Cracker Jack Kitty

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I would have been a fat kid with bad teeth if Cracker Jack toys were as good as this when I was little! I discovered this fellow on eBay the other day and paused to imagine a tot’s world endowed with such wealth. I should start by saying I have always loved eating Cracker Jack and plowing my way through many boxes of it would not have been considered a hardship. I would say candy popcorn sprinkled with candied peanuts remains pretty high on my list of favorite junk foods. The fact that a toy of some sort was tucked in amongst all that yumminess of course just made it all the better.

A lot of research has been done on Cracker Jack and collecting these toys. I spent a little time on the comprehensive site, theartiscrackerjack.com for some information and a quick history. While Cracker Jack starts being made and sold as early as 1871 it is christened in 1896. Toys make their appearance in the boxes in 1912. The 1920’s seems to be the sweet spot for metal toys like my cat, although the first toys were flat metal soldiers so metal was used early on. Paper was surprisingly popular, and since it went into the box unprotected, that which survives today generally still bears the residual sugary stains. Celluloid takes over, followed by other molded plastic later.

I can appreciate the fascination with those early paper toys which have somehow survived, evidently the most prized by collectors. However, it is the metal toys like this one that capture my imagination and would have kept me popping candied popcorn in hopes of making a charm bracelet or finding the ultimate special toy. In a quick search of images online I did not turn up my new blue cat specifically, although cats seem to have been generously represented over the decades. It seems that cartoon characters were favored at one point and evidently Little Orphan Annie and Popeye were among those featured. There is a rather stunning Toonerville Trolley whistle as well, shown below. It must be some sort of high water mark among these prizes!

Toonerville Trolley not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Some of the metal toys are unbelievably elaborate and my mind boggles at how it could have been cost effective to produce and include them when Kim says even in his childhood the price was a nickel for the longest time. Meanwhile, his fondest memory of a Cracker Jack toy is of a red Scottie dog. I have found Scottie dogs in both metal and plastic – another popular model with a myriad of variations. I cannot seem to produce an image of the exact correct one as of right now. Kim says nothing reached the pinnacle of that acquisition afterward.

While I have memories of plastic charms early on, replaced by paper later, I don’t actually have a specific memory of finding something great in particular. I always looked forward to the prize however, even after they had mostly been reduced to sorry little joke books. I believe it is possible I would have kicked off my life long collecting tendencies much earlier if I had found this kitty in a box of Cracker Jack I was munching. Sadly, the company has discontinued even a nominal prize. However it is fair to say that even now this discovery is threatening to kick off a whole new area of collecting here at Pictorama.

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The Elephant Eyes Have It

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Today’s Pictorama is an odd item in a few ways. It was found, not purchased and it was Kim who encountered it on the street one day, not me. (Kim casually, somewhat unconsciously and occasionally, collects detritus – generally interesting metal bits and tiny plastic toys – off the street. These pile up in his pockets and eventually migrate to shelves in the apartment.) Elephants make up only the tiniest subset of collectibles and collected here at Deitch Studios (although for one you can see this nifty box Kim gave me here), but Kim and I have a soft spot for elephants, both real and toy. I for one have always wanted a good size elephant on wheels riding toy and keep a weather-eye out for the right one. Today’s item isn’t an especially old toy like most of the early 20th century items in the house, some starting to bump up toward the 100 year mark now. He began life as standard issue contemporary. I sometimes worry about the child who must have been sad to lose him.

For those of you who follow us on a variety of social media you might know that we went to the Prospect Park Zoo this summer, following our noses on an elephant that was or might have been story, research for a tale Kim is mulling over for his next book. This September, in his work that combines dance and music about animals called Spaces, Wynton Marsalis informed that elephants can be trained to dance in tandem, perhaps the only animals to do so. In another performance he also reminded that, while elephant hide is advertised to be tough, it is in reality very sensitive both to touch and the sun, and therefore that you might want to bring one some lotion if you had the chance to meet one.

