Saturday, October 28, 2017

Mom's favorite movies

In the initial weeks after Mom died, my sister and I had to do a lot of work to go through her papers, clean out her house and make preparations to put the house up for sale. There wasn't — there never is, I suppose — sufficient time to go through everything carefully and purposefully.

We knew we would donating 90% of Mom's modest collection of DVD and VHS movies to a local charitable organization, so it was just a matter of packing them up in a bankers box, putting them into the car and checking that off the list, so we could move on to the next thing.

But, in the middle of everything, I didn't want to miss an opportunity to jot down the titles of some of the films Mom had loved. I don't trust my memory enough that I'd be able, down the road, to reel off a list of Mom's favorites without missing some key titles. So here's the list, with a few others added from memory:

(For those of you coming to this post first, Mom was born in 1948. So that gives you some context for when she likely discovered some of these films.)

  • The Good Earth [1937]
  • Jamaica Inn [1939]
  • How Green Was My Valley [1941]
  • The Uninvited [1944]
  • Whisky Galore [1949]
  • The Inn of Sixth Happiness [1958]
  • The Parent Trap [1961]
  • The Guns of Navarone [1961]
  • It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World [1963]1
  • Yours, Mine and Ours [1968]
  • Fiddler on the Roof [1971]
  • Logan's Run [1976]
  • The Gods Must Be Crazy [1980]2
  • A Town Like Alice [1981 TV mini-series]
  • Das Boot [1981]
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark [1981]
  • Without a Trace [1983]
  • Places in the Heart [1984]
  • Dune [1984]
  • The Last Starfighter [1984]
  • Murphy's Romance [1985]
  • F/X [1986]
  • Crocodile Dundee [1986]
  • Running on Empty [1988]
  • Crossing Delancey [1988]
  • Truly Madly Deeply [1990]
  • Strictly Ballroom [1992]
  • Benny & Joon [1993]
  • What's Eating Gilbert Grape [1993]
  • Sense and Sensibility [1995]
  • Fargo [1996]

This is by no means a complete list, but I think it's a solid one. In addition to these, she certainly enjoyed the Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings movies. She liked Gone with the Wind, though that might have been more through family obligation than being something she truly loved. I feel like there should be a few more spooky movies on this list, but she didn't seem to collect those on VHS or DVD, so I'll have to rack my brain some more.

In the last 15-to-20 years of her life, she pivoted more toward watching TV shows, especially CSI: Miami, Downton Abbey and a boatload of reality shows. During her final year, she binge-watched the entirety of Game of Thrones in just a few weeks. She would make herself lists of what was coming up with her shows each night of the week.3

Addendums

1. The final movie I watched with Mom at the house on Oak Crest Lane — it was also one of our last nights in the house — was Ghost World [2001]. I chose it. Afterward, she said, "You like weird movies."

2. The final three movies we watched together were all at the movie theater in Gettysburg — Star Wars: The Force Awakens (me & Mom), San Andreas (me, Mom & Sarah) and Star Trek Beyond (me, Mom & Sarah), which was our last movie. She enjoyed all of them.

Footnotes
1. Mom always claimed that she could take a shower and wash her hair during the lengthy opening credits of this movie, and be back downstairs before the actual movie started.
2. I know my grandmother, Helen Ingham, loved this film. And my recollection is that Mom liked it, too, so I'm putting it here. But it might not have truly been one of Mom's favorites.
3. It's possible I still have one of these lists.

Friday, October 27, 2017

1975 children's toys book cover that would have to be rethought today


Times and popular culture change, so this 1970s book cover is now a bit on the creepy side. OK, maybe a lot on the creepy side.

These are tough times, indeed, for ginger clowns.

This softcover book is Things to Make for Children, and it was a Sunset Book, published by Lane Books of Menlo Park, California. The second edition was copyrighted in 1973, and this is the January 1975 fourth printing.

