Friday, October 18, 2019

1960s Scholastic book:
"The Witch Next Door"

Author/illustrator Norman Bridwell (1928-2014) has more then 100 million books in print and was best known for his Clifford the Big Red Dog series, which includes an astounding 80 books. But in 1965 he published a sweet children's book titled The Witch Next Door. This is the Scholastic Book Services (fourth printing) edition from 1967. It is TW 776 and cost 35 cents (the equivalent of $2.66 today).

In the cheery volume, the witch's young neighbors observe that she paints her house black, does her laundry on Mondays, has a pet dragon, delivers soup to sick neighbors, goes to sleep at 8 p.m. every night (in an odd position I won't spoil), and casts "a few spells now and then."

Then some older neighbors decide they don't like having That Kind living on the block. So the witch uses some gentle magic to win them over. And everyone flies away on a broom, happily ever after. I think my favorite line is: "She showed us the bat bath in her yard."

Here are some reviews of The Witch Next Door from Goodreads:

  • "I LOVED this book when I was little and I LOVE it still! A witch moves in next door, but she is actually a very sweet witch who uses her spells to enhance her life and the lives of those around her." (Samantha in 2013)
  • "Love this book! Way ahead of it's time, and so much fun! I remember this book from my youth and have always loved it." (Rebecca in 2018)
  • "This text would be a good way to teach kids to be welcoming of others and it should definitely be read to this day." (Alicia in 2012)
  • "Even when the witch confronts prejudice and gets angry, she doesn't get mean. She solves the problem in the nicest way possible." (Cindy in 2007)

Bridwell went on to write other books about the friendly witch. And now this book can go back into a Little Free Library!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Cinderella stamps for 1961's
National Cat Week

This is the Cinderella stamp that celebrated National Cat Week nearly 58 years ago. National Cat Week, it turns out, has been held the first full week of November since 1946. So you still have a couple of weeks to get your cat(s) a Hallmark card in time for this year's observance.

According to a 1951 article in The New Yorker, National Cat Week was established by the American Feline Society and its then-president, Robert Lothar Kendell, who was also behind 1948's Cats for Europe plan to send many thousands of cats abroad as a way to control rat populations.1 The American Humane association did not find the plan entirely copacetic. I don't believe it was ever carried out.

It seems like every single day is National Cat Week here at Essex Manor. My occupations these days, in order of priority and time consumed, are (1) journalist, (2) cat caretaker, (3) ephemera blogger. Our five cats: Huggles, the three-legged, 5½-pound treasure who is struggling with failing kidney function and dementia but still likes to have his ears scratched; Mr. Bill, who is more than three times the size of Huggles and is generally a good boy; Mr. Angelino, who squeaks a lot and thinks he's the cutest thing in the house, which is not true when he sprays; Monkey, who is the archetypal hot-headed redhead but also the best snuggler; and Titan, a man-child whose size lives up to his name but who is also mind-bogglingly incapable of defending himself against lesser threats. There are daily feuds, feedings, stand-offs, chases, hairballs, welfare checks, more feedings and litter-box cleanings. There are currently 10 medications per day to be dispensed.2 And I'm a Saturday fixture at the veterinarian's office.

And before them there was Scoop, Salem, Floyd and Mitts.

But I reckon it's all worth it for the purrs, snuggles, foot-warming and companionship. Even if they don't provide a revenue stream like Grumpy Cat or Maru. As I write this, I'm wearing a T-shirt that reads "ALL AMERICAN XXL CAT HERDING CHAMPION." Sounds right.