This little fellow was found by Kim many years ago now. His is a simple and economical profile, but somehow has just enough elephant charm. One day I came home from work and much to my surprise, Kim had replaced the elephant’s casually applied on and missing features (shadows of his former eyes and toes can be seen if you look carefully) with painted on Deitchien new ones, making him a one-of-a-kind. He has subsequently taken up residence on a shelf, after sampling several other perches in the apartment. He is shown below in a page from Kim’s book Alias the Cat, sitting on his desk. That was probably shortly after Kim christened his new features.

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The one thing we all know about elephants is their great memories, repositories of much which of good and bad. They hold long grudges and deep affections, almost as if these were in proportion to their out-sized selves. I like to think this fellow is grateful to Kim for rescuing him from the streets of New York and supplying him with a fine new set of sporty features. For us he is a lucky elephant and are pleased that he is a member of the family here, contentedly spending his days amongst the kitties and toy cats.

 

Advertising

Pam’s Pictorama Post: We at Pictorama and Deitch Studio interrupt this blog for an advertisement – and a Kim Deitch beaut no less, always a cause for celebration. I unveil for you my new Pictorama business card, appropriately drawn and penned by Mr. Deitch himself.

Yesterday I went looking for an early post and was reminded that the blog is now more than four years old, and with little exception, has published a minimum of two posts a week, Saturday and Sunday, every week since August 2014. Today’s post is number 499! Therefore, and considering we are on the cusp of Halloween (a black cat favorite holiday here at Pictorama) it seems like an auspicious time to post this.

Truthfully, I never did find what I was looking for yesterday, but was charmed anew by many of the photos and toys. As Kim once said, if he saw the stuff in his storage unit, he’d buy it all over again – I feel the same about my photos and the blog was originally conceived as a way of organizing them and easily sharing them. (I surpassed our ability to display the photos in our tiny apartment long ago, although the toys are generally on view and enjoyed daily.) Clearly I haven’t done so well on the organizing aspect or I would have found the post I was looking for – but I have had a lot more fun with the writing aspect of this than I originally considered.

Over time I have found myself talking about Pictorama to folks and decided that what I needed was a business card so they could find their way here more easily – although I do appear to be the only Pam’s Pictorama when Googled. However, increasing our readership is a part of our mandate – spreading entertaining early photos of cats, jolly antique toys and tales to as many folks as possible.

So I put in my request for a card with Mr. Deitch back in the spring, realizing that it would have to wait until after Reincarnation Stories, the new book, was completed and scanned. (No preferential treatment for the staff or wives here please know. We wait our turn.) As it happened, my card was deferred until after a Twink album cover – and even awaited a new story for the next book made its way into roughs before it was complete. I share it first with you, dear readers, today. And it was well worth waiting for – a big, jolly Halloween kitty, dancing kitties and Waldo behind the camera! Kitty is based on one of my earliest toy acquisitions of a stuffed Halloween cat, one that I found a purchased a matching partner to shortly after. I immortalized them in a Halloween post back in 2015 called Two of a Kind which can be found here. The card captures the spirit of Pictorama perfectly.

This week I will find my way to a printer and hopefully the next time you meet me in person I will be able to share one of these splendid cards with you. It is my plan to venture into the world well supplied with them henceforth.

 

 

Time Flies

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It has been a rough year and one that has lead to some reflection as I hit our anniversary today. Kim and I aren’t big on ceremony around it; we generally recognize it without much fanfare – usually an exchange of small toys, a card, perhaps a day out together just knocking around as I think today will be as we look 18 years in the eye. Unlike today, October 14, 2000 was an unseasonably warm day. However, like this year, the prior weekend had produced a hurricane or at least tropical storm, leaving me relieved that we had changed our minds from a fanciful outdoor ceremony in Central Park over Columbus Day weekend which had been my original thought. It would have been a bit of a disaster. For the record, today is a crisp, chilly typical mid-October day in New York, although the trees have yet to change color since the cold snap is only recently upon us.