The original cover of the 1961 first edition, pictured at right, is perhaps one they should have stuck with. But nobody could have known what havoc Stephen King would wreak upon the nation's psyche.

Cover aside, the book is filled with imaginative ideas for toys and crafts for the little ones.

Some of the projects are a little on the elaborate side, such a wooden catapult, a wobble toy, a triangular abacus, a four-story dollhouse (!!), a hillside dollhouse (!!!), a revolving dollhouse (!!!!) and an all-wood backyard play structure with an eight-foot central tower that would put most children's playgrounds to shame (and there's a seven-foot rocking giraffe to accompany it).

But then there are simpler items — rag dolls, sock monkeys, hand puppets, paper-bag costumes, kites and piñatas. So the book has a nice mix of items and would be certain to spur additional ideas.

But, alas, that's all if you can get past the clown on the cover...

Postcard: Graffiti-covered "student prison" in Heidelberg


This unused, undated postcard, an "Original Farbaufnahme," has the following caption on the back:

HEIDELBERG — ALTE UNIVERSITAT
Karzer (Student's Prison)

Alte Universität translates to "Old University," which is precisely what this is in the dual college/river town of Heidelberg, Germany. According to a translation of the German-language Wikipedia page:
"The Old University was built in the 23-year period from 1712 to 1735 according to the plans of the Baroque architect Johann Adam Breunig. The building replaced a college building at the university, which was located here. The construction project was part of the reconstruction of the city of Heidelberg, which was severely destroyed in the Palatinate Succession War (1688-1697)."
Karzer better translates to "detention cell," so it's not wrong to call this room a prison. The full name is Studentenkarzer.

A Europe For Visitors website article by Durant Imboden does a nice job of describing the history of this room:
The University of Heidelberg has a long tradition as a center of learning, but students at the 500-year-old uni have often taken the view that "All work and no play makes Hans a dull boy." As long ago as the 16th Century, citizen complaints about carousing students led the university to open a Studentenkarzer, or Student Prison, where academic miscreants were kept off the streets for three days to four weeks at a time.

Over the centuries, the University of Heidelberg's Student Prison was moved several times, and it finally closed down in 1914. Today, that prison — with its original fixtures and graffiti — offers a glimpse into student life at the University of Heidelberg before World War I. ...

The prison is about the size of a large apartment, with a door (now locked) that once allowed student prisoners to enter the Old University for classes during their confinement. ...

Being jailed in the Studentenkarzer couldn't have been too unpleasant, because time behind bars was a rite of passage for many students. The Heidelberg Tourist Office describes "the much-coveted stay in the 'Student Prison' for Town vs. Gown offenses, such as disturbing the peace, womanising, unruly drunkenness, and setting the townspeople's ubiquitous pigs free."
If the cost of saving pigs from being turned into sausage and scrapple is a stint in the Studentenkarzer, then sign me up!

You can see more photos of the Studentenkarzer in Imboden's article.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Vallamount Drive in Williamsport and a book agent's black shoes


Today's very old postcard was postmarked on September 2, 1908, in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. During that same month, the first Model T left Henry Ford's factory in Detroit, author Richard Wright was born, and The Fred Merkle Incident had baseball fans in a tizzy.

The mansion pictured on the front of this postcard is located on Vallamount Drive in Williamsport. The Lycoming County city, thanks to the lumber industry, is said to have had, at one time, more millionaires than any other city in the United States. There is a historic area termed Millionaires' Row, featuring sprawling homes in all sorts of architectural styles. [See this walking-tour brochure.] I'm not sure if the house pictured is technically on Millionaires' Row, but it would certainly fit in with those types of homes. Sounds like I should take a field trip and see what this house looks like today, though I'll bet it's surrounded by now-huge trees and is harder to see from the road.

This postcard was mailed to Mrs. Julia Drick in Montoursville, which was a neighboring town but didn't yet have WiFi, thus making postcards the best way to communicate.

