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

Hall√≥, 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 Beaupr√© 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.