I am always the first to say I had a bad attitude about marriage for a long time. Frankly, if you weren’t going to have kids I couldn’t really see anything in it. It just seemed like another one of those society created conventions that people felt the need to go along with. I cheerfully crossed it off my list. I can’t speak for Kim, but I have to assume it hadn’t made it to the top of his list either since he is considerably older and hadn’t given it a try yet. He did bring it up early on in our relationship, but I suggested he stop talking about it.

Even when I began to contemplate it seriously it was also to accommodate society – ensuring that Kim had health insurance. My employer, the Metropolitan Museum, informed me that nothing short of marriage would do that. So marry we would. (I like to say that I loved Kim enough to want him to have health insurance – really, is there a better way to say I love you?) The other factor was that my sister was in the latter stages of fighting an almost decade long battle with breast cancer (one she would lose a year later), and I did have the revelation that if I wanted her to be at my wedding and well enough to enjoy it this wasn’t something I could put off indefinitely.

Perhaps it was all these things, but it came together one day I was sitting at my desk and an email newsletter I used to get from a Buddhist publishing company hit my inbox. There was an extensive quote from the Dalai Lama about not deferring happiness – in essence, that there is a tendency to defer even those things that will make us happy, and that we had to quite simply have to make space for them in our lives if we wished to pursue happiness.

I’m not sure I can do the full equation of why it suddenly hit me that this was exactly what I was doing about getting married – thinking we would do it eventually, in the vague future, maybe after this or that. The switch flipped and I changed my course immediately. Kim and I had been together for almost six years and had been living together in this studio apartment for almost all of them. As my sister Loren said when I told her about our impending nuptials, if we could live in one room together for this long we were most likely compatible.

Obviously I can only speak for myself, but I was surprised that being married really was different than living together. I felt it immediately. The wedding rings – a symbol I had somehow dreaded (feminist writings about them being like the ring in a cow’s nose ran in a loop through my head) – were somehow more like matching secret decoder rings we shared. In many ways, marriage was like forming a corporation – we became a team in a way I had not imagined. On the very rare occasion (I can only think of one) when we have a knockdown drag out fight, the marital bonds give important pause about the dissolution of the relationship. Most importantly it greatly amplified a feeling that I had of knowing I had a person on my team no matter what. We wholeheartedly accepted and embraced the role of champion of the other.

Ironically in a way I have become a great fan of marriage, yet I can’t help the nagging qualification that I consider it a small miracle I found someone as splendidly suited to me as Kim. I do believe that when I considered marriage in the abstract I never allowed myself to imagine that I would find someone as endlessly interesting as I find Kim. (Essentially, if I had known I was going to get to marry Kim Deitch I may have had a better attitude about the whole thing.) I have been gloriously lucky enough to find someone with whom the never-ending conversation of married life remains always fascinating. Yes, marriage like anything worthwhile is undeniably hard work, but I easily consider it one of the best decisions I ever made. Happy anniversary Kim!

Camperdown

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Last night Kim and I made a trip off the island (Manhattan island that is) to attend the wedding celebration of a much beloved colleague of mine, Morgan Bakerman, to her splendid significant other, Ben Brown. The elegant and jubilant party was held at the Prospect Park Boathouse. The Boathouse turns out to be quite near the park Zoo, which Kim and I had just explored a few weeks ago on a mission to research it for a possible story idea, however we had not made it down and around the correct corner to see it on that trip. Therefore, we were not aware of the truly extraordinary, ancient and magnificent (and famous) Camperdown Elm that graces the entrance.