The note on the card is written in cursive and in pencil. It states:
My Dear Julia: I have taken up a new line of work which is know [sic] as Soliciting book buyers, or it is nearly the same as a book agent. would like to have you send my black shoes and glasses up on Sat with Mr. Harris Springman if you can. I will get them at his stand.
Mac: 512 Edwin St.
It looks like Julia's maiden name was Smithgall, she lived from 1884 to 1951, and she's buried in Montoursville.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Vincent Price is
the Nexus of All Things


When I first jotted down an idea months ago, this was going to be a post about the 1980s Time Life book series The Enchanted World, with an aside about Vincent Price, one of the celebrities used to market those books on late-night TV.

As the weeks passed, my interest in the (still fascinating) Enchanted World waned slightly, while my interest in writing again about Vincent Price increased.

And increased. And increased. Then, something struck me earlier this week. In the intersecting realms of Popular Culture and My Life ... Vincent Price is, truly, The Nexus of All Things. It's not even close. (Sorry, Tommy Westphall.)

So this has become another post about Vincent Price, following on the heels of this May 2011 post and many other passing mentions here over the years. But I hedged a little on whether to write this morning. It's sunny and pleasant outside. A proper post about Vincent Price should be written on a dark and stormy night, when the wind is howling and trash-can lids are flying off and tumbling down the street. A night when the doors should be locked, because the dead are not still.

So I thought I would hold off. I still have a few days of Halloween season remaining. Then I went on Twitter. And I saw that today, this very day, marks the 24th anniversary of Vincent Price's death, on October 25, 1993.

Hello again, Vincent Price Nexus. You're never far off, are you?

So here we are. Discussing my Nexus. Perhaps yours is different. Maybe you're focused on Bieber or Gaga or the Brontë sisters, but in my world it's Vincent Price who keeps popping up. Over the past weeks, in addition to his association with Time Life books, I have come across:

  • Glorious advertisements for the Shrunken Head Apple Sculpture, one of those "toys" that every not-so-cool kid in the late 1970s wanted.
  • News that Cooking Price-Wise, one of Price's best-selling cookbooks — yes that's cookbooks, plural, because the man was amazing — is being expanded and republished.
  • I was researching a favorite childhood memory, the 1979 TV special Once Upon a Midnight Scary, because I loved the Severn Darden-led adaptation of The House with a Clock in Its Walls. And it was during this research that I rediscovered that, of course, Vincent Price served as the host who introduced the three tales of terror.
  • I can't go a day in October without someone tweeting the Kermit-and-Vincent photo into my feed.


He's everywhere!

And that's not all. There are connections that are even more personal in the Nexus. Vincent Price has read stories written by Ruth Manning-Sanders — my Anyone In History Dream Lunch would be Sarah and I sitting down with the two of them. Vincent Price absolutely remains one of Sarah's favorite actors, too, keeping pace alongside Norman Reedus and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Our shared Price film favorites include The Last Man on Earth, House on Haunted Hill, and any of the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations Price starred in. Even if all the aforementioned advertisements and cookbooks and hosting gigs didn't exist, we'd have a robust Vincent Price Fan Club in our household, solely based on his films.

And then there's Stranger Things, which brings us right up to this week. We're fans. Sarah and I watched Season 1 twice and are looking forward to Season 2 this week. The trailer for Season 2 makes absolutely masterful use of ... hello, Nexus ... Vincent Price's legendary voice-over from Michael Jackson's "Thriller."



"Darkness falls across the land" ... in that iconic voice ... just sends happy shivers down the spine.

I'll leave you with this: Two years ago, Vincent Price's daughter, Victoria, wrote a beautiful blog post on the anniversary of her father's death titled "YES YES YES YES YES!" You should read the whole thing, but here are two excerpts that I love:

My dad had lots of cute rituals that I loved as a kid: Holding your breath when driving through tunnels, skipping rocks into the waves, tossing a penny into a fountain and making a wish. He had cute little poems or turns of phrases for many things. For example, whenever he saw a pelican, he could not help himself. He intoned: “What a wonderful bird is the pelican. His beak can hold more than his belly can.”

