Friday, October 13, 2017

Creepiest eBay listing of the year

Saw this while browsing eBay earlier this year. Didn't bid, but wanted to share.

It seemed appropriate for "Mild Fear 2017" and also as something that I should record for posterity. This was the item description:

ANTIQUE 1860's TINTYPE PHOTO PHOTOGRAPH POST MORTEM PHOTO OF BABY GIRL with blonde curly hair and lacy dress.
Measure 4"x 2.75".
Good antique condition with wear as seen on my photos descriptions.

Obviously, the photograph is not of a baby girl. It's clearly a doll. But it's still creepy as hell. You should probably go and Google something cute like "fluffy baby bunnies" before you go to bed.

Witches, pickles and good fun at an 1893 party in Pittsburg, Kansas

Here's an amusing article I came across while doing some research on ... well, actually, my "research" involves so many tangential rabbit holes and browser tabs that I'm not sure quite how I came across this.

It was in the pages of the March 23, 1893, edition of The Pittsburg Headlight, a predecessor of The Morning Sun in the eastern Kansas city of Pittsburg. It details a spooky and supernatural-themed party that was hosted by "But Byrt" and Bella Maxwell 124 years ago. I'm fairly sure that "But" is a typo; there are a few stray references to a Bud Byrt in area history.

As for Bella, I'll have a little more about her after the article...

But Byrt and Bella Maxwell well deserve the name of being first in novel party entertaining.

They gave an example of it last evening at their "Witch Party," participated in by the Misses Larimer, of Weir City; Files, Ford, Beck, Lane, Williams, Baum, Donnelly, Carroll, Lindburg, Ramsey, Mrs. Benton of Ft. Scott; Messrs. Zellars, Otto and A.H. Greef, Baker, Sharper, Weygant, Goddard, Wardell, Orndorff, Callahan, Geo. Playter, Smith, Richey; Mr. and Mrs. Playter, Mr. and Mrs. Hogeboom, Mr. and Mrs. Campbell.

Refreshments of moon and star shaped sandwiches, cake, cocoa, chocolate, coffee, sweet pickles, fruit, etc., and water were served.

Dancing was the staple article of entertainment, although if you chose to have your fortunes told you just stepped into Rattle Snake cave where you would find a direct descendant of the witches of the time of Rogers Williams banishment.

The "Devil" also attracted a great deal of attention — it had been so long since he had been interviewed personally.

At the entrance a double blind door was first approached and at which very laughable contortions were gone through in order to affect an entrance into an exceedingly weird and dismal apartment very ably decorated with owls, bats, ravens, coffins, skulls, skeletons, devils, witches, spiders, wizards, snakes and other objects of extremely grewsome nature.

Light was shed by a new moon and stars and taken altogether with the mysterious rappings, etc., it was as perfect a — well you can at least imagine what it was like anyhow.

Souvenirs of silhouettes of various animals of an awe inspiring nature were drawn by each wizard and witch, there being two sets, and the wizard drawing the one to match that in possession of the witch, attended said witch to refreshments.

Many happy returns of the occasion were wished the host and hostess about 1 o'clock, when all departed stating the "climax had been capped" in the social world of Pittsburg.

Party co-host Bella Maxwell was Isabella (or Isabelle) Maxwell, a daughter of Edward Lilley Maxwell and Dorothy Gates Maxwell. She was 28 at the time and she went on to marry one of the men who attended this party — Otto Greef (no relation).

They had at least two children, but Bella died in 1900 at age 35, probably of child-birth complications, eight days after the birth of her son H. Frederick. The April 11, 1900, edition of the Pittsburg Daily Headlight states the following:
"Isabelle Dorothy, wife of Otto Greef, died at the family residence 407 West Euclid avenue this morning at 3 o'clock of blood poison. ... In November, 1894, she was united in marriage with Otto Greef, who with three children survive her. She was a most estimable woman, and her friends were many. She loved her home, children and husband, and she will be sadly missed by them. The sorrowing family and relatives have the sympathy of the community."
Husband Otto lived until 1937, when he died at age 69. Records do not indicate that he remarried. We can hope that he shared happy stories about the spook-themed 1893 party, which is possibly even where he first met his future wife.

