Saturday, September 22, 2012

Ephemeral artwork seen on a late-night stroll through Brooklyn

In July, Joan and I spent a night in Brooklyn and found ourselves checking out the wild and vibrant scene on the streets long after midnight.

One of the many things I love about New York City is the sheer volume of paper that's plastered everywhere — the advertisements, posters, political screeds and event flyers of the city's 8.2 million inhabitants (with graffiti and doodles layered in for good measure).

And it's all truly ephemeral. The appearance of a wall, sheet of plywood or light pole changes daily, as new things are plastered down and old ones are partially torn off or obscured.

To me, the scenes can be art. Even if they're gone the next day.

So here is the "artwork" that I discovered with my camera on a single night's stroll through Brooklyn. These images might not be everyone's cup of tea. But I find them, just like the everyday ephemera that is featured throughout this site, to be worthwhile records of who we are and the marks we leave behind.

The Train

Computer Age

Any Port in a Storm


(You definitely want to click on this one to see the larger image. This size doesn't do it justice.)

(A closeup of some of the dozens of faces within this one.)

His Shadow Lingers1

1. Is that a moray eel or the Alien creature in the upper right?

Updates on creepy and dilapidated structures of the eastern U.S.

I love it when I have developments to report on past posts! In the past few days, there has been one major and one minor update regarding "Creepy and dilapidated structures of the eastern United States, Part 1."

The big news comes unexpectedly and courtesy of the marvelous J.W. Ocker, who is the author of "The New England Grimpendium" and the soon-to-be-published "The New York Grimpendium."

Ocker also authors the OTIS (Odd Things I've Seen) blog1 and, this morning, he featured the same creepy building in Bennington, Vermont, that I had on Papergreat earlier this year.

And Ocker did a much better job of legwork (or, as he jokes, "Google search") than I did.

At the time, I was unable to determine what this building was. But Ocker discovered that it's the Walloomsac Inn and that it was built in 1771 by Captain Elijah Dewey. He uncovered some more historic details, too, and speculated on the nature of the former inn's current occupants. But, for all that, you're going to have to go read his blog post.2

A few of my previously unpublished photos of the building that we now know is the Walloomsac Inn are pictured here today.

Meanwhile, the "creepy and dilapidated structures" post back in July also featured shots of the abandoned Golden Rule department store in Belington, West Virginia. Two days ago, an anonymous commenter posted the following:
I spray painted "free manson" on there. It's hilarious to see it on the internet
Well, thank you for fessing up, Anonymous. That was quite the retro reference you made with your nicely lettered graffito — unless you meant Marilyn instead of Charles.

1. One of my favorite pieces by Ocker on OTIS — and I might have mentioned this before — is his June 23, 2007, post about the Monroeville Mall, which served as the filming site for George Romero's 1978 zombie masterpiece, "Dawn of the Dead."
2. You can also check out "The Walloomsac Inn: A fact sheet" from the Bennington Museum website.

Saturday's postcard: Monkeys at the Hershey Park Zoo

This undated, unused postcard shows monkeys during feeding time at the Hershey Park Zoo in central Pennsylvania (now ZooAmerica).

The Otto family believes that these monkeys are members of the macaque subfamily. Another possibility is that they are mangabeys.

The caption on the back of the card states:
"The monkeys are a great attraction for children and adults; admission to the Zoo is free. The Pennsylvania Game Commission presents a large conservation exhibit."
Back in the day, one of my first blogging endeavors for the York Daily Record/Sunday News1 involved an attempt to secure a Pulitzer Prize by posting "Gratuitous Monkey Photos." Some of those blog entries are still accessible, and you can see a directory of them here.

1. My very first work-related blog was for coverage of the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX in early 2005.

Friday, September 21, 2012

"A book should be used and reused. It has life, it has a message."

BBC Photo

The quote in the title of today's post comes from the amazing Hernando "Nanie" Guanlao.

Nanie, who is in his 60s, lives in Makati, Philippines, and is at the center of a noble endeavor.

