Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas postcard #10:
We have mince pies

Merry Christmas! For this season's final Christmas-themed postcard, we have this colorful card that was mailed in 1910, going from Richfield, Pennsylvania, to Mr. and Mrs. and Uriah Winey in Logania, Perry County, Pennsylvania. Neither of these were high-population locations. Pennsylvania has lost much of its rural character over the past 100 years. In 1910, the state had 7.66 million residents, with 3 million of them (39.6%) living in rural areas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A century later, measuring by the 2010 census, Pennsylvania had a total population of 12.7 million, but the rural population of 3.46 million accounted for just 27% of the overall total.

Today, Richfield is an unincorporated community of about 500 residents that straddles Juniata and Snyder counties in central Pennsylvania. Logania, to Richfield's south, no longer really exists. At least, no one, as far as I can tell, continues to use that as a community name, as the Wineys once did. If I'm wrong, please contact and correct me.

Uriah Winey lived from 1857 to 1922, when he died at age 64, of "exhaustion from stricture of the esophagus," in Millerstown, Perry County. He was a Quaker. His wife, Mary Minerva Crouse Winey, lived from 1860 to 1935, when she died at age 74 in Perry County. Known as "Aunt Nervie," she died at the Logania home of her brother, George Crouse; she had resided there since being widowed. Among those reported to have attended her funeral was Mrs. Ursula Shelley of Richfield, who is the likely writer of today's featured postcard. The card's cursive note states:
My Dear Cousins —
I imagine how I would enjoy sitting in your cosy, warm room this evening watching the trains flying down your valley, and talking over old times. Grandpop is sick in bed since last Monday, but is better. I wish you all a happy holiday season. Come to see us. We have mince pies. Good-bye.
At least, I think it says "mince pies." I'd like to believe it does. It fits perfectly with the rest of the message. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Yuletide celebration 2019

Halló, loyal readers! For a Christmas Eve treat, I've been hoarding, like a squirrel with acorns, some seasonal items to share all at once. Speaking of squirrels, we begin with a Holiday Nature Enjoyment Tip™ passed along by Wendyvee of Roadside Wonders.

She shared a YouTube video titled "Christmas With Squirrels & Relaxing Christmas Music (1 Hour)." This is precisely as advertised. It involves:

  • 1. Squirrels
  • 2. Christmas music
  • 3. A duration of one hour

So if that's what you're seeking this Christmas, you're in luck. Watch the squirrel frolick around the tree, fireplace and stockings. Watch some birds appear as special guest stars. Now back to the squirrel! Those content producers think of everything these days!

Apparently this is a bit of a cottage industry on YouTube. There is "A Very Happy Yule Log," which features a cat and dog in what appears to be a Yuletide hostage situation not unlike Die Hard; "Christmas Cats Snuggle by the Fireplace," which features minimal snuggling; and "Snoozing Yule Log Bulldog Full HD Fireplace With Crackling Sounds," which is very impressively on point.

Finally, let's just say that I clicked on "Freshpet Holiday Feast - 13 Dogs and 1 Cat Eating with Human Hands" so that you don't have to. Seriously. Do not click on that link. If you accidentally clicked, please seek out some strong wassail immediately.

Of course, our society knew how to do this kind of programming long before YouTube. The Yule Log — it's a fireplace on your TV screen! — dates to 1966. Learn about its history in this Mental Floss article by Suzanne Raga.

* * *

You might soon be able to get Skynet to handle the time-consuming holiday tradition of writing out Christmas cards. That's according to "The art of imperfection: People are turning to robots to write their ‘handwritten’ cards," a recent article in The Washington Post by Abha Bhattarai.

I have written often about the seemingly looming death of handwriting. And the personal connections that would vanish, too. I shared a bunch of links on this topic in 2013. Ironically, I bet some of those links are now 404's. Anyway, here's what Bhattarai writes:
"These robot-scribed cards and letters are testing the proposition that machines can generate the intimacy of a handwritten note. Some services include smudges and ink blots in their mailings. Others program the robots to be imprecise — varying the pressure on the pens, for example, or inconsistently sizing characters and spacing — to make the writing appear believably human."
So future ephemeraologists, in addition to trying to figure out spellings and bizarre words — which can be half the fun here on Papergreat — will also have to try to determine whether the writer was a human or just a clever AI.

* * *

Who's this dashing and furry figure?

According to the Open Graves, Open Minds Research Project on Twitter, it's none other than Finnish folklore creature Nuuttipukki: "These evil spirits go from door-to-door demanding left over Yule food, punishing those who don't provide. On St Knut's Day, 13th Jan., people dressed in furs and horns carry this tradition on by taking on the role of the nuuttipukki."

I can certainly dig the idea of Leftovers Police after the holidays. Especially here in America, where food waste is a serious problem and, according to a 2018 article in The Guardian, "Americans waste 150,000 tons of food each day – equal to a pound per person."

Let's rebrand Nuuttipukki in the U.S.A. and turn him into a superhero who battles the evils of food waste! Make Baron Von Papergreat his sidekick.

* * *

If you're going to see a movie for the holidays, I highly recommend that you skip Cats (or Cats 2.0 at this point) and The Rise of Skywalker and instead see if you can find a theater that's still showing Knives Out. It's a tremendously entertaining 130 minutes.

When I saw that a lead character in Knives Out was named Harlan Thrombey, I knew writer/director Rian Johnson must have been making a reference to the 1981 Choose Your Own Adventure book Who Killed Harlowe Thrombey? Because the similarities are just too great. I had most of the first dozen CYOA books as a kid; Who Killed Harlowe Thrombey? was the murder mystery of the lot.