This behemoth was evidently planted back in 1872, a gift to the park from a Mr. A. Burgess, a florist from Brooklyn. The Camperdown Elm was discovered in Scotland less than 30 years before our Brooklyn tree was planted. It was discovered by the Earl of Camperdown who then reproduced it through cuttings. (This tree is only reproduced through grafting – it does not reproduce by seed.) The Brooklyn Elm was celebrated in the poem by Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Marianne Moore, written in 1967 and published in The New Yorker. The publication of The Camperdown Elm was said to have rescued the tree at a time when a financial commitment was needed and the park was also in both disrepair and financial straits. The tree whose innate, quirky persistent desire to grow horizontally – like a giant bonsai of its own making – requires propping in places as gravity fights back, especially in one so old and clearly needs a certain amount of care and attention to survive.

This trip to Prospect Park reminded me that Olmsted and Vaux were playing their A game when they designed it – applying lessons learned from their initial foray designing Central Park. It is interesting to see their sensibility applied to this slightly different endeavor – the trademark arches in place, decorative tiles brightening interiors. The park is cared for by a conservancy group, but not with the precision of Central Park and this gives the visitor a different feel. Slightly overgrown, although also remarkably well-preserved in places. Below are some photos from last night – including a bonus photo of us!

As some of you might know, I worked for the Central Park Conservancy for two years and had an extraordinary opportunity to get to know that park very well. I acquired small amounts of knowledge about trees and plants – I do not have a great memory for those kinds of names and information. However, the Camperdown always fascinated me. Back in 2000 when I worked for the park, the Camperdown Elm near the East 72nd Street playground was still a very small young tree and I loved the quirky, downturned “weeping” branches.

I was told that if you plant a Camperdown Elm you were making a commitment to future generations – they are very slow growing, but can be extremely long-lived. You are unlikely to live to see it to true maturity. (This is of course true of all trees to some greater or lesser degree, but the extremity of this commitment is illustrated by our Brooklyn Camperdown example.) The Central Park one, shown below perhaps a bit larger than it was when I worked there, was a favorite of mine. Sadly Camperdown Elms are vulnerable to the dreaded Dutch Elm disease that has run rampant through the United States, killing generations of these beautiful and much loved trees before their time. So a close eye was kept on this little Camperdown, and it has responded to its care  and nurturing by growing into early maturity. I still route myself past it occasionally, making the long walk to work in Columbus Circle from Yorkville, still taking an ongoing somewhat maternal interest in it.

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Time is Flying

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Who among us has not been smacked by time running away on us? The image of the hourglass with the sand running low comes to mind – or if you are a Kim Deitch fan, maybe a bossy clock with a human face glowering while he stands over you, urging you on. This postcard features the tailless cats from the Isle of Man, the origin of this card, which was posted on May 15, 1909 – or so is my best read on the stamp cancellation. It was mailed from a place called Douglas and to a Miss H. Woodrich, 15 Manchester Road, Southport. The sender of the card wrote in pencil which has faded, but I can read the following, These are Manx cats without tails. What do you think of them, ask Libs. Hope you are well & jolly. Love to all. Sadly, the sender’s name is obscured.

I liked the exposed claw paws on these kitty fellows as well as their action reaction to the bits being thrown at them. (Each one getting conked on the head with a different item!) I especially like the one across from what turns out to be the coat of arms for the Isle of Man, soon to be hit with a flying slipper. The top of the card reads Time is flying (it struck me in flight), I’ve nothing of a ‘tale’ but hope you keep all right. Then, more subtle but humorous is the translation around the coat of arms which is, whithersoever you throw it, it will stand. (This translation from our friends at Wikipedia. It should also be noted that this is an older version of the coat of arms which was changed in 1994, according to the same source.)

A number of years ago, after my sister died, I decided that I wanted to take a less adversarial approach to time which suddenly seemed out of control, and attempt to consciously slow it down. As someone who has meditated I felt that there may be mindful activities which allow us to slow time down – or I guess more precisely to experience it differently.

