Thursday, November 25, 2021

1916 Thanksgiving postcard
and "All good things..."

Happy Thanksgiving!

I like the message on the front of this vintage postcard: "May happiness with you abide and never leave your fireside."

It was postmarked and mailed to New York state in late-November 1916. The cursive note states:
"How is every one? We are all well but father. Had doctor for him Sat. Why don't you write? Where do you spend Thanksgiving?"
Today's an anniversary. I began Papergreat with this post 11 Thanksgivings ago. Thanksgiving also fell on November 25 in 2010. 

So there's symmetry if this is the final Papergreat post. Eleven years on the dot, 3,498 posts. Now, 3,500 would be a rounder figure, you might say. But 3,498 divided by 11 works out to exactly 318 posts per year, on average, so there's your round number. And, wow, that's a lot of posts, if I do say so myself.

Do I still have a Papergreat to-blog list? Of course. It includes Fisher-Price advertisements1; sci-fi author Jesse Miller; the Winchester Mystery House; the 1971 board game Drug Attack; the haunting Miss Christine; poster artist Bonnie MacLean; the Essex House book Lovely by David Meltzer; my Pappy's World War II reminiscences; the Steve Jeltz Fan Club, the postcard tales of Loren E. Trueblood; and essays I still want to write about a half-lifetime of working in the newspaper business and watching movies.

But there's always going to be a list, right? There won't come a day when I reach into a box and pull out the very last slip of paper that I could possibly write about. That's not how ephemera — or ideas — work. 

So regrets about unfinished business can't be the driving reason to keep writing Papergreat.

Is this the last Papergreat post? I don't know. I've wrestled enough with that question recently to know I don't have a definitive answer. At the very least, this is the last post for a while. Beyond that, I'm not sure. I know I don't want to continue with the short daily items I've sometimes posted merely to satisfy my self-mandated, OCD goal of a certain number of entries per week. 

Maybe I'll transition to only writing super-sized holiday or seasonal posts. And/or continue to put longer ephemera-themed writing projects here when they're ready. I am compelled to continue writing, and I want to try some longer pieces moving forward.

I suppose there's a chance that some writing might show up on, an intriguing domain name I've been squatting on for awhile. No guarantee of that, but I thought I'd mention it for posterity. And I still plan to maintain a Twitter presence

I'm still fascinated by history and ephemera. The stories that can be told and the questions that can be raised by mere pieces of paper. As the year-end holiday season approaches, I am reminded of one of my personal favorite Papergreat posts: A merry Christmastide to you, Marguerite E. DeWitt.

Finally, as I was mulling this post, I think it's kismet that I came across an amazing Twitter thread about the power and importance of ephemera. It's by @PajamaStew, and I'm going to share it here in its entirely. Again, for posterity. These stories do matter. And I'm grateful on this Thanksgiving for PajamaStew's amazing piece of writing and that it was released into the world:
I may regret sharing this, but I have a very personal story I would like to tell. I hope it doesn't get too long... Anyway...

I was 20 years old when I was sent to erase a man from existence and became haunted by him.

I was going to college in Texas at the time and a group of us were contacted about a service project. The State needed a handful of young volunteers over the course of a Sunday afternoon and I was one of about ten that agreed to help. We were asked to go to the home of an elderly gentleman that had recently died and help sort his belongings. He didn’t have any close relatives and his estate was going up for auction.

So, we were tasked with tearing everything out of his home and identifying items that had value to place inside “Auction” boxes, while the rest would be tossed in “Trash” boxes. I was excited about spending an afternoon doing service work with a group of friends.

I was not prepared for what I was about to face in this dusty little house somewhere in west Texas. It was immediately unsettling to step into a stranger’s bedroom and try to assign value to his possessions. Should we really be digging through his drawers trying to decide if any of the tiny bits remaining of his life were of any value now that he was gone? The truth hurt, as I was forced to admit that almost none of it had any value.

No one would want to buy an old deck of cards or a worn sweater. There’s no value in VHS tapes or water-damaged paperbacks. The “Trash” boxes grew heavy. The “Auction” boxes sat mostly empty.