* * *

Now to be sure, there are times where having our N-O is very very important, maybe the most important thing in the world: Creating boundaries, speaking our truths, taking care of ourselves instead of others. We must all learn to have our NO!

But saying YES to life is equally vital. In fact, saying yes to life opens our hearts and our minds expands us and our whole lives into connection with one another, with what and who we love, even with the planet!

So, my way of honoring my dad this Halloween week is very simple. Find one way of saying YES this week!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

1939 U.S. stamp celebrating baseball's "centennial"


With the World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros set to begin tonight, here's a nifty United States stamp from 1939 marking what was then thought to be the 100-year anniversary of our national pastime.

The purple, three-cent stamp is "U.S. #855" and was issued on June 12, 1939, in Cooperstown, New York. Bureau of Engraving artist William Roach was the designer. According to the Mystic Stamp Company, these unused stamps now sell for $2 to $3, depending on their condition. Mystic Stamp also adds this bit about the history of this stamp:
"U.S. #855 commemorates the 100-year anniversary of the beginning of baseball. While other forms of the game had been played for years before the 1839 date, Abner Doubleday is credited with formalizing the rules of baseball – most of which remain today. Historians have long disputed Doubleday’s actual influence, but his efforts in the small Upstate New York town of Cooperstown are now part of baseball – and American – lore. The baseball stamp was issued in conjunction with the opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, also in Cooperstown."
The history of baseball and games similar to baseball across the world is fairly fascinating, but, indeed, the notion that Doubleday "invented" the game in 1839 in New York has been thoroughly debunked. It's as much of a tall tale as the way the exploits of Johnny Appleseed or Casey Jones have been exaggerated in our lore.

Shown at right is a game from the Cantigas de Santa Maria, circa 1280, involving tossing a ball, hitting it with a stick and competing with others to catch it. For more about the tangled history of baseball, you can check out the Wikipedia articles Origins of baseball and History of baseball in the United States. The 1845 Knickerbocker Rules, it is somewhat agreed, are the first instance of a codification of the modern rules of baseball as we might recognize them today, but even that is disputed.

Getting back to the 1939 "centennial" stamp, some more interesting background can be found at a great website called 1939baseball.com. It features this anecdote:
"In the spring of 1937, the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce formally requested the issue of a commemorative stamp celebrating the Centennial of Baseball in Cooperstown. ... The United States Congress approved the request, and for the first time a sport was depicted on a stamp. William Roach, an artist for the Bureau of Engraving depicted a village scene with boys playing baseball. [United States Postmaster General James] Farley claimed the village was his hometown of Grassy Point, New York. However, as Roach explained much later, the village depicted a site in Milford, Delaware. With a third term for President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt in question, Farley had his eye on the White House. As such, the Postmaster General never missed an opportunity to promote his candidacy or his love of baseball. Farley dispatched cancellation equipment and nearly 50 additional personnel to insure the success of the postal effort. More than 398,000 stamps were cancelled in Cooperstown that day."

Monday, October 23, 2017

Does anyone still own
a 1-square-inch Texas ranch?


Did anyone ever do this and send their two dollars???

This tiny comic-book advertisement is buried at the bottom of Page 8 of Luke Cage, Power Man No. 46, which was published by Marvel in August 1977. It is headlined "OWN A REAL TEXAS RANCH" and promises that, for $2, you will receive a legal deed to a one-inch-square Mini-Ranch in Texas. Perfect for hanging on your wall, the ad copy states. (Also, can we discuss why the rancher is toting a pair of pistols?)