But, in retrospect, it perhaps wasn't among the better CYOA books. Sean Munger, who has written extensively about the series, states:
"It’s fairly competent for a bare-bones murder mystery for kids, but the problem is that it’s too formula. Packard chooses to ignore the single biggest possibility that the interactive/CYOA format holds for a mystery story: the possibility of multiple resolutions, which means more than one murderer, more than one way the crime was committed, and multiple paths to solving the case. As it is, there is only one resolution. After one, or at most two, read-throughs of the book you’ll know exactly who iced Harlowe Thrombey, who was the accomplice and how the murder was committed. The only question is whether you reach that resolution or not. The book utterly wastes the whole hypertext format. This is all the more disappointing because you get the sense that the possibility of multiple murderers or multiple resolutions never even occurred to [author Edward] Packard."
In Knives Out, there is also only one solution. But you'll have a hell of an enjoyable time weaving your way to it.

Final note: If you grew up with the Choose Your Own Adventure series, you might like the parody book Who Killed John F. Kennedy?, which nails the tone and illustrations of those older books perfectly. Plus, you get to rub shoulders with David Ferrie.

* * *

Sharing awesomeness from the @TweetsofOld Twitter account (aka R.L. Ripples) is a holiday tradition at Papergreat. The account features excerpts from real children's letters to Santa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I shared a batch in 2014 and another batch in 2016. Here are some of this year's gems...

Christmas postcard #9:
Yellow cloaks

Are (or were) yellow cloaks a Christmas holiday tradition anywhere in the world? My Christmas experience has been so inundated with red and green that it's hard to accept any other colors into the fold. According to, golden decorations were thought to bring warmth during the cold winter months, and "poor people who couldn’t afford gold colored decorations substituted yellow." Also, of course, gold was one of the gifts from the Three Wise Men. So yellow/gold certainly has meaning, but I'm not sure if there's a significance to this particular piece of apparel. And how about those hand warmers?

The publisher is a mystery, too. Here's the elaborate image on the back of the postcard...

I cannot determine with any certainty what publisher used that logo. There's a reference to it being "M. Stein" but no second confirmation that I could find. Because the back is for the address only, this card might have been produced prior to March 1907, which is when messages were first allowed on the back of cards in the United States.

The addressee was Miss Bessie Potter of Sandy Lake, Pennsylvania. It's a tiny borough in northwestern Pennsylvania that's never had a population over 1,000. It's considered part of the Youngstown, Ohio, metroplex just as much as it's considered part of Pennsylvania. Major League Baseball player Terry "Cotton Top" Turner was from Sandy Lake.

And what about Bessie Potter? I found a few passing newspaper mentions. In 1904, she was on the music committee (along with Hazel Down and Byrl Runkle) for the Sandy Lake High School Alumni Association banquet. In 1925 should took part in social meeting for a local literary club. And In 1937, still as Miss Bessie Potter, she was co-hostess of a Gay Nineties Club luncheon at the home of Mrs. Margaret Turner.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Book cover & school days memory: "Arthur's Christmas Cookies"

  • Title: Arthur's Christmas Cookies
  • Author and illustrator: Lillian Hoban (1925-1998)
  • Publisher: Harper & Row
  • Series: Weekly Readers Books presents An I CAN READ Book®
  • Publication date: 1972
  • Pages: 64
  • Format: Hardcover

I rediscovered this childhood favorite earlier this month and realized that I still knew it by heart, even after four decades. I must have had my own copy in the 1970s, and it was almost certainly this hardcover Weekly Reader edition. Author/illustrator Hoban found great success with her series of 11 books about Arthur the chimpanzee and his little sister Violet. (I have recollections of one other book in the series, Arthur's Honey Bear.) So many of the details and specific illustrations in this book have remained entrenched in my memory: Arthur's poor carpentry skills, Violet's chimpanzee feet grasping the sides of the kitchen stool, Arthur's purchase of a Lola Finola comic book, Violet's Bake-E-Z oven, the ball of dough tumbling onto the floor, hot chocolate with marshmallows, the look on everyone's faces when they taste the cookies, Arthur crying but then calming down and becoming contemplative, and the happy ending, built from improvisation and creativity.

If you want to bake your own Christmas ornaments, Katie Fries explained how in this Arthur-themed 2010 post on her blog, Eat Their Words.

This book has had some sustaining popularity since its debut in 1972. In a 2018 review on Goodreads, Calista notes: "Our library has about 15 copies of this book and there were only 2 left when I requested it. I figured it must be popular. ... It’s a nice sweet little story and I appreciate the simplicity of it and that 70s feel to the story. I admit to never having heard of it. I have left it for my niece to read by herself. ... I think she might enjoy it. She loves baking. She is also a perfectionist and it will be good for her to see there are ways to deal with mistakes that happen in life and they all aren’t devastating."

Another Goodreads reviewer, writing in 2015, was taken aback that the characters were chimpanzees: "The story itself is cute and innocuous. For the life of me, though, I can't figure out why Arthur, Violet, Norman, and Wilma are illustrated as monkeys. Nowhere in the story is there a single reference to them being animals, and the text doesn't describe them doing anything monkey-specific. So the entire time I'm reading it I'm playing a running loop in the back of my mind: 'Why are they monkeys? Why on earth do they need to be monkeys? Why not just illustrate them as children?'"

Apparently the chimpanzees were not too much of a stumbling block, though, because that same reviewer returned this month to write: "We've been reading this book for 5 Christmases now. I still think it's weird that Arthur and his friends and family members are monkeys. However, I do find the story charming."

P.S. — Chimpanzees are not monkeys. They are part of the family of great apes.

Christmas postcard #8:
Was Edgar mad?

This embossed Merry Christmas/Happy New Year postcard is labeled "Christmas Bell Series No. 1" on the back and was postmarked on December 12, 1910, the same day that President William H. Taft nominated three men to the U.S. Supreme Court at once. (Taft successfully nominated a jaw-dropping six Supreme Court justices during his four years in office and later served as Chief Justice himself.)