I was already rattled by the experience when halfway through I opened a closet in a guest bedroom and found a stack of banker boxes. Inside I uncovered something that made my heart freeze.

I’m shuddering as I write this. The boxes were filled with several old photo albums.

I was tempted right then to just throw the entire cursed things in the trash without ever opening them. But I couldn’t do it. I was drawn by the mystery of those albums. They were covered in dusty fingerprints as if a ghost had prepared them and then led me to find them. And they were now pulling me gently down, begging me to open the covers and to be a witness of what was inside.

Inside I found a man’s life, compartmentalized into a stack of images, bound together in leather books. Photos.

At first of a young boy. Black and white. Faded. Surrounded by strange people. Happy. Brothers together in a field. A sister with long black hair. A dog on a porch somewhere. As I turned the pages, I watched as the boy grew. His hair became longer. He became a young man. He grew a mustache. It went away. Sometimes he was in the pictures. Sometimes the pictures were a vision seen through his eyes.

I saw what he saw. I saw what he valued and found beautiful. Stones. Light. Shadows. And then, suddenly, as if conjured from those stones and shadows, he was joined by a young woman. She was also beautiful. Flowing brown hair and brown eyes. Always seeming caught mid laughter. I could hear her. I still hear her. It was haunting. I fell in love with her, or rather, I fell in love with the way he had fallen in love with her. It was a love that caught in my throat.

They grew. Held hands. Were married. I smiled, seeing their joy as they stood together at the altar. My heart nearly stopped seeing her in her simple white dress, as if this man had possessed my body and was looking at these photos with me, through my eyes, one last time.

Time passed as I sat cross-legged on the floor meditating over the albums.

I heard my friends as they banged around in the kitchen and elsewhere struggled to move a dusty red couch from the living room, but I sat solemnly in the closet desperately looking at every picture in the dead man’s album. I felt torn. I could not look away.

So, I hid, and I forced myself to look at each and every picture.

I turned the pages, and the young man and the young woman grew old.

Here was a happy couple standing together at a white fence in front of a small house somewhere in west Texas, him in a tan fedora and matching suit coat, her in a dark green dress. Here was a woman on the porch drinking tea watching the sunset. There was a speckled dog sitting on the porch beside her.

Time passed so quickly as I turned the pages. It felt unfair as if I were hurrying their life on to its conclusion. The couple stood together and smiled at me apologetically from an old polaroid. I kept going.

There were no children. Only various friends. Side characters appeared for a time and then disappeared at random as new ones arrived. But always it was the two of them, the man and the woman. Adam and Eve standing in their dusty garden around a flowering Creeping Thyme.

The sun flickered in spirals across the pages. And then suddenly it happened. The woman, the beautiful woman, she started to change quicker than the man.

Her eyes became sad. Her laughing smile became less frequent. She looked tired. There were no more trips to the Grand Canyon. No more summer drives and picnics in the forest.

She was dying.

And then I turned a page and she was gone. There were still several more albums of this man’s life, but from that point on he was alone.

Instead of this beautiful laughing woman, he took pictures of stray cats. Instead of posing with her in front of motels on some blazing yellow-tinted adventure, he took photos of the moon over a dark house shrowded in purple twilight.

The man was less visible in the images now. As if he were already fading out of existence.

Sometimes he showed up in mirrors or reflections in dirty shop windows. An old man in a tan fedora, alone, in a house, somewhere in west Texas.

I closed the last album and sat for a long time on the closet floor, resting my head back against the wall.

My fingers burned with the realization of what they had to do next. It was time to make the choice about where the photo albums should go. Where was this man’s life going to be placed? Did it have value or was it “trash”? The answer to the question hung over my head like a sword.

I closed my eyes, replaced the lid of the box, and put it back in the dark corner where I had found it. I couldn’t do it. I quietly closed the closet door and walked away.

Later I returned to help some friends move a dresser from the same room and out the corner of my eye I saw where a shaft of light now fell onto a blank patch of carpet in the corner. The photos were gone. Maybe they had never actually even been there.