Friday morning thoughts from Clifford Simak

This week, I have been plugging my through the final 40 pages of this edition of Clifford Simak's 1953 novel Ring Around the Sun. It's my fourth Simak book in the past 20 months, and I don't think it's going to end up as one of my favorites. It's more of a thought piece/philosophical rambling hanging on the bare bones of a plot outline than a gripping story, and while I understand that many of his novels veer in this direction, this book — one of his early works — seems particularly egregious in that regard.

That said, Simak's philosophical ramblings on civilization, technology and politics are always insightful. So the book is still worthwhile, and, as an aside, it also introduces a spinning top as a key plot point that might just have inspired that same element in the movie Inception.

Anyway, as I was dozing off last night, I came across this passage by Simak, which I think both reflects the tone of the novel and serves as a notable passage for us to chew on, here on this Friday the 13th in October 2017:
"And it was then that he fully understood that even here, in the heartland of the nation, in the farms and little villages, in the roadside eating places there was a boiling hate. That, he told himself, was the measure of the culture that had been built upon the earth — a culture founded on a hatred and a terrible pride and a suspicion of everyone who did not talk the same language or eat the same food or dress the same as you did.

"It was a lop-sided mechanical culture of clanking machines, a technological world that could provide creature comfort, but not human justice nor security. It was a culture that had worked in metals, that had delved into the atom, that had mastered chemicals and had built a complicated and dangerous gadgetry. It had concentrated upon the technological and had ignored the sociological so that a man might punch a button and destroy a distant city without knowing, or even caring, about the lives and habits, the thoughts and hopes and beliefs of the people that he killed."
It worth noting again that this novel was published in 1953, at the dawn of the Cold War. And it's a science-fiction tale that's set in the future year of 1977. Simak thought, perhaps, in the wake of World War II and in the fledgling moments of the atomic age, that it might be possible to stave off another nightmarish worldwide war for decades, but it would probably not be possible to stave it off forever.

Let's hope he was wrong.

Peace, everyone.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Early 1980s bookmark from Northshire Bookstore

I picked up a copy of New England Cookbook by Eleanor Early at a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, thrift store and tucked away inside was this nice oversized bookmark for Northshire Bookstore of Manchester Center, Vermont.

Northshire Bookstore was founded in 1976 by Ed and Barbara Morrow and is still going very, very strong more than four decades later, and I don't have to tell you how unusual that is for an independent bookstore. It even has a second location now, in Saratoga Springs, New York, about 50 miles west. The bookstore's website,, is fantastic and it has a great reach on social media, with nearly 12,000 followers for @NorthshireBooks on Twitter.

Back in the early 1980s, though, there was no such thing as websites or Twitter. So bookmarks represented a great and important opportunity for "viral marketing" by bookstores. This one features artwork by Lance Hidy — a child reading a book in a chair while a cat lounges alongside — and that artwork is copyright 1982, which is probably when this bookmark was produced and distributed.

The back of the bookmark, which measures 3 inches by 7 inches, is full of useful marketing information. Some excerpts:

  • "The Northshire Bookstore is dedicated to the art of browsing. We invite you to visit us and are ready to help with your selection. We will gladly special order any title in print and also ship anywhere in the world."
  • "Our Children's Level, downstairs, is a complete store within a store, highly esteemed throughout New England and beyond for its breadth, friendly atmosphere and knowledgeable staff."
  • "Our full service record and tape department is well known for its strength in classical and jazz. We will gladly order any record or tape that we do not stock."
  • "Please include $2.25 UPS & handling for the 1st book and 50¢ for each additional book."

Children's books are still a huge part of the bookstore's mission. According to the website: "Almost a third of our stores are devoted to kids! Getting youngsters to read sets them up for a lifetime of success. We have dedicated, expert Children's staffs and a superb buyer."

Best wishes for another four decades, Northshire!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

How folks had Halloween fun in October 1971

Here's a clipping from the October 17, 1971, edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer that could easily be Page 1 of a script from a 1970s horror flick about the dangers of messing around with the paranormal in suburbia.

Adi-Kent Thomas Jeffrey was also the author of The Bermuda Triangle and They Dared the Devil's Triangle. But it was her ghost books that my mom loved. Ghosts in the Valley and More Ghosts in the Valley, a pair of staplebound books about "real-life" hauntings around southeastern Pennsylvania, were well-worn and remained on Mom's bookshelf until she died.

