Posts filed under ‘1890 to WW I’

Arctic Gum Drop Fiasco

It’s 1907. The intrepid  Dr. Frederick Cook, a Brooklyn physician, has set sail for parts north. He promises to reach the North Pole or perish in the attempt. He returns on September 1, 1909, claiming to have reached the pole in April 1908.

As the newspapers reported on Cook’s account of his adventure, as well as the increasingly loud accusations of fraud, Cook’s supporters and backers endeavored to defend and account for his success.

His financial backer, Mr. John Bradley of Brooklyn, explained that Cook was prepared and equipped for the most rigorous challenges of the journey. “This was no intensified joy ride undertaken on nerve,” he told the Washington Post two days after Cook’s return. “Every imaginable contingency had been provided for.” That meant 5,000 gallons of gasoline. And two barrels of gum drops.

Gum drops? Mr. Bradley explained: “An Eskimo will travel thirty miles to get a gum drop, for his is the sweetest tooth in the world.”

Cook was already something of a curiosity. He had previously claimed to be the first to scale Mount McKinley in 1906. To some, Cook’s account of reaching the North Pole, particularly the timing of his arrival and the time it took him to get back to Greenland, seemed highly unlikely. Meanwhile, a rival for the claim to “first to the pole” had emerged, Robert Peary, who claimed to have reached the pole in April 1909 and who went about doing everything he could to discredit Cook, including circulating the charge that his claim to Mount McKinley was also false.

Robert Edwin Peary (1856-

Unfortunately, the gum drop story didn’t really help Cook’s credibility. Here comes this big explorer hero, and his secret weapon is…gum drops? The newspapers began publishing all kinds of fanciful accounts of how Cook reached the pole by bribing Eskimos with rations of gum drops. Worse, sketches began to appear depicting Cook dangling gum drops on strings over the mouths of Eskimos in the hopes that they would lead him to the pole as they chased the beloved gum drop.

Poor Cook was besieged. Candy store windows were filled with mounds of “Cook’s Gum Drops.” When he arrived in a new city on his national lecture tour, gum drop manufacturers would deluge him with hundreds of pounds of the candies to welcome him.

The Saturday Evening Post published a full-length dramatic parody of the Cook expedition under the title “A Typical American Drama of the Present Day in Several Acts.”  Captain Cook, or “Look” in this version, is an easy target: vain, self-important, and clueless:

An Eskimo quartet, crawling out of the igloos, comes down stage and sings a touching ballad: Give me a gumdrop, mother, only a single drop, for that last bit of blubber is sticking in  my crop. Chorus by Eskimo women and children, dogs assisting. Mother appears and explains she hasn’t a gumdrop to her name, and, being an ancient crone, isn’t very well provided with gums, either. Loud lamentations by the Eskimos. They must have gumdrops or they perish. Sympathetic vibrations by the aurora borealis. It looks as if this flourishing Eskimo village is done for. But ha! what is that yonder, rounding the headland? A ship! A ship!

[The explorer arrives, stern and sturdy but needing a shave, clad in fur, in the bow of the ship. ]

“Look!” shout the Eskimos, pointing at the stern and sturdy figure.

“You are right,” the stern and sturdy figure says, “I am Look,” and turning to his hardy crew, continues, “Even here in this remote and gelid corner of the world they knew me. Stir yourselves, my gallant men, and look alive. Broach a cask of gumdrops and distribute them carefully to these guileless and innocent children of the Frozen North, taking in exchange all the furs and ivory they have, while I relieve my surcharged feelings in song.”

Sings “My Whiskers Have Grown Very Long Since I Saw Dear Brooklyn Last.”

The Cook-Peary controversy gripped America’s attention for the next year or two, but Cook seems to have gotten the worst of it. By December 1910, he was complaining loudly to anyone who would listen: “I never heard the gum drop yarn until I came to New York.” According to Cook, it was not his expedition that was a fake, but rather the whole wacky gum drop story: “We took no gum drops with us on our polar trip. And to my knowledge no Eskimo ever ate a gum drop while with  me.”

Cook really wasn’t the only one who suffered in this account. The stereotypical and gently offensive image of Eskimo gum drop lovers played into American ideas of their own superiority. The Eskimos in these tales appear infantile and gullible in their love of the childish gum drop.

