Mysteries of the Property Room, 1902

The following first appeared in The Saint Paul Globe in 1902. Pay particular attention at the end where he talks about the different “kinds” of props; they’re somewhat different from how we deal with props today:

Sweeney, the property man of the Metropolitan theater—”Old Props,” of course, he is called—entered his dusty little sanctum sanctorum the other afternoon and placed on a wobbly pine table a long, flabby article. The visitor poked it gingerly.

“It’s the seal that they use in ‘The Chaperone,'” explained the Property Man reassuringly. “And this,” he continued obligingly, “is the mummy. You remember the mummy?” The visitor nodded dubiously. This object that resembled nothing so much as a coffin covered tightly with a bit of Oriental cotton did not look a bit like the object she had viewed from the other side of the footlights during one of the performances of “The Chaperone.”

“Things generally do look different when you see them in here,” said the Property Man apologetically. And the visitor, as she surveyed the stuffy little room, agreed. For instance, it was disillusioning to find that the golden goblets from out of which she had seen the noble Romans drink in “Quo Vadis” were simply painted wooden cups. And there was the grandfather’s clock!

As a part of the furnishing of an old farm house kitchen this grandfather’s clock had seemed the very realest bit of realism. Its honest old face, shining in its humble surroundings, had always seemed to say, “Yes, it is all false, this stage atmosphere of paint and tinsel, but I, at least, am real.” As a matter of fact it is not a bit real. On the contrary, indeed! For a long box, properly cut and painted, with a painted dial at one end, is all that that deceitful clock is. The visitor turned from it in disgust.

“There are two kinds of ‘props,'” explained the Property Man, absentmindedly polishing one of the painted wooden goblets with a bit of cotton tapestry which hung from a nail. “There are personal ‘props’ and stage ‘props.’ Now, suppose a man plays the part of a waiter in a play. If he carries a towel over his arm, then it is a stage ‘prop.’ If he wears it tied around his waist, it is a personal ‘prop,’ and he himself looks after it. But we look after the stage ‘props.’ They are all placed here.”

“Here” was the stuffy little room which is just to the right of the big Metropolitan stage.

“Do you see that large trunk over there? It contains the mandolins used by the girls in the first act of the play. Each mandolin is numbered and each girl knows where to find her own instrument.”

Originally published in The Saint Paul Globe, February 23, 1902, pg 22.

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