Saturday, October 2, 2021

Where does this Kodak snapshot rank on the Mild Fear scale?

Times are tough, so I'm trying to keep Mild Fear 2021 on the mild and fun side. But it's Day 2 and I'm not sure I'm doing a great job with this post. This vintage Kodak snapshot falls somewhere on the spectrum between Disturbing and Dandy, but I'm not quite sure where. I guess it depends partly on one's tolerance for children in bizarre masks. 

Personally, I lean toward dandy, and I like the nostalgia of the faded square photograph and that gigantic television. Simpler times, when there were just four channels and not 40 billion social media feeds. On the other hand, I reckon I wouldn't want to see that kid standing silently in my kitchen, looking like he's wearing every piece of clothing he pulled out of a local theater group's props chest. I've seen those scenes in movies, and they never end well.
Does anyone recognize that witch mask from the 1960s or 1970s? It looks sort of like a Disney crone, but I'm also getting some Baba Yaga vibes.

Anyway, it'll be full speed ahead with the Mild Fear posts in the coming weeks. This year's batch is going to be heavy on books from across the spectrum of spookiness. In the meantime, I'm also busy sending out Halloween-themed postcards to Postcrossing folks around the globe. As always, it's artist Ryan Conners that I turn to for wonderful Halloween-themed folk art.
Meanwhile, here in the desert, we're doing another Halloween movie festival all month long, kicking it off today with Boris Karloff and Neve Campbell. I wrote about the 2020 festival in this post, and the 2021 schedule of events is below (subject to change, of course, if there's a zombie uprising):

Friday, October 1, 2021

Mild Fear 2021 debuts with Boris terrifying Buster

It's time for a month of Mild Fear! Leading off, this photograph is from the "Comedians vs. Leading Men" charity baseball game that was held in front of about 25,000 fans at Los Angeles' Wrigley Field (not the one in Chicago) on August 8, 1940. Wouldn't you love to turn back time and have been in the front row for that one? 

The pregame ceremonies even included a parade with Paulette Goddard, who served as captain of the Comedians, and Marlene Dietrich, captain of the Leading Men. (According to news reports, others who were scheduled to appear included Jack Benny, Hedy Lamarr, Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn, Lana Turner and Myrna Loy.) 

According to the Associated Press account of the game, "old reliable Buster Keaton drew a big hand and once proved that he can really catch the ball. ... The Three Stooges played third base, all the same time, armed with butterfly nets." 

And we'll let Boris Karloff pick it up from there. This is what he wrote for an essay that was published in the Oct. 4, 1941, issue of Liberty magazine: 
"By way of a leavening note, I might add that the only time I really enjoyed playing the Monster was at the last annual charity baseball game in Hollywood between a team of comedians and a team of leading men. I strode up to the plate in my full make-up as Frankenstein's Monster — whereupon Buster Keaton, who was catching for the comedians, promptly shrieked at the sight of me, did a backward somersault, and passed out cold behind the plate. I waved my bat. The pitcher tossed the ball in my direction, and I swung at it as best I could, encumbered as I was with the Monster's metallic overalls. Luckily enough, I managed to tap the ball, which bounced crazily in the general direction of the pitcher's box. It should have been an easy out at first. But as I approached each base the opposing player fainted dead away. And the Three Stooges, who were playing second, all passed out cold. It was a home run — though horrible!"
So, were the Stooges playing second base or third base? Who cares! Meanwhile, the final score was reported by the Associated Press as 4½ for the Comedians and "three plus" for the Leading Men, pending whether a home run by the Invisible Man truly counted.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Robin Jacques' front and back covers: "The Gypsy Fiddle"

