Son of Pineapple

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I hadn’t intended to revisit Myth #12, but several readers have written mentioning more pineapple myths that are off-shoots of the original one (that the pineapple symbolized hospitality in the 17th and 18th centuries). In a nutshell, the pineapple-as-hospitality idea seems to have started in the early 20th century. In earlier times, it was merely a decorative motif. 

One reader writes, “I was also told by the tour guide at Mount Vernon that the pineapple in the bedroom was a subtle suggestion that the guest was no longer welcome. Perhaps a parting gift?” Another wrote that a visitor told her that when a homeowner got tired of their overnight guest, they would leave a pineapple on the guest’s bed as a message to move on. 

Yet another said that returning sea captains would stick a pineapple on the fencepost or set it on the front porch to let neighbors know he was home and ready for hospitality. I’m sure there are more.

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For an excellent, exhaustive, and I think definitive article about the pineapple, you can’t beat Michael Olmert’s “The Hospitable Pineapple” in the Winter 1997-1998 issue of the Colonial Williamsburg Journal which is, sadly, not available online (you can always write to Colonial Williamsburg for a back issue). Professor Olmert teaches at the University of Maryland and one of his specialties is the 17th and 18th centuries. Here is a passage from that piece: “And here is what we do not know about pineapples: that they had anything at all to do with hospitality in the 17th and 18th centuries. It’s hard to imagine a ship captain sacrificing something so rare and expensive and tasty as a pineapple by spiking it on his door, his roof, or his garden gate–as it says on the card that comes with the little brass pineapple bookmark sold today in gift shops.”

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Bingo–it is the gift shops sales clerks and other salespeople who perpetuate this myth for the boost it gives to the sale of pineapple-themed merchandise. And frankly, today it is true! After almost a century of repetition, the pineapple has come to symbolize hospitality. But no one has yet been able to point to an example of that association in the 17th, 18th, or 19th centuries. 

 

16 Responses to Son of Pineapple

  1. Sarah says:

    Oof! Just thought of this myth yesterday when confronted with Connecticut’s “Pineapple Awards for Hospitality”. It’s hard to tell the state that they need to rethink their tourism awards!

    • Mary Miley says:

      And for decades, Colonial Williamsburg has awarded “The Order of the Pineapple” to employees who go above and beyond to help visitors.

  2. Jamie Maxwell says:

    For something to be de-bunked, doesn’t there have to be something around to do the de-bunking? I mean I get it….no source = no credibility to the answer, but they usually give an explaination about the myth and it does a good job of telling what the real story is. This time, they seem not to de-bunk but to question the story. To simply state that it is gift shop staff that perpetuate the myth is likely a big a myth as the original. I dunno, usually I like this piece but it seemed a bit weak this time. That being said, I just realized that there was another shot at debunking it in the past and I did not read that article. will do so now.

    Date: Wed, 3 Apr 2013 13:59:12 +0000 To: jmaxwell86@hotmail.com

  3. Paul Revere Memorial Association says:

    Dear Mary Miley,

    You might be interested in the attached article, published in loud newsletter in 1994, which probably says much the same thing as Prof. Olmert’s article, but in a somewhat different way.

    Sincerely,

    Patrick M. Leehey Research Director Paul Revere House 19 North Square Boston, MA 02113 617-523-2338 staff@paulreverehouse.org

  4. Deb Vlahakis says:

    Dear Mary Miley ,
    Love your blog. Just ordered your book, can’t wait for it to come. I’m a volunteer at a living history museum, and I look forward to the help it will give me in being accurate.
    By the way, here’s the link to that particular past issue of Colonial Williamsburg which is now available :
    http://www.history.org/Foundation/journal/feature2.cfm#Winter97-98

    • Mary Miley says:

      Yes, they’ve posted one article from that issue, but not Olmert’s pineapple article. I wish they would. I think there would be widespread interest.

  5. Janet K. Seapker says:

    This myth has been passed around for DECADES! I was 8 years old when my parents took me to Williamsburg in 1955. That is where I first heard about the hospitality representation from a costumed guide. . . . Janet Seapker

  6. Melissa Nesbitt says:

    Yep–the version of the myth as I’ve heard it locally is that the wooden pineapple finials (?–I’m not sure if that’s the correct term) on the bed posts were removable for the purpose of laying them on their sides on the dresser of the guest chamber as a subtle reminder to the guest that they had stayed their welcome and it was time to move on. The docent demonstrated this for our tour group so it “must” be true. 😉

    • Mary Miley says:

      Hilarious!!!

      • Melissa Nesbitt says:

        Yes, and I bought it hook, line and sinker. Now it seems I am not going to trust any “cutsey wootsey” story a docent tells. Heard the “petticoat table” myth again this past Christmas at the same place and pulled my family aside to tell them what the docent said was not true–I didn’t want to embarrass the lady during the middle of the tour. She probably wouldn’t have believed me anyway…

  7. lissajuliana says:

    I heard the pineapple myth not long ago to explain the decorative motif on the cornices of some 19th c. brownstones, leading the guide to speculate that they must have been hotels since they emphasized hospitality!

  8. Lee Ann Gelinne says:

    I found this article today after a tour in Charleston when the story of the pineapple representing hospitality was told. This makes more sense to me. http://levins.com/pineapple.html

    • Mary Miley says:

      Nice article. Factual and very carefully expressed to avoid overstating the supposed symbolism during the colonial period.

      • Melissa Nesbitt says:

        Yes–very nice article. In an era of “fast” and “convenience” foods, one tends to forget about the creativity, pomp and circumstance with which a meal was served in wealthy households in those days.

  9. zpddoo says:

    I suspect that the pineapple was yet another symbol of wealth, class, and worldliness. It was also an exotic and beautiful fruit that lent itself easily to artistic/architectural representation. Then, as now, people were fascinated with tropical locations most would never see.

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