Friday, September 2, 2016

Mystery face on TV screen in real photo postcard

I truly don't know what's up with this.

It's an old Kodak real photo postcard that seems to be a picture of face on a television screen.

There is, of course, no writing on the back of the postcard. Because that would make things too easy. The design of the Kodak stamp box gives even less insight. The card is from sometime in 1950 or thereafter.

If I had to take a crazy, wild guess, I would say the guy on the TV screen is Mitch Miller. But even if that's correct, that doesn't answer the "why" part of this postcard's existence. Did they want to show off their new TV to Aunt Eunice and Uncle Pekahiah? If so, why was the postcard never mailed?

I can only dream of leaving a piece of ephemera that's this baffling for some future generation to ponder.

The joy and mystery and history of American place names

Ink, Ark., and all that: How American places got their names, which I finished earlier this year, is a pleasant-enough book that lives up to its title.

At the start, author Vernon Pizer attempts to interweave early American history with various place names, to give a better context to his short anecdotes about why, for example, Fredonia, New York, and Frostburg, Maryland, have those particular names.

While there are certainly bigger and better books on the topic (this 1976 volume checks in at 122 pages), Pizer's book can serve, I think, as a nice introduction to the topic. In the final third of the book, the narrative disappears and the reader is presented with an alphabetical directory of dozens of American place names and their origin stories. That section is ideal for browsing.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the book is how many Pennsylvania locations are mentioned. I have long been interested in the tiny towns, the unincorporated places, the ghost towns and the "blink and you'll miss it" locations within Pennsylvania.

Some of the Pennsylvania places mentioned in Pizer's book (available cheaply on Amazon, if your interest is piqued) include Conestoga, Cyclone, Hop Bottom, Scalp Level, Moosic, Red Lion, Slippery Rock (and the short-lived attempt by the Board on Geographic Names to make it Slipperyrock), Towanda (and its start as Meansville), Scranton (and its wonderful start as Skunk's Misery), Forty Fort, King of Prussia, and Ashley, which is an innocuous-sounding borough in Luzerne County these days, but has a long and tangled history of previous names that includes Scrabbletown, Coalville, Skunktown, Peestone, Nanticoke Junction, Hendricksburg and Alberts. I think it should have stuck with Scrabbletown.

I wish I had kept track of all the places I've driven through in Pennsylvania's 67 counties over the years. Joan and I meandered through many different out-of-the-way spots, and I think my tally would be pretty impressive. Maybe I should just start from scratch.

As a possible good starting point, Wikipedia has a list of unincorporated communities in Pennsylvania by county. That could make a dandy checklist — there are hundreds of entries! — of odd, forgotten and out-of-the-way places in the Keystone State. And every one of them has a history to be remembered. Just looking at Washington County, for example, where the place names include Cecil, Condit Crossing, Cracker Jack, Gambles, Ginger Hill, Good Intent, Hazel Kirk, Laboratory, Log Pile, Lover, P and W Patch, Prosperity and Raccoon.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

1939 textbook: Stick figures Arthur and Bill attempt to get a job

The above story about stick-figure job-seekers Arthur and Bill appears on page 371, in a unit titled "Growing Bones and Working Muscles," of the 1939 textbook Pathways to Health and Safety, which was written by J. Mace Andress, I.H. Goldberger and Grace T. Hallock and published by Ginn and Company.

The comprehensive 521-page book has sections titled Cleanliness in Greece and Rome, Hair and Fingernails, Overcoming Eye Faults, The Nose Route, Making the Most of Your Feet, In the Woods and Fields, What to Eat, What Not to Eat, Drugs That May Harm the Heart, What Happens When You Are Asleep and Skill in Walking.

The obvious implication of this six-panel story, made with subtle stick-figure details, is that Bill is stronger, faster, has a better posture and combs his hair. Arthur is weak. He slouches, trails behind and has Bad Hair. Arthur will lose the job. Arthur will lose at life. Arthur will slouch off into the forest and become Slender Man, feeding on unwise children and thus keeping Darwinism barreling forward.

Arthur might forget his True Name, but he will never forget this day.

That's a lot of clever storytelling packed into a six-panel cartoon, don't you think?

Book cover: "The Last Hope of Earth"

  • Title: The Last Hope of Earth
  • Author: Lan Wright (pseudonym of British writer Lionel Percy Wright (1923-2010))
  • Cover artist: Unknown
  • Publisher: Ace Books (F-347)
  • Cover price: 40 cents
  • Year: 1965
  • Pages: 159
  • Format: Paperback
  • First sentence: It seemed to Benbow that the mist had been around him forever.
  • Last sentence: He shivered despite the humidity and moved back towards the brightness of the open door.
  • Random excerpt from middle: A long range survey jet reported dark, bare rocks on Greenland — the first time in thousands of years that they had not been covered by snow and ice. Through gaps in the mists the red flames turned the icy north into a hellish, volcanic land of chaos and destruction. From England there was nothing.
  • Notes: SPOILER ALERT: According to the back cover and the blurb at the front of the book, Earth's last hope is Mars: "Man's only hope lay on Mars, where a colony of the world's best scientific minds was working on a project to save the human race." ... This seems like an appropriate choice for a post during a week filled with news about President Obama's continued focus on climate change; intriguing new signals from a star 94 light-years from Earth; the discovery of a potentially Earth-like planet just 4.2 light-years away; the emergence of a tropical storm named Hermine that could hit northern Florida as a hurricane and then soak the Atlantic Coast; and the dispiriting news that we're probably stuck on Earth, because we're having more and more difficulty getting rockets safely off the ground. ... This book has a stamp on the inside front cover for THE BOOK RETRIEVER, which sold used books and stamps in McMinnville, Oregon, the birthplace of Beverly Cleary. According to an online obituary for Roger E. Williams (1946-2013), Roger and Eleanor Williams and Randy and Chris Trudo "opened The Book Retriever, a used book store in downtown McMinnville. While there [Roger] made many friends and enjoyed those who just stopped by to chat." ... This book was also published under the title The Creeping Shroud, with an even cooler cover.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Mr. Wonka made pretty much the best ephemera ever

I suspect that just about everyone from my generation secretly dreamed of finding a golden ticket to a chocolate factory.

