Echo Point, Katoomba

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I ask that you put aside your party planning and New Year’s resolution composing and spend a few minutes in the Felix past with me today. I am continuing to report on the holiday haul with this mini El Dorado of tintypes from Echo Point, Katoomba. I have written about tintypes from Katoomba previously (most recently, Vacation Felix and Another Aussie Felix), but I have never purchased more than one from a single sitting.

The story of how I came upon these photos is interesting. While wandering around down South with the Jazz at Lincoln Center band for earlier this month, I was set up in a hotel room in Florida working furiously on some things for the office via my laptop in a rare post-gym and breakfast couple of hours in my hotel room. I had my personal email in the background as I first conducted a job interview with a candidate in Chicago and then tried to sort out some thorny issues around our April gala invitation. Between these I saw an email from this Pam’s Pictorama site, a fairly unusual occurance. When I finally remembered it was there and had a look at it a few hours later, I realized that it was interesting indeed.

Someone named Calvin was writing because he had Felix photos and he wanted to know if I was interested in buying them. (Of course I was!) Initially I thought he had a collection like the ones I posted yesterday (On a Sunday Morning in Swainsthorpe in case you haven’t been following along) and it took an exchange or so to realize that he had tintypes from Echo Point, Katoomba a resort in New South Wales, Australia. Regardless of my geographic location or my lack of sleep, I was certainly interested. He asked me to name a price, and then of course I needed to see them first – my experience with these being all over the place in quality, mostly dark from light exposure, sometimes to the point of illegibility. Over the course of the next twelve hours or so he sent them – as I was waking up the next morning I think – they were very clean and nice looking indeed. There were several of the same little girl and then others with an arrangement and re-arrangement of others. Presumably all of the same family. No identification or dates on any of them.

Calvin had purchased the lot of them from a postcard dealer, at a flea market I think he said. He went online to research them and stumbled onto Pam’s Pictorama and thought to see if I wanted to purchase them. Since it is my feeling that I really need to own ALL the Felix tintypes (and photo postcards, just to be clear) of course I wanted to purchase them. I named a price that multiplied the average price I have paid for such photos in the past. Calvin accepted and these were speeding their way to me and we arrived in New York at almost the same time. It is the first time Pictorama has attracted its own post material. My delight knows no bounds!

Judging by the cloche hats being sported by the female subjects these could loosely date from about 1922 to ten years later. It is hard to say if Australian fashion tracked US fashion exactly in this regard, it my have trailed us by some years. There is no identification, nor dates on the photos as seems to be typical with these souvenir tintypes. Meanwhile, oh to be such a lucky little girl and have so many nice tintypes made of yourself with Felix! I am so jealous! Although I know from making tintypes myself that they are by their very nature one-of-a-kind images, nonetheless it is difficult to find the differences in these three images, they are there if you look carefully however; the images must be just moments apart. It did occur to me to purchase only one of the little girl (he could have easily sold the others on eBay) or that I can ultimately sell two. Still, Pictorama readers know of my obsession with keeping family photos together and certainly for now they will stay as a group.

My favorite photo, the one featured at top, is of the large group. There is an early car behind them and some sort of an awing that reads Echo Point, Katoomba behind that. (If you are trying to read it, remember it is backward as this is a tintype and a mirror image.) The woman in the middle gets to hold this nice big Felix in place! In the subsequent photo of just her and the man with the hat, he holds Felix sort of haphazardly around the neck and doesn’t show him to full advantage. We get a glimpse of the tropical foliage behind them, as we do with the photos of the little girl, who for some reason isn’t included in the group photo. Felix is just her size and they stand together like old buddies. She is more warmly dressed than the others with a nice fur trimmed coat and sports a cloche as well. These clearly sat together some place, out of the light, well preserved.

