A Real Parade of Toys!

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Picking up from where I left off last week, Kim and I were literally waist deep in vintage toys at The Antique Toy Shop  in Chelsea when the owner Jean-Pol remembered me from my previous visit, and then put me together with Pam’s Pictorama. I had shared some Pictorama toy posts with him when I met him last year and he has kept up via Instagram.

It may surprise some of you, but Instagram and Twitter are in many ways my happy places. Everyone complains about social media, but to a large degree I have managed these accounts to be nothing but delightful escapism. With careful tending my Instagram feed is mostly art and interesting photos of places and things I look forward to seeing. My Twitter feed is also jolly photos and GIFs of cats and silent film stills and news. Jean-Pol is my only entry with vintage toys, although I would welcome others if I found them.

In exchange, for those who follow Pam’s Pictorama, I also share antique toys, interesting photos, snippets from jazz concerts, cats, and early film back out to the world. Twitter gets a feed of articles of interest as well, largely from the New York Times as I read it in the morning, but fun or interesting articles exclusively. (Mice singing to each other anyone? A Detroit greenhouse that turns into a mini-movie theater at night perhaps? Found here and here.)

Politics is verboten on my feeds for the most part. I chose to get my hard news other ways and I don’t feel the need to share it or my views on it with the world on social media. I visit Twitter each morning and insist that Kim come look at such things as the best of #jellybellyFriday kitties and keep in touch with the doings of a young woman named Fritzi on the west coast who seems to have a small menagerie of cats and dogs, is a silent film blogger and to my knowledge never sleeps. (She is better known to me as @MoviesSilently.) There is also Lani Giles (@4gottenflapper) who appears to live in Alberta and Mad Cat Cattis (@GeneralCattis). I am, of course Pam’s Pictorama (@deitchstudio) on both. This is where you can find me, coffee in hand, each weekday morning around 5:30; Kim grinding away at his latest page at the same long table in our living room. (Yes, we live in a studio apartment, but the space is divided and therefore a living room and a bedroom.)

I have a few real world friends who Tweet politically and while I have not exiled them I refuse to share them. The Dalai Lama makes occasional appearances to help remind us to have a mindful day. Pictorama has acquired a few readers this way, mostly via Instagram and occasionally connections I never saw before occur between Facebook friends and other social media – a spouse’s account on Instagram (who knew that Fat Fink was married to Motivated Manslayer?) sporting a name that is different. On Instagram I recently uncovered a real life connection to someone in Monmouth County, NJ, where I grew up. He and his brother knew my sister in school. (Shout out to Rob Bruce @popculturizm.)

Anyway, I have digressed. Because Jean-Pol remembered me he began producing photographs of children with toys. The one shown here is beyond wonderful and I knew I had to have it immediately. In the background there is both an early car and a horse drawn carriage so it dates from the period when these things co-existed briefly, a paved road however, and in what appears to be a wealthy enclave judging from the amazing toys on display. (Not to mention the appearance of the pet goat with cart, lead by the boy with the news boy cap. May I just state for the record that I think having a goat drawn cart as a child is a sort of pinnacle of happy indulgence?) I would say the photo hales from the late 1900’s or early teens? (Women’s dresses are still long.)

Of course, the main event is that every child in this affluent neighborhood has dressed up in their best bib and tucker, some even in costume, and brought out their toys and pets in a most splendid toy parade! The little girls are especially be-ribboned and heavily bowed, with a few crowns even thrown in for good measure. I am especially fond of the kid in the clown costume, head covered almost entirely by his top hat, with a remarkable stuffed dog at his feet. (I thought it was a real dog at first, but a careful look weighs toward toy.) Flags are aloft, and there is this bit of some kind of bunting that is keeping them lined up, at least for the most part. Dolls are on prime display and one doll stroller has a small banner that reads, The Flower Girl. I can only imagine that even without this photo it was the sort of event that lived on in imagination and memory for those who were there. A Little Rascals type slice of real life.

 

Cat Ears

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I resisted this photo as long as I could because it was expensive, but had to purchase it. (Full disclosure: Kim has tweaked the contrast on this in Photoshop which improves it considerably.) There’s no explanation on the back of this card and it was never sent, but it does speak for itself. I must say, with perhaps one exception (second girl from the left end), as a group they don’t appear happy about what I consider to be their jolly cat costumes. And my goodness, poor #6, in his enhanced, darker costume doesn’t look happy at all. Even mom doesn’t look thrilled. It’s a glum group of kitties. (A careful look leads me to believe the adult is at a minimum related to the child whose hand she holds and #6.)

In addition to his number label, #6 is the only one sporting a nice set of whiskers and has a high contrast version of the cat suit. It is hard to see, but they do also sport tails – a pity that we don’t see those better. One set of ears was sewn to look more elfin that cat, third in. It is almost impossible to see, but each also sports a tiny horseshoe pin – pointing down I’m sorry to say, all that luck pouring out. Mom wears one too. There’s something I especially love about the line up of shoes peering out, the trouser legs sewn differently at the bottom of each. There is that reluctant version of hand holding that children do – with a complete refusal of the two on the end. Ha! Gotcha. Take that you grown ups!

Personally, I have long loved a good animal costume and I tend to think I would have been more than happy to have been dressed up like this, especially if I was #6 – I would have been jealous of those whiskers and sharper black suit if I was one of the others. A tail is a great thing too and I have often thought I would like one. For myself, I am very fond of a pair of cat ears on a hairband I own. (This combines a good hair look with, well, lovely pointy cat ears – if only I could make them move independently like Cookie and Blackie do in inquiry and annoyance.) Our cats seem to find my cat ears alarming and repugnant however.