It might not have been gum drops, but it was in fact true that the Inuit peoples of the Arctic, having survived on a traditional diet of fish and seal for so many millennia, were suddenly being exposed to food stuffs previously unknown. In the report of a 1892 expedition to Barrow Point, Captain J. Murdoch wrote that the Barrow Eskimos had “acquired a fondness for many kinds of civilized foods, especially bread of any kind, flour, sugar and molasses.” These novelties would displace the ideal nutrition of their traditional diet with empty carbohydrates, and suddenly the Eskimos had gained not only sugar and molasses, but also heart disease, diabetes, and new cancers.

Sources: “Take  Cook’s Word,” Washington Post 3 Sept 1909; Samuel G. Blythe, “A Typical American Drama of the Present Day in Several Acts” Saturday Evening Post 16 Oct 1909; “Brands Gum Drop Yarn a Fake,” Washington Post 21 Dec 1910. For a fuller account of the Cook-Peary pole controversy, see Wikipedia entry on Frederick Cook at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Cook. Cook image from wikipedia; Le Petit Journal cartoon from PicApp.com. On the introduction of refined carbohydrates into traditional diets and the resulting “diseases of civilization,” see Gary Taubes, Good Calories, Bad Calories 89-99.

May 21, 2010 at 8:28 am Leave a comment

No Gum For You!

I confess, I don’t love gum. Happily, I’m not the only one. 44 people joined the Facebook Group “Against Chewing Gum.”  But Americans LOVE gum. Half of all Americans are proud gum chewers, upwards of 300 sticks per year. That’s almost $3 billion in gum sales.

Not everyone approves. I, for example, were I to be made king of the world, would outlaw chewing gum on the grounds that there is only one thing worse than stepping in fresh chewing gum on the sidewalk. And the arbiters of elegant manners have ever declaimed against the perpetual chewing motions that burn 11 calories per hour.

This is America, after all, so no king will take away anyone’s gum. Unless you happen to work for a very strict 24/7 employer. One like the U.S. Navy.

Back in 1911, the Navy Brass had enough of the indignities of chewing gum. So they said NO MORE GUM!

The navy is disconsolate. Thousands of nautical jaws that hitherto industriously and contentedly labored at the irresistible chewing gum now give their energies to berating the Fates that have decreed to them a future chicle-less existence. Chewing gum has been taken from the navy stores. Captain Fullam of the battleship Mississippi says: “The chewing gum habit is decidedly objectionable for obvious reasons”; and the Navy Dept has taken his view of the matter.

But many thought “Uncle Sam” had taken his uncle-ing duties a little too far:

Source: “Gum Mustered Out,” International Confectioner Dec 1911.

May 14, 2010 at 9:29 am Leave a comment

Black Crows or Black Rose?

Black Crows: do you know this candy? It’s a venerable gummy licorice drop, from the same people who bring you fruity Dots. But while Dots are in every movie concession and drug store bin that I come across, I never see the Crows. I suspect they are a little less popular. After all, it’s a licorice candy for starters, not America’s favorite flavor these days. And then there is the name. Crows? I mean, those are some big and spooky birds.

I’m not the only one who thinks the name is a little strange. The legend of Black Crows is that they weren’t supposed to be named “Crows” at all. The story (and you’ll find it at Wikipedia and every other “candy nostalgia” book and web site) is that when Brooklyn candy makers Mason, Au, and Magenheimer sent out to have the first labels printed up, somehow the printer got confused and instead of Black Rose, the labels came back with Black Crows. And Black Crows it has been ever since.

It seems an easy mistake: when you say it out loud, black rose does sound exactly like black crows. But Richard, over at The Bewildered Brit, pointed out that this story seemed a little unlikely. He thought it would have made more sense to call the candy “black roses,” but “black crowses” doesn’t make any sense.  I agreed with Richard that the whole thing seemed odd. So I started looking for early evidence of Black Crows to decide for my self if the story of Black Rose made any sense. Here’s what I found.

We do know for a fact that Mason, Au applied to trademark the name “Black Crows” in 1911 (the trademark was approved Dec. 12, 1912, U.S. Serial 71058363).