The card was postmarked in a place I had never heard of until now, the unincorporated community of Warriors Mark, which is almost precisely in the center of the state. The card was mailed to Mr. Edgar Parks of Tyrone, Pennsylvania, in Blair County. He's about to get an earful. Here's the message:
dear freind Edgar
how are you
I am well
have you got any Chrismas gifts yet
I got a gold ring, a muffler, a brest pin
Edgar why don't you write
I am not mad at you
I have lots of good things to tell you when you write
are you mad at me if you are what for dear
I wish I would get a pair of kid gloves and a neckless
Please write
And then, added back at the top of the card, perhaps as a final thought:
I am so sorry
I will tell you what for

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Christmas postcard #7:
Greetings to Intercourse

This crinkled and wrinkled postcard features a cheery fireplace with something a bit smaller than a yule log and the message "I send you a most hearty Yuletide greeting."

It was mailed to Mr. Jacob Esch of Intercourse, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. That's a super-duper common name (first and last) in Lancaster County. Just one possibility is the Jacob Esch who lived from 1869-1959.

The writer, using tight cursive, fit in a lengthy message. Here's my best transcription. It gets really dicey toward the end:
"Dec 23 1923
West Liberty RD #3 Ohio
Dear Brother and family
Xmas Greetings.
I thought maby you would write when you got home, but have not heard yet. Thanks for those presents you sent with Ben. We hear Ben is layed off and are moving back. Expect [?] you are getting ready for Chrismas [sic]. We are not having much, as money is to [sic] scarce. Are having so much rain and mud. This leaves [?] us as well as [??] ... if find you all ... write ... [??]."

Katherine Sturges Dodge illustration

I was sorting and pruning books recently, and I decided to donate a few volumes Olive Beaupré Miller's famed My Book House series. But before doing so, I wanted to share this gorgeous illustration by Katherine Sturges Dodge (1890-1979). It appears in Volume 3, "Up One Pair of Stairs," of the 12-volume 1937 edition of My Book House. Katherine Sturges Knight — I'm not sure why she used the last name Dodge professionally — led an interesting life. She studied in Japan for a time, and created art in the realms of illustrations, paintings, greeting cards, ceramics, jewelry and fabric designs.

Christmas postcard #6:
Good time for a yule log

The illustration is the best part of this old postcard. It shows four folks, clad in red and blue, dragging a yule log to a small castle. The yule log (also called yule clog, yule block, gule block, or even "stock of the mock" in Cornwall) has a long and impossible to untangle history that likely involves paganism, Celtic superstition, the winter solstice (which was last night), and Christian Christmas traditions intermingling over the centuries. But anyone, regardless of religion, can enjoy the idea of gathering around a roaring fire at Midwinter for good company, good cheer in a cup, and perhaps a good ghost tale while the wind howls outside, right?

There's nothing on the back of this postcard. The printed script on the front states: "May your Christmas-tide of the old time Yule log abound in glowing warmth and cheer."

And the short message is from Aunt Annie, if I'm reading that right. Or perhaps it's something else other than Annie.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Christmas postcard #5:
"Dear Girlie"

This postcard was published by the Golden Rule Printing Company of Albion, Michigan, and it features a hefty block of prose by Henry van Dyke Jr. (1852-1933). Van Dyke was born in Pennsylvania and served simultaneously as the U.S. ambassador to both the Netherlands and Luxembourg for a stint in the 1910s. He was also an author, minister and educator and has been remembered for his Christmas-themed writings.

This card was postmarked on December 30, 1920, and was mailed to Miss Winnifred Stewart of Cresson, Pennsylvania1, in care of the Mountain Merchantile Company. A few words are lost because of the postcard's missing corner, but here's the message, as best I can reckon:
Dear Girlie,
— I want to thank you for the beautiful gift & the beautiful love back of it. Conditions were such this year that I could not prepare for Xmas without over work and worry, so left my friends under ... impression (perhaps) that I did [not?] care for them. But I did. [Missing words] Your god mother.
This is added across the top of the card:
Tell me all about your children. What are they like, and what do you do for them?

1. Cresson is located in Cambria County and is not to be confused with Cressona, in Schuylkill County, eastern Pennsylvania. About a decade ago, in the midst of a side business selling used books on Amazon and at a local antiques mall, Joan and I traveled to Cressona and filled most of a U-Haul with used books that another online seller was selling for a super-cheap price. All those books sat in boxes in our garage for months, as we methodically worked through posting them for sale. I think the folks in Cressona probably knew what was coming better than we did, because the online book-selling business was crashing to a halt, in terms of profitability, thanks to the flood of penny books from bulk sellers. It was an interesting time. Joan details some of it in this 2013 post on Man vs. Debt.

Christmas postcard #4:
Bertha writes to Levi

This beautifully decorated "A merry Christmas" postcard (which was made in Germany) was written upon and addressed, but there's no stamp or postmark. Perhaps it was hand-delivered or mailed into an envelope. It was addressed to Mr. Levi S. Moyer in Fredericksburg, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania.

Levi S. Moyer is not that rare of a name in Pennsylvania history. And that makes it harder to pinpoint which one this is referring to. There is a Levi S. Moyer who is mentioned extensively in 1905's History of Bucks County, Pennsylvania (Volume III). But I don't think that's the one we're looking for.

The best guess is probably the Levi S. Moyer who lived from 1872 to 1950 and is buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Fredericksburg. He was the vice president of First National Bank of Fredericksburg when he died and, according to his obituary in the March 14, 1950, edition of the Lebanon Daily News, "he was a retired farmer and insurance broker and was widely known throughout the northern tier of the county." He was also affiliated with the Sons of America camp and the Odd Fellows lodge of Fredericksburg.