On the "About the Author" page of Mom's old copy of Ghosts in the Valley, we are informed that Jeffrey was "a well-entrenched 'ghost-chaser', author and lecturer in the Delaware Valley area. Of Hungarian descent, she has brought the love of ghostly lore from an ancestral valley at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains in Hungary to the shadowed vales of the Delaware Valley."

I don't know how Jeffrey's in-home occult demonstrations worked, but author Stephanie Hoover wrote the following in an extensive 2012 appreciation of Jeffrey:
"Newspapers of the day announced her public appearances by telling readers that the 'Mistress of the Macabre' was scheduled to speak at one locale or another. Three-hundred people turned up for an appearance at a Ridley Township library where she demonstrated divining rods and discussed her view that many people have gifts such as ESP but keep quiet out of fear of ridicule. She also told the group this: 'I don't believe any spirits ever come back. Spirits are projected thoughts that come from the mind.'"
There is a Ghosts in the Valley website where you can learn more about Jeffrey's books, though it looks like it hasn't been updated since 2011.

Cool illustrations: The New Human Interest Library (Part 24)

And now we're blazing forward into "The Home and School Book" section of 1929's The New Human Interest Library. This section should be full of interesting artwork, as it promises information about phonics, art education, music education, algebra, etiquette and much more.

First up, though, is an introductory section, meant to be inspirational, about educator Mother Stoner1 and her famous daughter.

So you don't have to squint, that caption states:
This little girl is learning to read by means of an illustrated chart and the portable typewriter. Mother Stoner is pointing to the big, plain letters on the card.
Mother Stoner is Winifred Sackville Stoner2 (1870-1931). She was a turn-of-the century educator who advocated putting the F-U-N in learning, using toys and, as you can see, typewriters as part of the educational process for children. Mother Stoner was also a supporter of Esperanto.

Her are excerpts of an essay that she wrote, which is included in this section of The New Human Interest Library:
Mothers and teachers of the preschool age, YOU are the most important people in the world, as upon you depends the laying of foundation stones upon which is to be built the future citizenship of the world. ... Every home where there is a child, should be a child home, a home with pictures, books, and furniture, to please children as well as adults. And every home should supply children with the toys or tools that help to develop character and give information that the child needs. ... High class music houses will suggest the best that can be given to them in the musical line. No jazz should be heard in any home where there is a child.3 Art dealers can supply you with high-class pictures, copies of the great masters. ... Teach kiddies that books are friends. We do not tear our friends to pieces and naturally we are kind to our books. ... A child should never be allowed to tear a book and neither should he be permitted to use crayons and paints to paint walls and furniture. ... I use Hy-San Colors instead of ordinary crayons so that very young babies can play with crayons without fear of being poisoned. ... The nursery walls should be painted a pale green, blue, yellow or pink rather than staring white. ... Treat your child as an intelligent being instead of an animated vegetable.4 ... Let him have some aim in life from the day of his birth. Tie a red balloon (for a few minutes each day) first on the wrist of his right hand and then on his left wrist. ... Then talk to him about the balloon. Call it red, round, pretty light.5 Thus give baby his first talking lesson in plain English rather than in the OOTSIE-TOOTSIE TONGUE.
Meanwhile, Mother Stoner's daughter, perhaps the child pictured in the above photo, was Winifred Sackville Stoner Jr. (1902-1983). Junior was a child prodigy and perhaps Mother Stoner's greatest accomplishment. She was reading and writing by age 3, speaking up to a dozen languages by age 10, and showing great skill with the violin and at chess. She was also a poet who gave us "The History of The U.S," which is famous for its opening line of "In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue..."

After an amazing first two decades, however, Junior's life became, it seems, very sad. Straight from Wikipedia:
"In 1921, at age 19, she married a 35-year-old French count, Charles de Bruche, who was supposedly killed in a car accident in Mexico City in 1922. However, de Bruche reappeared in 1930, and Stoner appealed for an annulment of the marriage. She apparently already knew before the faked death that her husband's actual name was Charles Clinton Philip Bruch, a penniless imposter with a criminal record who was a known con man and wiretapper. He also went by the name 'Count Helmholtz.' She then married Louis Hyman, but that marriage fell apart and ended in divorce. Reports surfaced of an engagement to Bainbridge Colby, a former US Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson, who was then 58 years old to her 24. She later described him as 'my mental mate.'

