Saturday, December 23, 2017

Merry Christmas...
What even is happening here?

Here's a disturbing postcard illustration, definitely worthy of the amazing @HorribleSanity Twitter feed, for this holiday season.

It's a Christmas mystery, too.

I bought this postcard on eBay in 2016, thinking it was a vintage oddity. (The listing was a bit misleading, it turns out.) It's actually a modern reprint postcard of what might or might not be a vintage oddity. I have no idea what the story is behind this illustration, and Google isn't much help.

In most of the other online occurences of this illustration (Pinterest, etc.), it's simply labeled "Creepy Christmas."

In addition to the Google reverse image search, I tried searching for things like "christmas postcard snowmen with severed human head." That didn't provide any leads, either. But it sure spices up my search history.

It sort of looks like something that Edward Gorey might have drawn. But that seems to be a dead end, too. If he did this piece, it would be famous.

So, for now, it just remains a Merry Mystery.

Sweet dreams!

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Christmas snake charmer

This snapshot of a snake charmer (possibly in Pakistan) was part of a Christmas letter sent to the Adams/Ingham residence on Oak Crest Lane, likely during the late 1950s or early 1960s. It's from Joanne Wixon, a member of the family and longtime friends who lived across the street.

On the back, Joanne writes:
Hi there! As you can see this is a picture of a snake charmer. Out at the beach snake charmers are all over. It is quite cool now and we whear [sic] sweaters most of the time. Since Christmas Cards cost so much here I am using these pictures for Christmas Cards. Hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. This card is for Mary M. too. Love Joanne.
The matriarch of the Wixon family, Doris Hunter Wixon, died this past August at age 100. Joanne is one of her three daughters. Doris lived a pretty amazing life. Here are some excerpts from her obituary:
"Graduating high school at the height of the Great Depression, she attended Wayne University in Detroit and worked part time grading papers in the Accounting Department to pay her way. It was here that she met a young instructor, Rufus Wixon. Doris continued her education, receiving an MBA at Northwestern University, with Rufus making frequent trips to Chicago to visit her. They were married in 1939. ... In 1955, the five Wixons went to Karachi, Pakistan for two years, where Rufus served as Professor of Accounting in the newly formed School of Business at the University of Karachi, in a country equally newly formed. This was a life-changing experience as it stimulated a love of travel that continued to be a passion for the rest of their lives. Together they traveled all over the world. They shared a deep interest in genealogy and spent time traveling in Ireland, England, Canada, and in the United States, tracing their families. ... She volunteered for 32 years at the Helen Kate Furness Library in Wallingford, also serving on its board. ... She was known for the personal birthday cards she designed and made on her computer and sent to each member of the family, well into her 90’s. This April, Doris was joined by her entire family to celebrate her 100th birthday."

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Fruitcake: Lost corners, rabbit holes and recipes

I got a fruitcake as a present for someone this Christmas — it's okay, the person wanted a fruitcake — and that served as the launching-off point for me to waste some time peering into the lost corners of the internet for fruitcake discussion, history and lore. Enjoy these fruitcake tidbits!

  • Snopes has done a good job preserving versions of the "The Ultimate Fruitcake Recipe," which is actually a joke (not a recipe) that dates to at least 1959.
  • Earlier this year, the Antarctic Heritage Trust discovered an ice-covered, 106-year-old fruitcake that was described as "almost edible."
  • Here's an excerpt from a 2010 forum on, discussing what alcohol to use in fruitcake recipes: "I made one the other night using Nigella's Chocolate Christmas Cake recipe and it uses Tia Maria.....It is fair dinkum the best christmas cake I have ever eaten."
  • Full disclosure: "Fair dinkum" is a wonderful expression. Read more about it at World Wide Words and The Phrase Finder.
  • Peter Muise's New England Folklore blog, which has been going strong since 2008, has a post about a fruitcake recipe (but called "plumb cake") published in Connecticut in 1798. It might be the oldest published fruitcake recipe in the United States.
  • The computer-gaming community, of all places, had a discussion titled "Is fruitcake really that terrible?" five years ago on GameFAQs. Here's what some of them wrote:
    • "I've never seen one, maybe it's a thing of the past?"
    • "Man there is some delicious ****ing awesome fruitcake but I have no idea where my aunt got it or if she made it. That stuff in piles at Walmart around the holidays is disgusting and the ingredients are candy and candied fruit with extra candy and six fistfulls of straight sugar...or at least it sure comes off that way...ewwwyuck! The good one was like kind of chewy and mildly sweet and had lots of flavorful chunky bits but not all candy and sugar for crying out loud! It was like a really dense moist cake with dried fruit trail mix stirred into it... If you want bad fruitcake it's easy to find. Just thinking about that crud at walmart makes me sick to my stomach and my mouth."
    • "Fruitcake is amazing. It's god-tier dessert. Heck, I'll even eat industrial fruitcake, as long as it's drowned in milk to cut down on the sweetness."
  • Jogan fruit cake is an actual thing in the Star Wars universe, per Wookieepedia.
  • I found a 20-year-old post [December 08, 1997] from the Food and Food Storage Forum. It might not be around much longer, so here it is: "I like the weird stuff. My favorite all time food it the SAFEWAY stores fruit cake. Full of chems but it sure tasts good. Fortunately I can't afford to buy it! I used to have the recipe, from a safeway baker years ago, but have since lost track of it. What a pity. I like healthy food too, but when it comes to desserts and holidays I say let it roll... not the fruit cake, the fun!"
  • The Safeway Deluxe fruitcake is mentioned in an interesting Julia Homer article from the December 14, 1980, edition of The Washington Post that discusses the best fruitcakes in the Washington, D.C., area.