In the trademark application, the candy makers assert that the name “Black Crows” has been in continuous use in commerce since 1890. That means that in 1890, they were selling the candy as “Black Crows.” No sign of “Black Rose” here.

I found an advertisement for Black Crows published in January 1919:

What is interesting here is that Black Crows are sold in bulk. They are shipped to retailers in big five pound boxes, or in forty pound cases. There is a label on the box, as you can see. But when the candy is sold to the candy-eater at the candy shop, it is going to be scooped out of the box and put into a sack. Whether the label says “Black Crows” or “Black Rose” or “Black Nose” or “Black Panty Hose” hardly matters. If Mason, Au had wanted to call their candy sold in big bulk boxes “Black Rose” back in 1890, and they got the wrong labels, why would they toss the name they had chosen when the name on the label is so irrelevant to how the candy gets sold?

As the January ad announces, Mason, Au was working on a five cent package. It came out in July, 1919. Here’s the ad:

Notice the copy reads: “No Weighing, No Wrapping, Just Selling.” In the nineteen-teens, the idea of pre-packaged candy took off. When unwrapped candy is being scooped out of glass jars or big boxes, the buyer can’t really know what “brand” the candy might be (and this was something of an issue for many candy makers who were trying to capture some market share). Boxes like this Black Crows were revolutionizing the way candy was being sold and packaged, and making the brand and the packaging more and more important to the sale.

When the candy is displayed in these individual packages, it really does matter what name is on the candy box. The individual boxes will be displayed and customers will recognize the brand based on the packaging. If the printer had screwed up all the printing on individual retail packages like this, that would have been a big deal. But in 1890, no such packaging existed.

In sum: Black Crows was the name of the candy going all the way back to 1890. n 1890, there was no such thing as a candy wrapper. The way candy was packaged and sold meant that a “printers error” for a box label would have been easy to work around. Given the absence of any actual evidence that the candy was ever called Black Rose, we can only conclude that the story is a myth.

But as I’m discovering, the candy past is as much myth and legend as it is fact. The “Black Rose” story is another of those candy fabulations, like the story of why Hershey’s named their candy “kiss,” or the story of the invention of the Tootsie Roll. They are all nice stories that add to the mystery and romance of the candy past. Candy is a special product, one we associate with pleasure and fun, and it’s not surprising that we’d hope that the stories behind our candies would be more interesting than the stories behind socks or soap.

Unfortunately, most of the story of candy in America is just the story of business: a product, a market, a sale, companies growing and prospering, or losing their foothold and failing. Not much fodder for the cocktail party circuit, alas. Pity the poor kill-joy historian who just must get it right.

So why would we need the “Black Rose” story anyway? I think it has something to do with changing perceptions of candy and candy eaters. Today, the chewy licorice gum drop is sold alongside similar sugar candies like Mike and Ike, Dots, Skittles: sure, grownups may eat it, but it’s basically kids candy. But if you look at the older packaging above, you can see it’s quite atmospheric and spooky. A century ago, candy like Black Crows wasn’t associated with children or cartoons, it was a serious candy. So a spooky black crow wasn’t so odd. But today, that image doesn’t match the idea of kiddie candies. So we have the new Black Crows logo:  a jaunty, jokey cartoon crow. And we have the legend of “black rose,” that the crow wasn’t really a crow after all.

One last tidbit: Black Crows ad in the 1920s emphasize their quality: they are flavored with real anise seed and licorice, they do not harden or deteriorate, and they are pure and wholesome. But you might be surprised about the color:

They are colored with charcoal, which is beneficial to the stomach.

I’m pretty sure they took the charcoal out some time back. But that explains the nice black color!

Sources: Black Crows ads appeared in Confectioners Journal, Jan. and June 1919. Quote from Mason, Au & Magenheimer ad for Black Crows, Confectioners Journal September 1921 p. 74.

April 28, 2010 at 8:30 am 2 comments

Defining Candy: the Candy Tax

What is candy, anyway?

You probably know it when you see it. Sweet, a treat, chocolate and sugar and nuts and crispy rice… well, lots of different ingredients. But sweet, definitely. Of course, everything sweet isn’t candy. So where do we draw the line?

