Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: For any Pictorama devotees who are less than enchanted with my collection of photos of people posing with outsized Felix the Cat dolls, the next several weeks may present something of a challenge. So sorry! While today’s post focuses on one that I have pulled off our wall and have owned for years, I have acquired two more that are winging their way toward me even as I type. Yes, pleasantly enough, I have a small wall devoted to these and frankly I have about as many I could hang and have not yet. I could cheerfully fill a room with them.
Frankly my appetite for these photo postcards remains utterly undiminished. Even I am a bit amazed that I remain as enchanted with acquiring each new one as I was by discovering my first. My reaction is the same every time – I love it and I’m amazed and gratified that it even still exists. That’s not to say some of these aren’t better than others – I especially love the one I am sharing today – but in the end each has its own charm for me. Each person, couple or group, frozen in time, the remembrance of lovely day gone by. Everyone with a different version of an over-sized Felix.
For one thing this is a well composed photo and not every wandering picture taker who bought a huge Felix (and still I ponder – where are those dolls?) knew how to put a photo together. This photographer certainly did, although some of it was luck. I love the composition in front of these columns – the striped dress on the one woman is somehow happily repeating that pattern. The bricks provide another pattern, as do the fabrics of their clothes and hats. I like the little slice of action behind the other woman and the long look behind them of other columns giving it great depth. It is my single regret that somehow it is the tiniest bit over-exposed and the one column disappears a bit at the top. We could use the tiniest bit of line there and over the white hat.
These women are dressed in lovely spring-summer costumes for their day out. White shoes and stockings! Pretty dresses and hats! It makes me want to go out and buy a spring dress. (Honesty compels me to confess it is not a hard inclination to create – this time of the year I positively yearn for spring dresses.) They are holding this enormous, slightly tipsy, lop-sided Felix up by the arms. He looks like he’s has a decided list to one side and his arms are very long indeed. Still, he has a great Felix face and large nicely pointy ears. Unlike some of these fellows, he’s in good shape and doesn’t look as if he has been dragged over hill and dale as much as some I have seen recorded. There is a mysterious form – shadow? – in the lower right corner and if you look carefully, bits of developer down at the bottom which has left some white spots. Although this is a very nice photo, those are a reminder that these were done in haste, somewhat sloppily, unlike a studio photo.
Anyway, I offer it to you today, on what is one of Manhattan’s first truly spring-like days. Cats dozing by an open window, winter on the run at long last. A visual reminder of another perfect spring day, somewhere in Great Britain past.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This card is unused and has no writing on the back. A quick Google search tells me that until 2015 one could visit some incarnation of Deer Forest Park, which appears to have been a roadside family-run attraction with kiddy rides and petting zoo. I could not find a date of origin for the park, although an article about the demise of the park and advertising the auction of the then remaining property – most of the rides were sold at the time of that article, including a train that must have run through the park which many people speak lovingly of – referred to its heyday as the 1940’s. I would say that Dashington’s seems to belong to that era, if not earlier. At the time of the sale, June of 2015, the animals had all been purchased by an animal group which raised the money in a GoFundMe campaign so they would not be auctioned or euthanized. They were looking for homes for animals including: horses, a pony, a tree frog in a tank, a 15-foot python, a 5-foot iguana, one emu, peacocks, 12 chickens, three wild Mongolian Asses, a British Labrador dog and a cat. (Evidently the Mongolian Asses were especially hard to place as they chew through all fence board.)
Of course my card belongs to the time when such small parks and attractions made up the bread and butter memories of many summer tripping families for decades, as the family vacation by car became the preferred post-war pastime. The fact that it is black and white makes me think it is perhaps a bit earlier – all of the other images I found online were in color.
Early postcard, not in my collection
Postcard collection Pams-Pictorama.com
I doubt that the remaining cat and dog which needed homes were descendants of my crew here, although you never know. You will note the sign on the wall only promises Dogs and Cat. It took me a long time looking at this photo to find that single cat – up on the highest platform, white with dark cow-spots and wearing a harness. It is impossible to see for sure, but I can almost detect what I call piss-cat ears of annoyance on the fellow. The fact is, we all know cats don’t train especially well and do not appear to enjoy it. While dogs seem to like the interaction and having a job, with cats at best it seems to be a treat filled system which involves an uncomfortable level of coercion. (You may remember a post that provides an even earlier glimpse into the world of trained kitties, Mad Jenny.) Still, in my imagination somehow I persist in seeing glorious Busby Berkley type cat performances – glittering collars and dozens or more happily dancing kitties – with me as the mistress of ceremony, wearing my circus-girl costume, right in the middle of it all.
