Gone Gray

Pam’s Pictorama Post: My hair went gray when I was thirty. It started with an interesting streak in front which grew in rapidly over time. My maternal grandfather, Frank Wheeling (aka Poppy), went gray in his twenties so I suspect it is his genes at work – most of the rest of that generation in my family never had more than a few strands even as they reached very advanced ages, my father’s mother not withstanding as I believe she did dye her hair as part of her weekly visits to a salon where she had her 1940’s updo style managed weekly.

I have never dyed my hair. Despite hitting my twenties during the height of the punk era I have never done anything except shave it down to a crewcut periodically and that usually reflecting more function than form – such as anticipating a lack of showering facilities while camping in Tibet. Not only have I never dyed my hair a radical color, I have never highlighted it or dyed it at all. I don’t have anything against it, I just never did it and so when I started to go gray the question of dying it was a bit bigger, dye never having been a go to, nor something I had ever played around with. I always figured that it would be easy enough to try if I changed my mind, but acknowledge it would be a huge pain to grow out and as it became more and more gray the fact that it would be a significant commitment of time and money (not to mention the reality of heavier, more chemical dyes) to maintain became clear.

Me in London at age 21. This was taken by a friend for a photography class. Not shaved short but soon after the very first time I ever cut it short at all.

Also, as I can be about such things, I was curious to see how it would grow in and what it would look like. I always figured that dying was something I could decide to do (although certainly it would have been pretty radical after a point) so there was no compelling reason to rush to do it. So, I just didn’t. My hair guy, David Smith (he opened his own salon pre-pandemic, Smith and Morgan on West 80th Street) always liked my gray and never encouraged me to dye it – despite the fact he would have made a ton of money over time if I had, which always made me love David a little more. I met David just before my wedding, a good friend recommended him when the person I had been seeing shutdown abruptly and until he opened his own place I followed him across a variety of locales on the westside of Manhattan.

David Smith’s current domain, Smith and Morgan at 205 West 80th Street.

To be frank, there is a very real prejudice against being young and having naturally gray hair (yes, some folks are dying their hair gray now which is a bit different) and I am only just getting old enough now where it is less of an issue. People immediately assume you are older than you are and sometimes express outright confusion over a younger face and gray hair. At its worst I have on occasion been met with a certain kind of aggression, as if my deciding not to dye my hair was a statement about other people’s choices. It seems to annoy some people. I am a bit confounded sometimes when people talk about it – after all I think my choice of hair color is a bit personal and I have trouble imagining the same person asking someone why they dye theirs brown or blond for instance. And, I will admit that there was a time when I thought if I were to look for a new job that I might consider dying it. In the end, it has become very much a part of who I am and in my case it would seem false to change it. As Popeye would famously say, I yam what I yam!

My sister Loren hated that I was letting my hair go gray. She would bully and rage about it in the way only she as my older sister could. Frankly I considered dying it when she was in treatment for cancer and bored, sick. I was looking for ways to entertain her – I know, it sounds crazy, but I thought about it. She would tell me that when her hair grew back it was going to be dark brown again (during a pause in treatment it had grown in completely gray) and only she and Lady Clairol would know the truth about the color. If she had lived I don’t know if I could have held out against her indefinitely. (I have written about Loren a few times and two of those posts can be found here and here.)

A high school photo of my sister I took a picture of recently.

By the same token I have enjoyed many random compliments from strangers – literally sometimes getting stopped on the street – about my hair. Love your hair! Great hair! Occasionally it was another woman with naturally gray hair and we would give a sly smile between us and pass a compliment. Other times women would opine that they didn’t think theirs would grow out as nicely and I always admit that if I hadn’t liked the way it grew in I probably would have dyed it. My hair had the good grace to come in with streaks of gray against the dark brown. In addition, the texture changed for the better once it was mostly gray. It had always been thick, but slippery, heavy and difficult to keep up or back. I enjoyed manageable hair for the first time as the gray grew in.

Enter Covid however and suddenly many women have let their dyed hair grow out and are reemerging into the world as gray. It was of course a great time to let your hair grow out – or have a baby I guess. (Newborn down the hall this week! Evelyn Grace Deitch – yep, we have a Deitch down the hall! Pronounced Deetch however.) While some of the gray-goers are friends and colleagues, I see many women making the transition to gray on the elevator or in the street. I get the feeling they are checking out my hair, taking notes as such.

Pandemic Pam recently. As you can see, my hair isn’t getting a lot of attention.

While I have no advice about growing out dyed hair I do have some about living with gray hair. Until Covid I was very careful about trims and keeping my hair tidy figuring that it was such a standout feature that I needed to pay extra attention to it. Early on David showed me how to mix a bit of baking soda in clearing shampoo (for example Bumble & bumble makes what they call a clarifying shampoo, theirs is called Sunday Clarifying Shampoo, which is designed to clear out old product from your hair, Neutrogena makes one too) and leave it in for about twenty minutes before washing out. This is drying so I would do this once or so a month to keep the gray white. (I have started using a sea salt scrub instead which is a bit less trouble. The one I currently use is by Christophe Robin. Although during these Covid days I use very little hair product so it is less of an issue.) Oribe makes Silverati (disclosure – it is crazy expensive) which is in a class of colored shampoos to bring out highlights, specifically of gray in this case and goes alongside a group of purple shampoos which are designed to counterbalance the yellow in gray hair. All of these work to a greater or lesser degree, but in my opinion, nothing like the scrubs to brighten the color.

Kim and I at a wedding a few years ago.

I am also a bit maniacal about products and styling and pre-pandemic I would joke that there wasn’t a styling product that I couldn’t be induced to try and had settled into a routine of potions as part of my hair care. Meanwhile, although gray wasn’t an issue for me I have let my hair grow crazy long during the months at home. I have only had it cut once since the onset of lockdown and that is now getting to be close to a year ago. I wear it up each day and it is easy to forget about although I do feel like an aging Rapunzel when I take it down. I will also confess that in a sheer contradictory way, I thought about dying my hair during the lockdown out of sheer boredom. I thought it would be fun to emerge as a totally different person. Maybe that’s what women growing their gray in is all about. We are all deciding what our post-pandemic reset is going to be and what it will look like.

Featured photo by my good friend photographer @EileenTravell!

Doggett, Bassett & Hills

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s post is kicking off with this great little advertising card I bought on a whim sometime over the last few months. I like a good cat advertising card and this kitty couple caught my eye. I love that they are holding each other’s paws and their curled tails. They walk on tip toed hind legs – Cookie and Blackie only stand this way in order to box with each other, or perhaps a bit of a stretch when something above interests them. Her expression is sweet and his a bit concerned – concerned being a bit of a go-to expression for kits I find.

