In the 1950s and 60s, appliance stores on Main Street or in the new retail shopping strip malls knew how to get shoppers inside to experience "The Future." Now, Hermann resident Scott Bringhurst is using the same window dressing technology to get shoppers into Hermann’s Attic Antique Mall to experience "The Past."
Who would have thought in this Digital Age, an analog wooden cabinet early 60s television, with its promises of the good life beamed in from a Telstar-like satellite, would create the same retail excitement in shoppers for almost seventy years?
This detail is not lost on Scott and he still gets a kick from watching folks outside the store, smile, as they look at the Zenith screen broadcasting some old movie on one of the TV’s channels. It takes them back and sets the mood for when they walk through the front door and see the working electronic pinball machine. The nostalgia washes over them. It's fun, this store of wonder, making memories bubble to the surface, whether it is spying a pair of bellbottomed jeans from the 60s or an old reflector telescope to gaze at the stars, at a time when Dairy Queen gave away little plastic Sputnik satellites during the race to the moon against the Soviets. A Look magazine peeks out, among others in a stack, that offer articles on the latest in Vietnam and a story about the "Last Train to Clarksville" Monkees from 1967.
“The military items are closest to my heart,” says Scott, who served in the Gulf War in the early 90s in the Marine Corps. He was stationed in San Diego and he'd be the first to tell you he joined the Marines so he could surf. He grew up in land-locked Lake St. Louis as a skater kid with pent up energy. Like many in the heartland, his internal gyroscope tilted his young perpetual motion to the West coast on a California Dream.
"I've always had an appreciation for older things, so as a teenager (he was born in '68), I loved the 50s, which was kind of a thing in the 80s, musically," he said. "I could name a song in three notes."
He says he loved the song "Surfer Joe,“ and recited some lyrics from the song.
Surfer Joe joined Uncle Sam's marines today
They stationed him at Pendleton, not far away
They cut off his long blond locks I'm told
And when he went on maneuvers, Joe got cold
—songwriter Ron Wilson, drummer and original member of the Safaris
“I wanted to get as far away as possible and be a bad-ass,” he explained.
Consequently, he says he didn’t make the best Marine, considering the regimentation. Mixing a hard core dash of discipline with Scott’s free spirit was a bit like trying to mix oil and water, but he got through it.
“I would never trade the experience, because I learned valuable lessons about discipline and how to get a job done and how to work together with people,” he says. “I learned from my mistakes.”
His high ACT test grade scores aside, he says he partied too much in college, eventually flunking out, so the Marines seemed like a great choice to get some much-needed direction. He welcomed the challenge. He looked up to those in his family tree that had accomplished a lot.
His great-grandfather, Robert Porter Bringhurst was a renowned sculptor in St. Louis, at the turn of the last century, sculpting General Grant, the Greek lettering at the St. Louis Art Museum and all of the sculptures in the Palace of Education during the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904 (St. Louis World’s Fair). In the construction of that global event, Scott says he was also in charge of all the plaster of Paris architectural forms and sculptures. His grandfather was a graphic artist that is known for logos drafted for Famous-Barr, May and Stix, Baer and Fuller department stores, M&M and Sweet Tart candies, Budweiser, etc.
“Yeah, that whole artistic aesthetic runs in the family,” he says. “It comes out in me [in a way] that I’m able to put together a shop that is interesting and unique.”
Scott does a lot of photography and styling for promoting curated finds on his eBay store, a business he started in 1998. It was pretty much a full-time job, along with throwing parties for friends in St. Louis. He’d throw a 70’s party and go to the thrift store and know what was collectable (in this case 70’s clothes) in the long racks, separating the gems from the junk. That’s how he got into vintage clothing.
He likes the fact that he is a care taker of tangible objects of someone’s future desire that is based on someone’s past desire. It’s also a shared desire not for the nostalgia of the present, but the discovery of the pleasure the item has and will give to new owners—something that remains the same, across time and ownership.
“It’s not that the items are important to me, but important for the human experience,” he says.
The old adage, “They don’t make them like they used to,” also rings true with Scott. Things were well-made in the old days and if taken care of, can last through the ownership of many generations.
The Normandy clicker
If there is one item in Hermann’s Attic that represents why Scott does what he does, it would be a tiny little metal English child’s toy called a Normandy clicker.
“You will never see one outside of a museum,” he says. “The 101st Airborne used these to jump into Normandy on June 6, 1944.”
He says the paratroopers needed a way to contact one another in the dark, that wasn’t an American password, that would not be recognized by German soldiers. It looks like a small metal carnival toy, about the size of a small Bic lighter, that makes a clicking sound when a flat metal flange is pushed down. “Acme Reg. England” is stamped in the metal. In use during the air drop into Normandy, France that June, an enemy soldier couldn’t identify the clicking, passing off the sound as one a cricket might make.
“It was just a toy they pulled off the shelves [in England] and issued to as many guys as they could,” explained Scott.
He said it came out of an old man’s toolbox that was bought at a consignment sale. Scott didn’t know the owner of the handyman’s toolbox, but inside was a pill bottle, that was secured inside the toolbox with wire.
“I opened it up and this was the only thing inside that pill bottle,” he relayed. “As soon as I saw it, I got the chills, because I knew right then and there, everything I needed to know about what that guy did—who he was in the war. The beautiful thing—the melancholy thing about this—is he kept this with him, every working day of his life, for surviving WWII.
Scott says because of what it represents, it might have saved his life, as a paratrooper jumping into Normandy.
“He retires, the toolbox goes into the toolshed and sits there until he passes away or goes into a nursing home,” Scotts says, telling his story. “The family gets his stuff out. They didn’t know it was in there because he never told them it was in there.”
Scott surmises this was because he didn’t want to share those memories, because a lot of those guys didn’t want to talk about it. Regardless, it was with him every working day.
“Whenever I hold this in my hand, I feel this—it’s an amazing piece,” he shares. “If I didn’t know what this was, I might think this was just another interesting antique toy.”
He says It is so much more than that—it’s a piece of American history.
“This little piece is significant to freedom as we know it,” he begins. “This guy played an integral part in what made the Greatest Generation great and gives us the ability to speak freely and enjoy our lives in the 21st Century in the United States of America. This guy is anonymous, but there is no doubt in my mind what he did.