Master of Science

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Wrapper

I remember the Indian. ...  I would immediately unwrap the Tootsie Roll Pop, pop the Pop in my mouth, and spread the wrapper out.  If the Indian was on it, it was good luck.Karen Kubby, 1994, Iowa City, Iowa.  

In Iowa City, arguably home to one of the most progressive universities in the Midwest, respect, and even emulation for Native American culture would come as no surprise.  And yet the symbol in question (a warrior chief) is a little boy playing Cowboys and Indians on a candy wrapper (original article here).  How can finding him bring good luck?

For anyone who’s worked in a grocery store, or a convenience store, and especially during the “Tootsie Roll Pop heyday,” the Indian wrapper was truly special.

At a store in Sioux City, for example, a group of boys, ranging in age from 10 to 14, looked at a clerk repeatedly while eating the candy.

Suddenly one of the boys came inside.  It was just after school, and he had a wrapper.  He wanted to know what he got for finding it.

“You don’t get anything,” the clerk said.  “I’m sorry.”

“But it has a star on it.”

“I’m sorry,” the clerk said again, and the boy left.  He and his friends looked disappointed, but the query was not unusual.  For decades, children routinely collected, or asked about the wrapper.  For some reason, children thought it was special, and many believed they would get a prize for finding it.

“It’s a real heartbreak,” Bob Crandall said.  He worked at Dan’s Short Stop, a convenience store in Iowa City, Iowa, in 1994.   
“When I was little," he said, "I went into stores too.  We thought if you got ten wrappers you’d get something for free, but you didn’t.  It was just a myth.”

Just a myth.  Try telling that to a kid in line.  You can be sure he won't be happy.  

Once a common occurrence, customers would be standing in a line, waiting to pay, when out of the blue a child would ask for a free sucker. 

In 2005, a reporter went searching for the "myth," only this time in Wayne, Nebraska.  Far from the more liberal Iowa City, the children of Wayne knew about the candy wrapper as well.  This time, however, the story had lost some of its luster.

Dori Bart, a scan coordinator at Pac ‘N’ Save on the eastside of Wayne, had to think about it.  At first she wasn't sure.

“I've heard of it,” she said after hearing more details, “but it has been years ago.”

Years ago. That’s how long it had been, she said, since children had asked about it.

Wayne is in rural, eastern Nebraska.  It is connected to other small towns in the area by a state highway.  From Wayne to Wakefield, and from Wakefield to Hubbard, no one had had a child ask for years

At the Westland Korner Mart, in Wakefield, Nebraska, no one remembered having a child ask for 3 or 4 years.  Likewise, across the street at the Cenex “C” Store.

“Not for a long time,” the manager, Julie Schultz, said one busy afternoon. “We actually had them bring in wrappers.”

At the “C” Store, everyone knew about the wrapper. Including Carol Gustafson, who was making popcorn at the popcorn machine.

Did children get a prize or something for the wrapper? a reporter asked.

“I don’t think so,” Gusafson said. “I thought it was just a big story someone had made up.”

But it was not just a big story someone had made up.  It happened all the time, and all across the country.  And while it is impossible to assess the legend’s staying power (will anyone still be asking in ten years, or even know about it?), it still generates excitement.  Children have asked in Iowa, Nebraska and even California.  They have asked about the star, and the little boy dressed as a warrior chief.  They want to know what they get for finding it.

In Carroll, Iowa, in 2010, a young mother, who worked at a GNC, knew all about it, including the newest update.  When a reporter asked if she had ever heard about the wrapper, and what the rules were, she told him people had to collect three wrappers to win.

“But you can’t do it anymore,” she said.

The belief that you get a free Tootsie Roll Pop, or anything, for finding the wrapper surfaced decades ago.  In fact, back in the day, if a consumer wrote the company (as recently as 1994), Tootsie Roll Industries sent "The Legend of the Indian Wrapper"— which can be read here by enlarging this copy.

Of  course, it is "Top Secret."  But for all the hoopla, only a Xerox came in the mail.  And according to one spokesperson, it was written because children keep asking about the wrapper.

“Long, long ago, when all lollipops were made alike,” the story begins, “a man one day decided to make a different kind of lollipop for people…." 

Naturally, it had a soft chewy center.

Interestingly, there is nothing about free gifts in the letter, only what the star means: that the candy maker has approved the quality of the product.

In more recent years, the company has been less inclined to send the story out.  A recent self-addressed, stamped envelope brought nothing in the mail.  But once upon a time, without fail, a letter sent to Tootsie Roll Industries in Chicago brought the children’s story.

It is not surprising, with more awareness toward the rights of Native Americans, the symbol has lost its luster.  And there are many more kinds of lollipops out there these days as well.