Most of the time, it probably doesn’t matter much, since each of us makes our own personal determinations of what and when and how much to eat. But there is one arena where definitions matter a lot: the law. (more…)

April 21, 2010 at 8:08 am 10 comments

Corn Into Candy: 1918

Today corn syrup is everywhere, especially that bugaboo, high fructose corn syrup. HFCS has the same balance of fructose and glucose as table sugar, but is immensely cheaper and so immensely more attractive to profit-seeking food processors.

Back in the early 1900s, HFCS was unknown, but corn was a huge product. Most corn went to animal feed. But war related food shortages suddenly brought corn to center stage.

Sugar shortages were impacting households as well as food makers by the end of 1917. In January 1918, industry watchers predicted that sugar use would be restricted to something like 90 percent of what was available the previous year. But candy was ready.

Walter Hughes, the secretary of the National Confectioners Association, got himself appointed to the Sugar  Division of the U.S. Food Administration. When sugar conservation began to appear necessary, the candy industry had a seat at the table and made sure that candy was recognized as having food value and as being important to public morale.

And it was a good move. Candy, and other “non-essential” foods like ice cream and soda, were allotted 80 percent of their previous usages when the Food Administration began strict rationing in May 1918.

It was a serious reduction, to be sure. But candy makers had already begun working around the shortages with new formulas and new concoctions that would minimize the need for sugar. The obvious work-around was another ingredient that was sweet and tasteless: corn syrup.

‘War candies,’ containing less sugar and more corn syrup can be made widely popular. If you are going to turn out ‘war candies’ give them snappy war names and watch the result. You are going to save sugar for other purposes and in doing so disarm the current assertion that ‘candy is a luxury.’

Candy makers wanted to be seen doing their part for the war effort. Candy using less sugar meant more sugar for the war. Americans could enjoy their candy, and support their troops as well.

The war was good news for corn syrup. In the early 1900s, corn syrup had been called “glucose,” and was frequently vilified as an “adulterant,” some bad stuff contaminating the candy. Sometimes this was because the accuser didn’t know what glucose actually was. But often enough, criticisms about glucose in candy were directed at new-fangled ingredients and techniques that made people suspicious. (See my post Glue-Cose for more)

The war changed all that. Now corn syrup was patriotic. Candy makers could boast that their confections were sweetened without taking from the sugar stores.

This ad for “War Special” Candies from George Close ran in Confectioners Journal in January 1918, when sugar is become tight but not yet officially rationed. Close promotes the candies as both patriotic and good business:

“By pushing these specialties you are not only performing a patriotic duty in conserving sugar, but at the same time are helping yourself and your customers to maintain a normal volume of business.”

Maltose, molasses and honey could also be used as alternative sweeteners, but corn syrup as a sugar substitute was the easiest, the most abundant, and had no taste. New formulas for things like gum drops and suckers made use of higher portions of corn syrup.  And new kinds of candy ingredients using no sugar at all came on the scene: “creme” fillings and caramel bases made of corn syrup and milk products were increasingly used, as well as corn-syrup based candy coatings.

Corn syrup today is seen as cheap and inferior. But candy makers using corn syrup in 1918 were innovators responding to war-time shortages. Some Americans looked at their empty sugar bowls and pointed the finger at candy. Shut down the candy factories, they shouted, and give us back our sugar! Candy fought back to show that candy could be good and sweet, and still not use more than four percent of the total sugar output. Corn syrup kept candy in business during the shortage years, and corn syrup kept Americans eating candy.

April 16, 2010 at 8:41 am 3 comments

Corn People: How It Started

Close-up of a teenage girl (15-17) holding a corncob in front of her face

If you’ve been following the food news, you probably know by now: we are corn. Just about every item in the meat and dairy cases, just about every ingredient in processed food, somehow begins as corn in the corn field. This is not obvious from the mind-boggling array of goods on display at your local grocery.

Man spilling cornflakes

The corn-ification of our food supply is perhaps the most significant change in the U.S. food scene in the last hundred years. We mostly think of this as a consequence of “industrial food”: bigger and bigger food processors squeezing more and more profit out of less and less input.That’s definitely the story of the twentieth century, not just for food but for just about every commodity. Here’s an interesting twist, though: what set it all in motion wasn’t just greedy agri-business.