Since 2000, his home has served as a lending library for the surrounding community, which part of the great metropolitan area of Manila. He offers thousands of books and has no rules. His goal is to spread literacy and the love of reading and learning.

Here's an excerpt from a recent BBC article:
"The idea is simple. Readers can take as many books as they want, for as long as they want — even permanently. As Guanlao says: 'The only rule is that there are no rules.'"
Nanie Guanlao is, in my book (pun half-intended), the kind of role model we need more of. I won't cut-and-paste his full amazing story onto the blog. Instead, here are links to two terrific pieces of journalism about him:

If you find his story inspiring or fascinating, you'll enjoy those two articles and getting a fuller sense of what Nanie has accomplished.

I will add two short tidbits, though:

1. I love this full quotation from Nanie at the end of the BBC story: "You don't do justice to these books if you put them in a cabinet or a box. A book should be used and reused. It has life, it has a message. As a book caretaker, you become a full man."

2. The Philippine Daily Inquirer article notes that Nanie's library, The Reading Club 2000, is located at 1454 Balagtas St., Barangay La Paz, Makati City. Inquiries can be emailed to, and Nanie also has a Facebook page. I'm going to check into whether donations can be mailed to his library. Because a community library can never have enough books.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I would like Chauncey Depew's desk

This black-and-white photograph serves as the frontispiece of the 1918 hardcover "Speeches and Literary Contributions at Fourscore and Four" by Chauncey M. Depew.

Get a load of that beautiful desk! Real wood! Smooth curves! Full of pigeonholes for stuffing ephemera into!!!

(Composes self.)

Indeed. It is a very nice desk.

And it belonged to Depew (1834-1928), who had a long, successful lifetime that took him through Peekskill Military Academy1, Yale University (where he was in Skull and Bones), law offices, railroad companies and the U.S. Senate.

So you can imagine that he generated a lot of paper.

He also generated a lot of speeches, as this somewhat narcissistic book suggests.

The speeches and papers included in the 256-page volume include:
  • My views of life
  • Speech at the Twenty-fifth Annual Dinner of the Montauk Club of Brooklyn, in Celebration of Mr. Depew's Eighty-second Birthday, April 29, 1916
  • Speech telephoned from New York City to Seattle, Wash., May 31, 1916. Distance: 3,184 Miles2
  • Speech at the National Fertilizer Banquet, Hot Springs, Va., July 12, 1916
  • Speech at the Luncheon given by the Executive Committee of the Pilgrims Society to Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree3, Bankers Club, New York, May 7, 1917
  • Changes with the next Seventy-five Years.4 Written for the "Brooklyn Eagle" on Its Seventy-fifth Anniversary, October 26, 1916
  • Letter to the Rippey Bible Class, First Presbyterian Church, Geneva, N.Y., April 19, 1918

And how many of the ideas and drafts for those speeches ended up tucked somewhere into his desk? I wonder what happened to it. (Dreamy sigh.)

1. Another 19th century alumnus of Peekskill Military Academy was Mr. Lyman Frank Baum.
2. Here's an excerpt from his short telephone speech:
"The Metropolis of the Western Hemisphere sends greetings to the Metropolis of the Pacific Coast. ... We to-night by this marvelous invention for peace are brothers in mingled voices across three thousand miles of country, inhabited by a people with one mind, one love, one aspiration, and that is for the United States."
3. Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree (an actor and theater manager) joins Electra Papadopoulos and Ruel Funkhouser in the annals of great names that have been featured on Papergreat.
4. Here are some of Depew's 1916 predictions for the years 1917 to 1991:
  • "The greatest change will be in Russia and in the transfer of the arbitrary power of the bureaucracy to the liberal working people of the legislative coming from and representing the people."
  • "With her provinces restored and the perpetual menace from the Rhine removed, France can devote her superb energies, vitality and temperament to progress and development, mental and industrial. French art and French literature will become dominant factors in the intellectual life of the world."
  • "Labor will increase its political power and dominance over executives and legislatures. The conservative strength of the [United States] will be farmers. Though the country will make marvelous progress in arts and industries, yet agriculture will make our chief reliance."
  • "The farmers is a capitalist and thinks on property lines. His land is his, the citadel of his family and the hope of his children. To protect it and its interests, he will work, vote and fight. The politician of the future must satisfy the farmer as well as labor."
  • "To avoid a masterful and popular President becoming dictator, there will be an amendment to the Constitution limiting the office to one term, but extending it beyond the present four years."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

1972 wrapper for Eskimo Slush Stik

This is an unused wrapper, dated 1972, for Eskimo's Slush Stik.