She sports the human attributes of a parasol and bow. They are both nicely striped tabbies and the pattern creates some visual interest. Oddly, Doggett, Bassett & Hills Co. was a shoe company and these kitties are decidedly shoeless. Doggett, Bassett & Hills was one of Chicago’s first shoe dealers and manufacturers under the name of Ward & Doggett, founded in 1846. By the early 1870’s they had peaked, but then declined and disappeared in the 1880’s. (All this from an online encyclopedia of the history of Chicago which can be found here.) The website mentions a Lake Street address, but this card is for one at 214 & 216 Madison Street, Chicago.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Despite the fact that I think of Chicago as a city that has done an excellent job of maintaining many of its old buildings, a quick Google image search shows no extant old buildings at this address now. I am always hoping when I search for an old address I find that I will find the building intact even if its former moniker is long gone. I don’t believe I have achieved this to date.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

These pre-printed advertising cards abounded in the period and cats were a favorite subject so they are a bit of a sub-genre here at Pictorama. Merchants must have gone to printers that had endless examples to pick from and chosen a card image to then have their text added at the bottom and sometimes also on the back. I often wonder about how you knew that you weren’t choosing the same one as your competitor just purchased yesterday.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

I have written about some of the others in my collection (above and below) and those posts can be found here, here and here. (All of these examples have their advertising text on the back.) Still, seems a bit odd that the folks at D,B and H would choose these barefoot felines, but who am I to tell them how to sell shoes?

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

There are marks on the back from where this card once resided in an album of some sort, the way and reason many of these have survived. People did seem to hang onto them though – much more so than the boring business cards we generally see today – a few tucked under the plexi cover on my drawing table converted to desk and littering the surface remind me. No one is going to be saving the card from the pest control folks residing there. (Moths!) Cats sell and Madison Avenue has never entirely forgotten that lesson.

Pussy cat postscript: Ah, Caturday at Deitch Studio! Cookie is rolling and stretching at my feet and meowing for attention as I write this. She still chases her tail and was at it earlier, even at seven years old. (I must say, it does have a sort of come hither twitch at the end.) She is by far the chattier of the two kits and wants to converse every morning at some length – we are charged with responding or are subject to her wrath. (Meanwhile, if Blackie ever chased his tail it is a long forgotten practice and he snoozes most mornings after he’s eaten. The difference between boys and girls?) Kim is discussing how awful it would be if he were married to Cookie (I’m pleased I get a higher rating), and it would quickly end in divorce court with a sharky kitty attorney (one a bit smarter than Cookie he added) he says. We’ll have to see if there’s ever a story about Kim and his cat wife – and divorce court kitty!

Cookie also likes to claim my work chair in the morning.
Blackie, snoozing earlier this week and showing some fang!

Troubadour

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Time marches forward and it was brought to my attention today that I have published more than 760 of these posts. (That seems impossible actually, but I will take the word of the fine folks here at WordPress since they seem to be keeping count.) Topics have sprawled over time and the nature of it has morphed a bit. As a general rule they have gotten longer and increasingly personal, although cats, photographs, toys and Felix remain the banner headline for the majority of weekends.

You all, my readers, have increased in number over time too – more in recent years than at first. And inevitably some very interesting things have come in over the transom from you all. A wonderful cache of Felix photos came to me that way – I remember I was in a hotel room in Florida having a miserable trip for work when it found me and cheered me immensely. (That post can be found here.)

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

One man in India was very interested in a rare book I had acquired (and cannot find in the miasma of our apartment post renovation to scan for him but will eventually) and I have heard from the descendants of folks I have uncovered, such as the grandchild of Alfred Latell, who have had occasion to write about more than once. (Among my most popular, those posts about his career as an animal impersonator can be found here and here.) Usually I let the stuff I have acquired lead me down the rabbit hole of memory or joyfully research or speculate on its past a bit, although occasionally I have taken you on trips across the country and world for work, recipes I have created, or whatever else is on my mind on a given day.

Alfred Latell, Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

My original dream of organizing my Felix photo postcards into a book seems as far away as ever – folks start muttering about copyright when I mention it – but nevertheless, it remains of interest to me. Alas, I will find a way I hope and of course I continue to add to it.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

Earlier this week, a reader reached out to me to ask about a post I did where I mentioned a lost cousin of hers, Bruce Rogerson, someone I knew in Britain when I was living in London in my earlier twenties. It arrived in the midst of a work week which can only be described as our annual budget hell which has been escalated in intensity by the pandemic – such is fundraising for a performing arts organization that hasn’t been able to perform in public for more than a year! However, I did take some time to answer her and dredged up memories of Bruce the best I could on short notice.

Annoyingly, at the time I could not find my post she referred to and it was only this morning that I realized that it was the briefest of mentions in a super long post I wrote while returning from a work trip to South Africa in 2019. (It can be found here.) That post was primarily about African Highlife music and musings on my early relationship to it while living in London in the mid-1980’s. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra had played with local musicians as part of the Joy of Jazz Festival and the strands of the more indigenous African music woke the sound memory in my mind.

This morning I received an email from her and thanking me for writing along with the information that she had about her cousin. The combined gathering of my memories of Bruce for her and then reading her notes have him very much on my mind today.

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Bruce Rogerson owned a coffee house in Britain called The Troubadour (still in existence at 263-267 Old Brompton Road, London). It would have had recognized bona fides and probably something of a cult following when he acquired it in 1970 from its original owners, Michael and Sheila van Bloemen who established it in 1954. The Troubadour made its name in the heyday of the coffee house live performance culture on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1950’s and ’60’s. It is said that it is the first venue in London where Bob Dylan performed has have Paul Simon and more recently Adele.

At the time I knew it the basement was used only infrequently for music or performance and I can only remember being in it once. Subsequent owners have expanded it and it is a live music venue once again – or presumably was pre-Covid. However, living down the street in a series of rented flats in Earl’s Court – which was rundown and affordable at the time although even then you had to know it was on the edge of gentrification.

The Troubadour was to me a rare place for a good cup of coffee – at a time when that wasn’t easy to find in London and I was already coffee addicted. It was also warm in winter (my abodes were anything but) and light food was available – a good soup comes to mind and quiche. The pastries were dubious and occasionally we joked about those. I was chronically a bit broke at the time so eating out was a matter of budget, although I was willing to pay for coffee. It was a sort of a cappuccino served in thick white ceramic mugs. (Liquor, wine and beer were not sold there during my time although I believe a license was acquired later.)

