Index Project of the W.P.A., making drawings of early American objects at museums. Dolls and toys were her favorite. At the New York Historical Society, she discovered an old doll named for the heroine of the 19th century poem, Miss Flora McFlimsey of Madison Square.

While looking through a book called Child Life in Colonial Days, Marian found a picture of a rag doll named Bangwell Putt. The doll belonged to a blind girl named Clarissa Field, who was born in 1765 and lived in Northfield, Massachusetts. Dating from about 1770, the hand-made Bangwell doesn’t have facial features, but she has ten carefully made fingers, suggesting how important the sense of touch was to Clarissa. Bangwell is dressed in 18th century fashion, including a corset. Clarissa kept Bangwell until she died in her eighties. Today, Bangwell is thought to be the oldest surviving rag doll in North America. She lives in the Children’s Room of the Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield, Massachusetts. You can see a picture of her here.

Marian wrote about Bangwell in The Journey of Bangwell Putt, first published in 1945 in a limited, signed edition of 500 copies, and later published in a larger edition in 1965. Hand-lettered and drawn, the book follows Bangwell on a journey to the Museum of the City of New York, where she is on loan for a Christmas exhibition of old and rare objects. At a Christmas ball, she meets a Hessian soldier, who gives her a comb to put in her hair and some slippers to dance in.

In 1973, we visited Deerfield, and I saw Bangwell Putt. My parents bought a copy of The Journey of Bangwell Putt to remind me of my visit. I had my picture taken with the book outside the museum.

Later in the trip, when we were in Camden, Maine, I was so focused on “B. Putt” that I wrote a story called “Bangwell Putt’s Christmas Party.” Here’s what the book looks like.

Marian also illustrated another New Year-themed book that I like to read at this time of year: Little Bear’s New Year’s Party.

Many of Marian’s original drawings are housed in the special Mariana Room of the Hockessin Elementary School Library in Wilmington, Delaware. Looks like Cindy and I had better plan another trip to Winterthur.

Miss Flora McFlimsey sets a good example with her New Year’s resolutions of trying to do better, to keep her promises, and to be kind. As the Vienna Philharmonic concludes this year’s concert, Prosit Neujahr to you!

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