This is the message from the back of this Christmas postcard:
"Hello. I wish you and all the family the most loving and sincere wishes. Hoping Santa will find you and bring you many good things. Good-bye.
From Miss Bertha Krissinger, Fredericksburg, Pa."

Bertha A. Krissinger Donmoyer lived in Lebanon County from 1907 to 1959. So that means this card, with its nice handwriting, was probably written around 1925 or thereafter.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Christmas postcard #3:
Holiday grippe and croup

The postmark is obscured on this "A Merry Christmas" postcard, but I think it's safe to say it was mailed about a century ago. The card was published by the Midland Publishing Company, which was only in operation from 1912 to 1914, according to As that website further notes, most of the Midland cards were printed by the Gold Medal Art Company, whose distinctive owl logo appears on the back.

From the portion of the postmark that's legible, we know that it was mailed in Chicago, Illinois, on Dec. 23. It was sent to Mr. and Mrs. Jay Follet of Corry, Pennsylvania. This is the cursive message:
Dec 22nd
Dear Matie [sp?]
I wish you all a Merry Xmas.
Baby Helen & I have both been sick a week up in bed with grippe, she first with croup & still so hoarse. Hope you are all well with love to all.
Cousin Mary
Grippe is a word that's not used much these days. It essentially means flu/influenza, though I reckon it was probably applied to a wider range of respiratory issues. So it was a bummer of a Christmas holiday for Mary and Helen, which I feel retroactively sad about.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Christmas postcard #2:
Things that would hinder

This postcard appears to have stayed within Greene County, New York, in December 1908. It was postmarked in Oak Hill, a hamlet near the small town of Durham. And it was delivered to Julia Hallenbeck of North Hill, a hamlet near Greenville. (Hamlets are essentially unincorporated communities.)

The cursive message was short and to the point:
We will come new years unless sickness or death hinders.
There's a tiny "LL" written on the front of the card, so perhaps those are Lucy's first and last initials.

* * *

Bonus Christmas memory: Easton's Peace Candle, more than 100 feet tall, has gone up almost every Christmas season in the eastern Pennsylvania city since 1951. According to Wikipedia, "it has been said to be the largest non-wax Christmas candle in the country. Although conceived with the hopes of restoring Easton's pre-20th century reputation for elaborate Christmas decorations, city officials also believed a candle would serve as a symbol of peace for all religions and denominations. (But) some have criticized the Peace Candle, calling it a symbol of the over-commercialization of Christmas, and condemning the fact that it covers a war monument."

I asked Dad, who was a kid growing up in Easton in the 1950s, for his memories and he wrote: "We would drive to the downtown circle to see it and all the light at the downtown department stores. There was a Woolworth's five-and-dime store there."

Hunter Kahn [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, December 16, 2019

Christmas postcard #1:
A message from Stiles, Pa.

I have a fresh set of old postcards to help count down the days until Christmas 2019. When browsing, I was looking for ones with interesting messages on the back; tiny little stories from the past. I wasn't particular about what was on the front. So a lot of those will be generic or even dull, even for being a century old.

Up first is this Merry Christmas postcard published by H.I. Robbins of Boston. According to, Robbins was "a publisher and printer of New England view-cards and holiday cards in tinted halftone" from 1907 to 1912.

This card was postmarked on December 2, 1907, in Stiles, Pennsylvania, and mailed to Mrs. Jacob Reinert in Fredericksville, Pennsylvania.

Here's what I think the cursive message on the back states:
"we will come up to your place on Monday the 9. we will go to Rumigs on the 7. he will fetch us at the station, Tell Mr. and Mrs. Webb to come home too.
Estella Swavely"
Postcards were the emails or text messages of the day, announcing holiday travel itineraries, so that people could make their plans. Of course, it could get trickier if you had to change the itinerary.

* * *

Bonus Christmas memory: On the "Williamsport & Lycoming County, PA Past, Present, & Future," someone posted a picture of the Christmas tree at the old Sylvania plant in Montoursville. I remember seeing the tall tree at Sylvania, where Dad worked for a time, as a kid. I asked him about it and he added this holiday memory: "The Montoursville Jaycees has Santa Claus on Main Street in [an] RV. Spent many a night with kids telling me their wish list. Montoursville was small town America with a great spirit."

Here's a Williamsport Sun-Gazette slideshow from the tree's 70th anniversary lighting in 2017.

Monday, December 9, 2019

1897 black rainbow in Idaho:
What does it mean??

A funny little news article — complete with a tommy-knockers reference — from the May 6, 1894, edition of The Salt Lake Herald in Utah. The moon is not mentioned, but you would have to think this was some kind of moonbow.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

1,000th Postcrossing arrival

I signed up as a member of Postcrossing, the online postcard exchange, seven years ago this month, and I've been an enthusiast supporter of the hobby over the years. (Click on the Postcrossing label at the bottom of this post to see all the great stuff.)

I recently received my 1,000th Postcrossing card. It's from Kamila, a 28-year-old woman in the Czech Republic who is a wife, mother and fan of frogs. On a partly sunny day in November, she wrote:

"Hi, I'm sending you a postcard with a little mole. I try to pick each postcard with my heart. Mole is the most popular Czech fairy tale in the Czech Rep. Drawn by Z. Miler, often plays on television in the evening so-called bedtime story. This postcard is old when the Czech Rep. was USSR. Donver [sic; she means Dover] looks like beatiful [sic] place, I always like to see photos of the town where I send the postcard. Thank you for traveling around the world with postcards! We have a lot of traditions in South Moravia, folk costumes (kroj) are worn here, unfortunately, I cannot fit everything on a postcard. If you want to know more, just write me a message. I would like to answer. Have a nice day! (Prěji hezy den!) Kamila"

Mole, according to Wikipedia, "is an animated character in a series of cartoons created by Czech animator Zdeněk Miler. The premiere of the first short film with Mole took place at the Venice Film Festival in 1957. ... Krtek was first seen in 1956 in Prague, when Miler wanted to create a children's cartoon about how flax is processed. He wanted a strong Disney influence to the cartoon by choosing an animal for the leading role, and decided to pick a mole after stumbling over a molehill during a walk."

