Saturday, February 16, 2013

Two old postcards from Maine

Post Office, Orr's Island, Maine

This badly water-stained postcard was postmarked at 5 a.m. on July 21, 1911, in Maine. It was mailed to Miss Georgia Klinefelter, care of Mrs. Vreelander, in Newark, New Jersey.

The entirety of the message appears on the front of the card. On the left is written: "Nobody was seasick so far." And across the bottom is written: "Had a very pleasant trip. I like the place. B.A.R."

Orr's Island is, according to Wikipedia, considered part of the town of Harpswell, Maine, and forms an archipelago with Sebascodegan Island (also known as Great Island) to its north and Bailey Island ... to its south." As of 2000, the island had a population of about 750.

The Harpswell Historical Society has an in-depth timeline of area history, particularly Orr's Island. According to the society, Orr's Island Post Office was established in 1868, with Samual Smullen serving as the first Postmaster. According to quick web search, Orr's Island still has its own post office.

Here's a closer look at the woman in the doorway.

Humphrey's Motor Court and Lodge

This is an unused real photo postcard. Printed inside the stamp area on the back are the words "DEVOLITE PEERLESS." According to The2Buds, that company's postcards were produced starting in 1950.

The caption on the front states:


Here's a closer look at the sign for the lodge, which details some of the amenities.

Friday, February 15, 2013

1957 book: "How Atomic Submarines Are Made"

Although the evil of McCarthyism was winding down by 1957, thanks in part to John Henry Faulk1, I wonder how much resistance there was to the publication of "How Atomic Submarines Are Made," a juvenile non-fiction book by David C. Cooke.

The book is filled with photos and diagrams of American atomic submarines. I'm guessing there's nothing in there that wasn't common knowledge to the Soviets and the Chinese, but it's still surprising to see an inside peek at the submarine creation process.

Much of the book describes the USS Nautilus (SSN-571), the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, which was launched in 1954 and decommissioned in 1980.2

Here are excerpts from Cooke's book, followed by a couple of illustrations:
  • An atomic submarine contains more than 7,000,000 parts. It would be almost impossible to see from the drawings alone just how the interior of the ship will look with all these things in place. Because of this, full-size mockups are made of different sections. These show the exact location of pipes and valves, torpedo tubes, the atomic engine, periscopes, and every other item which will go into the ship.
  • The heavy steel plates can be cut only by a torch burning a combination of oxygen and acetylene gas. The acetylene heat the steel to the melt point (2,650 degrees), while the oxygen does the actual cutting.
  • Plate rolling is done on a machine which looks something like three huge rolling pins fastened together, one on top of the other two. In this case, however, the "rolling pins" are each twenty-eight inches in diameter and fifteen feet long. The entire machine weighs about thirty tons.
  • Shipbuilders use the greatest care when installing propellers. The slightest mistake might mean that the ship could lose one of its propellers while at sea.
  • The pipe used varies from less than an inch in diameter to more than a foot. Some pipes are made of copper, and others are brass or steel or aluminum; there are also combinations of all of these metals. The atomic engine cooling system in the Nautilus uses 6,000 feet of copper-nickel tubing alone, and 48,500 feet of pure copper tubing is used for other equipment.
  • Nuclear radiation can be very dangerous, and so the men who work in fueling an atomic submarine must be given protection from the deadly rays. ... If their work brings them into close contact with the atomic engine, they must wear special breathing masks in addition to other equipment.
  • Submarine engines operate on the same principle as the atom bomb. Rather than resulting in an explosion, however, the reaction is slow and carefully controlled. Thus, the difference between the engine and the A-bomb is the difference between a firecracker and a stick of dynamite.

1. John Henry Faulk was a radio personality whose successful lawsuit against blacklisters helped to bring an end to the practice of the Hollywood blacklist. His lawsuit began in 1957 and was victorious in 1962. With the decision, blacklisters were put on notice that they were legally liable for professional and financial damages that they caused. Faulk wrote the book "Fear on Trial" about his experiences and helped to adapt it into the 1975 TV movie by the same name. He is portrayed by William Devane in that movie.
2. The Nautilus can now be seen at the Submarine Force Museum in Groton, Connecticut.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Slightly creepy vintage Valentine's Day postcard

All in the Otto Family are agreed that this postcard — with its little girl, lamb and anthropomorphic heart crying "Why wasn't I a little lamb" — is a little on the creepy side. What do you think?

