Downtown 1958

Downtown 1958

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


This ad from the 1920 Nicolet, Menasha High's yearbook, contains a distinct oddity, by our 21st century eyes.  Can you spot it?  As in, what's that swastika doing in the middle of the page?! 
It may be hard to believe now, but before the Nazis corrupted it, the swastika carried a rich heritage as a tribal symbol and talisman of good luck dating back to ancient times.  The earliest archaeological evidence of swastika-shaped ornaments dates back to the time of Mesopotamia as well as paleolithic Europe. Swastikas have been used in various other ancient civilizations around the world including India, Iran, Armenia, Nepal, China, Japan, Korea and Europe. It still remains widely used in Indian religions today, specifically in Buddhism and Hinduism, primarily as a tantric symbol that invokes Lakshmi- the goddess of wealth, prosperity and auspiciousness. 
The word swastika came from the Sanskrit word svastika, meaning any lucky or auspicious object, and in particular, a mark made on persons and things to denote auspiciousness, or any piece of luck or well-being. In the mid to late 19th century, the symbol became popular in the Western world with good luck and it became a lucky charm, of sorts. 
Google the word and you'll be regaled with thousands of photos of ordinary life- athletic uniforms, airplanes, and greeting cards, festooned with the design, all pre-1930s.   Knowing what we know now, it all looks pretty weird and sometimes shocking to see, for example, a photo of a basketball team wearing giant swastikas on their jerseys, or greeting cards festooned with the symbol, but it was an innocent thing back then.   See the examples below:
This 1907 postcard, copyright 1907 by E. Phillips, a U.S. card publisher, speaks for the universally high regard in which the swastika was held as a good luck token before use by the Nazis corrupted its meaning.
The text on the back of the card reads:
GOOD LUCK EMBLEM "The Swastika" is the oldest cross and emblem in the world. It forms a combination of four "L's" standing for Luck, Light, Love and Life. It has been found in ancient Rome, excavations in Grecian cities, on Buddhist idols, on Chinese coins dated 315 B.C., and our own Southwest Indians use it as an amulet.

This good luck piece from the 1933 Chicago World's Fair is another example. 

As with language (and we all know how words get corrupted over time) so it was with this symbol. 


  1. Wow...I didn't know that! Think I'll copy and paste that info and send it to eBay. They've suspended me a couple times already for trying to sell swastika-related items, and I think one of them is definitely NOT Nazi related! Thanks!

  2. As they say, sometimes truth IS stranger than fiction. This is one of those cases.