Finally, I would like to note that we get a good look at the Felix doll here and he is a bit worn. Most interesting to me is his somewhat extra large (and I assume weighted for balance) feet making him slightly out of proportion. It has always been my assumption that all, or at least most, of the giant Felix dolls made for posing had one origin, but now I doubt that as I look at some of the variations on the wall of them across from me where I sit right now and type, those predominantly from Great Britain. What is even more interesting is that out of the five or so from Echo Point, Katoomba (outside of this group) only one seems to be the same doll. I guess there was a lot of wear and tear and many Felix replacements, or even multiple dolls being used at the same time. Here at Pictorama we continue to fervently hope that someday we will indeed find a giant Felix we can purchase for our very own!

 

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On a Sunday Morning in Swainsthorpe

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Pictorama readers better hold onto their hats because, this holiday season mysteriously revealed the opportunity for some really extraordinary acquisitions! As a Christmas gift Kim’s help fund these and stretched my resources considerably. I am planning to post about them more or less in the order they came to me.

Both groups (the other to be posted tomorrow) were extraordinary opportunities to buy a series of photos of a single family and keep them together. The first photo in this group was brought to my attention by a Facebook friend, Bren Luke. While I was still trying to figure out the origin of the photo I stumbled across the lot of the six of them for sale on eBay. They were being sold separately, by a British seller, which meant high bids had to go on all in order to secure the whole lot. Prices ended up all over the place, but I paid up and purchased all. I am glad they will stay together. They are much more interesting that way.

I was shocked by the size of them when they arrived. They are tiny – only about 2”x3” and I am unsure what sort of film and camera would have been used. (Kim is guessing 120 film via a brownie type camera?) They are undated and cut from where they had resided in a photo album. Written in the same hand as the one titled here, there are dates of  ’24 and ’25 from other photos on the backs, so we might assume these fall loosely into the same period. Sadly this little boy with a horn is not named, only cousins Kathleen & John get identified. Our other tidbit of information is Swainsthorpe on a Sunday morning. The internet reveals Swainsthorpe to be a tiny hamlet in Norfolk, England, population 360 as of the 2011 census. A close look at clothing shows that the whole lot was likely taken on the same day.

My favorite photo is the one featured at the top – the little boy tooting on his horn next to Felix. This was the one sent via Facebook and worth the price of admission on its own. Felix seems to be listening to that horn, smiling up at the kid – perhaps propped up by the wheelbarrow handle.

As the little boy doesn’t actually interact with Felix I wonder a bit if it is indeed his affection for it that has placed it in the photos or some other more general family fondness for Felix? Maybe the person behind the camera. It is a nice big Felix (one that I would be pleased to have I might add) and he comes up to the little fellow’s waist. I especially like the way he is looking at the little boy playing the horn, the tiny wheelbarrow (child-sized) makes a good counterpoint, the beautiful old stone house in the background. A miniature lawn mower appears in a subsequent photo and, although those are somewhat lesser photos, the light is beautiful in them.

My second favorite photo is the one with the little girl with the long hair holding Felix while the boy (her brother perhaps?) toots on that horn. There is a dreamy quality to this one and I even like the overexposed edges for the effect it creates. Is that a tiny keyboard between the girl and boy? It is hard to know exactly, but the toy lawn mower is great too and these toys create a sense that this is most likely a somewhat privileged family. There are a few other photo variations with these toys, and then the two with cousins. Kathleen looks willing enough, but John appears mostly like he is being coerced into staying still long enough to pose with his cousins, let alone put his arm around him in the one photo. Felix is a bit cut off in one, but he makes a splendid appearance as the fifth member of the family, grinning toothily as always, in the other group photo.

 

Merry Christmas from Deitch Studio!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Pictorama and Deitch Studio present – our holiday card! To those of you who are devoted fans of the card and have been watching your mailbox we apologize for the delay this year, as well as the electronic reveal before you may have received it, but my adventures with the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra on the Holiday Big Band Tour (see my post of earlier this month Traveling with the Big Band) put me way behind on my end of the holiday duties which include getting the card printed.

