What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Proprietor’s stay in Charles-Town, will be about a Month.”
This advertisement presented residents of Charleston an opportunity to depart from their daily routines and view a spectacle: “JERUSALEM, Or a View of that famous City” as depicted in a painting that measured “seventeen Feet long, and nine Feet wide.” The advertisement aroused curiosity by describing in great detail the various landmarks visible in the scene, including “the Temple of SOLOMON, his Royal THRONE, the noted HOUSES, TOWERS and HILLS.” In addition, the painting also told the story of “the SUFFERINGS of our SAVIOUR, from the Garden of GETHSAMENA, to the CROSS on the Hill of GOLGOTHA.”
This attraction, “now to be seen at Mr. HOLIDAY’s,” was new to Charleston, though this form of entertainment was a familiar part of eighteenth-century popular culture. Proprietors of similar paintings of faraway places and historical scenes moved from place to place, charging admission (fifteen shillings in this case) to “the Curious” interested seeing something out of the ordinary. Other itinerants with magic lantern shows also amused colonists with scenes and stories, for a price. They were part of a larger community of entertainers (including acrobats, actors, musicians, wire dancers, and trick riders) that traveled from town to town, often generating interest and drawing audiences by advertising in local newspapers.
Like many other itinerant entertainers, the unnamed proprietor of this view of Jerusalem attempted to create a sense of urgency among those who might wish to see it. The advertisement stated that his “stay in Charles-Town, will be about a Month.” That may have accurate, but Peter Benes has demonstrated that this was often a marketing ploy. Many eighteenth-century entertainers regularly underscored that they planned to stay for a short time only, encouraging potential audiences not to miss out on the novelty of their performances. Taking out advertisements announcing an extended stay was another strategy for drawing viewers or audiences. Not only did doing so suggest popularity among the locals, it also gave readers a second chance to participate in the popular culture that had attracted their friends and neighbors. Such “limited time only” advertisements warned potential audiences not to miss out!