Preacher hand puppet used by Rev Hitchcock in Punch & Judy show

New England youth faced many choices and changes in the 1890s, and the itinerant minister who operated this set of puppets sought to guide them. Rural New England families had been losing their young to the lures of the West and the City at least since as the 1830s Depression. In 1893 one more economic crisis arose— the enticements of mail order goods by rural free delivery, and a new wave of immigrants to replace others working in the local mills. Reverend William E. Hitchcock of Brimfield, Mass., an itinerant preacher and showman active between 1890 and 1900, hinted at the concerns of the time in his public temperance lecture, a copy of which accompanied this set of puppets.
Hitchock reeled his audience in, not with hellfire and brimstone, but with armchair tourism, unrolling a huge 7'-high by 114'-long painted canvas of a dozen scenes in American history: His "Pictorial Museum" featured views of Broadway and Central Park in New York City, an earthquake in South Carolina, Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Washington D.C.; and a few Civil War battlefields for the veterans. He spoke of the danger of "Anichists," or anarchists, citing the recent labor riots in Haymarket Square, Chicago, and the civilizing of Indians in the West.
Following his panoramic tour, he spoke of the "battles within," especially against "evil Drink," introducing his handpuppets. These included Punch, a clown who since medieval times has been used to comment on social ills that the public might be too uncomfortable to address on their own. Many of the same characters found their way into other traveling minstrel, medicine, and variety shows across the country before the Civil War—Punch, Judy, the Devil, a Ghost, a Darky, a Magician, and a Priest and a Gallows. It is unknown how far Reverend Hitchcock traveled, or with which ministry, though quite possibly he was Methodist, considering that denomina mid-late 19th c. tradition of itinerant ministry and revivalist camp meetings.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Date made
Hitchcock, William E.
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
fabric (overall material)
paint (overall material)
metal (overall material)
overall: 17 in x 10 in; 43.18 cm x 25.4 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Punch and Judy
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Entertainment
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Additional Media

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