The printing of the card, which dates back to the first year Kim and I started dating, has a history. (For the history of our cards and their production I recommend these previous posts, Cards of Christmas Past, Cat of Christmas Past, and Christmas Cards Redux Continues among others) I shopped the card from one small print shop to another each year. In the beginning I had a fantasy of finding a small shop that still did offset printing who would bring some care to the process – we even talked about two color. Ha! I let go of that almost immediately and began an annual trip from one copy shop to another – testing both large (Staples – don’t ask!) and small. Without getting technical let me tell you that the results consistently fell below the high standard of the most senior person here at Deitch Studio – resulting in an extraordinary flood of epithets and curses, not only aimed at the lowly technician, but the holiday season and the whole concept of a holiday card in general! In all fairness to him, we saw some really ham-handed results which could only be achieved by people who cared less than not at all about what they were doing.

In my attempt to assuage this eventual annual diatribe I continued my search for a suitable printer. One year I finally walked into the Yorkville Copy Shop, the tiniest hole in the wall establishment, tucked behind a pizza place on 84th, just west of Lexington. It is the kind of place I imagine exists only in Manhattan where real estate is so prime that even the smallest space can be carved out into a rent producing annuity for the owner and a living for the tenant. The counter was just a few feet from the door, on one side paper and outgoing jobs were stacked high, on the other was one of several copy machines. It reeked of toner, ink, paper and dust. There was a loft which made the ceiling low, the place lit by low-watt flickering fluorescent bulbs. The front window was entirely plastered over with business cards, other previous jobs and grumpy sayings, which also graced the inside as decoration.

The proprietor was a grizzled man of a certain age who seemed to engage exclusively in conversations about NY sports teams, which meant we had little in common in terms of small talk. There was also a woman who I eventually took to be his wife, and although age appropriate in all reality I have no idea. She rarely ever waited on me. I cannot say that once we started using them that there was never a problem – there were still do-overs, Kim curses and rages, and the year not long ago where they did the entire job folded on the wrong side which, given time limitations we decided to live with. Still, I knew that at least I could talk to Bill (eventually I learned his name) and on some level he cared. Over the course of more than a decade some of our past cards joined the decor of the shop – not all, Bill had a discerning eye – but I kept a look out and was always secretly glad when one joined the ranks.

I know that you know where this is headed. Late last fall I saw that Yorkville Copy was closed. Around the corner, in the window of the pizza place, there was a note saying that the copy store had been forced out and a telephone number to contact them, which I had the foresight to take a picture of. Shortly after, the pizza place itself was also gone, a family business to be replaced, ironically, by a chain pizza establishment.

So as the holiday neared I called Bill and he said he was looking for a new location, but could do our card anyway. We made arrangements for him to pick up the original from our doorman, ultimately drop the cards at our building and pick up the balance of the payment. It went okay, but as this year loomed Bill had not yet found a place and I resisted calling. After all if there was a problem there was no discussion or recourse. He would take our original and go and who knows what would happen to it.

The card is generally finished, drawn and inked, the weekend after Thanksgiving and it was this year. However I just could not manage the printing before leaving for that ten day business trip at the beginning of the month. While I was riding around the South I got a message, then a second, from Bill on my cell phone. By the time I got home I pretty much gave into the idea. Bill picked it up and printed it again. It is a fine job, I didn’t need to worry it seems.

So today we present to you a card printed by Bill of Yorkville Printers which now it seems only exists for those of us who know of it. A waxing salon has taken its former location, which I guess is willing and able to pay more for that tiny space, the chain pizza restaurant has been established around the corner. I left money and our artwork for Bill to pick up and copy in Yonkers, where he appears to reside according to the calls I get on my cell phone. I have an image of him having set up in his living room or garage there, paper piled high around, and sadly I will no longer know which ones he favors. But for now he remains our grizzled and grumpy elf of card printing.

Sit Up There Buster

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have long held the pure fantasy of legions of cats who not only are trained, but also perform with Busby Berkley-like skill and perfection. I am talking about a sort of an all-singing, all-dancing cat review, sort of circa 1933. For a number of years I suggested to Kim that this would be a lovely birthday surprise, and yet Februarys have come and gone and still, no secret cat rehearsals in the hall, and no birthday cat performance. Imagine! And there is no evidence that Cookie and Blackie will be the ones to break into show biz. Out of all of our cats, they are I think the least inclined to attempt miming human activity, although Cookie will engage in a game of fetch and will do cat yoga in tandem with Kim’s daily work out. (It is my belief that Cookie just want to show how much better she is at stretching and exercise than humans are. She is right – and she is doing it as I write this.) Blackie prefers to maintain his own state of cat perfection and disinterest.