Two dollars doesn't sound like much, and I know it partially covers postage and handling, but let's just say that this Texas land was very overpriced. Math is your friend, in this regard. One acre of land contains about 6.2 million square inches, so you are paying at the exorbitant rate of about $12.4 million per acre. For land with, presumably, no structures or utilities. The average Texas ranch covers about 500 acres, so if you paid for one at the per-square-inch rate offered in this advertisement, you'd be paying $6.2 billion. Not even the Ewing family had that kind of money in the late 1970s.

(To further up the crazy, a $6.2 billion ranch of 500 acres in 1977 would cost about $25 billion today. So, a similar advertisement in a 2017 issue of, say, Ms. Marvel would ask you to send at least $8 for your one-square-inch ranch in Texas. Bananas!)

Here's what some others have written (briefly) about this silly advertisement:


Here's a link to a Flickr page that appears to show one of the deeds you would have received for your $2. It indicates the land is in Potter County, Texas.

Final note: Your Mini-Ranch would be SMALLER than this advertisement, which measures 1⅞ inches wide by 1¼ inches tall.

Spooky book cover: "Witch House"

(Another "Witch" book, following Friday's post.)


  • Title: Witch House
  • Author: Evangeline Walton (1907-1996)
  • Cover artist: Ralph Brillhart1 (1924-2007)
  • Publisher: Monarch Books (#264)
  • Cover price: 35 cents
  • Year of this edition: 1962
  • Original publication date: 1945 (through Arkham House)
  • Pages: 159
  • Format: Paperback
  • Front-cover blurb: "They Were Forced To Live In A House Saturated With Evil"2
  • Back-cover excerpt: "The will, conceived in hatred, demanded that Elizabeth Stone and two male cousins occupy Witch House for an allotted time in order to inherit a fortune."
  • Back-cover spoiler: The plot includes a giant, black rabbit with some sort of D&D style Blink powers.
  • Dedication: "To my Quaker Grandmother a staunch believer in this book and to 'Tuneless Thomas' who was a kind of collaborator"
  • First sentence: There was a quiet, informal dignity about Dr. Gaylord Carew's office on West Forty-fifth Street.
  • Last sentence: "The boat is waiting to take us to the mainland, Elizabeth."
  • Random section from middle: "But I liked chickens. I was horrified at the idea of killing one."
  • Rating on Goodreads: 3.45 stars (out of 5.0)
  • A Goodreads review excerpt: Luce Cronin writes: "This is a really creepy book; it really gets into your head. The story is one of identity projection and possession and the antagonist in the story draws on known mystical principles from the Tibetan tradition."
  • Notes: Evangeline Walton was the pen name of Evangeline Wilna Ensley, who was born into a Quaker family in Indianapolis. She is pictured here (at right) around age 29. Her inspirations included L. Frank Baum, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, and John Cowper Powys, with whom she had an ongoing correspondence for many years. ... One of Walton's best-known works is a four-novel retelling of the mythological Welsh story of the Mabinogion. You can learn more about that series in this excellent 2012 post by Scott Lazerus on Worlds Without End (a website where you could fall down a deep rabbit hole). ... Witch House has been published in many editions over the years. You can see a full list at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Its first publication was in 1945, as the famed Arkham House's first original full-length novel, and it did not sell well, though it has been mostly well-regarded by critics over the years.

Footnotes
1. Ralph Brillhart artwork was also featured in this January 2017 Papergreat post.
2. Studies over the years have proven that it's healthier to live in a house with Unsaturated Evil. Saturated Evil is bad, and Trans-saturated Evil, especially the industrial-made stuff, is the worst. Also, watch out for Partially Hydrogenated Evil.

In which Nobby Bonkles enters the world, thanks to John Allison

Earlier this month, I came across this tweet by author/artist John Allison, who writes the comic Giant Days.


And I was immediately impressed by how phenomenal the name "Nobby Bonkles" is. I can envision an entire feel-good fictional universe based around the adventures of Nobby Bonkles, who wouldn't be perfect but would be the perfect hero for young readers. We need more great and silly names like this, to fuel and inspire future generations.