With its gorgeous Robin Jacques dust jacket illustrations, this book looks like it could fit right alongside all of Jacques' "A Book of..." collaborations with Ruth Manning-Sanders. I especially like the fluffle of bunnies above. (Yes, it's correctly called a fluffle.)
  • Title: The Gypsy Fiddle
  • Subtitle: and Other Tales Told by the Gypsies
  • Author: John Hampden (1898-1974)
  • Illustrator: Robin Jacques (1920-1995)
  • Publisher: The World Publishing Company
  • Year: 1969
  • Pages: 160
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Price: $3.95
  • Dust jacket blurb: "The stories Gypsies tell around the campfire are culled from different countries they travel through; so this collection contains tales from the British Isles, from Poland, from Hungary, from Slovakia, Transylvania, Bukovina, Turkey, and Syria. ... The gaiety, the nonsense, and the robust good nature of Gypsy tales is an unceasing delight."
  • A more honest view of 20th century Romani life: It's only one perspective, but an illuminative place to start might be this 2009 piece written by Roxy Freeman. "I was ... completely unaware of the outrageous way the media portrays the Gypsy population. As children, we had very little contact with people living in houses and because we didn't go to school or watch television, I was oblivious," she writes. "If it hadn't been for literature, maybe I would have remained unaware of the way we were described."
  • Hampden's dust jacket bio: "John Hampden is a British author whose career has included teaching and publishing, as well as writing a number of books for young people. He has had a lifelong interest in folklkore, and for this collection did a considerable amount of research among the classic sources of Gypsy lore. Mr. Hampden lives in Sussex, England."
  • Jacques' dust jacket bio: "Robin Jacques is a well-known artist and designer who has illustrated a large number of books. British by birth, he now lives in the South of France, but he enjoys travel, and with his wife and son has also lived in Mexico, the United States, and South Africa."
  • Introduction: It's a eight-page essay by Jan Yoors. I'm not sure what to think about Yoors, who is also cited by author Hampden as an expert in his Author's Note at the end of the book. Yoors ran away to join a group of Romani as a child, giving him a unique perspective on the culture. And his 1967 book The Gypsies has a 4.18 rating (out of 5) on Goodreads. But some of the reviews there give me pause. Yoors' perspective might not be the one you want to immerse yourself in when learning more about the Romani people. 
  • Titles of some stories included: The Golden Box, The Yellow Dragon, Ashypelt, Clever Pat, Magic Apples, Batim the Horse, A Wicked Fox, Small White Stones, Goggle-Eyes, Baldpate.
  • Online reviews of The Gypsy Fiddle: Zilch. Nada.
OK, then how about some more Robin Jacques illustrations? 

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

1973 advertisement for Licorice Pizza music stores

Licorice Pizza is not just Paul Thomas Anderson's highly anticipated new movie. It was also a real place. Licorice Pizza was a chain of record stores that operated in California from about 1969 to 1986. To those who grew up in the San Fernando Valley circa 1971, the place and time in which the new movie is set, Licorice Pizza definitely means something (just like those mashed potatoes meant something Richard Dreyfuss, but I digress.) 

Pictured above is a Licorice Pizza music store advertisement from the December 2, 1973, edition of The Los Angeles Times. Coincidentally, one of the albums pictured in the advertisement (Pin Ups) is by David Bowie, whose iconic 1971 song "Life on Mars?" serves as the music for Licorice Pizza's trailer, which I promise I've only watched about a dozen times.

(A further fun twist: The trailer includes a scene in which Bradley Cooper's character attempts to give Cooper Hoffman's character a lesson in the pronunciation of Barbra Streisand's name. In 1974, Streisand covered Bowie's "Life on Mars?" and Bowie later called it "Bloody awful. Sorry, Barb, but it was atrocious.")

Monday, September 27, 2021

Postcard: House on the Rock in autumn

This postcard was mailed 37 autumns ago, in October 1984, the month that the Chicago Cubs tried unsuccessfully to break the Curse of the Billy Goat in the National League Championship Series. 

Pictured is the famous oddity known as the House on the Rock, in southwestern Wisconsin. Here's how the attraction's website describes it: "For over 60 years, the House on the Rock has been a majestic work in progress. It began in 1945, when a man named Alex Jordan had a towering goal: to build a man-made retreat as awe-inspiring as the view from the rock upon which the house would eventually be built. From that spark of imagination, the House on the Rock has evolved to include displays and collections of the exotic, the unusual and the amazing that can be viewed as three separate tours."