Fairness does compel me to point out that while we at Deitch Studio may have fallen short of two-stepping kit extravaganzas for my birthday, Kim has on many occasions drawn such epics for me and in this regard I am, as I so often reflect, a very lucky woman indeed.

The jolly fellow who authored this card looks like he may be training his cat while sporting evening dress, but perhaps it is just the poor lighting of this photo and he isn’t in dinner clothes. I like to imagine he is however – how dashing! The cat is more kitten than cat, good to start training ’em young I guess, and Buster seems mildly game if somewhat disinterested. The training quarters appear to be a porch railing. He should be told that pointing your finger at a cat never works however.

This postcard was mailed from Los Angeles and the postmark does not show the date over the penny stamp, however it is dated in his neat hand, Sept-12-11 and it reads as follows, Dear Friend, I am glad you are having so good a time Fishing and Hunting. I wish I were there too. Will have some fine kittens for you when you get back. Truly Yours Billy Lindsay. It is addressed, Mr. C. P. Sprague, Gardiner, Maine. Mr. Sprague was quite far from home and clearly in a place sufficiently unpopulated that he presumably was able to get this card addressed in this fashion. Meanwhile, Billy may have been trying to create that Hollywood all cat review I am waiting for! Go Billy, go!

I have touched on trained kitties numerous times, first in the early post Peeved Puss Postcard, and also later in Dashington’s and my favorite, Mad Jenny – and probably several times after that I think. It is almost a subgenre for us at Pictorama. What this man needs to know is that cats do not train blithely and a deep reserve of cat treats seems to be necessary. However, starting in early while the feline is still a kitten as he is probably is a good idea.

Meanwhile, although this photo is of more or less epic bad quality I sort of love that about it. In fact, sometimes a photo postcard that is printed this badly charms me with the reminder that this was a very manual process at the time, evidence of the human hand, and that this is indeed likely to be a singular photo. Although I certainly have numerous mass produced photo postcards in my collection, it is these (not infrequently poorly executed) one-of-a-kind ones that hold great romance for me. I took this photo and I decided to make a postcard out of it – and sent it to you! It took some work and some planning, but I did it! In some ways for me the specialness of this is now lost – although I am very charmed by exchanging photos daily with great ease via the internet. It is a lovely few minutes I spend with my Instagram feed a few times a day, seeing what my friends are doing and looking at, not to mention those photos exchanged by text, email, on Twitter and of course on Facebook. We live in a time of visual bonanza. Still, the extreme singularness of the bygone printed photo postcard and the evidence of it is somewhat lost in our time of phone tapping and computer clicking ease.

 

Traveling with the Big Band

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As Pictorama readers and other online followers already know, I am currently on the road, although wrapping up my week’s sojourn with the Jazz at Lincoln Center band on their Holiday Big Band tour. Since it is hard for me to do any other kind of post on the road you all have been treated (or subjected) to a clutch of personal posts over the last few weeks.

It is Saturday afternoon, the second week of December beginning as I start this, I posted The Other Pam Butler a few hours ago. I cannot seem to find a position comfortable enough to nap in in my seat (some of the guys have perfected sleeping on these bus seats, but it is a skill acquired with time clearly) so it is as good a time as any to take stock. As someone pointed out yesterday, this job wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye a year ago as I went through my year-end rituals in fundraising, checking in with folks, gathering up last minute contributions at the Metropolitan Museum. I think I would have laughed (hard) if someone had told me I’d be on this bus with 18 or so guys, jazz musicians and road staff, crawling through North Carolina in a snow storm for 9 hours on our way to a gig in Chapel Hill. (The photo above is from our breakfast stop at Cracker Barrel, clearly a group favorite and after eating those biscuits I know why. The institutional precise consistency of these shop ‘n restaurants is a bit dizzying to experience, but clearly a stop of great comfort for road warriors through the greater American south and east.)