It was originally postmarked 101 years ago in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on February 11, 1912. It was mailed to a woman named Mary on Sharon Mountain in Connecticut.

In an odd coincidence, we watched "Legend" last night, and I think the girl on the front of the card has a bit of a resemblance to actor David Bennent, who played Gump in that movie. Sarah, though, says she doesn't see the resemblance as much as I do. So there you have it. Happy Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

720 pages on the history of role-playing and D&D? Yes, please.

"Playing at the World" is a book I've been waiting years for someone to write. And if you're even a casual fan of Dungeons & Dragons, role-playing, wargaming history, and American culture, I suspect it's a book you've been waiting for, too.

The work, by Jon Peterson, is subtitled "A History of Simulating Wars, People and Fantastic Adventures from Chess to Role-Playing Games."

From Kriegsspiel to Zork, it charts the development of fantasy role-playing games and delves into the origins, development and minutiae of Dungeons & Dragons in early 1970s America.

It goes on for 720 pages.

Yes, please!

This is a book I can't wait to get my hands on later this year. D&D has always fascinated me, even if I never was in the kind of social groups that allowed me to actually play much.1 So, instead, I spent the first half of the 1980s devouring the D&D Basic Set, The Keep on the Borderlands, Tomb of Horrors, Monster Manual, issues of Dragon magazine and the Endless Quest books2 from cover to cover.

There are a few different places you can go to get more information about Peterson's "Playing at the World."

But I think the best website to check out, if you want a taste of Peterson's content and style, is his blog — also called Playing at the World. Some of the post titles hint at the passion and scholarly approach Peterson takes toward role-playing history:

There is also a whole series of detailed blog posts related to something called The Dalluhn Manuscript. I'm just starting to delve into those.

Finally, one thing that intrigues me about Peterson's weighty tome is that he self-published it, through Unreason Press. Now, it's one thing to self-publish e-books. But to self-publish a pricey, 720-page paperback that clearly only appeals to a niche audience would seem like madness. Wonderful madness.

I'll let Peterson explain his reasoning in this excerpt from the Wired interview:
Gilsdorf: I was curious about your decision self publish with (if I understand correctly) your own press, Unreason Press. Was it hard to get a mainstream publisher interested in your book? Would you be open to having your book picked by a traditional press?

Peterson: I went this route for the freedom, mostly. The few publishers I did approach advised that a shorter book with a more narrow and popular scope would be likelier to yield the necessary sales. I can certainly see why a major publishing house would not be eager to entrust a project of this girth to an untested author. But I had really committed to doing something meticulous and detailed, and this was the best way I could find to do it. I am also fascinated by the transformations in the publishing industry and the new democratization of producing books.

Going it on your own, you sacrifice the marketing and exposure that a major publisher would bestow, as well as the editorial expertise. But at the end of the day I wasn’t expecting this book to be a runaway bestseller. It’s not a book written for a casual reader who is only interested in the high-level narrative — it’s a scholarly book for people inquisitive enough that they want to be convinced of what happened by direct evidence and argument. Given the sheer amount of conjecture that has dominated the historical accounts of gaming written in the last thirty years, I thought approaching the subject this way was entirely warranted.

That much said, now that I’ve had the book released my way, I would be open to working with a traditional publisher on a follow-up, sure. I think the reception has been positive enough to justify considering a future edition.
I think Peterson should be roundly applauded for the chance he's taken, publishing this book on his own terms and without having to make any concessions regarding his dream.

I can't wait to dive into it. It'll be like the early 1980s all over again.3

1. I did get to take part in a few hilarious fantasy role-playing sessions, mostly of the Star Trek variety, in the early 1990s with Penn State friends Tom Smithyman and Greg Scopino, who were also my roommates for one crazy summer and my colleagues on The Daily Collegian.1
2. Here's a fun fact that ties in directly with ephemera: Rose Estes, who wrote the first seven volumes in the Endless Quest series, now sells note cards featuring vintage photographs of cats and dogs at a website called The Woof Gang.
3. Except that I had more hair then.