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Watching films: "Already getting lost, forever, in the calm night..."

Movies are ephemeral, too.

The Library of Congress claims 75% of the films from the silent era are gone forever.

According to Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation, half of all American films made before 1950 and more than 90% of movies made before 1929 are also gone.

A fire at Universal Studios in 2008 destroyed 40,000 to 50,000 archived digital video and film copies.

VHS tapes begin to have significant data loss after about 25 years. Manufacturers of Blu-ray discs say they might last for 150 years. A long time, certainly, but not nearly forever.

Will Earthlings in the year 2500 be able to watch performances by Ingrid Bergman, Bruce Lee and Tom Hanks? Movies directed by Scorsese and Spike Lee? Star Wars? Marvel films? In those aforementioned cases, the best guess might be "probably," because they're among the most famous of our cinema stars and creations. But it's possible that, while some of those famous works might still exist, 99% of everything else will be gone within a few centuries. Perhaps it's even likely that will be the case. Perhaps it's likely that they won't even realize what is lost.

Indeed, everything's ephemeral. Even the couple of million years that Mount Rushmore will endure are just a blink of an eye compared to the age of the universe. But here in 2019, we have the unprecedented luxury of being able to enjoy history's great works — art, architecture, literature, music and, yes, film. Movies go back about 130 years, and there are historical films of paramount importance from its first three decades, such as 1903's The Great Train Robbery. But it's arguably only been about 100 years since "cinema as art" existed. (There's plenty of debate and subjectivity over what qualifies as an influential artistic film; in my view, 1920's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and 1925's Battleship Potemkin were among the early important ones.)

It's important for us to experience works of art, to witness the vast expanse of what can spring from the human mind and heart. That's why plays and novels from centuries ago are still in print. It's why we have myriad museums showcasing everything from Van Gogh to Vivian Maier to video games; and symphony orchestras that perform works by long-dead composers. It's why the secret removal and protection of artwork from the Louvre in Paris during World War II mattered. Our great art has immense value to human civilization.

All of this is my longwinded way of saying that I've started making a more concerted effort to watch (and rewatch) more of the world's great films. I was a movie viewer on a mission in November, and it was immensely rewarding, as I found time for:

  • Tokyo Story (Yasujirō Ozu, 1953)
  • Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
  • Good Morning (Yasujirō Ozu, 1959)
  • Il Posto (Ermanno Olmi, 1961)
  • Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961)
  • The Spirit of the Beehive (Víctor Erice, 1973)
  • Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)

These are all Great Films™. About family and relationships. Life and death. First loves and fleeting love. Loneliness. Time and memory. Philosophy and religion. Youth and old age. And farting.

Others have penned brilliant reviews, essays and insights about these films, so I won't attempt to do that here. You can seek out their words, but it's all the better if you so do after seeing the films. I give them all the highest recommendation. And yes, as you might have guessed, none of them is in English. All of them are subtitled, in case you don't speak Japanese, Swedish, Italian, French, Spanish or Russian. Please don't let those subtitles be an obstacle. You'll get the hang of it after a few minutes — promise. The reward is well worth the effort by the viewer.

If you're looking for a way to dip your toe into films with subtitles, I would happily suggest Good Morning. That's the one with the farting. It's a 94-minute rare comedy from Ozu. Part of the plot involves two young brothers who go on "strike" until their family buys a television, but that's just one of the storylines of this sweet, accessible film. If you watch it and don't like it, I'll mail you a vintage postcard. How's that for a Papergreat guarantee? If flatulence jokes aren't your thing, though, the other starter film I'd recommend is the 93-minute Il Posto, a bittersweet tale of a young man's entry into the corporate workplace.

Some of the other films I watched in November require a bit more attention and patience, especially Stalker and Last Year at Marienbad. All of these films have superb writing, acting, directing and cinematography. They are works of art that will stay with you. And I hope they remain within our civilization for many more years.

* * *

I also watched a pair of notable documentaries in November: Orson Welles' F for Fake (1973) and Grey Gardens (1975), which had a quartet of directors led by Albert and David Maysles. Both are worthwhile and also problematic. F for Fake is unlike anything I've seen; it's been termed a docudrama, a film essay and a free-form documentary. Because there's really no way to label it. It's an Orson Welles creation, right down to its excesses and overindulgences. I would say the less you know about it going in, the better; but it does help to have some basic familiarity with Howard Hughes and Clifford Irving, as audiences in the 1970s would have.

Grey Gardens is considered an essential entry in the history of documentaries. But it's also hard not to cringe at the exploitative nature of the directors' constant push of the camera into the collapsed lives of high society recluses Big Edie and Little Edie in East Hampton, New York. If you watch the Criterion Blu-ray edition, be sure to stay through the credits to hear the recording of a surprising phone conversation.

I'm hoping to sit down for some more Great Films this month. Some will be first watches and others will be rewatches. And I know I'll be revisting some of these November movies, too. Because art in any form requires an investment of time and consideration by the viewer to bloom to its full potential.

