Saturday, March 14, 2020

Junk mail in the time of COVID-19

My only mail today, ironically, was this "Air Gram" addressed to Mom. She died three years ago, but I'm still getting mail addressed to her from cruise companies almost every week. Until very recently, it was fun to browse through them and imagine trips down the Rhine or to other intriguing locations. Now, of course, the cruise advertisements are a bit sad and jarring.1 The world has changed.

We have our extra cat food, extra cans of soup, many blocks of Cabot cheese and, yes, extra toilet paper. All of the adults at our house will be working from home for the foreseeable future. Social distancing and community spread are new phrases that dominate our daily conversations and will enter future history books. Our generation is dealing with a pandemic, as our ancestors did a century ago with the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Here are a few screenshots, preserved for posterity, about how crazy the past five days have been.

1. In fact, The Washington Post reported this today: "By the time Egyptian health authorities learned about the coronavirus case on the Nile cruise ship, the infections had spread around the world. As long ago as late January, a Taiwanese American passenger on the MS Asara was carrying the novel coronavirus, health officials said. But the vessel would make at least four more cruises, and at least 12 crew members would turn out to be infected. ... Hundreds of foreign passengers, including dozens of Americans, and Egyptians were potentially exposed to the virus between mid-February and early March — a dramatic illustration of how, from a single, overlooked infection, the novel coronavirus could swiftly multiply and be carried across the globe. At least six Americans infected aboard the Asara returned to Maryland, according to Gov. Larry Hogan, potentially seeding their communities with the virus. Twelve others have reportedly tested positive in the Houston area."

Saturday's postcard: Adams County note from 111 years ago

This note was written almost exactly 111 years ago, on St. Patrick Day's (March 17), 1909. It was sent from Fairfield, Pennsylvania, to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Those places are both located in Adams County, Pennsylvania, about eight miles apart.

I am actually surprised that this is the first mention of Fairfield on Papergreat, nearly 3,400 days into the blog. It's a scenic little borough near the Pennsylvania/Maryland border. When I worked at The Gettysburg Times from spring 1993 until the end of 1994, I covered sports at all of the Adams County high schools: Gettysburg, Fairfield, Biglerville (Upper Adams), Littlestown, New Oxford (Conewago Valley), Bermudian Springs and Delone Catholic.

This postcard was sent from Emma in Fairfield to Miss Blanch Culbertson in Gettysburg. The "Fairfield Letter" in the October 10, 1891, edition of the Adams County Independent reports that Miss Blanch Culbertson had left to attend Wilson College in nearby Chambersburg. In February 1915, the Adams County News listed Blanch among those attending a "very enjoyable evening" at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Armor Weikert. By 1936, she was back in Fairfield and at some point had become Mrs. Blanch Culbertson Moore, according to The Gettysburg Times.

And it might just be that her first name was misspelled by friends and newspapers all those decades, because Find A Grave notes that Blanche Culbertson Moore lived from 1873 to 1941 and is buried in Gettysburg. She spent a major portion of her life working at The Peddie School.

Here, based on my best reading of the cursive writing, is what Emma wrote to Blanch/Blanche 111 years ago:
March 17th 1909
My dear Blanch,
Was glad to get your card, sorry to hear your mama was still in bed. Glad Aunt Beckie is staying longer. Jimmy [?] has been having a terrible time with his abcess. It shows signs of opening today for the first. He is looking very pale and badly, can scarcely eat at all. Mattie [?] is still in the office. I am feeling some better. I have engaged a girl by the name of Macklyn [Mackly??], from the mountain. I don't know what kind of a girl she may be, but she will do until I can do better. Much love to Mama and Beckie. Do write every few days.
Aunt Emma
And yes, I lament that we will never know more about the girl from the mountain.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Snapshot & memories: Me & Cyrano

Here's a photograph of my cat Cyrano and I at the house on Oak Crest Lane in Wallingford. This ended up being my senior "casual" portrait in Strath Haven High School's 1989 yearbook, so it was taken no later than Autumn 1988. Cyrano was the second cat our family had during my lifetime, following Buddy.1 We got him in 1980 when he was a kitten and he lived until 1995 or 1996. Cyrano was part Siamese and was able to deploy quite the piercing yowl. He name, no surprise, came from the fact that his nose was quite prominent on his kitten face when we adopted him. Cyrano was for the most part a shy and skittish cat, though he got more personable as he got older. By 1986, he had lived in four different houses already, so all the changes probably made him a bit wary of life. He also spent a couple of his early years tucked, against his will, under my sister's arm at bedtime, like a ragdoll. My main recollections are that he enjoyed naps and food, which sounds about right for a cat. He also loved olives.

1. And I just realized there has never been a photo of Buddy on Papergreat, so I'll have to dig into the snapshot shoebox and rectify that.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Promotional sheet for Deluxe Baseball by Ramtek

This evening we have the front and back of an 8½-by-11 promotional sheet for Deluxe Baseball, an arcade game sold (and/or licensed) by the Ramtek Corporation of Sunnyvale, California, starting in 1976. As you can see, it was marketed as a "new, truly realistic game" that featured curveballs and fastballs, strikeouts, home runs, walks, hits, double plays, errors and a "big stadium." I'm not sure, though, if the realistic features also included stealing signs by banging on a trash can.

The back of the sheet shows the 23-inch playing field, which reminds me a bit of Intellivision's Major League Baseball, which didn't come out until four years later, in 1980. So Deluxe Baseball looked pretty spiffy for 1976!

Deluxe Baseball could be played by one or two players and additional features included repositioning outfielders. As this flyer was a sales pitch (no pun intended) to owners of amusement arcades and similar sites, it stressed that "Ramtek video games are backed by the most responsive service in the industry. When repairs are needed, they're done fast. And new logic boards can be in the air within 24 hours. When it comes to service, Ramtek doesn't play games." The logic boards had only a one-year warranty, though. There's no indication of how much these 210-pound machines cost.

Tooling around the internet a bit, I learned:

  • The game was created by Howell Ivy. According to Alexander Smith's 2019 book They Create Worlds: The Story of the People and Companies That Shaped the Video Game Industry, Vol. I: 1971-1982, Ivy had been in the Air Force before joining Ramtek as its only game engineer. Ivy first created the ball-and-paddle arcade game Baseball, which was rereleased one year later in a standard arcade cabinet as Deluxe Baseball. Smith notes: "The additional complexity of the game over ball-and-paddle concepts required two circuit boards instead of one, which led to problems during the manufacturing run. The first 1,500 of the roughly 2,000 units proved defective because the wooden housing containing the two boards proved too flimsy to handle the job. Ramtek ended up having to replace the wooden housing with a metal one at considerable cost."
  • You can learn more about Howell Ivy in this 2014 interview with Retro Gamer and at this page on the Valley Christian Schools website.
  • Writing on The Golden Age Arcade Historian blog, which was published from 2012 to 2016, Keith Smith has a detailed history of Ramtek's ups and downs in which he reports, among many other great details, that the company had sold more than 10,000 arcade games by the end of 1974, for a sales total of $6 million. (That would be about $600 per machine, which gives us a rough estimate of what Deluxe Baseball might have cost arcade owners in 1976.)