1. Kendell was a fierce defender of the joy of cats during the 1950s and 1960s, when cats were far more despised and disparaged than they are today. But he did have one clunker of an opinion. In 1964, he is reported to have said that outdoor cats pose no menace to birds: "This is nonsense. I love birds myself and I can say beyond any question that only a sick bird could possibly be slow enough to get caught by a cat. Certainly cats don't particularly relish birds as food. There are any number of things they'd much rather eat." It was estimated in 2015 that cats kill 2.6 billion birds per year in the United States and Canada. Please keep your pet cats indoors!
2. After typing that sentence, I had to interrupt writing this post in order to take care of Huggles, who was crying for food from the bathroom suite he now occupies because of the incontinence caused by his kidney issues. He is an "endearing" combination of always being hungry and also being a super-picky eater, which means must offer dishes to him a ridiculous number of times per day in order to help him not fall under 5½ pounds.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Spooky Tuck & Sons Hallowe'en postcard mailed in 1910

I like this vintage Halloween postcard because it reminds me of what is still one of my favorite pieces of ephemera, eight years after I first wrote about it: The dark and stormy night Victorian trade card.1

The postcard features a young girl who is wearing a nightgown and holding a candle. Peeking behind her, she seems the unsettling image of a grinning jack-o'-lantern in the mirror. In researching if there is any folklore surrounding the idea of seeing a carved pumpkin in a mirror, I didn't come up with much. But I did stumble upon this amazing photograph from the October 31, 1980, edition of the Star-Gazette of Elmira, New York.

First, it's a great piece of photojournalism by George F. Lian (who was Chief photographer for the Star-Gazette and died in 2010).

Second, it's a great time capsule of what American girls wore in 1980.

Third, I saw it and immediately thought, "The Olsen twins? What the heck?"

Finally, I love that this girl is the daughter of a man named John Saxon. Obviously it's not the same John Saxon who is a minor icon of horror movies, but it's a fun Halloween photograph Easter egg.

Getting back to the postcard, it was printed in Saxony and published by Raphael Tuck & Sons as part of the company's Hallowe'en series of postcards (No. 174). It was postmarked at 2 p.m. on October 20, 1910, in Remus, Michigan.2 It was mailed to Belmont, Michigan.

Here's my best transcription of the cursive message:
Having lots of fun here some more than in Dear (?) Old Cannon. Have not heard the cause yet and it has been 9 days instead of 2.
As ever,
My best guess is that "Cannon" refers to Cannon Township, which is also in central Michigan. But what is Brid referring to? What happened? We'll never know for sure. But here's on historical tidbit that's a possibility.

In August 1911, several Michigan newspapers reported a minor epidemic of infantile paralysis, or Acute Anterior Poliomyelitis, in Cannon Township and other areas of Michigan. One article notes that "this disease is most prevalent during the months of August, September and October. It seems to be more prevalent in dry weather, and at times rain has seemed to cause the subsidence of an epidemic. It would therefore seem as though dust had something to do with the spreading of the contagion."

So is it possible there had also been an outbreak of infantile paralysis in Cannon Township in October 1910?

We, of course, know this disease as polio. It was usually spread, according to Wikipedia, "from person to person through infected fecal matter entering the mouth. It may also be spread by food or water containing human feces and less commonly from infected saliva. Those who are infected may spread the disease for up to six weeks even if no symptoms are present." So we now realize that any idea that rain could cause the epidemic to subside held little merit, except to the extent that heavy rain might "cleanse" unsanitary locations.

Polio was one of the most devastating childhood diseases of the first half of the 20th century, until Jonas Salk developed an approved vaccine around 1955.

1. There's a Victorian trade card titled "The Ghost Story" that's very similar to one I call "A Dark and Stormy Night." I plan to write about that one some day, too.
2. Remus is an unincorporated community near the center of tiny Wheatland Township in Central Michigan. The post office was originally named Bingen but was renamed Remus in 1880.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Peering at (literal) scary book from Germany in 1920

This hardcover book was published in Munich [Muenchen], Germany, in 1920 by Georg Mueller. The title is Das unheimliche Buch, which literally, and wonderfully, translates to The Scary Book. (Or The Eerie Book in some translations.)

Of course, the rest of it's in German, too, so there's not a whole lot I can tell y'all without spending a month on Google Translate. But I do know some things. It's a collection of supernatural stories, as compiled by editor Felix Schloemp (1884-1916). The illustrations were done by Alfred Rubin.