The orange-and-white wrapper, which measures 2¾ inches by 9¼ inches, was designed to hold a three-ounce "Orange Frozen Confection" (more on that in a moment).

Does anyone remember eating one of these?1

The Slush Stik was clearly one of the lesser-known products once offered by the Eskimo Pie Corporation, which was best known for its namesake — the Eskimo Pie. The Slush Stik was probably not a very long-lived product, either. It's not hard to find online auctions or images featuring this exact same 1972 wrapper. So I haven't exactly stumbled upon anything terribly rare (or desirable) here.

Here is the other text that appears within the folds of the wrapper:

And, finally, here is some quick trivia (primarily from Wikipedia) about those beloved Eskimo Pies.
  • Invented by Christian Kent Nelson3
  • Were originally called I-Scream Bars
  • First produced in Iowa in 1921 with help from fledgling chocolate-maker Russell Stover (who is credited with changing the product's name to Eskimo Pie)
  • Sales averaged one million per day by spring 1922
  • Eskimo Pie Corporation was created in 1921; sold to U.S. Foil Company (maker of Reynolds Wrap) in 1924; spun off from Reynolds in 1992; acquired by CoolBrands International (now Swisher Hygiene) in 2000; and acquired by Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream Holdings (a subsidiary of NestlĂ©) in 2007.
  • Got all that?

1. The confection, not the wrapper.
2. I was surprised to learn that Fort Smith is the second-largest city in Arkansas. Its nickname is "Hell on the Border."
3. This anecdote regarding the beginnings of Eskimo Pies appears on
"Company legend has it that [Christian Kent Nelson] launched the frozen novelty industry in 1921 in response to a young customer's indecision. The oft-repeated story recounts that eight-year-old Douglas Ressenden only had enough money for one treat, but could not decide between an ice cream sandwich and a chocolate candy bar. Nelson, too, soon found himself confounded over the dilemma and started to wonder, 'why not combine the two treats?' The teacher with the heart of an inventor spent the next few months formulating a mixture of cocoa butter and chocolate that would cling to a core of vanilla ice cream."

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Turning my negative thoughts about ephemera into positives

Sarah, my 12-year-old daughter, looked at the shiny slips of plastic sitting beside my Starry Night mousepad.

Sarah: What's that?
Me: Photo negatives.
Sarah: What's a negative?

And so, in this era of digital cameras, it turned into a small teachable moment with Sarah about Things From The Past. (Yes, you may go ahead and feel old now.)

For me, though, negatives are tantalizing but ultimately difficult to grapple with as ephemera.

I usually come across old sets of negatives as part of auction box lots. I get the sense that someone simply emptied the contents of a relative's drawer into a box and sent it on to the auctioneers.

The negatives are nestled among the forgotten receipts, travel brochures, magazines, postcards, restaurant menus and advertising flyers that tend to inhabit drawers for decades.

They might be packaged in interesting envelopes, such as the one shown here. But they are unsatisfying. I want to be able to see and examine the full image that's been captured on the negative, but it's difficult when looking at a small-sized inversion of a positive image.

It's difficult even when the negatives are larger than we're used to with "modern" film. Those that were packaged inside the envelope featured today are 2¼ inches square and were taken on Kodak Safety Film.

Clues as to when and where this film was originally manufactured come from its edges:

According to this page on, there is significance to the circle that appears between the "S" and the "A" in SAFETY. It's the identification format for Kodak's plant in Rochester, New York. (For other factories, the symbol was placed between different letters in the word SAFETY.)