And here we have Allison just creating this splendid moniker out of whole cloth and bringing it into the world via a tweet. And, to be clear, at the original time of this tweet, there existed no other evidence of Nobby Bonkles on the Internet. I know, because I looked...


(Now, of course, "Nobby Bonkles" does show up in a Google search, because the tweet has been archived. And this blog post will further enhance the name's search-engine cred.)

At the time, I jokingly offered Allison trillions of dollars for the rights to Nobby Bonkles. But in retrospect (and because I don't have trillions of dollars), I think Allison should hold onto it and work it into one of his creations.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

1969 Jersey Devil postcard
illustrated by Ed Sheetz


Having spent most of my youth in Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey, I am quite familiar with the legend of the Jersey Devil. He was woven into the fabric of late 1970s and early 1980s paranormal discussions, alongside poltergeists, the boogeyman, The Hook and Bigfoot. On youth campouts, even hundreds of miles from New Jersey in the forests of central Pennsylvania, every noise or bump in the woods might be the Jersey Devil, looking for a snack. Everyone knew someone whose uncle's friend had seen it once.

This 1969 postcard presents a comic caricature of the Jersey Devil, rather than trying to hew to the traditional "eyewitness descriptions" from long ago that portray it as some sort of kangaroo/goat/bat hybrid. The illustration is by Ed Sheetz. According to the 1998 book Phantom of the Pines: More Tales of the Jersey Devil, by James F. McCloy and Ray Miller, Sheetz was one of the most well-known folk artists to turn the Jersey Devil into a revenue-producing venture:
"Sheetz's sketches of the Jersey Devil, on posters, postcards, and other objects, may have added to the frequent conception of the Jersey Devil as a more friendly and playful creature through their popularity. One of his widely circulated renditions shows the Jersey Devil standing in the Pines. He is a small creature with cat-like hindquarters, a pointed head, small horns, a puckish smile on his face, and wearing a small vest."
As of this writing, a hand-carved wood block by Sheetz of the Jersey Devil is available on Etsy for $189.

To be clear, I never viewed the Jersey Devil and playful or puckish when I was a kid. In the stories that circulated around campfires and on dark nights, you would be extremely lucky to escape with your life if you met up with old J.D.

There are plenty of other places to read more about the history, folklore and alleged sightings of the Jersey Devil. And there's a great episode of Aaron Mahnke's podcast, Lore, that sums up the legend in 23 creepy minutes. Here, for posterity, is a rundown of the text block on this Sheetz postcard, typos and all:

THE LEGEND OF THE JERSEY DEVIL
(Famous New Jersey Folklore Character)
Since the early 1700's, there have been many accounts of the "Jersey" or "Leeds Devil". Descriptions vary from "horsefaced" to "collie faced" - from a large furry creature of a reddish brown "colour", with bat-like wings, cloven hoofs, horns and a forked tail, to an impish, nattily dressed character who delights in scaring people half out of their wits. In days gone by, he has been sighted in the Pine Barrens, Port Republic, New Gretna and many other "nearby" towns. Some say his birthplace was in the Leeds Point area, near Smithville, and that he roamed the swamps along the Mullica River. Most agree that a woman named Leeds (thoughts to be a witch) having twelve children already, and finding herself with child again, cursed it and wished that the offspring be born a devil. She got her wish apparently, and from that day on the Legend of "The Jersey Devil" became a part of New Jersey folklore.

Return to Prospect Hill Cemetery, plus an alpaca

It's been nearly two years since my collection of Instagram snapshots of historic Prospect Hill Cemetery in York, Pennsylvania. (Where does the time go??) Here are some new ones from Prospect Hill, taken earlier this week when I logged 10 miles of urban and rail-trail wandering while waiting for my car to get new tires.






Related photography posts

And, since you made it this far, enjoy some alpacas...