< / End Pretentious Post >
< / Not Sorry >

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)

Friday, November 29, 2019

Book cover: "A Forest by Night"

  • Title: A Forest by Night
  • Author: Fred J. Speakman (?-1982)
  • Cover and interior illustrator: John Augustus Avis (1931-2015)
  • Publisher: G. Bell and Sons Ltd., London
  • Publication date: 1965
  • Dust jacket price: 18 shillings, sixpence (or 1½ shillings under a pound, if I have my British money math right)
  • Pages: 196
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Dust jacket blurb: "Fred Speakman comes of country stock with a family history on his father's side of 900 years of farming. His father who knew and loved the country life, remained a countryman to the end. It is natural that when tragedy emptied his life, the author should turn to the countryside, the Epping Forest he had known since boyhood. Long interested in the problems of its wild life, he determined to do what probably nobody else would have the chance to do and spend his nights in the Forest for the round of a whole year, to watch animals — and to find a new basis for living. This book tells the story of the nights he spent, winter and summer, spring and autumn, alone under the trees. It is unique. The author writes of a world that few know. ... Today the author runs a Field Centre for Children at his home in the Forest. Well-known as a naturalist, lecturer, broadcaster and author, he gives to others the happiness he finds in himself."
  • Dedication: "In memory of my father who led my first childhood steps among the green trees, to my wife and children who bring me the happiness I know, and to all who love the quiet places."
  • Excerpt from foreword and acknowledgements: "This book is true. ... I turned to the Forest, in bitterness and with aching heart and a longing for confirmation of faith. I returned rich, healed, as the axe cut in the tree is healed."
  • First sentence: "The first day of the New Year, and what a stinging white-cold start it is to my year of freedom."
  • Last paragraph: "This book is history. Its lesson is bitter. Under complacent ignorance the larger wild creatures of the Forest are doomed. 'Laissez-faire' is not enough. It is not true that nothing can be done. The Forest cries for a new champion."
  • Random sentence from the middle: "In the hole appears a short rounded face of black and white, a badger cub venturing out alone."
  • Review of the book: "Campfire Kev" wrote this in 2009 on Path of the Paddle: "I read a fantastic book as a boy call 'A Forest By Night' by Fred J. Speakman and ever since have had a special affection for badgers. In the book which I thoroughly recommend, although it’s near impossible to get hold of now, the author, recently bereaved and injured during the second world war and unable to work spends a year in Epping Forest staying out at night and recording everything he sees, through each season — most of the activity focusses around the lives if the badgers he watches. It’s an inspiring read and one of the first books on what we would now know as ‘woodlore’ or bushcraft." There's some additional info about Speakman in this 2010 Path of the Paddle post.
  • Other books by Speakman: Tracks, Trails, and Signs; The Young Naturalist's Year; A Poacher's Tale; A Keeper's Tale; Out of the Wild; and Torty of Woodend.

But wait, there's more

Here's the map that appears on the last page of the book.
Click and magnify for more detail.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

(Missing) snapshot & memories: Thanksgiving

It was this year I realized that, in all those shoeboxes, I don't seem to have any family photographs of childhood Thanksgivings. Why would that be? Was everyone saving their film for Christmas? Was everyone too busy preparing food to take photographs? Certainly, the idea of photographing the food itself was not as widespread then as it is now.1 But it still seems odd that I can't easily find any 1970s or 1980s photos of my family on this holiday.

Words will have to suffice for these memories. Before I become any more of an unreliable narrator than I already am, I thought I'd jot some down.

When I was young, we had many of our Thanksgivings at the house on Oak Crest Lane in Wallingford, Pennsylvania.

While there were certainly other Thanksgivings at other locations, I seem to have the most recollection of the Oak Crest Lane experience in the late 1970s and the 1980s. And then my mom, sister and I moved into that house in 1986, so that was "home" for Thanksgiving from there forward.

Earlier than 1986, though, we had some amazing multigenerational holiday meals. I was talking with some co-workers this week and realized that I'm probably in the last generation that will have memories of sitting down to a meal with relatives who were born in the 19th century. Oak Crest Lane was originally the residence of my oft-mentioned great-grandparents, Howard Adams (1892-1985) and Greta Adams (1894-1988).2 Howard, who I called Pop-Pop, was one of the chiefs of the kitchen; he loved to cook.

Here's a look at Howard and Greta with their great-grandchildren, all of whom were born in the 1970s. These aren't Thanksgiving snapshots — we're wearing shorts! — but it's the closest I could find to something we might have taken at a Thanksgiving gathering, if anyone had picked up the camera!

From left: cousin Steve, sister Adriane, Pop-Pop, me, cousin Jeanette, Lamp.

From left: Lamp, cousin Jeanette, cousin Steve, Greta (Mimi), me, Lamp, sister Adriane

For some meals before 1985, we must have tried to cram 11 people around the table, as the group would have also included Mom, Dad, Uncle Charles and his wife, and my grandmother, Helen Ingham (1919-2003). Uncle Charles took over sitting at the head of the table after Pop-Pop died, and I had some turns there starting in the 1990s.

My family probably didn't make a "day trip" to Wallingford for Thanksgiving when we were living in Montoursville; that would have been a bit of a round-trip haul. So we probably stayed overnight. But we certainly could have come over for the day when we were living in Clayton, southern New Jersey, in the late 1970s. It was just a zip across the Commodore Barry Bridge. Either way, when we arrived at Oak Crest Lane, we perhaps looked something like this coming in the door. (This photo is from a February visit, but the idea is the same.)

From left: Lamp, me, Mom, Dad, Adriane.

So what was Thanksgiving Day actually like? It varied over the years, and my mind is a mish-mash of the 1970s through 2000s. I don't recall a lot of TV when I was younger; maybe just the Macy's parade in the background and/or falling asleep to college football after we ate. There were little snacks as appetizers: cheese, crackers, olives. (In later years, shrimp cocktail become a traditional appetizer.)

People had to spread out a little, because the big house had a small kitchen. So couldn't cram too many folks in there while the cook was tending to the turkey and the side dishes. Here's a 1990s Christmas photo that gives you some sense of the tight quarters.

From left: Adriane, liquor, Mom, me with newspaper, cousin Steve.