Pictorama Collection, Pams-Pictorama.com
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: As of the writing of this post, this third photo postcard of someone posing with a full size two dimensional Felix is the last in my collection. The Felix in this one bears a remarkable resemblance to the second one I wrote about – a variation on the tongue out, lascivious looking Felix. (If you missed the December 10 post it is here Blackpool, Felix Cutout Continued). As I predicted in that post, it makes for a very strange photo with a child. This little girl seems either dumbfounded or, more likely, terrified of him. She is holding the end of his tail in a rather unconvinced fashion – you can just imagine someone telling her to hold onto him, and his tail being the closest and safest seeming piece to hold onto. Scrawled on the back in fairly childish handwriting is the name, Margaret Bettell-Wilkinson.
If you look carefully, an entire amusement park has been painted into the background. There is something which resembles the base of the Eiffel Tower, although maybe they were just aiming for some sort of ride. There is a Ferris wheel and these sort of exhibition hall style buildings – I wonder if this was a specific park they were painting? Perhaps the one the photo studio was in or near. There is that fence with its very forced perspective as well and whatever went on below and above it which is too dark to tell.
The little girl, Margaret we will assume, could be considered a bit woebegone under any circumstances although to some degree as you look at early photos of children, if they are not really dressed up they tend to look tatty by our standards today. I think people in general had fewer clothes and kids wore them hard. This little girl does have a nice beret on and a sporty coat. I think it is her skinny, bare legs and droopy socks, combined with her effort to put some space between her and Felix, that makes her look at bit sad. Fair to say, at least in this context, Margaret is just not a Felix fan!
While one might think that perhaps photos where people are not at their happiest or best do not end up being saved, this just isn’t true. We all know this. Oddly, we hang onto all the photos of our loved ones in the end. A photo of someone, a pet, or something else you care about is hard to throw out even if they look funny or it is a bit blurry. It is even hard to delete these on your phone – where you know all those photos are piling up and you get constant warnings about storage being full. This is a fortunate part of human nature for the photo collector like myself, but the bane of the organized and the squeezed for space. Still, once a photo was made into an object like this wonderful postcard, you could never throw it out – even when your now 35 year old daughter comes home and says you should get rid of that thing. I am so very relieved no one listened.
Pam’s Pictorama: This old press photo has revealed a world of cat lore I knew nothing about prior to researching it. Evidently cats by the dozens were employed by the US Post Office at the turn of the century to catch rodents that were especially attracted to the glue used on envelopes and packages at the time. In short order it took me to this splendid blogging colleague, The Hatching Cat, (I subscribed immediately) wherein his post, 1904: The Feline Police Society he outlines the fascinating society specifically of the New York post office cat force. It is a very jolly read, and I won’t steal much thunder from it except to say, the New York Post Office had a very large and extremely well organized force of felines for this purpose. There were first-class cats and second-class cats – they even knew to assemble and take the elevator when chow was served. Brilliant!
Back to our friend who seems to be a rather singular member of the Washington force, residing in the nation’s capital circa 1922. The back of this 5″x7″ photo reads, ‘Old Tom’, who has been catching rats in Post office [sic] department at Washington for 17 years. A14 Reference Dept September 11 1922 N.E.A. In pencil cats has also been scrawled, as well as the rather cryptic 1/2 cal Levs. Tom, this old, old timer as we’d call him in our house, was pretty famous.
Tom appears to have been featured in numerous articles period articles – some in what appear to be postal newsletters to the trade, others in newspapers of the day. The Spokane Daily Chronicle featured a story on Tom receiving a box of catnip for Christmas from one admiring Kittie (yes, Kittie) Thomas. This article appears in the September 14 issue, so perhaps she responded quickly to an article which accompanied the photo in another article? Coincidence? Below is a more comprehensive version that appeared in the Postal Record, volume 35, ’22.
Old Tom on a Rampage Old Tom the veteran Post Office Department cat is on a jag. Meanwhile the few remaining rats and mice that have escaped his relentless pursuit are relaxing the eternal vigilance that is responsible for their present existence. The mail man recently brought Old Tom a package neatly wrapped and bearing a 7 cent stamp It was addressed to The Postoffice at Tom Washington DC and was from Mrs Kittie Thomas 433 Shiawassee street Lansing Mich. Being a long ways from Christmas Tom’s superiors the watchmen began a spirited speculation as to the contents of the package. Not so Tom His sense of smell caused him to fall in love with it immediately and he could hardly restrain his impatience until it was opened. Yes. It was catnip and Tom is enjoying his first time off since the Roosevelt administration when he came into office. The watchmen at first were inclined to be resentful of ‘outside interference’ with Tom’s duties but when the increasing boldness of the rodent colony was observed the became general that when Tom recovers he will be able to capitalize the boldness and more than make up for the time lost of his spree. So far as is known Tom is not acquainted with his benefactress but that is not surprising in view of the fact that he has received more publicity than many public men and has been heard of in all sections of the country.
The Hermitage museum is well known for the generations of cats, ratters and mousers, in the basement. (I had hoped I might catch a glimpse of one when visiting – I even got lost and wandered out of the galleries and into a private space, but no. Those cats know how to stay behind the scenes I guess.) Many of you know I work for a large (and very old) museum in New York City. I have been suggesting the employment of cats for years, sadly to no avail. Perhaps this post will change their minds.