Corn used to be just for animals to eat. The reason humans started eating more and more corn, and more and more processed corn products, was because of the U.S. Government. Or you could even say it was because of Germany. Or imperialism. Or the ambition and folly that drives humans to war.

Don’t worry, I’ll get to the candy part. But to understand what happened to candy, you have to understand what happened to food more generally. And to understand that, you have to go back to the first World War, back to 1916.

Ironically, the stage was set for the corn take over by some very charitable motivations. It was the start of World War I. We hadn’t committed to fight yet, but our allies in England and France and Italy were under attack, and hurting. Europe was experiencing terrible food shortages, and the U.S. was at the ready to help with the bounty of amazing agricultural resources.

But by 1918, the American agricultural surplus was gone, and the U.S. had joined the war. Wheat in particular was in short supply, due to poor crops in 1917. Lower food harvests combined with desperate appeals from overseas inspired the U.S. Food Administration to launch a campaign for voluntary reductions in wheat consumption. Instead of wheat, Americans could eat corn.

There was plenty of corn to be had. The crop in 1917 was more than 3 billion bushels, and only six percent of that crop was normally used for human consumption, the rest going to feed cattle and livestock. But Americans weren’t accustomed to eating corn.

In the spring of 1917 and then in an expanded version in 1918 the American Museum of Natural History put on a Food Conservation Exhibition which aimed both to educate the public about proper nutrition and to support the war through encouraging food conservation. The exhibit was extremely successful in New York, where it traveled to various schools and civic centers through late 1917 and early 1918. It was praised by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “the best food exhibit yet prepared,” and was widely emulated by other museums around the nation.

Corn wasn’t part of the original plan for the exhibit cooked up in 1915. But by 1918, Americans needed to  know that corn was the food of choice for patriotic citizens supporting the war effort:

The value to the country of the corn crop is being emphasized in the food exhibit in the foyer of the Museum by presenting scores of ways in which this chief of American cereals may be used in the home. The Corn Products Refining Company has presented to the Museum twenty-two products made from corn. Among these are various starches used for jellies, puddings, pie filling, and sauces; the syrups and sugars for confectionery, preserves, jams, and jellies; and the oils used for general cooking, pastry, and salads. Great quantities of gluten and oil cake, besides corn meal, are used for feeding cattle, thus indirectly contributing to our food supply. Aside from their food value, corn products have a large place in the arts and industries. From corn oil are made leather, rubber, paints, and varnishes; the starches are used for laundry purposes, for ‘sizes’ in textile and paper industries, and for soaps an adhesives; the syrups and sugars are used in tanning, in shoe polishes, hair tonics, chewing tobacco, and in the manufacture of lactic acid and vinegar. (Am Mus Journal Oct 1917 p. 420)

Perhaps the multiple forms of corn would have eventually insinuated their way into American life anyway. The War gave corn an air of necessity and of patriotism. Corn was a good choice, corn was helping America and its Allies in the war effort.

Corn meal could take the place of wheat in the nation’s bakeries and bread baskets. In the words of Professor Graham Lusk, a food expert at Cornell University who advised on the U.S. food program as well as the AMNH Food Exhibit, “corn bread became the bread of every patriotic citizen.”

And what about candy? Sugar was in short supply and everybody, including the candy industry, was conserving.  Corn had a solution there as well, a way to keep the candy coming, just as sweet: corn syrup.

In my next post, I’ll tell you more about how the WWI food shortages and rationing programs created modern candy.

Sources: The quote about corn at the exhibit is from Am Mus Journal Oct 1917 p. 420; the quote from Graham Lusk is from Lusk, “The Food Supply of our Allies,”  Am Mus Journal 18.8 Dec 1918: 629-635; quote on p. 630; the quote regarding the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture is from Am Mus Journal Nov. 1918 p. 623. Accounts of the Food Exhibit can be found in the Annual Reports for the American Museum of Natural History for 1917 through 1925. I consulted correspondence and clippings relating to the Food Exhibit at the AMNH Archives; my thanks to librarian Mai Qamaran for her assistance in locating relevant materials. As general background, Michael Pollan describes the ubiquity of corn in our diet in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, an excellent place to start one’s food re-education.