As for the food at Oak Crest Lane, our Thanksgivings meals were very traditional when I was a kid. The menu rarely varied from this:

  • Roast turkey
  • Gravy
  • Stuffing3
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Succotash4
  • Fresh rolls
  • Cranberry sauce from a can
  • Pumpkin pie

We were right-fine pilgrim cosplayers, I reckon. The big moment, of course, was the turkey coming through the squeaky swinging door and being placed on the table. I liked the white meat and lots of skin. Mom went for the wings. Older relatives often preferred the dark meat.

Other memories: The rolls came in a large wooden scoop, covered in a cloth napkin; they were always amazing. ... Dress was usually semi-formal, with button-up shirts and slacks. ... Thanksgiving dinner was always the big test determining whether you got a passing or failing grade on table manners for the year. ... Cranberry sauce from a can is the greatest, and I will hear no arguments to the contrary. ... I was often the only one at the table drinking milk, and lots of it; those days are gone with the wind, given my dairy intolerance. ... A key was to eat the succotash first, and be done with it. ... As the years passed, post-dinner cleanup became my primary role. I had a good system for it. ... We'd often take the turkey grease and dump it in a back corner of the yard, near the wood pile. ... Hours later came a meal almost as great as Thanksgiving dinner: cold turkey leftovers on white bread with mayo.

I have better photos of the dining room where we ate Thanksgiving dinner at Oak Crest Lane, but here's one I really like from circa 1959.

From left: Pop-Pop, Uncle Charles, Mimi, Mom.

Thanksgiving dinner evolved over the years, of course. People pass on. Grow up. Go away to college. Get married. Have kids. Get divorced. Get remarried. And so the configurations around the table changed. And the menu definitely changed, too, as the 1990s went one. There was more enthusiasm for mixing up the offerings. Succotash was replaced with asparagus, perhaps. Different forms of potato. Shrimp, as I mentioned, and oysters becoming a bigger part of some holidays. Even — gasp — an occasional year without Tom Turkey.5 Adriane's then-husband, Jason, was an extraordinary chef who added a lot of flavor and variety to our Oak Crest Lane meals in the first decade of the 21st century.

One of our last big family Thanksgivings at Oak Crest Lane was circa 2009, when Mom was the only one living there. But we got eight people around the table thanks to the addition of me, Joan, Ashar, Joan's mom (also Joan), Adriane, Jason and Jacob. The meal was nothing like the pilgrim-replica Thanksgivings of yore in Wallingford. After gorging on appetizers, we had beef, lobster, some sort of fancy potatoes, probably green beans and other fixins. If there are snapshots of that one, Joan or Adriane must have them somewhere.

Happy Thanksgiving!

1. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, there's a Wikipedia page for this. It's titled, wonderfully, "Camera eats first" and it's described as "the behavior and global phenomenon of people taking photos of their meals with digital or smartphone cameras before they eat, mostly followed by uploading the photos to the social media." The article also ends with these grim conclusions: "It may disrupt other people dining and spoil the enjoyment of their meal. They may also leave their partners in a state of hunger and impatience. ... (And), while people are busy photographing their food and sharing it online, they will have less time to communicate with their friends and family."
2. I realized while writing this that I got Howard Horsey “Ted” Adams' years of birth and death wrong in several previous posts, due to carelessness on my part, probably exacerbated by later "cut and pasting" of the original mistake. So now I'm kind of very stressed out. He has born in 1892 and died in 1985. I have to go back and fix multiple Papergreat posts. AND, before I forget, I have to go into the Papergreat bound volumes and correct those entries with margin notes.
3. It's possible some of my older relatives called it "filling." I wasn't an observant ethnographer back then, so I can't recall.
4. Full disclosure: It was the most bland succotash possible. Just corn and lima beans, with no zest or spices. It was pretty awful.
5. For me, all red meat and poultry came off the menu in 2013, to the chagrin of some of the meat-eaters around me.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Mystery RPPC: Feeding chickens (Chapter 2)

As a nice bookend to January's "Mystery RPPC: Feeding chickens" post, here are some more Chickens of Long Ago being fed. This time it's five folks feeding some healthy-sized poultry on what appears to be a pleasant day. Nothing is written on the back of this postcard. Based on the AZO stamp box, it was produced between 1910 and 1930.

How long have we been feeding chickens in our villages and yards? Here's an excerpt from a 2012 Smithsonian article:
"The domesticated chicken has a genealogy as complicated as the Tudors, stretching back 7,000 to 10,000 years and involving, according to recent research, at least two wild progenitors and possibly more than one event of initial domestication. The earliest fossil bones identified as possibly belonging to chickens appear in sites from northeastern China dating to around 5400 B.C., but the birds’ wild ancestors never lived in those cold, dry plains. So if they really are chicken bones, they must have come from somewhere else, most likely Southeast Asia. ...

"Once chickens were domesticated, cultural contacts, trade, migration and territorial conquest resulted in their introduction, and reintroduction, to different regions around the world over several thousand years. Although inconclusive, evidence suggests that ground zero for the bird’s westward spread may have been the Indus Valley, where the city-states of the Harappan civilization carried on a lively trade with the Middle East more than 4,000 years ago."
Historian Andrew Lawler has written a book titled Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?: The Epic Saga of the Bird that Powers Civilization, and in a 2014 interview with National Geographic, he made the point that, up until very recent times, it made good sense to have chickens near the house — or even in the house:
"I think one of the most important things that chickens can do for us urban folk is to remind us where our food comes from. In earlier times chickens ate the scraps that the housewife threw out the door after dinner. The chickens took care of insects. In West Africa, they were important for exterminating pests. So chickens were welcome around the house, unlike, say, pigs and cows, which traditionally were kept farther away from dwellings. When archaeologists study ancient sites in the Middle East, they find chicken bones right in the living area. That's because the chicken does a lot of things for us. It cleans things up, gets rid of bugs, and provides us with those eggs we like to have for breakfast."
Today, most of us are far, far removed from ever interacting with chickens. Or understanding where the chicken or eggs on our plate comes from. And that makes it easier for too many of us to be numb to the horrific reality of how most chickens are raised around the world. Unlike the chickens on this postcard, most never see the light of day once during their lives.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Semi-mystery postcard: 1910 fair at National

This real photo postcard, featuring two boys in a field with suspenders and hats, is undated and was never mailed. There's not even a stamp box to help provide a span of years during which it was produced. But we do have some useful writing on the back.