A coffee or two could buy you a lot of time at the Troubadour and soon I was doing my school assignments and writing letters from there, and my few recently acquired friends joined me there occasionally, making it our clubhouse of sorts. However, I was the most constant resident and as a result I got to know Bruce and also a number of the other regulars.

The Troubador more or less as I remember the interior in the late 1980’s.

I now know that Bruce was born the same year as Kim which made him twenty years older than my 21 years at the time. Over time I was to learn that he had a degree in mathematics, an advanced one I believe, although I only remember touching on it once. He was a tall, lanky man, always dressed in a uniform of neat denim jeans and an open-necked, button down Oxford cloth shirt, light blue or blue and white stripe for the most part. Bruce wore his hair a bit long, disheveled and was balding when I knew him.

He stood behind the low, ancient wood bar counter at The Troubadour, stairway that went up to the apartment where he lived above just in back of him. The kitchen, painted a really bright, surprising sunshine yellow, was at the end of the long narrow space and beyond the counter. One usually ordered from the counter although occasionally a waitress might stop at a table and ask if you needed anything – or not. The seats were hard wood, all of them. Former church pews lined the walls, at least in retrospect that is what I think they were, and wooden chairs made up other table seating throughout. Music played ongoing and the Blue Danube Waltz was played nightly at closing to usher us out the door.

I believe most of the interior decoration which defines The Troubadour dates back to Michael van Bloeman, the founder and scrapper extraordinaire.

Michael van Bloemen, the founder, was known for his ability to find trash and turn it into treasure. (After selling The Troubadour he and Sheila moved to Sarajevo and my father was ultimately introduced to them while traveling there and they struck up a friendship.) So The Troubadour was chock-a-block full of odd ancient and interesting bits and pieces that spoke volumes even to a young Butler blogger and future collector of detritus even at the time. In retrospect it seems odd that Bruce would be so devoted to the place when his own taste actually ran to the modern and his apartment reflected this and was a bit of a shock in contrast. Michael stayed friendly with Bruce and was a close friend of Don’s and would stay with one or the other on trips to London, where he turned up periodically to pick up his money from the dole.

The shop, which I believe is no longer there, as it looked when I lived in London.

I met and became good friends Don Bay there, it was Don who introduced me to High Life music as he owned an African music company, Sterns. (Ironically Don tried to pick me up by taking me to a classical music concert I had been reading a review for when we met. It was the only time I would associate Don and classical music.) Don and Bruce were close friends and over time I tagged along and was enmeshed in their lives for the time I lived there.

Let it be said, these guys drank a lot. At 21 I was capable of drinking a fair amount myself so I didn’t think much about it at the time, but now I know it was a lot of drinking. Bruce consumed endless bottles of white wine while tending to the counter evenings, always in a short water glass. Meanwhile, Don and I had a love of cooking in common and he had a large kitchen at his house in Putney so we would spend whole weekends making exotic fare and inviting friends to eat it. Those cooking weekends including consuming bottles of scotch while we cooked (my mind reels thinking about it now), not to mention while we ate, and those parties generally went all night long sometimes with leftovers being finished in the morning.

Bruce and Don both knew about food and enjoyed eating out and would sometimes take me along to the various restaurants they knew, some where they were regulars themselves. With Bruce it was always a late meal, after The Troubadour closed, which I want to say was 10:00? Seems so late now, but there was a French restaurant across the street where he went on a regular basis and there was also an African restaurant in a basement up the street where you could get a late night meal. Again, I was very broke and a good meal was always memorable and appreciated. (I was acquiring my own cooking chops as well and this was the time I really started to figure out cooking.) I was just starting to leave off eating meat, but still did. Bruce’s cooking achievement was a traditional cassoulet.

Generally Bruce, who was a very reserved man, made much of looking askance at my young (probably somewhat outrageous and loud) American ways and would often use a certain look of horror, eyebrows raised when I shocked, which was frequent – sometimes just looking at what I was wearing; I had a fondness for very bright colors at the time and at one point shaved my very long hair into a boy’s bob in response to my less than efficient shower at the flat. However, he generally also had a bit of a twinkle in his eye as well. In retrospect, he was fairly rigid in his ways and was very set in a routine; he needed the structure he created and wasn’t comfortable out of it. He stuttered a bit, something that is just coming back to me now in an effort to really remember him.

Bruce generally surrounded himself with a series of stunningly attractive waitresses whose skills had to include making the coffee (a large and somewhat erratic machine was involved) and at least assembly as well as serving of food. I still remember one woman named Emma who remains one of the most attractive women I have ever known and once told me a wild tale about having been a nanny for a famous German film director, who in addition to hitting on her, one day took her to a major film premiere without telling her where they were going. The Troubadour provided Bruce with both a social life and an endless line of attractive women, both customers and staff.

No tables outside when I frequented it as in this undated photo – also door painting is new to me.

He was a kind person and to his cousin I related a story about a mutual friend, my age, Hedwig Dumangier, who suffered terribly from epilepsy – she would have “tremblies” as she called them, several times a day and throughout the night. Specialists were unable to control it, although she tried a variety of medications and I believe had seen doctors across Europe. She was unerringly cheerful about it and took it in stride, however, when Hedwig failed to find employment due to her disability, Bruce gave her a job waitressing at the Troub for as long as she needed it. (This was very hard on dishes and occasionally food ended up in the lap of customers, but Bruce never really cared that much about the comfort of his customers!) On another occasion he invited my friend Sue to spend Christmas Eve with him and Don when she was alone in London. She was Jewish so the midnight mass they attended (sharing a flask in the back of the church) was I believe, memorable indeed.

Bruce was the one who was interested in classical music and I remember him trying to impress upon the young me that the sound quality of CD’s was inferior to LP’s. He had an elaborate turntable and a record collection which seemed substantial at the time, although I now know that a large record collection is generally in the thousands. If I could go back in time I would ask him if he didn’t also collect 78’s, maybe he did. Of course, even better sound quality there – but I knew none of this at the time and it was my first introduction to the concept. He played me the same recordings on both to make his point, but my untrained ear failed to really catch on at the time.

The very beautiful Old Brompton Cemetery was down the road and I used to take long walks there as well. This was less unusual in Britain and many folks walked there.