The band is moved with incredible efficiency. Time is truly money when you are feeding and lodging almost two dozen people and the team at Jazz is a very well oiled machine. The military precision of the early morning departures reminds me of my travel days through Europe with the Met – I guess the experienced moving of large groups is always done the same way, but it seems ironic to me that busing a jazz band across the American South as economically as possible is ultimately similar to toting well-heeled tourists through the cultural highlights of Europe on a luxury tour, but it is. Predawn departures on buses to airplanes, or to be driven to destinations and fed with hotel breakfasts of weird eggs, fruit and coffee. (The coffee was better than it mostly was in Europe and the South has those biscuits going for it too, not to mention the fact that we could drink the water.) The rest stops, complete with machines chock-a-block full of junk food are distinctly American, however I admit to being glad to see them, and I admit to eating food on this trip that I have not eaten since college. Unlike the Met trips however, the destinations are not luxury hotels and ships, nor cultural highlights, but business hotels of unromantic economy and maximum efficiency, located just off highways. Since I was most happy to see a bed and fall into it for four or five hours of sleep at a go, these hotels with their breakfast buffets and endless cups of coffee were always quite welcome.

atlanta snow

Predawn view out my hotel window in Atlanta, a view of the pool.

 

The band members are deeply experienced travelers and on this trip they have already been on the road for a week when I join them. (I had a prelude in Arkansas on other business.) They know how best to arrange themselves within the limitations of the bus seats to sleep a bit and as a rule no one is late for the various departures. It is generally quiet, although a soft spoken phone call or conversation drifts over the group occasionally. The travel is executed uncomplainingly by the band, and there is a real genius to the calculus of the number and length of stops to be made along the longer passages – such as this nine hours from Atlanta to Chapel Hill. Ray Murphy who manages the logistics has an gift for this – whether it is just years of experience or an innate talent I do not know. Somehow he keeps it all moving as painlessly as possible.

On most days late afternoon is the witching hour for the instruments, equipment, suits and shoes to be loaded in and taken to the venue, followed by sound check which can also function as a rehearsal. Then it is likely there is a Q&A with a school or other group who were invited to sound check, lead by one of the band members – a role which switches daily. Family style dinner is up after, usually around 5:30 or 6:00, and served in a backstage area catered by the venue. In this way we experience a range of food from a memorable homemade apple pie to an unremarkable attempt at tofu.

Schedule allowing, Wynton or another member might squeeze teaching a master class at a university in during the day, or the whole group might show up at a school as they did for an elementary school in Palm Beach. Usually there is some time to kill between dinner and concert and I use this time to call Kim at home. Concerts on the road seem to start between 7:00-7:30 and run for about 90 minutes with a brief intermission. After backstage meet and greet (or grip and grin as someone called it) and the reloading of the equipment it is usually close to 11:00 before we are back on the bus and at the hotel. By now our early dinner is a distant memory and we wrestle with the calculus of sleep against locating a late night snack. Sometimes there is drinking and eating at a hotel bar, or someone figures out rides to a Waffle House spotted on the way, but mostly exhaustion and the early morning start means bed calls.

Wynton in Palm Beach

Wynton and band at an elementary school in Florida.

 

Several nights of these nights our schedule necessitated that Wynton and I hop in a car after the show and drive to the next location getting in around 3AM so we could have early meetings. That leads to some really bad late night eating of pure junk food. Our driver, Dregg (not sure how he spells this) is an old hand at this kind of driving and we relax into his capable hands although sleep mostly eludes us. A long conversation which ranges from the role of human sacrifice in ancient Greece to childhood memories snakes through those drives and, in part, probably helps keep Dregg from drifting off as well.

As I finish this post up, it is one week later and I am happily perched back at our computer at home. It is a snowy gray morning here so the scenery is strikingly similar to the one I saw out the bus last week. My seat on the bus, it seemed an unspoken assignment, was a rotating shotgun one in front, for the random person who comes and goes I assume, similar to where I sat in Shanghai. I continue to mull over what I learned on this trip in terms of what it means to fundraise for this very special ensemble and maybe I will have more to say about that later. For now though, whether they realize it or not, I have in heart and mind adopted each and every one of the members of the band. They are my guys and I am their unstinting cheerleader.