Secondary footnote
1. Smithyman is also an auteur filmmaker who directed a version of "A Christmas Carol" featuring the acting-challenged staff of The Daily Collegian. My big scene — I was more character actor than star — came when I played the boy who exclaims "What, the one as big as me?" when the now-changed Scrooge asks him about the prize turkey hanging at the poulterer's. Sadly, this film is now believed to be lost.

Isaac Wilson: The photographer? The homeowner? Or both?

This undated black-and-white photograph features a modest house and an automobile parked in the dirt driveway.

In raised lettering in the lower-right corner, it states:


So, was Wilson the professional photographer who took and printed this image? Or was this Wilson's house in Richmond, Indiana?

I'm not sure we'll ever know.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

5 great portraits from the 1949 book "Baseball Personalities"

The Philadelphia Phillies' pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Clearwater, Florida, this week, so all is well in the world again. (Assuming that all is well with the health of Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.)

To celebrate the national pastime, here are five extremely cool portraits from Jimmy Powers' 1949 book "Baseball Personalities." There are a total of 32 full-page photographs in the book.

My copy is a well-worn and well-circulated former library book that was once property of the U.S. Army and resided in various Special Services libraries over the years.1

Billy Herman, Hank Greenberg and Honus Wagner

Gabby Hartnett's Homer in the Gloamin'

Jackie Robinson

Hack Wilson

Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra
(Still with us and turns 88 in May)

1. How well-circulated was my copy? Check out the card pocket in the back...

Monday, February 11, 2013

Caesar Rodney High School's 1933 baseball results

It's a minor miracle of ephemeraology that this has survived for 80 years.
  • At some point after it was used in 1933, this cardboard back cover was torn from a school binder or notebook.
  • Then it must have gone into a drawer, box or closet.
  • For a long time.
  • And survived many cleanings and purgings.
  • Decades later, it somehow survived a final sorting and found its way to people who thought, improbably, that it was suitable to put up for sale in a lower-end antiques store.
  • And then some silly bloke actually paid money for it.1

Like I said, a minor miracle.

And so it's pretty neat that I have the opportunity to present this piece here on the blog. These are among my favorite posts — writing about the stuff that's more Island of Misfit Ephemera than Sotheby's (or Hake's).

First, I am happy to say that we at least have a guess at who the original owner might have been. On the reverse side, in large letters, we have this:

And so, with nothing else to go by, let's consider that this might be the work of Charlie Malone.

The center portion of the back cover contains the spring 1933 schedule and scores for the Caesar Rodney High School baseball team. Caesar Rodney is a public high school in Camden, Delaware, that dates to 1915 and is named for a Revolutionary War hero.2

The schedule lists nine games for Caesar Rodney.

Here's my best attempt at a transcription of what's written above (Caesar Rodney's score is always listed first):
4/3/33 Magnolia Pick Up Team 5-3
4/7/33 Goldey's Colledge 8-4
4/11/33 Bridgeville High School 0-5 (7 innings)
4/18/33 Dover High School 4-2
4/21/33 Smyrna High School 2-1
5/2/33 Bridgeville High School 12-10
4/28/33 Middleton High School 8-1
[no date] Smyrna 14-8
[no date] Dov [?] 7-4
So, it looks like the team played an interesting collection of opponents and posted an 8-1 record, losing only the first game to Bridgeville.

Another interesting thing about this cover is that it came pre-printed with illustrations of athletes playing basketball, tennis, football and baseball. The original owner printed the names of athletes who were popular in the early 1930s next to each illustration.

Most of the athletes' names are quite familiar.

Two of the names, though, proved to be more challenging. Written next to the two basketball players were Gumy Faulkner and Reds McAllister.

After some searching, I found Faulkner. It was actually William Faulkner, but not that William Faulkner. No, this was William R. "Gummy" Faulkner (1909-1999). I found his football exploits covered in a couple of early 1930s Wilmington, Delaware, newspapers. And then I found his obituary, which is pretty fascinating. Here's an excerpt:3

"Mr. Faulkner was born Aug. 5, 1909, in Wilmington, the son of the late Herman and Annie S. Faulkner.

"He was a graduate of Wilmington High School, where he played football for two years. While still attending Wilmington High, Mr. Faulkner also played semi-professional football for Pen-Del in Kennett Square, Pa., as Delaware had a blue law, which allowed no football games on Sundays. The Pen-Del team went undefeated for five years. He then played with the Penns Grove (N.J.) Red Devils, and played for Allied Kid, Cubs, St. Mary's and the Southside Terrapins. During his football career, Gummy was considered the best running back Delaware ever produced.