Although I knew Bruce had died back in 2014 (at age 69) I did not realize that he had been in nursing care for dementia in the last years of his life. He had sold The Troubadour in 1998 and retired in the Chelsea area. His cousin tells me that growing up his parents ran an inn where his father would have held forth behind a bar much as Bruce would later in life at the coffee house, although his family’s preoccupation with running the inn meant that he was sent away to school early on as well. Bruce lost his mother to cancer when in was just 17 or 18 and purchased The Troubadour when he was only 25. Knowing his background, growing up with parents running an inn, that makes more sense now – he grew up in the business. He was estranged from his mother’s side of the family after she died. My favorite bit of information is that he was nabbed for smuggling Swiss watches into the country. Bruce would have been attracted to Swiss watches and their fine mechanisms!

For those of you who made it through this very long post, thank you for staying the course. I hope this gives a bit more color to my description of him to his cousin Sara, who made the inquiry. It made me think hard about that time in my life which I haven’t really in a long time and so it was very much on my mind. I hope you enjoyed the trip, but hope to return to Felix and finds next week.

Knock, Knock

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Let the cat post begin! It has been awhile since a new cat item wandered into Deitch Studio, but this one was worth waiting for. It came to my via one of my favorite Instagram vendors, Mia @ The Ruby Foxes, or you can find her wares at therubyfoxes.com, but then you wouldn’t be treated to her frequent posts which not only have great stuff, but showcase her two cats (Enid and Astrid) and take the viewer on glorious, daily five mile runs through the British countryside. Her account says she resides in Arundel, Sussex and let me tell you, it is stunningly beautiful.

Photo from Carl Schurz Park earlier this week.

This pandemic year has given me a vast, new appreciation for glimpses of other folks lush landscapes as an armchair traveler of sorts – and for what it is worth I try to treat my Instagram followers to my East River views, park foliage and wildlife in my IG stories as a reminder of our urban pleasures. Some of you know that I recently made the acquaintance of a young hawk who insistently swoops in front of me as I entered the park each morning. (Look at me!) Just yesterday he was hunting about a block from the park and I saw him as I headed over, soaring high above me, being chased by wary, angry crows and sparrows. (An interesting example of warring bird factions who wouldn’t typically otherwise unite for a specific cause.)

Immature hawk (red tail?) posing on a lamppost after flying past me repeatedly one morning while warming up for my run.

Mia, on the other hand, has hedgehogs in her garden and she has rigged up a camera to film the pudgy little fellows at night! They are delightful! The other day she gave some instructions for encouraging them back to British gardens as they no longer thrive there the way they once did. We all do love the hedgehog footage.

A glance at the Ruby Foxes IG page. Just out of sight is a rhinestone horsehoe pin I might need if it hasn’t sold. The lower right is a hedgehog night cam video! Enid is the pretty long-hair and Astrid the large ear-ed youngster of the kits shown.

Mia is an accomplished runner and shared views of her muddy track shoes through spring – extra muscle building, those muddy paths I would imagine. She ticks off five miles daily and is very diligent. While I suspect she is younger than yours truly it does inspire and impress me mightily, as my sort of sloppy, very slow and approximately three miles has taken a long time to achieve. Mia sent encouragement early on when I told her I was trying to start running which was also very kind, and she and her five miles in the English countryside are a sort of vision board for me and my nascent, slow and urban, efforts.

However, this is all to say that I found The Ruby Foxes because she sells antique jewelry and other antique bits and pieces on Instagram and I like to see those too. I have written some about my fascination with early 20th century British jewelry and vintage clothing as it is a sort of a parallel universe to the same period in the US. I am enjoying the baubles and bits of their bygone age and as it is slightly different than our own, it has renewed my interest in this sort of thing. (My other posts about this can be found here and here.) I considered it a sign of good mental health when I got interested in jewelry again – proof that some part of my brain was thinking about a future where I would again be out in the world someday. I am developing a fascination with lucky horseshoe pins and insect pins.

Not doing this little beauty justice, but moonstones are like opals in that they are hard to photograph!

Recently I purchased a tiny moonstone ring from her. I have long been a fan of moonstones and have had my eye out for a simple, early ring like this one. It is a tad small, even for my littlest finger, but after some to and fro we decided that it could be made a bit bigger if needed. However, best of all, Mia reminded me that ages ago I said I wanted a cat door knocker which she had subsequently tucked away for me until such time as we added something to the order which I guess didn’t happen. I don’t know how I let this little fellow slip my mind because he is wonderful!

He is quite small, the size of the palm of my hand so what, about five inches? As a door knocker he is small, although solidly made of brass and I would imagine he would emit a suitable knocking on your door. (In size he reminds me more of a mezuzah than a door knocker.) Still, I can’t help but feel he is somewhat apartment sized and really would be ideal for a door like ours here where you are never more than half a room away from the front door.

Living in a large apartment building which has restricted front door access (in our case a rotation of doormen) means that not a lot of knocking goes on here. Oddly though, we have a new, shy porter who has instituted the practice of leaving some of our packages at our front door and he quietly knocks when he does it. It made Cookie hiss the first time, which seemed like an extreme reaction. Still, we were all a bit surprised and of course now when you go to open your door you have to find your mask first and chances are you are on a Zoom call for work at the same time and carrying the ipad or phone around with you. It doesn’t happen often and so it is a bit of a big deal.

Our broken bell, misnamed home and a bit of peeling door paint. I gather these will all be repainted shortly.

Our NYS regulation fire safe metal doors also seem a tad knocker unfriendly. We technically have a doorbell built into the door although it broke within weeks of my moving in here decades ago and I wouldn’t begin to imagine how to have it replaced or repaired. There is also a bit of press tape with the prior owner’s name stuck in (J. Radigan, whoever and wherever you are) where the broken bell is. We have lived here incognito for several decades. (Yes, I have always been a bit casual about some aspects of home maintenance.)

Meanwhile, I don’t foresee putting this great little fellow out in the hall. For one thing, I like to look at him. He has tiny holes for thin nails and I cannot imagine somehow drilling him into our fire-approved metal door. Since we live in one room, doors are in short supply here, so I think he will grace a wall or shelf instead.

Cat Knocker, I would guess by the same maker, for sale on eBay.

I have found some of his feline grinning brethren online – a few identical and a few kissing cousins, likely of the same origin. The general consensus is that he is British and Victorian. The variation that is perhaps more available seems to be just his head, with the bow the actual knocking part, shown above, and identified as the Cheshire Cat. I wouldn’t mind assembling a few more cat knocker variations if the opportunity arises and am a bit tempted by the eBay offer although that one does look like he has been poorly polished at some point.

Yet another variation on the theme available on eBay.