Images: Corn: PicApp, AMNH image: Fusionpanda on Flikr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fusionpanda/ / CC BY-NC 2.0

April 14, 2010 at 8:28 am 5 comments

Whitman’s and Wilbur’s at the Candy Counter, 1913

In it’s May 1913 issue, the trade journal International Confectioner featured some of the five and ten cent packages offered by the better known candy makers. Such packaging of candy was still relatively novel; not every candy was put up in its own wrapping, and a lot of candy was put in bags or fancier boxes at the time of purchase, requiring the service of a clerk. The editor introduced the feature with some comments on the virtues of these new packages (as well as some run on sentences):

These are the goods that sell themselves, as they lay upon the retailers’ counter, the customer cannot help picking one up and paying his money, the reason is, that they look so tempting and are so easily bought; for it must be remembered that the public is extremely lazy and will sometimes not even take the trouble to ask the price.

Most of the goods featured are from manufacturers long gone. But two are still around today: H. O. Wilbur and Son, and Stephen F. Whitman, both of Philadelphia. Today, Wilbur is owned by Cargill, and Whitman’s by Russell Stover, but the brand and the tradition of each go way back into the nineteeth century.

So what were these venerable confectioners selling one hundred years ago in the five and ten cent lines?

Here are some of Wilbur’s offerings. The Wilbur Bud (2) was a huge success of course: little cones of chocolate wrapped in foil. But Wilbur also made a line of eating chocolates, as pictured here. The depiction of the little cherub stirring the chocolate is especially charming. The editor points out that these confections are well known since Wilbur had, by 1912, been selling chocolates for thirty years. Wilbur’s American Milk Chocolate (1) is “one of the first milk chocolates made in this country.” Wilbur’s Sweet Clover Chocolate was “advertised for outdoors and for the camper, hunter, etc.,” a rugged image at odds with the dainty wrapper. The Milk Chocolate is a five cent bar, the rest are ten cents.

Today we associate the name “Whitman’s” with the Whitman’s Sampler, that box of mixed chocolate candies that everyone has given and received at least once. But here we see Whitman’s with a full assortment of offerings, including spice gum drops, nut nougat (in vanilla, chocolate or strawberry), Jordan almonds (assorted flavors), cream cocoanut bar, “Mallo-Caros” (caramel with marshmallow center) and the unfortunate and embarrassing “Pickaninny Peppermints.”

About those Pickaninny Peppermints: stylized and stereotypical images of African Americans were not uncommon in the packaging and advertising of goods in the twentieth century. Truly, it was not until the Civil Rights movement that such images became widely regarded as prejudiced and unacceptable. My first impulse was just to not post this, as it feels offensive to our sense of civility and mutual respect for every citizen. But this is what it was, not always pretty. It’s worth noting that such images did not appear very frequently in candy packaging, at least not in the sources that I have had access to.

Wikipedia’s entry on Whitman  Candies tells the rest of the story of Pickaninny Peppermints:

In the early 20th century, Pickaninny Peppermints were a popular Whitman confection. However, future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and, at the time, NAACP lawyer took issue with the name. In a 1941 article directed at Whitman’s published in the Afro-American, Marshall urged Whitman’s Candies to realize its racial insensitivity. Whitman’s denied that the term “pickaninny” was racist and responded to Marshall by saying that it meant “cute colored kid.” Despite this, the product was soon dropped. (Reference: Baltimore Afro-American, Nov. 22 1941, p.1)

For more on Wilbur and the Wilbur Buds, see my posts: Kissing Cousins: the Hershey’s Kiss and the Wilbur Bud and Hershey’s: Why a Kiss is Just a Kiss

April 9, 2010 at 8:25 am 1 comment

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Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

Welcome to Candy Professor

Candy in American Culture What is it about candy? Here you'll find the forgotten, the strange, the curious, the surprising. Our candy story, one post at a time.

Samira Kawash, PhD
Professor Emerita,
Rutgers University

(C) Samira Kawash

All written contents protected by copyright. Except where noted, Candy Professor is my original research, based on archives, journals, magazines, newspapers, and other historical artifacts. You do not have permission to copy or re-post my content. If you want to refer to my work, please create a link from the blog entry and also write out the citation:
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