Having a Rocky Time

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Stick of rock, Blackpool rock or Brighton rock – the British love their rock candy and since they loved Felix in the 1920’s it was natural that these would go together. Given the survival rate of these cards from various seaside resorts across Great Britain I would say it was a popular marketing concept at the time. I have been eyeing variations of this card for quite awhile when I took matters in hand recently and purchased this version, complete with this nicely pointy Felix, sporting his toothy grin, and which I would hazard a guess was not produced with the knowledge of nor with access to the talent of the Pat Sullivan Studio. To drive the rock candy and beach resort points home, Felix is stepping on these water colored rocks along this beach-y shore. I love the proportion of the roll of rock candy to Felix, slung cavalierly over his shoulder like a workman with a 2×4. There is something compactly compelling about his four point design.

The card was produced (exclusively) Celesque Published by The Photochrom London, Tunbridge Wells. It was sent by Doris on the evening of August 17, 1926 from a place called Redcar, a seaside resort in North Yorkshire, England. Doris writes, complete with swirling curls and luxuriously crossed “t’s” – Having a jolly time at Redcar. Will write later from Easton. Nellie Spot & I are going for a stroll along the beach. About E & CS are…the last bit is illegible and squeezed into the bottom. It is signed (Doris) – I do not know what the parens are for. It is addressed to Miss Mary Dixon, School House, Fontburn, Ewesley, Maspeth Northumberland.

Evidently the hard rock candy in questions is made from boiled sugar in mint flavors (I was disappointed – I thought it might come in fruit flavors or perhaps even be peppery) typically has a pattern inside like the swirl shown here. My teeth hurt just thinking about it, and I immediately see a vision of my dentist sharpening the tools of his trade when I contemplate consuming it. Meanwhile, the talented candy folks have even perfected the art of writing on the inside and I offer the illustration from the Wikipedia site below. The candy is still made in numerous forms today, and for the truly curious, there are opportunities to see the process on Youtube. I skipped those videos, I admit, although I duly note that evidently the pieces of candy can be as much as six feet long before cutting and Felix would appear to be carrying a chunk about three or four feet long here for his part. All in a day’s work for Felix.

Wikimediarock.jpg

 

 

The Other Pam Butler

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It’s another personal post today. Full disclaimer – it is quite long winded, but an interesting yarn I think. I am editing it and finishing it on the a bus with the Jazz at Lincoln Center band, brutally early on this Saturday morning. I smell of hotel soap, a constant olfactory reminder that I am far from home.

It is snowing hard in Atlanta and our flights are canceled, so we are on an eight hour odyssey by bus to Chapel Hill for our final gig of the season. It is the last stop on a brutal two week tour for these guys, but more about that another time.

Meanwhile, my recent travel has brought another tale to mind which I typed up on the Arkansas leg of my trip a few days ago. Several years ago, I guess maybe eight or more, I was coming home exhausted from an international flight, standing in the neverending line, snaking the through JFK passport control and arrivals terminal. There is always some sort of insult to injury of having to stand in in that damn line when arriving to your own country, although admittedly some smug satisfaction that you aren’t in the much slower line for non-US passport holders.

I was a worse flyer then than now, not that I like it any better, but experience and more business travel has forced me into coping better and planning ahead to find ways to make long flights a bit less awful. On that occasion however, I was frowsy from lack of sleep, tousled in crumb festooned clothes, all the worse for being the last of what had been worn in rotation throughout my trip.

Anyway, it was the middle of the night or the early morning which felt like the middle of the night, or whatever further disorienting thing happens to you when the time difference kicks in to come back east. I handed my passport to the stern looking person behind the desk and much to my shock and displeasure he pulled me aside and marched me to what appeared to be the Immigration holding room. I was told to sit and wait, which I did for quite awhile.

