BARNSTORMING MAY EVOKE images of wing-walking and other aerial hijinks. Actually, though, I learned that the term “barnstorming” predates the aeroplane by decades. Here are tidbits of barnstorming, summer stock, and other related non-aerial theatrics.
Aerial Only No. 3.Merriam-Webster lists three definitions of barnstorm: “1. to tour through rural districts staging usually theatrical performances. 2. to travel from place to place making brief stops (as in a political campaign or a promotional tour).” And, finally, “3. to pilot one’s airplane in sightseeing flights with passengers or in exhibition stunts in an unscheduled course especially in rural districts.”
More Details.The Word Detectiveoffers more details: “A word such as ‘barnstorm’ is especially vexing because the constituent parts are simple words in their own right, yet the combination doesn’t really make sense. Who would want to ‘storm’ a barn (aside from the Bovine Liberation Front, of course)?”
The Word Detective continues, “The term ‘barnstorming’ first appeared in the early 19th century, applied to theatrical troupes that toured in rural areas, often mounting their shows in, you guessed it, rented barns. Such tours were commonly conducted in the summer, and often featured actors who would be engaged in established urban theaters during the rest of the year (‘Miss Helen Bancroft, who recently played in this city, was announced as with a barn-storming company,’ 1883).”
Aerial Barnstorming, Real and Virtual.The Word Detective notes, “The use of ‘barnstorming’ in reference to traveling air shows dates to the 1920s, but the practice had absolutely nothing to do with barns.”
Except, of course, for flying a biplane through a barn that, oddly, has large doors at both ends. At least the barn in my flight sim has such a feature.
Summer Stock. The theatrical term “summer stock” is related to non-aerial barnstorming. The “stock” part refers to costumes and scenery borrowed from permanent theaters using it the rest of the year.
The 1950 movie Summer Stock was a variation on the barnstorming theme: Farm owner Judy Garland is visited by her actress sister Gloria DeHaven and a theater troupe including director Gene Kelly. Guess who reluctantly falls in love.
Radio Barnstorming. Through my enthusiasm for SiriusXM“Radio Classics,” I’ve become a fan of Nick and Nora Charles, retired sleuth and sleuth encourager respectively. One of “The New Adventures of the Thin Man,” broadcast 1948–1950, was “Haunted Hams,” in which the Charles pair get caught up with a barnstorming theatrical troupe.
This episode has two barns, one burned down, the other giving star-eyed Nora a new, albeit brief, career. And there’s nary a biplane in sight. ds