I chose to learn how to make daguerreotypes – an early photographic process that is fairly complicated to replicate today. Because of the exposure time with the subject (or sitter) it literally meant recording time in a certain way. From that I started making other kinds of photographs, both early process and silver gelatin prints ultimately as well. I enjoyed it and it served me well for many years, the taking of the photos and then the slow repetitive process with a creative edge that meant I was also mentally alert. I stopped for a myriad of reasons I will not go into right now, but it has been on my mind lately. Not necessarily to go back to making photos, but an activity that will serve the same purpose. Working out at the gym has served this function to some degree in recent years, and I am considering swimming. I am not sure, but my guess is you, Pictorama readers, will be among the first to know.

Who Is Pam Butler

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s post is from the appendix of Kim’s upcoming book, Reincarnation Stories, and is a rare Pictorama husband and wife co-production. I wrote it, several months back, although some of you have heard the story before. Enjoy!

Reincarnation

It begins one day, simply enough, riding on the subway. Kim forgot to bring something to read and he picked up a free newsletter for the Learning Annex – cheesy adult “courses” taught by reality tv show stars and people promising you that you too can make a killing in NY real estate. (Yep, I think Donald Trump was advertised in one of those – who could have guessed?) I read over his shoulder. Semi-seriously he announced that there was a course in past life regression that he thought he would take – he’d always had a story in mind around reincarnation and maybe it would be a good jumping off point. So I flippantly said I’d do it too. And just like that, we decided to phone and make a reservation.

What I didn’t tell Kim was that I had been approached about past life regression before and the thought had sort of terrified me. I suffer from a potentially debilitating form of arthritis and more than once it had been suggested to me that I might try to go into my past lives to see what might have caused it. Well, I figured if I had either done something so awful in my past life, or even worse, had some dreadful injury that shook my joints to this day, that I sure as heck didn’t want to know about it and relive it. Still, this was the Learning Annex – no need to take it seriously. It would be fun to do with Kim and if he was going to a past-life regression course I sure wasn’t going to miss it.

As it happened, the day we were scheduled to attend in the early evening turned out to be a complicated one for me. It was a sunny and beautiful day as I remember, I want to say spring rather than full on summer. I was working for the Central Park Conservancy at the time, but had taken part of the day off to attend the funeral of Lydia Mananara, a woman I had worked with at the Metropolitan Museum for many years. She wasn’t much older than me and had died of breast cancer. I had cared for her cat, a lovely plushy long haired tabby-stripe, while she was in Italy seeking alternative treatment or perhaps just spending time with family there, over the course of many weeks. After the funeral there was a reception at the Met where I saw former colleagues and met family and friends of hers I had not known. It was a strange moment of displacement having worked there for so long and being back for what may have been the first time since leaving.

That evening after work, Kim and I went down to Union Square and to the address of what appeared to be some sort of elementary school. I remember thinking that this was turning into one very long day, and we trudged into a classroom with table desks pushed together to form a large U. There were about ten people in the room and they were as varied as the human content of any subway car on a given morning commute, a few young, some older, generally nondescript. The course instructor entered and he too was pretty generic, middle aged and pale. He started out by telling his story.

Seems that when he was a kid somewhere in the Midwest, a visiting hypnotist had come to town and he had gone to see him perform. In what he’d later realize was an unusual vulnerability to hypnosis, he slipped easily into that state and, jarringly into a past life. Frankly I can’t remember if he was actually the subject of the hypnotist or if he fell into the influence from the audience – the latter seems unlikely. Anyway, he went on to describe, in fairly horrific detail, being a small child running for safety to a root cellar from where he spied his family of prairie settlers terribly murdered by Indians. Of course he had no idea why he experienced it, but a number of years later he took the opportunity to be hypnotized again and this time in his past life he was an adult, hidden away on a mountainside witnessing the slaughter of other settlers by Indians once again. This time he understood it to be a past life and devoted future time and energy to developing the skill to hypnotize himself and travel back to past incarnations.