RIP, Gene Wilder (born Jerome Silberman), the man who brought Wonka to life and reminded us of Arthur O'Shaughnessy's words in my favorite quote from the film: "We are the the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams."

We'll never question the snozzberries!

Old photo postcard of Brackenhurst Hall in Southwell

This interesting old photo postcard shows a handsome 19th century estate in central England. Across the bottom of the postcard, someone has written, in black ink: "BRACKENHURST HALL, SOUTHWELL, NOTTS." Southwell is the town and "Notts" is short for Nottinghamshire, which is the county.

The lower-left corner of postcard indicates that it was an A.J. (Alfred John) Loughton photograph, and we can go to that modern-day website for an in-depth examination of Brackenhurst Hall's history. It was built in 1828 for the Rev. Thomas Coates Caine and later became home to the Sir William Norton Hicking clan. Around 1948, it was sold and became Brackenhurst College, which focused on agricultural studies; that college was then absorbed into Nottingham Trent University in 1999.1

The back of the postcard is blank except for one line, written in the same hand as the printing on the front. It states: "LIVED HERE FROM MARCH 20TH 1918 TO APRIL 23RD 1918."

According to the Houghton website, Brackenhurst Hall was used as a military hospital during the Great War (July 1914 to November 1918). Various sources say it had 50 to 60 patient beds during the final years of the war. I don't think it's a huge leap to guess that the person who wrote on this postcard was a wounded English soldier who was recuperating at Brackenhurst for a month in the spring of 1918.

But we'll never know for sure. And we'll never know who that staffer or soldier who wrote on this card was.

For more on this topic, check out the Wartime Memories Project's page on hospitals, which includes this excerpt:
The nature of the fighting during the Great War led to a huge number of injured soldiers and the existing Military medical facilities in the United Kingdom were soon overwhelmed. A solution had to be found quickly and many civilian hospitals were turned over to military use, a large number of asylums were also converted to military hospitals, with the asylum patients being sent home, often to unprepared families. ...

With the wide range of serious injuries before faced, hospitals began to specialise in certain types of injury in order to provide the best treatment, with soldiers being sent by train to the relevant hospital. Many large houses and hotels were used as Convalescent Hospitals.

Those being treated wore a blue uniform with a red tie, known as "Hospital Blues", once a solider was deemed fit enough to leave convalescence, he would return to one of the Command Depots for the rehabilitative training after which they would be allocated to a battalion, frequently a different battalion or regiment to that in which he had previously served, as his place would have been taken by another man to maintain numbers.

Those who did not recover sufficiently to return to active service were issued with a Silver War Badge, SWB, to wear on their lapel, this signified that they had completed their war service.

1. At the moment I was writing this post, the home page of Nottingham Trent University featured a large image of old rotary phones, which threw me for a bit of a loop.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Illustrated postcard: "I used to be afraid to go home in the dark"

This vintage postcard has an amusing, and perhaps slightly disturbing, illustration on the front that features a pair of toddlers, a frying pan, an umbrella and a puppy.

I take that back. It's not at all amusing. What the hell is going on here?

There's no date anywhere on the postcard. The publisher initials are SB (which might be Samson Brothers), and the card was printed in America.

Also, and perhaps this unrelated, but there is a circa 1908 song titled "I Used to be Afraid to go Home in the Dark." It was written by Egbert Van Alstyne.

The postcard was addressed to a "Miss Mildred" in Low Point, Illinois. It was sent from Wauseon, Ohio. The note, written in what looks like a child's cursive, states:
"Dear Mildred:
How are you. Why dont any of you folks write. I wish I was down there with you But like it fine out here. Well come out and see us lonesome people in Ohio.
Your Dearest
Friend Pearl"
In Mildred's defense, these locations were more than 300 miles apart, so you can see where a visit might not have been the easiest thing to do more than 100 years ago.

1906 postcard featuring Stevens High in Lancaster

This L.B. Herr postcard — postmarked way back on March 31, 1906, in both Lancaster (sending postmark) and Marietta (receiving postmark), Pennsylvania1 — features historic Stevens High School in the city of Lancaster. The building, named after Thaddeus Stevens, was designed by architect Cassius Emlen Urban around 1904.2 It served as a high school until 1938 (complete with a large ballroom on the third floor) and then made the transition into an elementary school.

The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, and today it is an apartment complex called the Residences at Stevens School, with 34 units that feature air-conditioning and high-speed internet access. One review on states: "It's like living in a treehouse. The mature landscape offers great shade and perfect picturesque views. The converted school idea is fun, with the original chalkboards still hanging."

The note on the front of the card — this was slightly before you were allowed to put anything but the address on the back — states:
March 30, '06
Dear Mother: I don't know yet when I can get off, so I will find out, also about the coat, then I will write a letter about Tuesday. Hoping you are all well lovingly your Dr. [not even going to try].

1. That's about 3.48 billion seconds ago. A lot can happen in 3.48 billion seconds.
2. Urban also designed many of the buildings for the Hershey Chocolate Company in the early 20th century.