Erik Diessner, a clerk at the Westland Korner Mart (just across the street from the “C” Store), wasn’t sure why children didn’t come in anymore.

“I don’t know if it’s because we don’t sell that kind anymore,” Diessner said, “or kids just forgot about it.”

Indeed, at some stores you can’t even find the old Tootsie Roll Pops. Tootsie Roll Industries sells new flavors now; Tropical Stormz, for example. The wrapper was bright green, and there are no children playing on it at all.

In his “Encyclopedia of Urban Legends,” Jan Brunvand explains that companies and corporations are frequent targets of legends—generally negative ones.

But all is not negative.  A few legends claim companies provide valuable benefits, and such claims have circulated about Tootsie Pops for decades.  According to Brunvand, this kind of information is usually shared by people talking to other people.

“It is like a rumor,” he said in an interview by phone. “If you locate the wrapper with the Indian on it, you turn it in.  Of course, a lot of this circulates on the internet now. But generally speaking, it’s done person to person.”

And it’s true.

“We were just thinking about it,” Schultz said on a follow-up visit to the “C” Store. “And we think it was a cowboy on the wrapper.”

“No, it was an Indian and a star,” another clerk at the front counter shouts.

And with this, Schultz is off to the candy aisle. Sure enough, she immediately finds a wrapper with a little boy dressed as a warrior chief.  He holds a bow, and is shooting a star.

Spokespeople for the company insist they have never had a promotion, including employees in consumer relations. And they insist the wrapper is nothing special.  There are many different designs on the wrapper, according to the company; a child skateboarding, for example, and a tricycle.

Simply, as the wrapper is cut from a large roll for production, wherever the cut falls, an individual Tootsie Roll Pop wrapper has that particular design.  One person said that appropriately one in four wrappers will have the little boy shooting his bow and arrow. Sometimes the star will be on the wrapper, and sometimes it will not. It just depends on the cut.

Of course, for many, the image is just too contrived not to have any meaning, and especially when it comes to sales.  But repeated calls to the company revealed nothing about the wrapper’s development. The process has either been lost to time, or spokespeople cannot, or will not tell the story. The thought behind the wrapper, and which came first, the wrapper or the legend is not discussed.

And the belief in a free prize?

“People always remember things,” a spokesperson said, “but nobody remembers where, or how. Small businesses have had promotions perhaps, but the company has never had one....”

Dan Glasgow, the owner of Dan’s Short Stop, said children came in a lot.

“When I first opened,” Glasgow said, “kids came in all the time asking about it. I might have given then something, but after a while I had to stop.”

Other managers and clerks have confirmed this as well. Sometimes the kids got lucky.

In a call to Chico, California (after talking to Dan in 1994), Jeanie Vincent, a 7-Eleven manager, confirmed children asked about the wrapper there too. 
She knew all about it, but the children weren't asking much anymore.  The wrapper's popularity had faded long before it faded here.

Sadly, stores in the heartland have now lost the children as well.  But not to worry, there will always be a some myth, or urban legend, to turn a boring day into an adventure.  Spider eggs in bubble yum, come to mind, for example, or Pop Rocks that kill unwary children when their heads (or stomachs) explode.
Something will always amaze and delight.  And chances are, should you ever ask someone, they will have heard about the Tootsie Roll Pop wrapper.

“I heard about it,” a clerk said in 2005 at the Hubbard Mini Mart, a convenience store 20 miles south of Wayne.

“My mom’s heard about it,” a little girl said.

She and her brother were in the candy aisle looking at candy.  And it had to be true — or would be as soon as the children returned home.


Blogger C. DeForest Switzer said...

The Siouxland Observer first published "The Wrapper" July 4, 2009. S. A. McCormick read it and posted this commentary that same day. Mr. McCormick is a Blogger; a link to his Blog, Midland Passages, is posted on this page.

I came home one afternoon to find a den of eight-year old boys in the flower garden. They had built a small contraption that resembled a spring-poll drilling rig (used in the days of yore to drill water wells). I squatted down beside them and asked what they were prospecting for. "Indian clay," they breathed, excitedly anticipating the discovery. In this district apparently, Indian clay is the philosopher's stone for eight-year olds, the most perfect of all natural matter, that mythical substance which gives shape and form to all eight-year old dreams.

I left them to their quest and pondered the autonomous world of eight-year olds. A world where Pop Rocks explode, where every snake is a water moccasin, every spider a Black Widow. A world passed down from eight-year old to eight-year old, unnoticed by the adult world and forgotten by the time they turn ten.

Thank you, Cliff, for noticing. If I were the "C" store clerk, I would have given the boy with the star and Indian a free Tootsie Roll Pop and taken the ten cents out of my paycheck.

S. A. McCormick
July 4, 2009

October 29, 2013  

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