He ended his presentation and offered that he would now help us all slip back into our own past. He turned the lights down, but traffic thrummed out the window and florescent lights hummed in the hall. At first quieting my mind and focusing seemed unlikely. Still, I had developed some meditation chops and it didn’t take very much for me to still my mind into the desired quiet before going to a “safe place” and then rolling back into something else.

He “woke” us up to wherever we had landed in our minds and asked us to look around. I was in the desert, a barefoot and nearly naked young man in my teens. The soil beneath my feet was sandy but hard and a reddish color. The teacher’s voice instructed us to take note of the year (I want to say it was the 1880’s, but I have trouble remembering that more precisely now) and things like who was President, to take note of our surroundings. I don’t know who was President and at first I thought I was in Tibet – a place I had been twice and had a great affinity for – but I gradually became aware that I was in the American West instead – and that I was a young Native American male. I was aware of being absolutely dirt poor, hungry, and not educated. I was essentially a dumb young kid.

His voice now guided me to go to the day I died and to take note of how I died. Seems like I was killed in a stupid fight with another kid – I don’t know over what. He told us to take care now to apologize to anyone we had hurt. I found myself apologizing to the guy who killed me (maybe I killed him as well?), and then I apologized to my mother and my grandmother. I had left them alone when I died and it had been my responsibility to take care of them. I felt bad about it all, but in a dispassionate sort of way. The instructor now guided us out of the past and into the current moment. He turned the lights on and suggested a break before we spoke about our experiences. Kim and I found a water fountain.

Kim, “Man, that was a waste. Nothing!” I looked at him surprised, “Really?” and quickly told him about my experience. We both wondered if somehow the teacher’s own experiences related with Indians had influenced my subconscious. I didn’t know about that, but I did know I wasn’t looking forward to telling him that I had been an Indian!

After the break we sat back down in our seats. Kim and I were seated about halfway around. Like Kim, not everyone had experienced anything and only two other stories stood out for me that day which I remember. One was a not especially cogent tale of another planet and this stayed with me because the instructor didn’t seem to find that unusual and said it happens – other planets. The other was quite moving. There was a young, attractive woman in her twenties who had found herself a bench at a bus stop near Union Square, but in the 1940’s. It was July and very hot and she was 9 months pregnant. She died in childbirth later, I think the same day. I wonder to this day what brought her to the Learning Annex that evening to have that experience.

As for me, I reported in the most straightforward way possible what I had seen and experienced. It certainly isn’t the past I would have imagined for myself and yet that is what makes it compelling. As someone who has long been interested in Buddhism I can easily accept the concept of a past life, one in an ongoing parade – hopefully ultimately toward enlightenment. The idea of even a brief window onto a self that was so different – impoverished Native American teenager who gets himself killed in a fight over something so stupid that it, unlike these other simple facts, was not indelible through time. Only that I had been young and stupid and gotten myself killed when I should have been taking care of my mother and grandmother remained. I guess the good news is that I got a bit smarter over subsequent lives. The instructor did give me a bit of a fish eye – or maybe I imagined it. But I don’t think my former self was doing any of the killing he had witnessed.

I am not sure Kim believes that my experience wasn’t entirely one of suggestion placed in my mind by the instructor’s own stories. It was a day when I had already had my share of contemplating mortality and it is more than possible that the experience was a combination of what I brought to the table so to speak. All I can say is that bit of time in another body seemed real and different, and the poignant moment of apology one that had been a long time coming.

On that day I certainly didn’t get any insights into the arthritis that troubles me, and it didn’t lead to a desire to do it again and learn about other lives, if that is indeed possible. Instead it left me with a strange sort of shiny spot in my memory. As if out of the dim past one small bit has been brought into high relief. Real or not, I keep it there like a talisman, a lucky penny, dropped from the past into my lap here in the future.

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