The officials sat behind high desks with plexi (bullet proof?) glass separating us from them. When my name was finally called they interviewed me with a series of questions, off a computer screen which evidently contained my information. They seemed to know a lot about me and were in seeing if I could confirm it. After telling them who my husband was, my date of birth, the color of my eyes and some other pertinent facts, they returned my passport to me in what seemed to be a reluctant way and dismissed me.

In our crazy world of documents, random searches and whatnot I was peevish, but didn’t think a huge amount about it. I fly domestically fairly often, but overseas less frequently. Around that time the Met started sending me abroad a bit more often though. I found myself in Germany probably not much more than a year later. Once again lined up at JFK, handing over my passport and, yep, you guessed it. Back to the immigration room. I began to see a pattern, always on international flights never domestic, and never on the way out of the country, but invariably on the way home. The trips to the room were generally faster than the first time. I would sit there with my copy of Vogue or the trashy novel I had bought on the plane surrounded by unfortunate compatriots who had their own woes in this arena. The officers appeared to take my passport, look at it, look at their computer, look at me and hand it back to me.

Somewhere around the third time, after an especially exhausting flight home from Italy, I found myself almost in tears with frustration and, without thinking through the consequences, I blurted out to the agent who took my passport and took me out of line, “Why does this keep happening to me?!” To my surprise, he said he didn’t know, but if I asked in the folks in the room they may be willing to tell me.

So, I asked. Much to my surprise, they told me that a woman with my exact name and birth day, had been missing for a period of time and they were looking for her. Now, it remains utterly curious to me why if they were looking for this other Pam Butler they didn’t flag my departure from the country. Instead they seemed to care I was re-entering the US. I told my mom the whole tale of woe and she began Googling.

According to Betty, it turns out that this other Pam Butler had worked for the government and had gone missing awhile ago. And, perhaps most significantly, she was black. Clearly this meant that as soon as they got to the point of looking at pictures they realized I was indeed not the Pamela Butler they were looking for.

I was intrigued – was she a spy who had left the country? What nefarious things was this Pam Butler up to – in our shared name? I grew to expect and plan around the inconvenience. Recently, considering TSA Pre I decided to ask one of the agents upon my return from Shanghai if they thought it would make a difference if I got pre-approval. They said no. Meanwhile, they revealed that now Pam Butler was also wanted for breaking the law. She was now associated with fraud of some kind.

Needless to say I was not pleased about this Pam Butler turn of events. When the agent told me about this he was handing back my passport. For some reason he took what appeared to be a parting shot at me, “How tall are you?” he asked. “5’9” I replied, without thinking (I mean – I am!) and he paused and looked at the passport and then smiled at me in what seemed to be a suspicious way, but all he said, “ Ah yes, you are quite tall.”

It was only a couple of months later, when a close friend on the west coast emailed me a link to a newspaper article. Much to my shock, someone had just confessed to killing the other Pam Butler, a number of years ago. She had actually been a straight arrow, a few years years younger than me, she had worked for the EPA, lived in Washington DC. In the photo she looked smart and nice. Evidently she was on a date with the man who killed her. Met him online. Her parents have been searching for her for years and at least the confession seems to have given them some closure. I assume, without knowing, that the man who killed her also sold her identity which lead to the criminal complaints of fraud I heard about.

It is hard to describe how I felt reading about her death. Without realizing it, she had become a part of my life, a sort of travel doppelganger whose path I crossed upon my return from each and every international trip. There’s something very strange about reading about someone with your name and date of birth being murdered. I feel awful for her family and sad for her.

I have wondered if her death will resolve my international travel woes with Immigration. I am cynical enough to doubt that the wires in our systems will uncross so easily. Her memory may be with me for a lot longer. Or maybe not. Now I will think of her with sadness instead of a bit of a thrill of international intrigue and mystery.


Postscript: Snow continues to stop and start here as we drive through South Carolina. We made a second breakfast stop at Cracker Barrel where I ate pancakes AND a biscuit. (No dieting on the road – I have been eating like I am studying for finals in college.) Three or more hours to go. Will try to nap again. Thanks for taking the time to read this.