I thought about this as I helped maneuver the heavy dresser through the now empty ribcage of the home.

As we were preparing to leave, we were met in the yard by the person from the state that had called us to help. They thanked us for our efficient work.

I just stared at the ground in shame watching a cloud of ants as they carried away bits of something hidden in a tuft of nearby grass. We were ants. I shook my head. No. We were vultures.

As payment for our work, we were told that we could take one item from any of the “Auction” boxes to keep for ourselves. My coworkers leaned their heads into the cardboard tombs and somberly held treasures up to the sun.

They playfully fought over who could take the old jewelry that looked as though it hadn’t been worn in years (Only I knew how many). One boy took a heavy flashlight, another took a pocket knife.

I waited, uneasy with the whole ghoulish activity, and as I waited I wander through the ocean of “Trash” boxes. I ran my hands over the items with a reverence that I did not fully understand.

I felt like I knew this man, and it humbled me that I may be the only living person on Earth that did.

Was it possible that I was the only person to contain the knowledge of him, the only one to watch him grow from a young boy into a man, the only person to watch from a distance as he fell in love, the only person that saw him as he watched his love die?

I was a stranger, but I had, by strange chance, followed him through his life watching as his life boiled and dissolved down to a small collection of silent images, preserved and rifled through in the course of 30 minutes time by some young boy hired to erase him. That alone would be the gift, I decided. Just carrying the memory of this man secretly inside my soul. That is all I would take with me.

But then I passed a box full of black garbage bags and something caught my eye. I froze in place. I was suddenly unable to even breathe. With a trembling hand, I reached deep into the pile of discarded debris and touched it. It was real.

A tan canvas fedora. The same exact tan canvas fedora that I had seen this man wear so often in photos that it had almost become a part of him. It was in the pictures with his wife, and it was in the years that follow. This hat had gone with him.

I held it gently by the brim and lowered it onto my head. It wasn’t a perfect fit, but it somehow felt right. It felt, providential. I felt like something quiet and sad had led me to find it and now that it was on my head there was a change in the air. There was contentment.

I slowly walked back to meet up with my group as they waited to climb into the van. As I stood in line with them I stopped for a moment and turned around.

I was standing just inside the gate of a white picket fence on a paved walkway leading to a small house somewhere in west Texas. I turned to look at the house one last time, I adjusted my hat, then I closed the gate and left.

I wore that hat for the next ten years of my life.

It traveled with me around the world. I was yelled at once by a Ukrainian woman for placing it on the ground in a park. And I nearly caught it on fire by foolishly hanging it on a lamp in Mexico City. It was on my head as I climbed to Machu Pichu and it ducked through a stone doorway with me as I explored the Coliseum of Rome. And I was wearing it at the airport in Kiev as I waited for the plane carrying the woman that would later become my wife, and I held it behind her back in the rain a few days later as we kissed under the watchful eye of Lenin.

I have albums of pictures hidden away and I’m proud to say that this old canvas hat shows up in it often. I stopped wearing it around the time that my first daughter was born.

It was starting to get dingy and show its seams and there was something that felt disrespectful about that. So, one day I took it down off its hook and I walked to the shed and placed it in the box where I save my most loved possessions.

Someday, perhaps a long time from now, a young boy might open the lid of that box and find an old canvas hat and then ... who knows? 

— @PajamaStew


1. If this is going to be the last post, there has to be a silly footnote, right? So, I ask, what fresh hell is this, Fisher-Price?

Sunday, November 21, 2021

From the readers: Karloff, Garland, Ormsby, Merril & lots of spooky stuff

As we tumble toward Thanksgiving, here's another batch of your always-appreciated comments on Papergreat posts:

Mild Fear 2021 debuts with Boris terrifying Buster: Commenting on Facebook, Dad writes: "Pure comedy. Probably wouldn’t make the headlines today. People need something to enjoy and laugh at. But then, people are too serious and wound too tight to be able to let out air and live."