Bonus recipe

The 1960 staplebound Amish-Dutch Cookbook, written by Ruth Redcay and published by Ben Herman Dutch Books of Kutztown, Pennsylvania, contains a recipe for Christmas Loaf that seems close enough to fruitcake to share here. So here you go...

  • 3 cups scalded milk
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ yeast cake dissolved in
  • ¼ cup warm water
  • 6 to 8 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ lb. raisins, cut
  • ½ lb. currants
  • ¼ lb. citron, chopped
  • ½ cup almonds, sliced and blanched

Scald 2 cups of milk and let cool. Add dissolved yeast cake, 3 cups flour and salt. Mix well. Cover and set to rise in warm place overnight. In morning scald another cup of milk and add butter and stir till melted. Combine with yeast mixture and add sugar and balance of flour kneading dough well until it is no longer sticky. Use more flour if necessary. Combine fruit and sprinkle with some flour and add to the dough mixing well. Cover and let rise again till double in bulk. Shape in small loaves. Place in small pans and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Let rise for 2 hours. Bake in oven 400 degrees F. for 20 minutes.

1. is "a leading Australian website for all things conception, pregnancy, birth and parenthood."

Christmas superstitions collected by Edwin and Mona Radford

Encyclopædia of Superstitions is an excellent book (and a dandy browsing book) that was researched and written by Edwin and Mona A. Radford and published in 1949 by Philosophical Library of New York.1

In the preface, the authors write: "Some years ago the idea occurred to us that there was need for a work containing as complete a collection as possible of British superstitions presented in encyclopædic form, giving easy and quick reference to the reader. ... We accordingly began collecting and authenticating all the superstitions we could trace. The task occupied more than four years, and is brought to conclusion with the presentation of this volume, containing more than two thousand superstitions of Britain ranging over the past six hundred years, and extending down to the present day."

Their resulting book has been praised over the decades. Going through many editions, it has a five-star rating on Amazon and a 3.94 rating (out of 5.0) on Goodreads.

I thought it would be fun to share some the Christmas-themed superstitions presented in the Radfords' book. And perhaps this will even inspire you to track down your own copy of this tome. Used copies are reasonably priced (and make great holiday gifts).

  • A person born on Christmas Day will never be hanged.
  • A dark-haired man should be the first to enter a house on Christmas morning.
  • In Herefordshire — in the Blakemere and Weobley areas — no woman was allowed to enter a house on Christmas Day. Helps who were to assist at the Christmas Day parties had to sleep in the house on Christmas Eve. They could go home on Christmas morning if they so desired and then re-enter, but that applied only to those who had slept in the house during the previous night.
  • Evergreens should be taken down on Old Christmas Day (6th January) of ill-luck will follow.
  • To take holly into the house before Christmas Eve is to invite bad luck.
  • If a girl walks backwards to a pear tree on Christmas Eve, and walks round the tree three times, she will see an image of her future husband.
  • Fairies meet at the bottom of mines on Christmas Eve and perform a Mass in celebration of the birth of Christ.
  • Ghosts never appear on Christmas Eve.2
  • A midlands superstition was that a piece of Christmas mistletoe, tied in a bag and worn round the neck, would protect the wearer against witchcraft.

1. Philosophical Library was founded in 1941 by Romanian-born philosopher and scholar Dagobert D. Runes. That is a really great name. Almost as good as Svarsh Corduroy.
2. It seems that Charles Dickens was unaware of this.

Photo Shoot Outtake

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Jedediah Hotchkiss' Christmas gift to Chesley Doak Shultz

Elaborate efforts were made for this inscription inside a copy of 1891's Brave and True, Talks to Young Men by Thain Davidson. The inscription was typed up, signed, presumably trimmed down to the proper size, and then pasted to a blank page at the front of the book. As you can see it states:

"Christmas, 1894".
Mr. Chesley D. Shultz, Member
of the Sunday School of the Second
Presbyterian Church of Staunton, Va.

That this good book may prove a
helper and a blessing, through all
your life, is the hope and prayer of
Jed. Hotchkiss

Chesley's nickname was Chess, as the name Chess D. Shultz is written twice, in cursive, on the inside front cover. Chesley Doak Shultz was born on January 25, 1879, in Greenville, Virginia, and thus he was a month away from his 16th birthday when he received this volume from Hotchkiss.

Shultz's life came to a sad end, via suicide, in his early 50s. His Find A Grave page cites an article in the January 24, 1931, edition of the The Bee of Danville, Virginia. Shultz had died on January 21 by "deliberately stepping in front of an oncoming train for the purpose of self-destruction." It was just days before his 52nd birthday. The article cites "health and business worries" as leading to his final action.