I like my guy best I think, with his full cat body, smile and big bow tie. Hard to see but his grin is a bit toothy and there is an almost worn away whisker or two. The smile is a slightly enigmatic one, his toes tucked together and somehow the knocker gives a sense of a tail which does not exist. He will do a nice job of guarding our house, even if it is from the inside and not out.

Softball

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: As I write this it is developing into a soft spring day here in New York City and if it doesn’t cloud up too much I hope to get out for a run in a bit and enjoy it. There is something about this photo of women playing softball or baseball, which makes me yearn toward summer. On the back of the photo, in pencil script, it says only, Backyard NH Aug 1945. The stately farmhouse in the background and all these trees, it is a regular idyll. It fed directly into my desire for the outdoors this spring as I observe every new sign of growth and progress toward summer daily. (I snatched it up via a sale by @_wherethewillowsgrow_ a favorite photo friend.)

I am very fond of the suspender style shorts worn by the pitcher and the short skirt of the catcher is pretty cute too. There is a protective fence between them and that lovely house so this is a well-used baseball diamond. The photo has a haziness, as if some how the humidity of that August afternoon and the visual incarnation could reach out and frizz my hair a bit, all these years later. The trees seem to fade right into the whited out sky. It is trimmed with those wonderful scalloped edges, the way photos often were at that time.

By August of 1945, I guess WWII was just about to be declared over officially. Of course people would have had a pretty good sense that it was ending, but I wonder if after all those long years they really believed it. Were things already hopeful in August of 1945 or were they just beyond exhausted by it all? Probably both by turns and that six years and the devastation of millions dead is among the world events that greatly overshadows even our current world-wide woes.

Yesterday I made a trip to the East Village for the first time since fall, to see about getting my eyeglasses repaired – they broke just as I was leaving for New Jersey a few weeks ago and I have been living in my spare pair. It was a riotously beautiful day, sunny but windy and still jacket weather. There is a wonderful glut of tulips this spring – speculation in the paper about if New Yorkers are just enjoying them more or if there are more. As a tulip lover I would vote for there are more of them – but we are definitely loving them all.

Masses of tulips in front of a building on 85th and Second Avenue.

Meanwhile, East Village residents were out in force on the streets and packing every outdoor hut and cafe. Manhattan has changed I believe for the long-term, in this way, and New Yorkers have claimed the sidewalks and streets. I think it has given birth to a new sort of cafe society outdoors. Temporary huts gradually giving way to more permanent structures and perhaps like Paris, our restaurants will largely open onto the streets.

Veselka’s has established this substantial outdoor space which now dominates the block.

Looking more carefully however it is easy to gloss over the vast number of empty retails spots, like a growing gap-tooth smile. Some old friends are among the missing. A favorite toy store has disappeared after 38 years, heart breaking, but not unexpected. I wrote about them in a prior post which can be found here.

Dinosaur Hill Toys is sadly gone! They had elegant, new toys and I always stopped in to pick up some small token.

I stopped in at a clothing store on the same block on 9th Street, DL Cerney (@dlcerny, their site can be found here and I have written a little about them before) which I am very fond of. Their men’s trousers have been the only “hard” trousers I have worn since March of 2020 and it is them I will look them to dress me in some sort of return to the world clothing. Their designs, fabrics and tailoring is exquisite. I found them in a little storefront tucked between McSorley’s and a friend’s apartment on 7th Street many years ago. At the time I could only afford the occasional item and they were selling a mix of vintage and their own designs. (I had a pair of heavy, men’s black Cuban heels I wore, resoled and wore through again in my 20’s. Maybe best shoes ever.) Eventually, sadly they disappeared and it was literally decades later that I rediscovered them in a storefront on 9th, further east by a block, having taken over a storefront from another shop I frequented.

Since then, over the past several years, I have been happily clad in their lovely button down shirts and men’s trousers which make me feel a little like Katherine Hepburn, or sometimes just a well-dressed man. My feeling is that I am always perfectly attired (if also very comfortable) in their clothes. I have taken the trousers to London and Johannesburg and worn them endlessly. Having said that the trousers are fairly indestructible and my elderly tailor admires them each time I bring a new pair in to be hemmed with cuffs. For me they are a reasonable starting point for a transition out of daily workout clothes, thinly veiled with sweaters and the occasional necklace or earrings for a shoulders up appearance on Zoom.

As I tried on a few things I talked to Linda St. John, who along with Duane Cerney, are the principals of the business, and a bit of shopping there is also a nice visit with whoever is in the shop that day. We talked a bit about where New York seems to be in the recovery process, and for them it is still a bit discouraging I think. Like those of us in the performing arts (trying to re-open our hall and our club Dizzy’s at Jazz at Lincoln Center), retail continues to lag and in their case the loss of tourism and students (not to mention the subtle migration out of small city apartments to bigger digs for those who could afford it) continues to erode business. They have challenges with suppliers. We are all trying to stay afloat until we reach the shores of better times.

We discussed, as I have with Wynton and my colleagues, whether we are poised at the beginning of the end of this long pandemic haul or not. We may be or is it just the next bend in the road? The end of the beginning rather than the end – I hope not! However, none of us knows what our corner of the world will look like in six months, let alone another year and I think we’ve learned the hard lesson that we only thought we knew before anyway.

It wasn’t too difficult for Linda to talk me into a spring dress, although I had arrived hunting a linen version of the trousers I love, but in a slightly larger (post-pandemic) size than I am in possession of currently. Nonetheless, a dress, even a casual one, is like a stake in the ground, hopeful that there will be summer meals and drinks outdoors and maybe even days at the office as we inch our way forward.

Socialism, Pacifism and Then War: Politics in the Campfire Girls

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Preemptive apologies for those of you who don’t share my passion for early 20th Century young adult literature, because today I am posting about the Campfire Girls as they head into WWI. Also, a warning that I give away some key plot points so be forewarned if you are reading as a review and perhaps come back later after reading if that concerns you.

I have written about this series before (those posts can be found here and here), but this series is a bit hard to get your hands around because as I can best piece it together several authors were contributing books published at the same time so you think you are reading them in order, but you have picked up another story line. Also, many of the sources have listed the order of the books incorrectly further confounding my efforts to read them in some sort of order. The good news, and there is a lot of good news, is that they are widely available by free download, although I have been forced to read them on a variety of platforms – some decidedly less friendly than others, but after all, free is free. Most are available on the very user friendly Project Gutenberg website.

Camp Fire Girls, circa 1918.  Photo courtesy of Latah County Historical Society.

My best effort to rectify this was to find one author and follow her and I have been reading the books of Margaret Vandercook, aka Margaret Love Sanderson (warning however, that nom de plume was also used by a Emma Keats Speed Sampson), who was known as The Queen of the Camp Fire writers according to a brief Wikipedia entry, one which is especially useful in correctly listing her books. (Love you Goodreads, but you don’t have it straight and neither does the Wikipedia entry under The Campfire Girls overall.) There are 21 Camp Fire Girls books to her name (although oddly Wikipedia only lists 14) and she also wrote the Ranch Girls, Red Cross Girls and Girl Scout novels.

Her bio is brief, born in 1877 in Kentucky, she lived until 1958. Married for eight years to John Filkin Vandercook who eventually became the first President of the United Press Association, so we will assume he was a writer too. After his death in 1908 she started to write professionally and, man, she was prolific – churning out several of these novels a year. Strangely though, she appears to stop writing abruptly, at least in this genre and as far as I can tell, in the early 1920’s. I wonder if she remarried at that time and no longer needed to support herself and her son? A mention is made of magazine work, articles, poems and stories. Also, perhaps they run longer since as I pointed out the list I am working from appears to be incomplete.

From Campfire Girls at Camp Keewaydin

There’s a lot of charm in these books and I really took a bath in the lore and accoutrements of the Camp Fire Girls as outlined in the early books – rings, costumes, poems and all. While this remains a backdrop Vandercook stealthily moves us into other territory and as the century turns from the early and mid-teens to 1918 and beyond she is writing stories that are almost contemporaneous accounts of the country preparing for and entering in WWI. There is a strange sense in reading them one after the other, that perhaps they were written in larger chunks and then parsed into pieces that make up the novels. The story continuity from one to another is seamless and more like the next chapter in a book than a new book in many of these.

From Campfire Girls at Camp Keewaydin

Much to my surprise in The Camp Fire Girls at the End of the Trail (1917) Socialism pops up. The Camp Fire Girls have been out west for a volume already (also, we are on the second generation of girls here and Vandercook wised up and they age a bit more slowly in the second half of the series) and the younger brother of one is sent to stay with them to recover from the sort of mysterious wasting diseases that seemed to permeate the pre-antibiotic world. He is portrayed as an usual young man, only about 15 years old, and among his peculiarities it emerges that he is a Socialist.

Group portrait of Socialist Party members gathered for the Socialist Convention and Eugen V. Debs picnic in Canton, Ohio 1918.

In the first volume of their time out west there is an effort to address the situation for Native Americans which I think was sincere, if ham-handed and wrong by today’s standards. Socialism, which is addressed in the form of young Billy getting involved with railroad union organizing. Seems Billy had gotten an earful of Socialist propaganda from a Russian immigrant working on his father’s farm in New Hampshire. He finds his way into an enclave of railroad workers and becomes a leader among them – but pushing a non-violent agenda among. It ends badly, with violence, for which he is ultimately blamed, but in a glossing over it is quickly remedied by his family’s wealth and connections. It manages to be both sympathetic and yet illustrate what was probably the more accepted feeling of the day about unions and Socialism. While it seemed a bit surprising, again, these were novels that were addressing the current events of the day in almost real time.

End paper for Camp Fire Girls at the End of the Trail via Project Gutenberg.

Without ruining the plot, I will just say that his pacifism is treated with some thoughtfulness considering how enthusiastically we are told Americans generally geared up for that war. It is fair to say it is presented as an untenable view, but not without sympathy for his position. Frankly, I was surprised and would have expected these books to be full only of endorsement for our entrance into the war.

Vandercook wasn’t done with this character yet and uses him to address pacifism in the next volume as the country tunes up for entry into the war. Published in 1918 The Camp Fire Girls Behind the Lines still has them in the West, but now near a newly established army training base in the country, somewhere in Southern California. Billy has been joined by his brother who is anxious to enlist. Billy, on the other hand, is a vocal pacifist and decries the military approach to solving the world’s problems. He wiles his way into working at the army base and makes friends with the fellows working there, becoming very popular with them. It would seem he intends to infiltrate them and then convert them to his way of thinking, but again, things take a very different turn in the end.

In case you are wondering, these are just sub-plots in these novels which still very much manage to be about this clutch of Campfire Girls and told from their perspective.

Finally, I found myself at the group of novels which deal directly with the war and takes a slightly smaller group of girls to France to help with the reclamation work which evidently began there even before the war ended. First I will volunteer that I thought this was likely where I would get off this trolley because this seemed like an absurd idea and this sort of girls in the Red Cross thing was profoundly uninteresting to me. (As I said to Kim, these kinds of books going to war is a bit like most series going out west, the beginning of the end.)

However, I learned that there is historical precedent for a small number of self-financed women who actually did this – driving cars (a skill which many of their French counterparts did not possess), bringing first aide, childhood education to a generation of orphans and semi-orphans, and all sorts of similar endeavors – a small but determined league of women did do this work taking on six month hitches at a go. (All of the photos snatched here can be found on Mashable, 1914-1918 Working Women of WWI here. A rather excellent entry about some of this history can be found here on the Morgan Library site from one of their exhibitions.)

Women shoveling snow from the road Paris France

Therefore the storyline was an acceptable one and doesn’t entirely stretch credulity as I originally thought. (Learning these somewhat forgotten bits of history along the way is one of the decided byproducts of reading these books.) Again, these books were written almost in real time so I would think she did know what would be believable and acceptable to her audience. If the idea that the Campfire Girls were establishing their first roots in France this way has any historical reality or not.

Women grease and inspect the signals Gare du Nord Paris France

Perhaps more to the point Vandercook makes these compelling stories and her descriptions of war torn France have the ring of truth and reality. Although well traveled there is no indication that she actually was in Europe during or immediately following the war and I assume it was newsreels and news accounts that informed her writing – and the tales of these women abroad must have captured her imagination.

Women making missiles in a munitions factory England

Not surprisingly, there is a strong underlying patriotism to these stories, as to be expected. Then again though, there are details which we get from this real time account – the feeling of Paris on the day the armistice was declared; the reaction to Wilson as part of the Peace Conference there which is fascinating and wonderful. She writes about a post-war ambivalence between American and French troops which must have been a real issue. of the day. Incidentally, my pandemic pals, the 1918 Influenza epidemic is entirely ignored.

It is a bit painful to read about as their hopes for a lasting world peace is detailed and never suspecting that we would be back at war a scant twenty plus years later. Sadly we know what the future held and that these hopes for a lasting world peace were not to be.

Family Photos

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today I get to combine my love of early photos with family. While I was visiting mom in New Jersey last week, my cousin Patti took out a huge basket of photos we went through together. Some folks remained unidentified, but a core group appeared throughout. (I wrote about this side of my family back in a post around a photo of a very early family wedding celebration. It can be found here.)

These are entirely my mother’s side of the family, the Italian immigrants who settled on the Jersey shore and ran a series of restaurants and food stands in what was a popular beach community. I apologize for the reproduction quality – I was just taking pictures of these photos on my phone.

As far as I can tell the genesis of these food enterprises was my great, great grandfather – last name Cittadino, first name not known to me. He is shown below in two photos, with car and bike.

Pams-Pictorama.com
Pams-Pictorama.com

I especially like the one of him with a bike. Regretfully no one knew who the two hotsy totsy looking, well dressed young women were. They showed up in some other photos. None of these photos were marked and had largely at one point been in an album, but we realized what everyone does when looking at family photos which is there are a lot of people who were friends or folks they worked with who were like family, but sadly no one remembers now.

The Deli, shown below, seems to have been the first restaurant incarnation of the family. I only recently learned of this earlier version of the family food establishments. As per an email from my mom below, I gather it was a place to eat as well as the take out sale of food. Sorry to say, these two fellows in the photo remain unidentified.

My grandfather had a deli and related food sale place in Long Branch on the Main Street Broadway. Every morning he walked to the bank for day cash on the way passed the owner of the bar getting to the bank. They struck up a conversation the fellow told him he was tired and wanted out. My grandfather then struck a deal walked on to the bank and got the loan went back and gave him the cash and that was it. He walked back to the deli told my grandmother and the customers eating there at the time and agreed all would help move down the street and that is how he moved down to the building with friends and customers helping shortly after when they did.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Norwood was the name of a street in Long Branch, in fact the street where my grandmother and the extended family had a home. (I wrote about that house in a post that can be found here). As per my mother’s email, the deli and the bar that followed, were actually on Broadway, the long main drag of what was once the thriving downtown which I believe ends at the ocean where the Boardwalk once thrived. The family home was within walking distance of the Deli and Bar, I think probably 15 or twenty minute walk, of it.

The family also seems to have two food concessions on the Long Branch Boardwalk as well, one I had always heard about, owned by my Aunt Ro. However, another turned up in these photos and I am not sure who owned this stand, but the general consensus was that this was not Ro’s but another. Not sure who is pictured here either, although he resembles my great uncle Frankie, but is too long ago to be him. Perhaps the Al mentioned on the awning boasting a Quick Lunch.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

The family’s bar is what is remembered best by my mom, run by her grandparents, her mom and aunts. Mom would go to their apartment above the bar after school as a small child. Although much of the family worked there – not Mom’s father, Frank, who was an engineer for Bendix. While it is always referred to by family as The Bar, it served a lot of food as well. In addition to the daily fare special Sunday dinners were offered to steady customers, all prepared by the women of the extended family. Mom remembers them cooking non-stop between the restaurant and family.

The photo below is the aforementioned Frankie, father of my cousin Patti who stays with my mom these days and found these photos cleaning out her house. I believe this shot was at the bar although I would have voted for it being one of the beach concessions. (I wrote about my sectioned blue Willoware plates which were the Blue Plate Special plates at the bar and are our everyday dishes. You can find that post here.) My mom and uncle were too young to work there, although my mother used her restaurant background to waitress her way through college later in life.

Hot dog concession with Frankie manning the flatop and Great Grandpa Cittadino behind him. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

The establishment remains today, at 591 Broadway in Long Branch – currently Johnny Piancone’s, ironically also an Italian bar restaurant. I have never been – although once my father and I had pizza in the place next door which I gathered from him had been there as long as he has known my mother.

My uncle ate at the restaurant several years back and they allowed him to visit the apartment upstairs which he also remembered vividly from afternoons there as a child. I have shown the bar today below which I found on the FB page. The bar pictured may be the originally one, although I believe my uncle said it had been cut down. The restaurant appears to have survived the pandemic with outdoor dining in a backyard and I would think doing take out. It’s nice to know that it is still there, still going in its own way.

Jersey Bound

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Last weekend for the first time since October I headed out to see my mom in New Jersey. As I had in the fall, I hopped on the ferry at 34th Street and the East River. I say hopped on, but there is a lot of queuing up, appropriately distanced, and waiting to get on the numerous boats to go up and down the river and coast. The same ferry line that takes me to Highlands goes significantly further north, up to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. (Although perhaps the more substantial model boat that I took home at the end of the trip, more on that later.)

Like many people I have been hesitant to see my elderly mother and possibly inadvertently infect her. She has not been well and I have wanted very much to go, so I took a Covid test and hopped on the ferry last week. I sat on the upper deck outside and it was cold, but a gorgeous day. Like the trip in the fall, it felt strangely heady and almost decadent to be traveling. (I wrote about that first trip out of town in an October post here.)

For my fellow workaholics I will confide, it was the closest I have come to unplugging in more than a year. I only attended one meeting in two days and colleagues were very thoughtful and there were less emails than usual. I’m pleased to report that no major meltdowns occurred.

Leaving the dock at 34th Street.

I thought I had dressed warmly enough, but was wrong again. I always forget how much colder it is on the water and on a boat zipping along that way. I layered on all of shirts I had with me, put Beethoven on my earphones and watched the scenery while perched outside reading the Camp Fire Girls Behind the Lines which I have downloaded to my phone. (If you are curious about my Camp Fire Girls reading, I have written about those early juveniles from the teens here and here.) The trip is only about 50 minutes (an hour and a half on the train) – twice as expensive, but half the time. Since I don’t go that often it is well worth it.

As we enter the Sandy Hook Bay I start to get nostalgic for my childhood. I remember being in my grandfather’s small fishing boat, the Imp, or later sailing with my dad in that Bay. Not that often, but often enough that the sense memory kicks in when I see it. As we get closer to Highlands memories of walking on the Hook come back too. I have walked it in all seasons, the fall there being especially pretty and quiet.

Grabbed this photo off of Pinterest, the boat view from a mile or so away from where the ferry docks.

Highlands and Atlantic Highlands are built into hills right on the water, making for some dramatic, virtually vertical roads leading up to wealthier inhabitants at the top, with commanding views of the water, river and ocean. Perched at the very top are the Twin Lights, important lighthouses in their day, now non-functioning and a museum. Erected in 1828 the existing structure is from 1862. It was a landmark I always looked for from car and boat growing up in the area.

At sea level there are tiny houses, mostly raised with garages on the ground level to address constant flooding. I have always had a yen to own one of these little houses. For some reason, although I grew up along another part of the river, this area always had the pull on my heart. If I had bought a house there it would have been in this area or in Sea Bright on the other side of the Bay.

Mom’s house.

Mom currently lives in a small town next to the town where I grew up, about 15 minutes from the ferry. After spending most of this year cooped up in our tiny studio apartment, her little house seems expansive – stairs! The surrounding neighborhood is in a glory of spring blooming and flowering trees, tulips and other flowers are just bursting all over.

I got up early for a run and took the route to a friend’s house, figuring I was least likely to get lost that way. It was Edenic. Just running without a mask was blissful. The cherry trees and magnolias were so beautiful (some shown above) I ordered one of each for Mom’s yard for Mother’s Day.

Another morning gave me a chance to walk on a virtually empty beach, a few miles from where the ferry dropped me, in the town of Sea Bright. It was a very warm day and the sand was hard packed for easy walking, the ocean lapping. It too was heavenly.

Beach in Sea Bright.
Sea Bright and the main drag there, Ocean Avenue, taken from the boardwalk on the beach. Rory’s is the current incarnation of a restaurant I waitressed at in college, Harry’s Lobster House.

Meanwhile, in the past year my mother has acquired two stray kittens who are in the middle and latter stages of adolescence now. I seem to terrify and fascinate them both, Peaches and Gus. I missed my friend Red who died in the past year as well. (I wrote about him in my post Red Buttons, here.) However, these two keep things lively in the house, racing around constantly. (Gus on the left, Peaches – very worried – on the right.)

On the third morning it was time to head back to Manhattan. I stayed an extra night and took the 6:00 AM ferry back to the City. There were many more passengers than I would have expected and a larger, more no-nonsense ferry in use. The upper outside deck was closed off so I stayed warm inside and watched the sunrise over the river.

Best Wishes for Health and Happiness for the Year 1936

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I purchased today’s card recently on eBay – the lurid colors, patterns complimented the toys nicely – and what nice toys this little girl is sporting! While it was the black cat tucked under her arm that got my attention, it is really that nice dog that steals the show. He has a nice ruffled collar and reminds me of the paper mache bulldogs (growlers) that I have hankered for over many years. I will hope to be in a Paris flea market and finding him someday in the future. I share a French dog cousin of this one, acquired there in 2015. (The related blog post of a jolly raiding of French flea markets can be found here.)

Dog toy acquired in Paris. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

To be entirely fair to the black cat he is interesting too and one I have not seen before. I suspect he has a nice fluffly tail hiding behind her arm. He has been done in the manner of the Steiff cats, but we can see by his small head and bright white whiskers that he is something else. He would make a nice addition to my collection as well.

This card falls loosely into a category of my collection of French cards, with lucky black cats or real cats, sometimes luridly colored. (The post below can be found here.)

Painted Puss, from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

The photographer for this birthday card had an excellent set though and I am sort of mad for the geometric modern art rug the little girl is standing on. Somehow the many patterns – her dress, the rug and those great striped knee socks – all work together. The contrasting color which would have been applied after wasn’t leaving anything up to chance and somehow the orange bit up at the top brings it all home. The French had something going on with these. It’s a sharp little card.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

This card was used as a card, but never mailed. Written on the back in ink, roughly translated a la Google, it reads, Dear friend, Best wishes for happiness and health for the year 1936. Andree and Fernandy (?). That as best I can tell. Of course the front of the card wishes the recipient a Happy Birthday as well. It probably will not surprise Pictorama readers that I would consider it a very nice birthday indeed if I were to receive these toys.

The Greatest Comic Song Yet

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Pictorama readers know I haven’t posted new cat sheet music in quite awhile, but this one caught my eye and I thought it should join the Pictorama collection. Perhaps I will bring it to the office as a return to Columbus Circle offering later this year. (I have written about the sheet music which adorns my tiny office. Those posts can be found here, here and here.)

Despite being The Greatest Comic Song Yet I will admit up front that I was unable to find any sign of a recording of this tune, The Cat’s Dead. A few of his more popular tunes such as And Her Golden Hair was Hanging Down Her Back and Comrades have left some creaky musical tracks. (Period recordings of these can be found on the DAHR, Discography of American Historical Recordings site here if you are curious. However, a better rendition if you actually want to hear the lyrics is the Youtube recording from a performance at the Metropolitan Museum in 2016, performed in the American Wing. It can be found here.)

Pams-Pictorama.com collection. Featured in a 2017 sheet music post.

According to Wikipedia, Felix McGlennon was born in Glasgow in 1856, the son of an Irish shoemaker. McGlennon, who specialized in comic dance hall and vaudeville songs, settled in Manchester, England where he published his first penny songbooks. He later emigrated to the United States in the mid-1880’s and this song and his others of note seem to be published in the United States in the 1890’s. He took his success and return to England and set up his own music and postcard publishing company there in 1909. He lived until age 87, dying in 1943.

My favorite part of the brief Wikipedia entry claims that he had no musical training and picked his tunes out on a toy piano. I share two quotes from the site below which I gather more or less summed up his philosophy on his music:

Assume, if you like, that what I write is rubbish. My reply is “It is exactly the sort of rubbish I am encouraged by the public to write”… All my life I have tried to produce an article for which there is a public demand. If I visit a music hall, it is with the single object of instructing myself as to the class of thing that is pleasing the public. Then, I try to write it – and write nothing else.

On another occasion, he said: “I would sacrifice everything – rhyme, reason, sense and sentiment – to catchiness. There is, let me tell you, a very great art in making rubbish acceptable.

The Cat’s Dead is considered an American song, published in 1893 by the Anglo American Musical Agency, but it has an English copyright. It would appear that the song and music is by Mr. McGlennon.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Sadly there is no artist credit for the great cat art on the cover which is of course why I purchased it. There is a tiny company credit which reads, NAT PH. ENG Co NY in the lower right corner so presumably it came from an engraving company library of sorts.

The music cost a rather dear forty cents. Google tells me that is about $15 in today’s money.

Our feline fellow has something of the old Confederate soldier about him – something about his vest. He has lost an eye and uses these odd crutches (I like that you can see his claws on his paws), but of course there’s something about him that makes you think he could still do a jig if he had enough liquor in him. I love his face with that sharp toothy grin, whiskers aplenty and the one smiling eye.

The lyrics are sort of awful and I will spare you those – all about the various ways they went about killing the cat who always repeatedly came back – until the end of the song. Although, as we see from the cover, Don’t you believe it!!