"He also starred and excelled in baseball, and later in bowling on a local bowling team. On Nov. 14, 1992, he was inducted into the Southside Athletic Association's Sports Hall of Fame.

"He and his wife, Edna, owned and operated Faulkner's Pier in Bowers Beach for more than 50 years, before retiring in 1975 and turning the business over to his two daughters and son-in-law, Maureen Irons and Phyllis Kay Moore and William Moore.
He was a great outdoorsman and enjoyed hunting and fishing. He also enjoyed playing golf and riding a bicycle."

Interestingly, while football, baseball, bowling and golf are mentioned for Gummy Faulkner, there is no mention of basketball. So, I wonder why his name was written next to that illustration on this old piece of cardboard.

The other name, Reds McAllister, remains a mystery. Was he a high school and semi-pro star, like Gummy? Maybe he even attended Caesar Dowling. If anyone has any ideas, let me know in the comments section.

1. Silly bloke = me.
2. Read about the history of Caesar Rodney School District here.
3. Faulkner's obituary actually appears in two places: Find A Grave and Miscellaneous Obituaries. I used the latter for the excerpt, because it was more grammatically correct.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Victorian trade card for Jose & Brown of Charlestown, Boston

This terrific Victorian trade card features an illustration of a Tom Thumb-type character riding a grasshopper and holding what appears to be a nail.1

While Tom Thumb sometimes rides a butterfly in folklore tales, I found far fewer examples of his involvement with grasshoppers. One I did come across: The 1940 Walter Lantz-produced cartoon short titled "Adventures of Tom Thumb Jr." features a grasshopper companion named Happy Hopper.

This trade card is advertising Jose & Brown — bread, cake and pastry bakers — of Boston's historic Charlestown District. That business has long since vanished, but this illustration and trade card are still standing the test of time.

1. The image reminds me a little bit of this recently featured (and bizarre) illustration.

Early postcard of Boston's Longfellow Bridge

This scene, looking across the Charles River from Boston to Cambridge, looks much different today.

For one thing, this area is COVERED IN SNOW today.

But beyond that, of course, the Longfellow Bridge and this area of Massachusetts have undergone significant transformations in the past century. At the time of this postcard — with its handwritten date of July 9, 1908 — it was simply known as the (new) Cambridge Bridge. The idea for it was proposed in 1898, it was designed by architect Edmund March Wheelwright1, construction began in 1900, and it opened to the public on August 3, 1906.

It was not renamed the Longfellow Bridge, in honor of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, until 1927.

In terms of specifically dating this postcard, we have the date that was written in the corner. Also, this same postcard image appears on Wikipedia. And, in the caption posted there, some historical timeline details are revealed:
"Note how the MIT campus does not yet exist in the background of this view from Boston to Cambridge, with the Harvard Bridge in the distance. This dates the image to before 1916. Also, note that the Cambridge Subway (Red Line) tracks on the bridge have yet to be connected to anything. This dates the image to before 1912."
So 1908 seems to be spot on.

A few final notes from the reverse side:
  • It was produced by Mason Bros. & Co. of Boston2
  • It was printed in Germany
  • It was never mailed, but there is an address for an individual in Adamstown, Pennsylvania3

1. According to Wikipedia, Wheelwright and engineer William Jackson "traveled to Europe, where they made a thorough inspection of notable bridges in France, Germany, Austria and Russia. Upon their return, they prepared studies of various types of bridges, including bridges of stone and steel arch spans. ... Wheelwright was inspired by the 1893 Columbian Exposition and was attempting to emulate the great bridges of Europe. Its four large piers are ornamented with the prows of Viking ships, carved in granite, which refer to a hypothetical voyage by Leif Eriksson up the Charles River circa 1000 AD, as promoted by Harvard professor Eben Horsford."
2. According to the Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City, Mason Bros. & Co. was in business from 1907 to 1917. "The hues of their three color pallet often remained distinct," Metropolitan writes.
3. Tiny Adamstown, which is only about an hour east of our house, promotes itself as the "antiques capital of the United States." Of course, we also have New Oxford to our west, and that borough promotes itself as the antiques capital of southcentral Pennsylvania.