The man who typed this inscription and gifted Brave and True, Talks to Young Men to Shultz in 1894 was fairly famous. Famous enough to have his own Wikipedia page. Jedediah Hotchkiss (1828-1899) was born in New York, spent some of his youth within the Lykens Valley in southcentral Pennsylvania, and eventually spent most of his life in Virginia. He was an educator and, most famously, a mapmaker. His maps of Virginia greatly aided the Confederacy and Stonewall Jackson during the Civil War.

Later in life, Hotchkiss wrote the 1,295-page volume on Virginia for the 12-book set titled Confederate Military History, which was published in 1899. Hotchkiss' journals were edited in 1973 and published as Make Me a Map of the Valley: The Civil War Journal of Stonewall Jackson's Cartographer.

You can read more about Hotchkiss on Civil War Trust and Encyclopedia Virginia, and you can see what remains of his historic map collection at the Library of Congress website.

Switching back to Brave and True, Talks to Young Men, I thought I'd close with a short excerpt from this very forgotten 1891 book, which was published by the Fleming H. Revell Company...
"Youth unquestionably is prone to excess; and on the sunny side of twenty there is a disposition to carry more sail than ballast. Nothing is more injurious to a man than incessant frivolity. To be always running after pleasure betokens a low type of humanity. Youth should be happy, but serious too. Continued levity emasculates the soul. To be ever cackling may befit a goose, but not a man.

"If is a fine thing to see a young man with some solidity about him, some moral backbone — to see stamped upon his very face, and gait and manner the self-respect that accompanies good sense, integrity, and virtue. Young men should strive to carry with them a moral momentum that shall drive before it the trivialities that encumber so many, and prove their ruin."

JFK reassures child: "You must not worry about Santa Claus"

The wonderful Twitter account of presidential historian and author Michael Beschloss tipped me off to the existence of this 1961 letter from President John F. Kennedy to 8-year-old Michigan resident Michelle Rochon, who was concerned that the Russians might bomb Santa Claus and the North Pole.

Her original letter to him stated:
Dear Mr. Kennedy,
Please stop the Russians from bombing the North Pole because they will kill Santa Claus.
I am 8 years old. I am in the third grade at Holy Cross School.

Kennedy's response to the girl, 56 years ago, assured her that she "must not worry about Santa Claus. I talked with him yesterday and he is fine. He will be making his rounds again this Christmas." JFK also added a note of political concern, from the U.S. perspective, about the dangers of atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons.

In 1963, the United States and Soviet Union were among the countries that pledged, by treaty, to refrain from testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, underwater, or in outer space. It did, however, permit underground nuclear testing.

For more background on Rochon's letter, I recommend a 2013 article by CBC News' Mark Gollom. Interviewed for that article, Michelle Rochon Phillips says the letter from the president reassured her when she was 8: "All I understood was that he talked to Santa Claus and he was fine and he'd be coming around this Christmas. President Kennedy said so. So everything was good."

If only things were that easy.

Related posts

1920 Christmas postcard from the Bottjer family

Time and the elements have not been kind to this Christmas postcard, which was mailed 97 Decembers ago, in 1920. The front of the card has some creasing and staining. The card was postmarked at 10 p.m. on December 24, 1920, in Woodhaven, Queens, New York, coming in just under the buzzer for Christmas.

The message on the back of the card states:

Best Xmas
Come see our tree.
Edna & George
& little Bottjers.

At first, I thought that Bottjers might be some sort of odd first name or nickname for a child. But it turns out that Bottjer is the family's last name. So the children of George and Edna are "the little Bottjers."

George F. Bottjer was born in Brooklyn and lived from 1887 to 1964. Wife Edna Florence Kelly was also born in Brooklyn and lived from 1891 until 1978. The "little Bottjers" were Everitt (born in 1913) and Herbert (born in 1916), and so they would have been approximately 7 and 4 on this Christmas. And it sounds like they had a tree worth checking out.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

1921 postcard: "Please accept my hearty Christmas Greeting"

Apologies for my extreme lack of Christmas- and holiday-themed posts thus far this month. I am going to ramp up the frequency of festiveness in this final week leading up to Noël. (Of course, if you have a hankering to peruse great Christmas ephemera, you can always dive into Papergreat's Holly Jolly Very Merry Directory of Christmas Posts, which is mostly up to date and has more than 100 things to check out while your cookies are baking.)

Today's Christmas postcard was published by a short-lived New York company called Bergman Quality. It was postmarked on December 26, 1921, with a stamp that denotes both Flushing and Forest Hills in Queens.

Underneath the jolly illustration of Santa Claus on the front is the caption "Ah, good friend, What shall I send? Please accept my hearty Christmas Greeting." I love the typography and especially the design of the C in Christmas and G in Greeting.

This postcard helps us to confirm our solution to a mystery from earlier this year. It's addressed to Miss Lucy Steinhoff in Brooklyn. Her last name was badly misspelled as Stienhouph in a separate postcard I wrote about in September.

The short message on the back of the card states: "Hope Santa will be good to you. Love Aunt Julia"