And different symbols — such as squares and triangles — were used to indicate the year of manufacture. The fact that this symbol is a circle means this film was produced in 1936, 1956 or 1976. I'm betting strongly on 1956.

Of course, the photos could have been taken a year or more after the film was purchased. But I'm guessing most people used their film promptly back then.

It's the images themselves, though, that remain mysteries.

There are companies that will take your old negatives and convert them to digital and/or paper prints. But the costs are not cheap, and they can be even higher for older negatives of different sizes.

Beyond that, my only option is attempting to scan the negatives with my Canon Pixma MG5220 and then using the "Invert" function in Pixlr.


It's not professional quality, but not horrible either. More importantly, this makeshift method with low-end equipment only really works on large-size negatives with a lot of contrast. Most of the negatives in this batch didn't convert as well as the image above.

So here, to end on a (ahem) positive note, are a few of the photographs that can be found on the Kodak negatives from that envelope. Let me know if you recognize this woman or any of these places!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Readers discuss postcard of old Lancaster asylum

One of the postcards I featured on Saturday — of the County Alms and Asylum in Lancaster, Pennsylvania — became a (very) minor viral hit on Facebook and provoked a good bit of discussion there.

I'm re-posting some of those Facebook comments here because they add a lot to a discussion I hope to be furthering in coming days and weeks.

Comment thread from Papergreat's Facebook page
  • Whoa, very cool. This no longer exists.
  • Is the actual building though something else today?
  • Does anyone know where exactly this was?
  • It was at King and Reservoir according to my dad. He says he remembers it from his childhood. He also says there was a farm on the property.
  • 900 East King St.
  • Such a cool building!!
  • Isn't it where the Lanc. Co. Children and Youth Building is next to Conestoga View and across from Stevens Trade.
  • I remember that being there
Comment thread from People of Lancaster (PA) Facebook page
  • Where is that?
  • E-town1
  • Where in E-town?
  • Need a good asylum? I've got a 1- and a 3-year-old. Come over to my place any g'damn day or night of the friggin week!
  • This isn't the DOC training center in E-town. It's the old almshouse which was at King and Reservoir according to my father. He lived a few blocks away during his childhood.
  • What is now Conestoga View?
  • It no longer exists. He believes that it was torn down in the sixties.
  • Yes, it was where Conestoga View is now. It was the county "poorhouse". I found my great-great-grandmother there on the 1920 Census.

1. For non-Pennsylvanians: "E-town" refers to Elizabethtown, a Lancaster County borough that dates to 1753. Its original settlers were mostly Scots-Irish and Pennsylvania Dutch (whose name for this place is Betzischteddel). Elizabethtown was previously mentioned in the Papergreat post "Klein Chocolate Co. of Elizabethtown analyzes Fannie's butter fat."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Gulliver's wallpaper: An interesting way to keep a book intact

I don't think there's really a category to put this in, but I had to toss it up on the blog anyway.

I came across a battered old copy of "Gulliver's Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World" that has been fortified with some unusual methods over the decades.

The outer binding has been firmed up with clear tape, which is not uncommon with older books (though it essentially ruins any value the book might have for finicky collectors).

Meanwhile, the inside front and back covers have been reinforced with pieces of light-green wallpaper. And it certainly did the trick. The book still holds up as an acceptable reading copy after all these years. (I'm not sure what the exact date of publication was. This edition is by the Union School Publishing Company of Chicago and the best guess is that it was published in the 1910s.)

The flowery paper is Imperial Washable Wallpaper, as the silver label indicates. Perhaps the presence of the sticker means this small piece was taken from a book of samples and used to fortify the book. (A novel idea, indeed.)

I can't find any other significant references to using wallpaper to reinforce books. But I did come across two instances of doing the reverse — turning old books into wallpaper:

Finally, I don't know why I made this connection, but all of this reminds me of an episode of an old radio serial I heard in the late 1970s ("The Shadow"?) in which the final plot twist was that a poor old woman had large-denomination bills pasted all over her kitchen walls. (I'm sure I'm not remembering it exactly right — I was 8 or 9 at the time — but that was the gist of it.)

So there you have it.