On the left-hand side, there's this:
Hello Erwin
Remember the fair
1910 at National
Underneath that, perhaps in a different hand, is a badly mangled word, presumably a name:

The card's addressee is Erwin Backhaus. That's a last name we came across yesterday, and this postcard is definitely from the same batch. So that makes me wonder whether the name above is Lorenz, given that yesterday's card featured a name that looked like Loreng.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Mostly mystery and very dark real photo postcard

This old and creased real photo postcard was written out and stamped (with a U.S. #300 1902-03 1¢ Ben Franklin stamp), but it doesn't appear to have been mailed — there's no postmark. So it apparently wasn't good enough to mail (even after being stamped), but it was good enough to keep in a drawer for 100 years.

The message on the back is written in a child's cursive writing. It states:
Dear Cousin,
Do you know them on the other side. Loreng [?] looks like he is sleeping.
from your cousin
The postcard was addressed to Adeline Backhaus of Manly, Iowa, in care of Herman Backhaus. I don't know if this is the same Adeline Backhaus, but here's a delightful photograph I came across on Getty Images.

Embed from Getty Images

Three Bitter Bingo Losers, 1946
Miss Adeline Backhaus, Mrs. W.H. Lorber and Mrs. Frances Rufkahr all look on in disappointment and disgust at the winner of the St. Charles, Missouri country fair bingo game. 1946.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Semi-mystery postcard:
Bertha, Della and Earl?

Long before Papergreat came around, an earlier someone tried to solve the mystery of this AZO real photo postcard. Based on the stamp box, the card dates to between 1904 and 1918, and it feature three well-dressed young people sitting on a porch. A rug has been placed beneath them, presumably so that they don't get their best clothes dirty.

On the back, this was written in cursive long ago: "Have no idea who they are."

Then, written at the top is the name Alvin. And underneath the "have no idea" statement, someone else wrote three names very neatly:

Bertha Della Earl

So I reckon we can assume that's who these three folks are. A last name, a town name and/or a year would have been even nicer. But that's the only lead we've been given for these three.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

1938 newspaper recipe for
peach-mint jelly

This hails from the May 18, 1938, edition of The Honolulu Advertiser and might just be something you want to seriously consider, for a change.

Monday, November 18, 2019

How much is that haunted doll in the eBay window I have open?

The New York Times recently published an article by Alicia DeSantis with an attention-grabber headline: "The Weird World of ‘Haunted’ eBay: ‘Purchase With Caution’". It's about the odd, to say the least, subculture of those who attempt to boost the value of the everyday items they're peddling on the online auction service by claiming that the item is touched by the supernatural — possessed, cursed, magical, haunted, etc. This hucksterism is nothing new, of course. Since the idea of "magic beans" first sprouted centuries ago, humankind has never been without swindlers and those who are receptive, even enthusiastic, about being swindled.

The Times is not the first to write about supernatural-tinged online auctions. Other pieces of note have been published by Sabrina Maddeaux for Vox; by Reyhan Harmanci for Topic; by Katherine Carlson for The New Yorker; and by Luke Winkie for Vice. But one thing I enjoyed about short Times article was the interview with artist Eric Oglander. He has a fascination with witnessing, and documenting, the everflowing stream of "haunted" objects on eBay. He understands that cyberspace is fleeting, ephemeral. And so he deploys one of the best tools we have for documentation: the screenshot. The Times' DeSantis writes:
"Oglander describes himself as a 'collector of aesthetics,' and his material is the ephemera of the world around us. For him, it is not the item on sale, but rather the listing itself which becomes the object. The listings are 'a way of containing a story and also telling a story,' he said."
Indeed, in a slight twist on Papergreat's mantra, every eBay listing tells a story. And says something about us. So, in that spirit (no pun intended), here's the haunted-item listing I'm adding to the record for posterity.

The full description for Very Expensive Haunted Troll states:
Haunted Troll Doll.. Discontinued collectors item. . Condition is Used. Shipped with USPS First Class Package. This doll is haunted. I got it from an estate sale where some old lady had passed away. The man at the sale was making comments about how she or the house was haunted and he would not buy anything and take it home because he would not want that activity in his house. I felt compelled to buy this doll. within a week of having it, a doll that belonged to my daughter who has passed away started to play its music. Then a couple days later I was in the bathroom after a shower and felt something touch my leg. Next day in my bedroom right after putting on my pajamas I was touched on the opposite leg, but this time it felt like a grab.. Since then I've been in bed and felt like someone sat down on the end of my bed. I have been at my computer and felt something touch my hair and lightly tug at it. That has happen several times. I have seen a shadow figure and my dog has got up and went to growl where the movement happened. Those who want a haunted object, this is it! I was trying to sell this well before Halloween, so no its not for a Halloween hype. This is real. Not a joke. If you collect haunted objects. This doll is for you. It does have a little crack in its tail, but that obviously does to effect the amount of haunt you get from this figure. Once its sold, I wont take it back, I take no responsibility in any form as to what happens when you receive it. FREE SHIPPING ONLY IN THE USA...…. NO EXCEPTIONS...……….
Hurry now. This offer to curse your family for just $400 won't last.