Some of the stories included are by Heinrich Mann, Frédéric Boutet, Gustav Meyrink, Edgar Allan Poe, J.P. Jacobsen, and E.T.A. Hoffmann.

And it features a foreword by Karl Hans Strobl (1877-1946), who wrote horror and fantasy stories, but whose awful existence was defined by being a member of the Nazi Party, an anti-Semite and a voluminous producer of Nazi propaganda. So screw him and his foreword. And also screw the story he contributed to this book.

Das unheimliche Buch was first published in 1914, two years before Schloemp's death. I have seen references to other editions. By 1938, Das unheimliche Buch was on the list of "harmful and unwanted literature" and would have been subject to Nazi book burnings.

Here's a look the bookplate on the inside front cover...

And here are two of Alfred Rubin's illustrations...

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Needed round of Postcrossing cheer and optimism

When Everything Is Awful, it's a good time, perhaps, to try to look to some things that will bring us some moments of good cheer. Like what Samwise said in The Lord of the Rings. So here, as the tiniest respite, is a roundup of some Postcrossing comings and goings here at Essex Manor.

First up is this unique postcard, shown at right, from a young man in embattled Hong Kong. He writes: "I bought this postcard from Taiwan. This is the postcard issued by Taiwan Post and I suppose it's cute. And the stamp is one of the famous place for tourist to take photo with, it's the platform surrounded by the buildings. Have a nice day!"

The stamp he's referring to shows a view labeled "Hong Kong By Night II" and was taken at the Yik Cheong Building, also known as the Monster Building. According to Asia Trend, it is "a housing complex in Quarry Bay comprised of five conjoined old buildings. These composite buildings, commonly found in the olden days, house both shops and residential flats. After nightfall, household lights dot the buildings to paint a deeply nostalgic picture of old Hong Kong."

Next up is this gorgeous postcard from Anastasia in Russia, who writes: "You said you love autumn. So I decided to send you a postcard with a picture of late autumn in a Russian village. It was painted by contemporary artist Andrei Alyokhin [Алехин Андрей]. I hope you'll like it. Have a nice day!"

Another recent postcard came from the schoolchildren in Novocherkassk, Russia, I've been corresponding with for the past year. (We were originally connected by Postcrossing.) Their message, on a postcard featuring the Novocherkassk Museum of Don Cossacks History, was written by one of the students and states: "Hello Chris, We are 5 years students. We like your postcards. We send to you a photo of our city. Please, write about school life in the USA. Hope to hear from you soon."

* * *

Thanks from abroad

And here's another batch of emailed thank-you messages from fellow Postcrossing enthusiasts across the globe. Pictured alongside them is some artwork I received from Arkadii, a 13-year-old Postcrosser from Russia who likes reading, drawing, video games and sweets, and is very proud of the Muscle-Flexing Demon Guy that he drew for me.

张明娜 from China wrote: "Hi. Thank you for the Halloween illustration card and nice stamps. Although Chinese people know about Halloween, we hardly celebrate it. But the mall will be decorated as if we were celebrating Halloween. There are jack-o'-lanterns and black capes verywhere. Best wishes for you."

Li Ming from China wrote: "Hi Chris, nice to receive your card, I have the same feeling as you to bring happiness to people I do not know, also to get happiness from my own mailbox. Last Halloween there were kids come to my apartment to ask for candy, so we stocked some candy for the day, wish kids like them."

Kathinka from Belgium wrote: "Thank you for the beautiful postcard!! I bookmarked your blog, that's fun reading! What a story, the old half house! Must be fun digging in to it to find out more about it!"

Paresh from India wrote: "Hello! The postcard that left your country arrived in my mailbox today. I owe you a big thank you for your lovely postcard and beautiful stamps. Wishing you the best of luck in life."

Meg from the United Kingdom wrote: "I agree with all you said about the politics of our two countries. Here’s to working together for better future for our kids and their kids."

Prema from Czechia wrote: "Hi Chris, thank you for your card and nice stamps. I like also autumn and spring. I have St. Bernard dog, 8 years old, his name is Bobes. I wish all the best for you and your Mr. Bill."