Halloween Countdown #14: Live Mystery Egg: When I put this 2011 post up on Twitter again, author A.G. Pasquella (@agpasquella) noted: "It's so strange the kind of animal isn't listed anywhere in the ad! Then again, Sea Monkey ads never mentioned brine shrimp, so I guess it's in keeping with comic book advertising."

Mystery vintage postcard: "Haunted House" near Delaware, Ohio: And when I reshared this 2016 post on Twitter during October, author Chris Woodyard (@hauntedohiobook) provided this additional information: "Perhaps the only structure left at 'Robinson House,' a lavish mansion built by an artistic 'pirate' on the banks of the Scioto. He vanished, leaving behind rumors of treasure. The site is haunted by the ghost of a young Spanish woman. I wrote about it in Haunted Ohio III."

From the Rare Dust Jacket Files: Hucca's Moor by Manning-Sanders: Desmond Banks emailed in September to identify the cover artist of this novel: "Thank you for your Papergreat website. The dust wrapper was the work of my grandfather, William Nicholson, See page 229 of William Nicholson: The Graphic Work by Colin Campbell (Barrie & Jenkins, 1992)."

Lamenting what we'll never know about Phyllis J. Stalnaker Harris: Wheels Go Round asks: "Isn't it far more likely that she died in childbirth?"

My response: "There's nothing in the scant news clippings to support that she died in childbirth. And if she did, the child died too, without even being listed as a stillborn death anywhere. So I'm not sure about that hypothesis."

Spinnerin selling the privileged yarn-based lifestyle in 1963: Tom from the dandy Garage Sale Finds blog writes: "re: The cover. What the heck is going on there? Tide rising? Flooding? They'd better not get those knitted sweaters wet. They'll shrink!"

Vintage chipmunk postcards and the love of nature's critters: Joan writes: "This post was exactly what I needed on a bleary-eyed morning."

Postcrossing roundup: Early autumn 2021: Joan, postcard & notecard designer extraordinaire, writes: "Thank you so much for introducing me to one of my favorite things this year."

Sci-fi book cover: "The Best of Judith Merril": Brian Busby of The Dusty Bookcase writes: "Judith Merril is a name from my pre-adolescence. I'd never read her until a few years ago, after coming across an inexpensive first edition of her debut, Shadow on the Hearth (1950). An early Cold War novel set largely in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion in Manhattan, it isn't so much about the death and destruction, rather how the government and select citizens exploit the ensuing chaos. "Atomic Attack," the 1954 The Motorola Television Hour adaptation, captures much more than one might expect of the novel. Both are recommended. Looking back through my notes, I see I described Shadow on the Hearth as my most memorable read of 2017 in the pages of the Montreal Gazette. I think they were expecting a new book, but who is to say it isn't contemporary. I'm happy to learn of this collection, Chris. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. You've reminded me that I meant to read more Merril. I've just ordered a copy."

Postcard: House on the Rock in autumn: Wendyvee writes: "This has been on my 'to do' list for a very long time. That increased all the more with American Gods."

Where does this Kodak snapshot rank on the Mild Fear scale? Tom from Garage Sale Finds writes, regarding the Halloween mask: "That's a good one. I checked the archives (aka Google) and couldn't find any that matched it. It's amazing how many variety of witch masks Collegeville and Ben Cooper produced."

Vintage classroom poster that sparks mild fear: Tom from Garage Sale Finds writes: "Wow, that's dark. The kid would have made it if he hadn't chosen to perform his mime routine 'Pulling a Rope' in the middle of the road."

Snapshot & memories: Kitchen at Willow Street house in Montoursville: jhkh writes: "Hi! I was digging around Facebook and found your pic of the Lyter fire engine. [Note from me: More on that at the end of this post.] ... I was at Lyter from 72-77. I wanted to find a pic of the Lyter 'spider' playground equipment and this led me back to your blog here via a Google search. Then I found this post about Willow Street. I grew up on Pine Street near the intersection on the other end of Willow from your place. My parents still live there! Fun memories."