The attraction gained some further widespread renown when it was featured prominently in Neil Gaiman's 2001 novel American Gods.

This postcard was mailed to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with a 13-cent stamp and this message:
We had a beautiful day on Tue 10/23 for our trip to see "The House on the Rock." It really is something to see. Understand the man is always adding to his displays in the Alley of Yesteryear. We've been having a lot of foggy mornings & then day is hazy. Also have had rain also. Had a nice visit in Sept. with Bob and friend in Aurora Co. Got home before they had all their snow. Write sometime.

One good website where you can learn and see more about the House on the Rock is

House on the Rock is definitely on my bucket list of places I'd like to see in the continental United States. A lot of my bucket list focuses on architecture, so it also includes the likes of:

  • The Biltmore Estate in Ashville, N.C.
  • Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, Calif.
  • Fallingwater in southwestern Pennsylvania

Of course, I've already been fortunate enough to see many cool places in my half-century on Earth, so I'm doing pretty well in that regard. I've see Lucy the Elephant, Wall Drug, the World Trade Center, the Haines Shoe House, the Gaffney Peach and the Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, Minnesota, among many other nifty locations. So I'm pretty darn lucky.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Old postcard: The Big Lynn Tree

This postcard has no date, and it was never written upon or sent. It's a Plastichrome card by Colourpicture Publishers of Boston, Massachusetts. And it was published by Hugh Morton of Linville, North Carolina.

According to, Grandfather Mountain owner Hugh Morton died at his home in Linville on June 1, 2006. "Morton built the Mile High Swinging Bridge and opened the Western North Carolina travel attraction in 1952 after inheriting the Mountain from his grandfather. A world-class photographer, he will also be remembered as a conservationist and civic leader," the website states.

It adds that Morton "was one of the few people who ever fought the Federal Government and won. When engineers wanted to build the Blue Ridge Parkway across Grandfather Mountain at 5,000 feet above sea level with a tunnel at the highest point, Morton forced a compromise that resulted in the building of the Linn Cove Viaduct."1

Getting back to the postcard (a photo presumably taken by Morton himself) and the tree, this is what the caption on the back of the card states:
LITTLE SWITZERLAND, NORTH CAROLINA. This huge Linden tree is 600 years old and is a historic landmark of the area.
The landmark is no more, and has been no more for decades, which makes me wonder what year this postcard was published. According to the 2000 Michael Joslin book Appalachian Bounty: Nature's Gifts from the Mountains, the Big Lynn Tree stood over 75 feet tall and had a circumference of 13 feet. It was cut down in 1965. An excerpt from Joslin's book states:
"Even when the trunk of the tree was a hollow shell, Big Lynn stood, battered by winds that tore huge branches from it. Blue Ridge Parkway officials attempted to cut the tree down in 1949 because of the danger it posed, but organized protests earned it a reprieve. In 1965, the owner of the Big Lynn Lodge felt so threatened by its weakened conditions that he asked Parkway officials to take it down. The Big Lynn was no more. However, twin shoots that were growing from its base were encouraged to grow. Today they stand tall and straight themselves, lusty scions of the historic tree."2
The obituary of Dale Beverly Sipes (1928-2011) provides a little more detail about the felling of the Big Lynn Tree. It states:
"While [working] at Spruce Pine [North Carolina], a tree on the parkway in Little Switzerland, known as 'The Big Lynn Tree,' was damaged by lightning. It was a hazard to the parkway, power lines and a motel. No one would take the risk of cutting the large tree but Dale, and he safely got the job done."
1. According to, the Linn Cove Viaduct "was completed in 1987. It was delayed for twenty years as environmentalists, adjacent landowners, engineers, and architects sought a design that would preserve and protect the fragile habitat of adjacent Grandfather Mountain. The Linn Cove Viaduct hugs the face of Grandfather Mountain and is recognized internationally as an engineering marvel."
2. Yes indeed, that's the first appearance of the phrase "lusty scions" on Papergreat.