"In 1931, she wed E. W. Harrison, but they divorced in 1933 amid Stoner's plans to wed for a fourth time.

"Between the 1930s and her death in 1983, she rarely stepped into the spotlight."
If child prodigy + multiple-marriage heartbreak + half-century as a recluse isn't a formula for a tearjerker, Oscar-winning biopic, I don't know what is.

1. Not to be confused with the Stoner Mom, Kathryn VanEaton, who launched her website for responsible parenting and cannabis use in 2014.
2. Not to be confused with the scheming Sackville-Baggins family.
3. Wait. What?? I was so ready to like Mother Stoner. We need to get her in a room with Stoner Mom and have them smoke weed and listen to some great jazz.
4. So, VeggieTales is probably out.
5. This will also teach your baby the crucial early lesson of how to identify Pennywise.

One of my earliest appearances in a newspaper

Perhaps my very first appearance in a newspaper (other than my name appearing in the BIRTHS section) is this article on Page E5 of the January 17, 1971, edition of Allentown, Pennsylvania's Sunday Call-Chronicle. It appears in the Social section, alongside articles with headlines such as "Easton Hospital Jr. Auxiliary Set for Benefit Ball Jan. 30" and "Miss Nederostek A Bride-Elect."

It details a trip that Dad's parents, Easton residents John and Olive, made to California to visit Little Baby Me, who had been born in December 1970 at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, near Oceanside, California.

Here's the full article text:
John A. Ottos Enjoy California Travel, Reunions

Mr. and Mrs. John A. Otto, 1607 Liberty St., Wilson Borough, have returned from California where they met their new grandson, Christopher Adams Otto.

The baby, who was born Dec. 14, is the son of Mary Ingham Otto and J. Alan Otto, a marine corporal stationed at Camp Pendleton. Mrs. Otto is the daughter of Mrs. Helen Adams Ingham of Media, Pa., and the granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Adams of Wallingsford, Pa.

Besides visiting their family, the John Ottos toured Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm and San Francisco. In Anaheim, they were guests of Mr. and Mrs. John Dold, formerly of Easton. Mr. Dold, now a supervisor of the Anaheim Dixie Cup plant, had worked with Mr. Otto at the Easton plant where he is a foreman.

They visited another former Easton couple, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Guzzo, whom they had not seen in 25 years.
One of those sentences contains two errors. It should read: "Mrs. Otto is the daughter of Mrs. Helen Adams Ingham of Media, Pa., and the granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. Howard Adams of Wallingford, Pa." Obviously, I was too young to copy-edit the story at that time.

Here's a photo of Mom, Dad and me during the same general time as this trip was taken. It was almost certainly snapped by one of my grandparents, but I'm not sure which side of the family. Note the groovy poster for The Endless Summer on the wall and the Christmas decoration atop the television.

Postcard snapshot of Puerto Rico from a half-century ago

This postcard image doesn't do much to convey the beauty of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico — it could almost be any spot in the United States where roads and automobiles eclipse human-scale neighborhoods and common sense — but I thought it would be timely to share this in light of the devastation and ongoing (and it will be ongoing for years) humanitarian crisis on that island, caused by Hurricane Maria last month (see The New York Times and The Atlantic for the latest).

Tourism is incredibly important for Puerto Rico's economy, and it will be important moving forward as the island struggles to get back on its feet and support its residents. This postcard was mailed in May 1968, and it was from my 73-year-old great-grandmother Greta to my 20-year-old mom, around the time Mom was a student at Lycoming College. (The postcard, though, was mailed to a PO Box in Moylan).

Greta's note, in relatively legible cursive, states:
Wed P.M.
Like it here, hot & rainned [sic], thunder & lightening [sic], so couldn't get out to see inside Fort or where Ponce de Leon is buried in the Cathedral.1 Sorry! Came back from tour for lunch on ship & then went shopping in afternoon.
Love, Grandma
The postcard is a Plastichrome, published by Colourpicture. It is numbered C-11-009 and has this short caption:
Cloverleaf entrance to Rio Piedras.
Entrada a Rio Piedras.
Color by: Bob Glander

1. Said cathedral would be Catedral Metropolitana Basílica de San Juan Bautista. Juan Ponce de León, who died in 1521, is entombed there.