Kicking off Halloween with a postcard mailed 100 years ago: Anonymous writes: "I live in the house that was the summer home of the Silliman family and, eventually, Mary's home until her death. What a fun thing for me to find so long after you posted it!"

Saturday's postcard: RPPC with family, jack-o'-lantern and cat: Tom from Garage Sale Finds asks: "I'm wondering about that Jack O' Lantern. It has a handle. Is that a real pumpkin they put a handle on? Or is that a metal (or other) fake pumpkin?"

My response: "That's a great question. There was a jack o'lantern with a handle in an old photo the other day, too. I have to think that 100 years ago, it was typical to rig up some kind of homemade handle on real carved pumpkins, because I doubt the mass-produced ones we're familiar with today were either widespread or inexpensive. But it would be interesting to investigate further."

Do you want to hear something REALLY scary? Tom from Garage Sale Finds writes: "I never had these records, but really wanted them, particularly this one that was advertised in the back of comic books: The scariest recording I can think of (at least scary to me at the time) was on one of Leonard Nimoy's 'In Search of...' episodes where a team of ghost hunters made recordings from tombstones in a cemetery. I recall one EVP that said, 'I'm scared.' The idea of a ghost being scared really bothered me as a kid. Thanks, Leonard."

1977 children's book about actual (maybe) haunted house: Tony Zimnoch writes: "Great Blog! I just found you! I have given you a plug on mine. Keep Up The Good Work! Best Wishes from Tony."

Saturday's postcard: Japanese girls imitate the three wise monkeys: Commenting on this 2012 post, Marnie writes: "Hi Chris, I'm a Japanese researcher specializing in modern culture and ran across this webpage. Let me explain about the Japanese text, though it may be too late. The text is written in the old character form of Japanese, from right to left. It says 'Union Postale Universelle Postcard,' the same thing as in French, unfortunately."

Judy, a black cat and a ghost book:
 Commenting on this 2014 post, Ken from Dublin writes: "Just saw the photo on 'Pointless,' the British game show. Couldn't find the book either, though there is a book of the same title from 2012. I wonder was it's title inspired by this photo."

Alan Ormsby's 1970s: Summoning zombies and a Scholastic book: Tom from Garage Sale Finds writes: "This is such a great book. I got from my classroom library in 2nd grade (and kept it, but that's another story). I tried to use the makeup tips in the book to create my Halloween costume in 4th grade, but I didn't come out looking like the kids in the book. I still had fun though."

And Bob writes: "I enjoyed your article, and thank you for the shout-out to our Jillian & Addie channel (this is their father, Bob). Alan Ormsby certainly is an interesting man! Happy Halloween!"

Eight awesome things you'll never find inside e-books:
Commenting on this 2013 post, Anonymous writes: "I worked at Ell's in the 1960s assisting Mr. Ell Senior and can remember his reliance on Englishmen to manage the store's leading departments, like Toys and Books. It was an enjoyable period of employment."

10 postcards showing Atlantic City as you've probably never seen it: Miranda Reitz writes: "I have 2 varieties of these postcards, one is the ocean scene showing Traymore, Chalfonte, and Haddon hall as shown in the photo, and the other is view from Ventor pier. I have quite a few of each, and none of them were ever circulated. I'm looking to try and find what their value is, if possible? If anyone can help give me an idea of worth, I'd be appreciative! (And if anyone is interested, feel free to contact me!)"

Snapshot & memories: Relocated fire engine in Montoursville: Finally, after this blog post went up on Sept. 11, people continued to share memories and photos of the fire engine and the stagecoach on my Facebook crowdsourcing post. Here are some of them:

  • "Was a staple on the Lyter Elementary playground! Fell off of that and got hurt many a times. Baseball players could also become legendary for hitting balls over the 'fire truck' from the Little League field. Lol. Awesome memories! Ty for sharing."
  • "I played on this fire truck at Lyter when I was a kid. This playground truck brings all of us memories of our youth."
  • And Chris Palmer shared these pictures from mid-1970s Lyter Elementary School yearbooks: