Newsworthy

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Many ongoing Pictorama readers know that my father, Elliott Butler, was a career cameraman for ABC News. Therefore, news of all sorts has been digested by my family in a variety of fashions but with great gusto over the years. A background of television and radio news is among my earliest childhood memories.

The radio news issued all day and into the evening from a large (12″x18″ ish?) brown box of a radio which sat atop of the refrigerator in each house we lived in until the last, when somehow it magically disappeared. It was on an all-news station almost all of the time, at least until my sister was old enough and tall enough to occasionally turn it to music. Back it would ultimately go to the staple of news however. (My mother allowed my sister her way with music in the car more often, but oddly I have little or no memory of every changing either. It was easier not to get in the middle of their minor tugs of war I guess.)

A reasonable facsimile of the radio I remember gracing our kitchen for years. It must have been purchased before my father’s affection for all electronics Sony.

In those years television news was consumed mostly in the early evening and again later at night. It was viewed on a scratchy black and white television at first (I have vague memories of the landing on the moon viewed on the smallest and almost impossible to see little portable television). Occasionally we would watch a different television channel in an attempt to see my father filming a major story for his channel. A very large man, 6’5″, he towered over most of the other folks. He always wore a distinctive hat and these made him easy to spot.

This was one of Dad’s favorite styles of work hats.

As a small child I thought I would grow up to be a journalist. There is a photo of tiny tot Pam dressed up like a reporter which is on display in Mom’s house. I may take a picture of it and add it to this post when I am there later in the upcoming week. I held onto this thought as a possible career into adolescence, but it faded as my interest in visual art grew over time. I don’t think I would have been well suited to it in the end and I think it was mostly a response to wanting to be like my dad.

A whole post could be devoted to my father’s work wardrobe which was devised with a stunning combination of practicality and his mother’s underlying sartorial sensibility. I look at images of how cold it is in the Ukraine and I know my father would have been there sporting an Eddie Bauer long down coat which covered even his long frame (the size of a sleeping bag to a young me) and down trousers to match for extreme cold. Layers of long underwear and wool (he was religious about wool socks in winter cold and for a quiet man he could nonetheless preach their virtues and how wool keeps you warm even when wet), would have been topped with a wool (itchy) watch cap on his head.

In warmer weather he favored safari suits for their myriad pockets which light meters and other tools of his trade might be stuffed. Years of standing outside for hours a day helped fine tune his work clothing to a perfect pitch.

Ad for a version of the safari suit dad favored throughout his career.

Dad bought for quality as well as practicality though and he liked shopping, unlike my mother who frankly has barely ever noticed what she wears as long as it is temperature appropriate and not confining in anyway. (My mother has a hatred of pantyhose which is well documented in the family. You could sometimes coax her into a pair of tights if weather permitted, but an event which required pantyhose of her roused her ire immediately. She often threatened to just strip them off and leave them on the sidewalk as she had seen stray pairs thus on the streets of New York. My mom imagined women like herself who couldn’t take it another minute.) I inherited my father’s love of clothing and fabrics although in terms of style and design we differed some.

My father was equally at home in a suit and owned a fair number of them. There are things he never wore – shorts and cotton or linen suits number among them, as was any fiber that wasn’t natural. I believe this impacted my own opinion of what men (as in boyfriends and eventual spouse) should wear. He had specific ideas about my attire and I wish I had asked my sister if he tried to impress these on her as well because oddly I don’t remember that he did, but no one ever really told Loren what to do.

A vintage men’s long Eddie Bauer made coat of the type Dad favored.

The background of radio news helped my mother gauge if my father might be called away or kept at work. It was local New York news on the radio in those days although we always lived in a New Jersey suburb. My mother’s brother, John Wheeling, worked for CBS radio and so that was the radio station of choice. (He had a variety of jobs writing, producing and on-air, a few years in sports at the end of his career. He once did an on-air report on a hurricane from our house, surrounded as we were by flooding waters.) As I said, we were a news family. Between the commute and his schedule we rarely had dinner with dad and I was always surprised by my friends who had set dinner hours for when their father would come home from work each day. Other than weekends and vacations it was a novelty to find him home in time for dinner with us as small children.

Dad woke to a clock radio of also tuned to news, loud enough to wake the whole house at least briefly. I too still wake to a clock radio, but with the more soothing sounds of WQXR classical radio although hungry cats have sometimes gotten to us first.

A parade of clock radios, all Sony I think, through my childhood and young adulthood. One of mine caught fire once when I was in my 20’s as I remember.

For most of his career my father traveled to news locations across the country and the world. First using film which would need to be developed before going on air, grabbed by three in the afternoon by messengers who would get it back to the newsroom, then moving to video and finally the ability to send it via phone lines and satellite for broadcast. News bureaus did not exist robustly across the country and the world in the early days of news and he would travel, frequently by car but sometimes by air, on a routine basis, storing up a list of restaurants and stores he liked to visit in towns across the US and occasionally countries he went back to visit later.

A bit earlier I think, but reasonably close to the Sony portable tv’s I knew.

As a media consuming family, transistor radios and portable televisions multiplied around my childhood home. I was very attached to both and have memories of carrying a small Sony radio around with me, not to mention hours spent in front of a small black and white (also Sony) television in my room.

My fondness for clock radios continues today with a series of Sony cubes to wake me at home in the morning.

His work was of course occasionally dangerous. He covered riots at a time when the news wasn’t seen as friendly or potentially necessary documentation of an event. He hung out of helicopters and traveled to areas of political unrest. He knew colleagues who were killed while on the job in war torn areas and he was smart to take his safety seriously. I cannot watch television news without worrying about the crew in dangerous situations. In my mind my father is always among them.

Dad, next to the man in the red shirt, in an undated photo I also used in a January ’20 post.

In his retirement he himself became very attached to radio news – an amazing fondness for NPR and also a show called Car Talk notable since he had little interest in the mechanics of vehicles. Sometimes I would find him returned from a trip in the car, sitting in the driveway until some story or segment ended. In the last years of his life he would be peevish about CNN and how often their stories repeated on a loop which he would nonetheless watch. Meanwhile, my mother has in turn become a CNN addict and it is on the television in her house constantly. Her flatscreen television so large I believe I can see the pores on the news anchor’s faces.

I think a slightly later model, but definitely along the lines of the one I proudly carried around as a child.

After a year of Covid and election coverage frequenting our television I banned CNN and television news in our house to try to regain a sense of proportion and sanity around ongoing current events. I continued to consume my news primarily from the newspaper – I have subscribed continuously to the New York Times since I was in high school when I accepted a special subscription offer which continued through college. Although I still subscribe to the hard paper, like most people I read it mostly online these days. During the pandemic delivery times got later and papers were left in our lobby so it wasn’t possible to read the hard copy over breakfast as is my habit any longer. Online access allows me to investigate other news sources as well and I think if I had more time I would subscribe to the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal daily as well.

However, the outbreak of war in the Ukraine combined with long days spent with mom now, has drawn me back to watching television news, witnessing those horrors has continued even upon my return home. My diet of news television increasing again as I worry about those delivering the news as well as the events they are covering.

Swanning

Pam’s Pictorama Post: My mother is not a collector, I inherited the gene from my dad and from his side of the family. His mother loved to attend auctions here in the city and stuffed their house with carpets, furniture and trinkets. She loved costume jewelry – in many ways I am her successor. My father was an accumulator as well, garage sales, auctions. He was a man who liked stuff. While there were no toy or photograph collectors, I’m sure Pictorama readers realize that this is the category I fit into – and at least in this way I take most decidedly after the paternal side of my family. (I most recently wrote about Dad’s passion for silver in a post here.)

My mom on the other hand is not especially interested in things. She can be discerning about what she likes and prefers, but generally speaking my mother just lived among the stuff my father accumulated without being especially engaged with it or the acquisition of it. This is not to say she didn’t enjoy a trip to an antique shop or flea market – she would pick up this or that. However, she does not possess a deep affection for the items of the world, nor the acquisition of them.

Undated snapshot of my mom.

A scientist at heart my mother’s passion lies deeply embedded in the natural world. As a result I grew up with a cheerful allotment of pet cats, dogs and fish. (Two past posts addressing this roster of pets and my early life can be found here and here.) We had a vegetable garden which she planted and tended and we lived on a river where we enjoyed a passing parade of waterfowl and aquatic life. Her father was a devoted fisherman and repaired outboard motors and made fishing lures for extra money, so she knew the waters of the area well. Much of the idyll of my childhood I have shared with Pictorama readers was shaped by my mother’s views, knowledge and interests in the nature world of the seashore where we lived.

One Thanksgiving, several decades ago now, my mother noticed a flock of swans in the backyard and became intently interested in them. Before long she was feeding them as well as watching them, along with the geese and ducks which also made our river inlet home at the time. Eventually an injured one turned up and she found someone to help heal it. Slowly she became involved with a loose network of people who were knowledgeable and would help when an injured swan or goose would cross her path. I remember visiting my folks and finding that I was sharing the guest bathroom with an injured swan overnight. (He was a noisy neighbor that night!) Strangely (to my mind anyway) mute swans are an intensely political and controversial issue for people who live on or near the shore. Other than to acknowledge that it is, and that clearly my mom falls on the side of protecting this wildlife, it is not my intention to tackle that topic.

For today all this is to say that on that November afternoon my mother recognized and embraced her spirit animal and although she loves all birds (and in fact all animals) she is deeply and especially attached to swans. She has devoted much of her time and energy in subsequent years to caring for them and defending them with all the resources she could marshal. In recent years, no longer living on the water and now mostly confined to the house, I say she still wields a mighty phone and computer. Her now tiny yard remains a haven for song birds who attracted by and enjoy bird baths and feeders, as well as a garden designed to feed them and the insects. (I wrote a little about her gardening in a post here.)

While living on the waterfront those many years mom photographed the swans, along with geese, ducks, other birds and of course our cats. Those photos proliferated on the walls of the house and my father, the accumulator, brought her swan related items and in that way she became an inadvertent collector of swan stuff. However, when the time came to downsize into the house she lives in now she shed most of it without regret. I think she rather enjoys living a more pared down life.

Therefore, as her birthday approached this year, it was never my intention to purchase items of this sort for her. However, much like those first swans years ago, these presented themselves to me in recent weeks and I found myself purchasing first the pin and then the photo. The pin hails from the British jewelry dealer Mia (IG @therubyfoxes or therubyfoxes.com, my most recent past post of an acquisition from her can be found here) who told me that five flying swans is the symbol of the Nordic countries, swans of different types being the national birds of both Finland and Denmark. Although unmarked, esthetically it appears to be made in one of those countries. Mom was never much of a jewelry wearer and wears none now really, but I think she will like having this, perhaps on a piece of ribbon, pinned up near where she likes to sit most days.

Meanwhile, a week or so later when following a sale by my Halloween supplier, the Midwestern Miss Molly (IG @MissMollysAntiques who I gave a nod to just last week in a post here), I stumbled across this early photo of two swans and again I answered the call and purchased it for mom. There is something about the reflections in the water I think mom will especially like. Later today I will pick up a frame and tomorrow I head to Jersey to see mom, slightly in advance of her birthday later this month.

Sometimes when I run in the mornings I see geese or ducks here on the East River, flying by, and I email mom and tell her they were waving to her in tribute. It felt like these items also arrived on Instagram pointedly just in time for her birthday this year. Maybe although dad is gone, he is still finding a way to send a few swan items her way.

Planting

Pam’s Pictorama Post: My mother has always had a garden. Perhaps it speaks to her largely Italian roots where there was a grape arbor in the backyard, cherry and other fruit trees and a kitchen garden for vegetables. (Posts about my grandmother’s house and that yard can be found here, here and here.) It was fertile soil (Jersey is, after all, the Garden State) and responsive to care and planting.

The Cittadino family yard at the turn of the century.

Mom also majored in zoology and botany in college which was as close as she (she a mere woman at a girl’s college) could come to a pre-med course. Much of that work in botany would come out over time, making up the fascinating accumulation and source of information my mother is. (Although of course I suppose that’s what mother’s are!)

In the first house I have clear memories of residing at, there was an impressive rock garden planted by the previous owners. It climbed up the sloping backyard and in my child’s memory was enormous – probably much smaller than I remember. One of my earliest memories is being about 3 and sitting with my mom as she worked in that garden. I think she was weeding and I picked up a handful of tiny frog as I ‘helped’ her. He jumped, we all jumped and I screamed in terror as my mom tried to explain the nature of the frog to me.

I believe that this more formal sort of garden was not really mom’s taste which was clearly a bit more natural, wild even. However, presented with this beautiful garden she certainly did tend it lovingly.

In the cottage on the river where we lived until I was about 11 the soil was sandy and salty from the water. Betty dug her heels in and really did battle to make anything grow there. Through considerable grit she achieved a smattering of rose bushes and something that served as a lawn, although may have been largely well-trimmed weeds in reality. No matter, lawn was never a passion of hers.

Magnolia tree near mom’s which inspired the purchase of one for her yard.

In summer she coaxed a bay of giant sunflowers in a side yard that was otherwise a fairly no-nonsense vegetable garden. It was there that I learned the joy of bountiful homegrown tomatoes and a surfeit of zucchini, and the occasional eggplant. It was tough going though and I also remember the failure of corn and all the evergreen trees that died too. (She had had a plan to buy live trees for Christmas and plant them. As one after another died she realized that this plan would not work and bought an artificial tree instead. The practice of cutting trees for Christmas really bothers her.)

The yard was all mom’s. Dad traveled constantly for work and his schedule only allowed for occasional involvement where he worked under mom’s direction. His background as a city kid did not allow for much gardening expertise or interest.

We moved several blocks away when I was about 12 and there my parents stayed until a few years ago. Although still on the water it was less likely to flood and the soil, while not that of her youth, was definitely several notches better.

Here she planted numerous trees, which we had the pleasure of seeing mature over those decades. Because the water table was still very high, it was the willows that thrived, although there were nice oaks and maple trees too, a weeping cherry. There were some lovely old trees on the property, one outside my bedroom window housed a screech owl, foxes made a home of a dead one in the backyard. She had her tree failures – a beloved copper beech that never really thrived as I remember.

Irises in mom’s yard, but not the ones she brought from the other house.

She was serious about tree care and people came at least annually to examine, prune and make suggestions. Living in a hurricane zone it was necessary to know that your trees were fit to withstand those high winds. After the devastation of Hurricane Sandy the loss of trees in the yard and the neighborhood left it sad and denuded. These were old friends that were gone now.

In this yard mom combined flowers and vegetables. There was a grapevine and strawberries – the wildlife got far more of these than we ever did however. The tiny delicious strawberries seemed somewhat miraculous to me. Tomatoes still reigned, but herbs were what I remember most. She planted them in the ground, but also in containers. It was lovely to hop outside and snip some fresh herbs for whatever I was making for dinner.

Mom’s house when we first purchased it.

There were glorious rose bushes in a variety of colors and some stunning irises that a friend had made a gift of and which he had brought from his home in New Orleans. There were azaleas and a glorious butterfly bush. In later years, with no family to feed, mom focused her planting on flowers and plants that would attract and feed the birds, insects and wild life of the area. The result was a cacophony of birds, buzzing bees and often a half dozen bunnies in view at any time. Deer found their way there and fox. Hawks and even vultures stopped by looking for prey. The yard was a wild kingdom of sorts in later years.

Mom’s house earlier this spring.

When mom moved into her current house she had a blank slate as the previous owners had only done basic maintenance. Mom is housebound now, but has a trusted gardener known only as Mike to me. Between them they have transformed the small yard, front and back. Mom is entirely focused on flowers which she enjoys from a windowed room at the back of the house. The irises were rescued and transplanted here and she can tell you about other plants and bulbs shared by friends and acquaintances, some rescued from Mike’s other jobs when they no longer suited the owners.

I have contributed some peonies (which have come into their own this year), a hummingbird feeder and a weeping cherry and a magnolia tree are on their way to her presently as belated Mother’s Day gifts. I took a tour of the yard when I was there last weekend and it was nice to see how it has grown in. After this long year spent in our Manhattan studio apartment walking around her little paradise is better than ever.

One of the peonies I gave mom, blooming this month.

This multi-colored honey suckle reminded me of the masses of it we had growing wild in our yard growing up. Dad showed me how to extract a single drop of nectar from each – amazing! When I remarked on it mom told me it is one of her favorites and that she had asked for it. A fact I never knew.

Multi-color honeysuckle.

In order to better survey her kingdom mom has a friend who records mini tours on video. Larry does a great job and I am enjoying these too.

Having lived in a Manhattan apartment my whole adult life I don’t know if I inherited mom’s green thumb or not. Kim, with his green thumb, tends our mass of African violets and single aloe plant. I miss those fresh tomatoes each summer!

Considering the Campfire Girls: Wohelo! Part 2

Pam’s Pictorama Post: For those of you not reading this in real time (or who missed yesterday’s post which can be found here) I covered the four Radio Girls novels which were subsequently served up as Campfire Girls novels, sweeping them into a decades long series of books which has its start in the early teens of the 20th century. The organization was founded in 1910, born out of camps in Maine and Vermont and in response to the Boy Scouts – realizing it seems the need for a nondenominational organization for girls.

The early volumes that I have read appear to take place in a somewhat nebulous part of upstate New York or New Hampshire. Girls schools seem to play a role in them and these must have proliferated in a way I wasn’t much aware of, boarding schools for middle and upper middle class girls which were a mix of academics and things like sewing and music.

Cross promotion with Corn Flakes. That’s some good early fundraising going on.

Wohelo is the Camp Fire Girl pledge (short for Work, Health, Love) and serves many purposes in the novels. People shouted it in the woods when lost or searching for someone (this happens a lot in these novels) or someone might use it somewhat slyly to let another girl know you too were a member. There are songs and poems attached to it and I gather an award that the group gives at the highest level as well. As far as I can tell from the books the group was heavy on all of the above as part of their ceremonies.

There are a few warnings from the start that I should probably post on these early editions. A profound but casual sort of racism exists throughout and, despite being a movement which in a sense promoted independence for women, a young women’s goals were still largely tied out to what kind of wife she would ultimately make. I can only say that these are products of their time. I am not sure I would promote them universally without caveat to young girls today.

Brown uniform pretty close to what I wore. Would have loved those socks though!

I myself made a lousy Girl Scout – which is what we had locally in New Jersey. Camp Fire Girls was an exotic other which was not an option. I entered a Brownie Troop because I was expected to, as did my friends. I fretted about memorizing the damn chants they made you repeat (why always with the chanting? seems creepy now) wore a little brown dress, always somewhat ill fitting, and beanie dutifully to school on the designated day.

By the time I graduated to Juniors, I was even less enamored. We never seemed to get to the more interesting things in the guidebook like how to build a fire. And even then I was drawn to the early uniforms which were still available although they were in the process of morphing into bad 70’s remakes, my preference for vintage clothing rearing its head early. I liked the sash and the embroidered badges fascinated. My mother, who had made it up into Cadets during her own high school career, had been talked into be a troop leader for a small group at that elevated level and she told me that I was going to be in Girl Scouts if she was and I accepted my fate.

Close enough to my Junior’s uniform – minus the bolo tie and of course all the badges on the sash!

My friends remained in it as well and my specific memories of those middling years were that we did go to camp once – no idea where in the wilds of New Jersey. I used a sleeping bag my sister had acquired for something and had become what we used for sleepovers. It was an army green-brown and the inside was a print flannel – maybe fishing scenes? It was my sole experience of a sleeping bag until I crawled into a down version in Tibet decades later – far superior. My only real memory of camping was that it was much harder to make pancakes outside over a fire than at home and I was bad with a compass. We learned about Indian sand painting and this must have made an impression because it was brought back to me in detail when watching Buddhist monks performed a sand mandala ritual which seemed remarkably similar.

Images such as this filled me with a desire to push to the upper echelons of scouts which would provide for nifty berets, high heels and outfits that resembled stewardesses of a time already gone-by. It was mostly about the clothes for me and was not to be.

Other than that clutch of memories I know we met first in an ancient wooden building in town which was called Bingham Hall. It was probably built as a church originally and must have been used for other things, but I’m not sure I was ever much in it for another purpose. It was a single room building with a small stage and no other permanent features like chairs or pews. Later we met in a church basement and that introduced me to the smell of church basements (I come from a non-religious family and this was my only early introduction to churches at all) and that smell of cleaning fluid, paper and something else, that brings those meetings to mind immediately. As you can see, the Girl Scouts didn’t contribute much to my moral fiber or overall improvement.

Bingham Hall, Rumson, New Jersey

Nonetheless, the dawn of the 20th century was a different time and the idea of encouraging young girls to learn the skills needed to camp and to survive outside were downright controversial. It is years before women get the right to vote and even the need for more than a nominal education was a matter of debate. Very wealthy families had been sending their teenage daughters to European finishing schools and those existed in this country too. Colleges like Barnard (founded in 1889) and my own alma mater Connecticut College (founded in 1911) were somewhat experimental and controversial. One of the things that appealed to me about Connecticut College was its roots as an early women’s school which appeared to be born out of the Arts and Crafts movement and where wealthy families once sent their more creative offspring for secondary education.

An original building at Connecticut College under construction, originally founded as an all girls school in 1911.

In the first few books of the Camp Fire Girls series (as far as I can figure out the order) Ethel Hollister is the protagonist whose family pretends greater wealth than they have so she can make a good marriage match. Belonging to the Camp Fire Girls shows her another path which ultimately leads her leaving her finishing school and instead enrolling at Barnard – ensuring that she can make a living on her own – or ultimately help to support her husband as she states. Her going to college is part of the controversy making up the plot of these books and it was considered odd of her which causes some of her former friends to snub her. The series of four novels ends with most of the young women engaged or married.

There is an air of this around the early Campfire Girls and the Arts and Crafts movement seems to define its aesthetic as well as its roots in promoting the individual. In a volume from 1912 when a “camp home” is described it is in full blown Arts and Crafts style. It is therefore a bit frustrating when these independent young women drive home the point that these skills will ultimately make them better wives. This seems absurd today but is probably an important link in how women did gain their independence. These books are full of the fire of the converted however and in that sense it was a real movement.

The book series is odd in that, unlike the Stratemeyer Syndicate series I am familiar with main characters come and go. You get a few volumes devoted to a group of characters and then a new writer and new characters are introduced for the next few volumes. (Thus far all have been available on Google Play Books or other e-book sources and so far I do not own any of the actual volumes. They appear to be fairly available at low prices online from what I have seen however.) The underlying concept is very similar however and these volumes hew closely to laying out the tenants and driving home the concepts of the organization. These books are very much tools to bring new recruits to the ranks.

Silver ring for new entrants to the Campfire Girls. Man, who wouldn’t have gone for that?

Now let me just say, the Camp Fire Girls had really cool stuff. It is described so lovingly in the volumes that I began looking it up immediately and they would have sold me on the splendid outfits and jewelry alone. What young girl wouldn’t be enamored of the silver ring symbolizing their entry point as wood gatherers? Shown above in its Arts and Crafts design glory, these are available in abundance online, showing how many women had them and kept them over time. A silver bracelet was to follow shortly as they became fire makers. I am saving that, the rather extraordinary outfits and some period photos for my next post devoted to this subject.

Pumpkin Head

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Picking our very Halloween run of posts back up today, I share with you all a candy container which just turned up here at Pictorama. (May I just add that the very phrase vintage candy container thrills me?) He is an odd duck and a bit more fragile than I thought he would be. I have not yet found the best final spot for him in the new bookcase, among the black cat toys. I had planned for him to live with some of his Halloween brethren, but in addition to being fragile he rolls dangerously. Right now he is resting against one of my extremely off-model Felix toys, nestled safely into his side safely on a lower shelf.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

Mr. Pumpkin has a few dents which can be forgiven considering his advanced age. He is marked simply on the bottom, German, and nothing else. (I don’t know how much they actually celebrate Halloween in Germany but there was a time when they were making some of the greatest Halloween items being sold in this country. Strange, right?)

Pumpkin Head appears to be paper mache, or a close relative, lined with cardboard. I can only imagine what a glorious thing it would be to show up for a Halloween party and find an army of these fellows, stuffed with candy on a decorated table! Or perhaps he was dropped into the candy packed pillowcase of some lucky child – who loved him so much he has survived the long march of time this far.

Side view, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

He is pretty friendly looking with just a touch of madness. I confess to a bit of intimidation by some pumpkin-headed figures. Even as an adult, I admit that they fill me with some unease – my idea of a horror film, being chased by mad pumpkin-headed figures, legs and arms seem to make all the difference to my psyche.

In addition to the well-documented ongoing black cat addiction, I went through a period of purchasing Halloween decorating books of the aughts and teens, originals and reproductions. As a result a brief examination of the Dennison’s decoration empire can be found in a 2015 post here. Founded as a maker of jewelry boxes in the 1840’s, Dennison’s was the first maker of crepe paper. They were the reigning king of holiday decorating for over 100 years, starting in 1897. Their Bogie Books fulfilled every curiosity I harbored about the details of early 20th century Halloween celebrations.

Original Bogie Book, Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Even as a kid I was somewhat fascinated by Halloween of yore. I remember insisting on bobbing for apples at some Halloween party and I can only say it is perhaps a skill that one develops over time. (And clearly not one to revive in this Covid year of contagion.) Perhaps this was a regional thing and some of you readers were routinely bobbing away. My Halloweens were ones of unromantic plastic pumpkins and pillowcases for candy, uncomfortable masks of hard plastic that were purchases out of boxes and were hard to breathe in and even harder to see out of, especially in the dark – they always seemed to poke you in the eye a bit.

I am not sure if a renewed interest in Halloween items is speaking to me this year because of unexpected availability or perhaps fulfilling a different yen during this oddest of years. Maybe it is a desire to mark the changing season in a year of remarkably similar days. (My new mid-West supplier Miss Molly seems to be the reigning Queen of Halloween and has turned up a surfeit of items – she occasionally even sends me things to look at while she is in the parking lot of a flea market, somewhere in the environs of St. Louis. Seems like a glorious way to spend your weekends actually. I enjoy vicarious pleasure in her ventures.)

When I was a young adult I continued to carve pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns much as I had since I was a child, wielding the knife now however – and cleaning up the huge mess. The last time I did it was the first Halloween after Kim and I got together. What I remember best is that my cat Otto loved the smell of the pumpkin guts, rolled around in them and insisted on eating it. (Incidentally, canned pumpkin can help at cat clear hairballs out of their system. Just a kitty tip in passing.) Sadly, I did not have the foresight to document the Deitchien influenced creation.

Trick or treating in Manhattan is an odd ritual with the kids of our high rise building going door-to-door to apartments who have indicated that they are welcome. Local businesses also get into the spirit and hand out candy to the kiddies. This year, a sort of ham handed CDC recommended fashion, the building will forego and instead offer pre-filled bags to the offspring of the building. Regardless, we are on the countdown to Halloween ’20 however, and I have at least one more small Halloween treat up my sleeve to share next week.

More Change

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is a quick post – I am on my way to New Jersey soon – seeing my mother for the first time since February and the virus outbreak. Maybe I will post tomorrow about this weekend and what it is like to travel beyond the subway for the first time. I am heading off for a rapid test in a little bit, some extra insurance before going to see her as she is in a vulnerable category for the virus.

I am experimenting with taking a ferry instead of the train. Luckily the weather has turned and today is a sunny and beautiful looking fall day. I will put extra layers on and see if I still have good sea legs – the East River, which I can see from my window as I write, is looking quite calm today. Some Pictorama readers know that I grew up by the seashore, near the ocean but on a river that flowed directly into it a short distance from our house. More recently I have been on small cruise ships and river boats on trips for members of the Metropolitan Museum when I worked there. It is always a small shock to my system though, to be on the water and the sense one gets from being in any boat.

Leaving from East 35th Street, it will take about the same time as the train, over an hour, and leave me in Highlands, approximately the same distance from my mom’s house as the train station. Highlands, and its kissin’ cousin neighbor, Atlantic Highlands, were the stomping grounds of my high school and early college summers – a dollar movie theater for second run films, lobster rolls and clam sandwiches at outdoor stands at the water’s edge. It lives large in my memory of that time.

However before I head off to the adventures of the day, I will offer this small item, purchased recently – a change purse, advertised as Felix, but in my opinion (sample size of one as a colleague of mine says), Norakuro, the Japanese Felix – my name for him. His black and red, patent leather face, winking at us, would be a prize under any circumstances, but as it happens I have an alternative version (googlie rolling eyes instead of winking ones, more worn) which I offered up in a post back in June of 2018. (That post can be found here and other posts about Norakuro can be found here and here.)

Pams-Pictorama.com, two treasured coin purses.

For me the winking-blinking eyes give him a roguish charm and the idea of putting a few hoarded precious coins in him (it could only hold a very few really), further tucking him into a tiny purse or pocket brings me zooming back to being a very little girl. I would have really thought myself hot stuff! Seeing them together delights my collector’s sensibility and somehow adds to their appeal. And yes, given the opportunity, I would indeed purchase further variations – bring ’em on!

Enjoy Norakuro and wish me luck on my travel adventures. More to come from the road.

Ocean Grove

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This snapshot popped up on Instagram for sale recently. Ocean Grove, New Jersey, is about a forty minute drive from where I grew up in Monmouth County and it immediately took me back to my childhood. Written on the back of the snapshot is Asbury Park 7-4-35. I thought this photo was earlier than 1935, and I am a bit tickled that it is July 4. I am also surprised by the coats for a July 4 at the seashore however. I don’t think I remember a chilly Fourth.

The Ocean Grove community abuts onto Asbury Park so this declaration of location is not surprising – a town called Bradley Beach surrounds Ocean Grove on the south end. For those of you who may not be acquainted with it, Ocean Grove was founded in 1869 as Methodist summer camp community. Known for its enormous wooden Great Auditorium, an extraordinary survivor of Victorian architecture, it has hosted concert performers from Enrico Caruso and John Sousa to Kenny Rogers.

Another notable aspect of Ocean Grove are the more than 100 tent-homes that are erected annually, these attached to wooden sheds providing a kitchen and bathroom and making them more substantial. There is a more than ten year waiting list for tent rental. (I would put myself down now for a summer tent for retirement, however Wikipedia notes that dogs, cats and barbecuing are prohibited, as is subletting of tents. A cat-less summer would be no fun. It is also noted that while you do not need to be a Methodist you do need to support their spiritual mission.) Ocean Grove is the longest active spiritual camp site in the country.

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As a child, the concept of the tent-houses fascinated me and I longed to see what they were like inside. The idea of a whole summer spent enjoying ocean breezes and sun dabbled days in one was fantastic.

Meanwhile, the law prohibiting cars on Sunday was equally exotic to my childhood mind. It seemed impossible – how could you close roads to cars every Sunday? Was there a place where people parked them and walked in? The fact that additionally the beach was closed on Sunday meant that this was never really a destination for weekenders from Manhattan, unless they were there for the day, attending one of the many concerts (musicians from New York and Philadelphia regularly grace the stage) or lectures held there.

Although neighboring Asbury Park was also founded by Methodists, soon after Ocean Grove, it was more like the Jersey shore’s answer to Coney Island. While Atlantic City reined for boardwalk pleasures further to the south, Asbury was the turn of the century amusement park boardwalk gem of Central Jersey and therefore a fairly easy day trip from New York City. The Convention Center and Casino offered largely the opposite sort of appeal of its religiously observant neighbor to the south. The difference struck me even as I understood it as a kid.

During my childhood both towns were largely in steep decline and neglect. The Victorian hotels were turned into SRO’s and, it seems to stick in my mind, nursing or retirement home type facilities. (Maybe we knew someone who lived in one?) During the late 1960’s Asbury was the site of race riots, documented by my father in his role as news cameraman. All this to say, I rarely went to Ocean Grove or Asbury Park growing up unless there was a specific reason. As these things do, it therefore fascinated me all the more. The architecture of the somewhat deserted Convention Center and the dilapidated boardwalk (and not to mention a really great if dilapidated carousel) always beckoned for more exploration than I was allowed.

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In young adulthood I discovered that a series of summer flea markets are offered in Ocean Grove, which I have only had the pleasure of attending once, many years ago with my father. It was perfectly splendid and I have always wanted to go back. Starting in the late 1980’s, both towns but especially Ocean Grove, enjoyed an immense renaissance and renewal. Despite knowing this my parents could never quite get over their dislike of the area and were always reluctant to go. (My mother is the same person who still sees Central Park through the lens of 1970’s urban decay and was appalled when I announced that I was going to work for the Central Park Conservancy years ago. In fact, I think she can barely accept that my whole life in Manhattan – and that of my brother – isn’t taking place in the neglected city of her memory.)

The area is not ideally accessible by public transportation (some Pictorama readers may already know that neither Kim nor I drive) so alas, it remains somewhat unexplored for me – one of those things that nags and glitters just out of reach. Summer always tugs me back to my childhood at the shore. I miss the ocean and the beach, but busy times mean that trips to Jersey are more about spending time with my mom, and less about lazy days of ocean and sand. Meanwhile, this Covid summer has deprived me of all summer Jersey shore visiting pleasures. But perhaps this means that next year I will plan a real vacation at the shore – one with trashy novels and a little too much sun – and of course well-timed around some flea markets at Ocean Grove.

Jersey Sights

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s photo is one I couldn’t resist despite the price. It was one of my purchases on the Brimfield attempt at an online sale. Even with the seller coming down in price it was a bit dear. It is a tiny photo, about 4″x5″ which has the tell tale signs of a life spent in a photo album, indicated when you look at the corners carefully. It is an early photo, on brittle paper, somewhat lacking in detail with a flat cloudless sky. There are no notations on the back, perhaps because everyone knows this is Lucy, the Margate Elephant, residing in the town of that name located near Atlantic City, NJ.

Starting with a brief review of Lucy’s pretty fascinating history; this photo actually shows Lucy in her early incarnation – she was substantially renovated in 1970, a face lift which changed her appearance, and she required further significant repair after being struck by lightening, blackening her tusks, not many years ago. She survived Hurricane Sandy unscathed however which is remarkable considering the damage around her.

Lucy was originally constructed in 1881, by a man named James Lafferty who acquired a patent to make or sell animal shaped buildings for the duration of 17 years according to Wikipedia. Despite having tusks, an indication of a boy elephant, she was nonetheless dubbed Lucy at the dawn of the 20th Century. Sadly Lafferty died broke in 1898, forced to sell Lucy years earlier.

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Lucy was originally constructed as an observation deck for this area south of the then thriving Atlantic City, but later did time serving in turn as restaurant, business office, cottage and tavern. She is 65 feet high and weighs about 90 tons, constructed with wood and iron bars, 22 windows are scattered throughout the structure. Although marketed as a hotel, the building nearby served that purpose, until March of this year when, in spite of her federal landmark status, the old girl became an Airbnb rental by the night.

Sadly the offer seems to have commenced via a listing on the rather fateful dates of March 17, 18 and 19, 2020 (assuming Wikipedia is correct), less than a week before New York’s stay at home order began due to the Corona virus and dampening tourism in both states, needless to say. While I assume that put the kibosh on it, but perhaps some lucky folks have done their shelter in place there.

One can just about make out what must have been the hotel, behind Lucy’s back, left flank in this photo. My guess is this picture was taken off-season, no tourists teeming around her and the wooden skeletal frames of booths of some kind below her have a distinctly out of season look.

I have always wanted to visit Lucy and somehow have never managed it. Despite growing up a Jersey girl, I have only made one or two trips to Atlantic City and few of its environs, over my life. It was a good hour and a half to two hours from where I grew up, probably less as the crow flies, but also with train service that only takes you so close. We lived in a beach community so there was little reason to pursue another. As I may have said before, because my father’s job as a news cameraman required peripatetic worldwide travel, and therefore our summers were spent at home enjoying the very local beach. Family vacations of any kind were almost unheard of and I was spared the sparring and whining so often described by folks my age when reflecting on such family trips.

As we hit mid-summer I am frequently side-swiped by a desire for the endless beach days of my childhood and this year the quarantine and subsequent ambivalence about travel, let alone crowds, have exacerbated it. The traffic and discomfort are long forgotten and a string of fresh mornings with the sun glinting off the water remain, tantalizing. As a non-driver (Kim does not drive either – we are a non-driving couple) it isn’t as easy as jumping in a car and heading there.

Still, a visit to Lucy remains on my eventual to-do list, although I do not dare to dream of something as wildly entertaining as spending the night within. (The idea that she was indeed home to someone at one time fascinates me and I like to imagine that. The incarnation as a tavern appeals as well.) Lucy is an enduring bit of Jersey lore and I will look forward to paying homage to her in person one day.

Putting the Dog Before the Cart

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s photo is not only suffering from age, but probably from being under exposed in the first place. In person it also has a bit of solarization that photos from this period often get, almost as if the silver is rising to the surface, making it even harder to see. I knew this when I bought it (to Miss Molly’s credit she does nothing to enhance the images of the photos she sells – that doesn’t happen often, although in my hobby I come across it occasionally), but I loved the image and I decided to take a chance. It is small, the image is only about 3″x4″. So, my apologies for its inherent short comings.

This photo appeals to me because I would have adored having such a set up as a child. I have written on several occasions about employing our long-suffering German Shepard, Duchess, and my cat Snoopy in a complex series of games and scenarios. The fact that, at least as a small child, I would not have had the appropriate real estate needed to really enjoy such a contraption, I will leave aside – you need some real acreage to really sport about it something like this, but wow – you’d really be doing something!

I have long contemplated that the connection with our domestic animal friends is different when you are a small child. Is it because you are, in reality, that much closer to their own intellectual bandwidth at that point? Or are you just communicating more freely? I have always wondered. I can remember long childish conversations with them both, prattling happily along, looking deep into their eyes as I spoke, absolutely certain they understood every word.

Perhaps because of the sheer amount of attention paid to them, they would allow me to undertake all sorts of indignities that I wouldn’t dream of inflicting on my pets as an adult – trying to ride the dog, dressing up the kitty, adventures with the doll carriage and the like. My parents would intervene occasionally if things got out of hand, but generally we were left to our own devices. I would have been on this dog cart thing in a minute given the opportunity. Duchess, somewhere in dog heaven, is perhaps grateful the opportunity did not arise.

My new always-at-home life has changed my relationship with Blackie and Cookie. It isn’t a coincidence that shelters have been emptied of dogs and cats during the pandemic. They are excellent company during these days that merge into one long working day.

The daily routine of Cookie and Blackie was forged early here at Deitch Studio, formed around Kim working at home and his day. Kim and the kitties start the workday (very) early, and he is in charge of their feeding, morning and evening. (Eating to cats is, without question, the most important part of the day – a brief but glorious interlude. We have strict feeding times in an, ever-failing, attempt to keep them from driving Kim nuts all day while he works.)

Until the middle of March I was on the outer edge of this cat constellation, home on weekends, but otherwise generally in the ongoing daily act of coming and going – packing a suitcase and leaving for days at a time on occasion, very undependable. They expected it and my departures and arrivals frankly rarely rated so much as a flatten ear or a greeting glance from either.

I noticed the other day when Kim went out for a walk that the cats sat by the front door the entire time, staring at it. Waiting and willing him to return. They clearly have very little faith in my ability to open a cat food can.

Yet, I think the cats have, over the course of more than four months, completely erased my daily departures from memory. I too am now a daily fixture – if a slightly less useful one. Blackie makes his appearance in Zoom calls and demands a 3:30 cuddle no matter what else I am doing – and Cookie helps me work out daily (she likes it when my trainer, Harris, appears on the iPad for a FaceTime workout where she flirts with him a bit), and both fight me for my work chair. Kim can vouch for the fact that I talk to them all the time – Cookie tends to actually answer. She’s the chatty kit of the two.

And of course I believe they understand me, or at least a certain percentage of what I tell them – mostly encouragement about being the best kitty in the whole world!  and the handsomest boy cat! and even the occasional please get off of the desk – thank you very much! – it isn’t philosophical discussion for the most part. I will have to be home many months longer before I can perhaps find my childhood knack and we can enter into long talks about the meaning of life together, Cookie, Blackie and I.

Piercing

Pam’s Pictorama Post: In these days of multiple piercings and tattoos my memory of getting my ears pierced seems quaint. I was twelve or thirteen and I was at the mall with my cousin Patti one afternoon when I had it done – they used a piercing gun and zip, zip and there you go. I had small 18k gold studs with tiny gold balls installed in my ears. I was told to put peroxide on them morning and night with a q-tip, and to twirl them occasionally to make sure they healed properly.

It wasn’t until the next morning at breakfast that my mother noticed them. My parents tended toward the distracted and I felt like I had to more or less wave a flag before mom noticed. Much to my surprise she was freaked out that I hadn’t discussed it with her  – turns out she doesn’t especially like pierced ears. We had never talked about it and I was a bit stunned. I guess I figured they were my ears to do with what I would and I more or less told her that. I wasn’t a mouthy or difficult kid and the answer ultimately mollified her and this was a difference of opinion. We had a truce.

Meanwhile, my ears healed slowly and not without detours through periods of bleeding and infection. As soon as they were sufficiently healed I wandered into the heady world of earrings and there was a vast selection of options. Even maintaining that the posts would always be at least 14k gold (and gold was cheaper then so this was possible even at the lower end) I was able to acquire an array fairly quickly. However, suffice it to say that my ears never adapted to metal in them and I began a several year slog of on and off infections and bleeding. I last wore pierced earrings to my high school prom ending in copious bleeding, followed by yet another infection and I swore off them for life. I became a clip-on screw back earring devotee.

For the folks out there who have taken this path, you know that earrings affixed in this way are just not comfortable for any period of time, especially if you spend time on the telephone, tucked between ear and shoulder. (Yes, that is starting to seem quaint too, but for many years it was a real issue.) However, being the kind of gal who cannot resist bling and bejeweled I have collected some if not a vast number of earrings.

It was my general bejeweled-ness that probably lead the very same cousin Patti (who has no memory of the ear piercing adventure) to offer me this lovely pair of earrings she found while cleaning out her ancestral home. They belonged to my great-grandmother, the point where our mutual genes branch out from. This makes them very special to me as I have nothing else from that great-grandmother.

Not only were these earrings pierced, but they had a particularly evil pierced/screw-on combo that I gather existed in the late 19th and early 20th century. I didn’t take a photo of the back before having them converted, but I show another pair found online below – instruments of torture! How did that work? Ouch!

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My maternal grandmother’s family was never especially well off. However, since they were in the restaurant business at least the family never went hungry. (I have written about this side of my family before and one based on a historic photo that Patti found can be read here and here.) Nonetheless, there was never a surplus of money and not much jewelry has been handed down from them.

In recent years I have considered having my now long-closed piercings redone as a world of earring opportunities does tempt me. The possibility that my ears are actually allergic to gold exists, or perhaps that the placement of the original piercing not ideal. Somehow even for someone as devoted to adornment as I am, the idea of the process does not appeal to me and I have not (yet) pursued it. Having recently gotten these back from the jeweler, I will stick with sporting them for now.