I remember when I first got the cat ear hairband years ago and put it on to show my cat Otto – who shrank away and with an expression which could only be described as the sort of disapproval and disappointment she’d have reserved for my holding forth with a racist joke – how could you? Evidently cat ears are the equivalent of kitty black face. It also seems you have, in their eyes, been transformed into a huge monster cat. Frankly, they appear to find hats distasteful too in a similar way – although it must be said that Cookie and Blackie are forgiving of Kim’s outsized cowboy hat he wears daily. However, I get the kitty stink eye for a knit cap in winter on my way out the door.

Unlike the Metropolitan Museum, it is interesting to note that many of the folks at Jazz dress up for Halloween. I was surprised the first year, but this past year I did bring cat ears to work. I only wore them for a short time, but it is clearly one of the perks of the job.

All in the Family

Pam (Family) Photo Post: As I sit down to write today I am unsure really what I want to say about this photo. I was fascinated by it when I saw it for the first time over Thanksgiving. I have no memory of seeing it before. It is a photo of a photograph which is in very bad condition and over-exposed in part (I took it on my phone and Kim has darkened it slightly for us here), but it manages to be fascinating nonetheless.

This photo was taken in the yard I grew up as knowing to be my grandmother’s, but it was a home (and yard) that at one time housed several families and generations of my family. My mother grew up in the two story house attached to it, with her brother and parents on the ground floor and an aunt, uncle and cousin on the second. One of the grandmothers lived with them there at one time too. I wrote about the house aways back when some photos of it came my way. (That post can be found at My Grandmother’s House here and I also wrote about my maternal grandmother, and her kitchen in Ann’s Glass which is here.) However, here is the familiar yard, several generations before my childhood, recorded on the advent of the wedding of my great-aunt Rose (Ro’ or Ro’ Ro’ to me as a kid) and a glimpse of this opulent, if homespun, backyard celebration.

My mother tells me that this table, impossibly long and which literally disappears into the photo horizon, is set up under a grape arbor decorated here with festive bunting, which supplied this (very Italian) family with the grapes to make wine. The arbor was long gone by my childhood, my mother says it was the victim of a jolly rodent population attracted by its bounty and the nuisance convinced the later generation of denizens to dismantle it. Every inch of the yard, less than an acre by my reckoning, was devoted to producing food for the family – fruit and nut trees, a vegetable garden, chickens. This yard, hunting and fishing, extraordinary cooking and preserving skills, kept this family fed through thin times, including my mother’s childhood which includes the far end of the Depression.

The family owned a bar which the women of the Cittadino family (at a minimum my great-grandmother and her daughters) cooked for, in addition of course to feeding and taking care of the family. When I look at this photo my mind reels with thoughts of the days (weeks really) of work that must have gone into this celebration. I would imagine that many hands helped in a variety of ways, but there’s no way to imagine it wasn’t an enormous job for those at the heart of it. As I look at it I am fascinated by how the men are grouped at the end of the table closest to us. No one has identified any of them specifically. Frankly, it looks like a tough group!

In general the men on this side of the family are dim in my memory and mind. They seem to have largely died on the young side (a variety of reasons, inherited heart issues among them) and therefore my childhood self never met them or at least didn’t know them long enough for there to be much of an impression. On the other hand, the women, an undeniably strong group of women, loom large and Ro was the oldest of that clan. I have vivid memories of them. As I unpack more of these images in future posts I will likely write more about these strong willed sisters and what I know of them.

These photos come to me via a cousin (second cousin to me) who has unearthed them as she starts cleaning out her own version of an ancestral home. She has lost her mother and significant other over the past year (the latter quite unexpectedly), and she has drifted to staying with my mother, who since my father’s death over the summer is largely alone in her house – although so many friends come and go I often think it is her own version of Grand Central Station. Nonetheless, family is different and it is a poignant reminder that it is an interesting thing, which can at times expand and contract as needed. It unfurls further than the eye can see, back into the past, and indefinitely into the future.

Tin Hats

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I stumbled onto this photo, somewhat outside of my usual bailiwick of cats and toys, and purchased it for its slice of life from the past quality. The woman is identified on the back where, despite evidence that it was pulled from a photo album, the neat pencil writing is still legible, April 1927 Marion Goodall 1495. West Adams Street. 

Marion, in her best bib and tucker, stands next to lobby cards for Tin Hats which, according the the IMDB database was a WWI comedy, made in 1926 starring Conrad Nagel and Claire Windsor. Although partially lost there is a rather detailed outline of the plot penned by a devoted individual who took the time to do so. (The author had seen some of it and filled in with a period description.) Roughly, it is a comedy farce that follows three soldiers who somehow get separated from their army unit in France just as the armistice is signed, and acquire bikes as a mode of catching up to them. Along the way, one falls in love with a German woman, they drink a lot of beer, and are hailed as heroes of the Occupying force (yes, there was a time when the French were really happy to have us there) and essentially have a jolly time of it. Spoiler alert – everyone gets happily married in the end.

Tin Hats was directed by Edward Sedgwick and his sister Eileen has a lesser role, as a second love interest. As an aside, Eileen’s twin sister was Josie Sedgwick who was a bit more of a rip roarin’ good time according to Kim. (A morning discussion about the merits of Josie is taking place as I write this.) The twin girls were born in Galveston, Texas on March 13, 1898 to a theatrical family which had a vaudeville act which ultimately incorporated the children, The Five Sedgwicks. While the girls were eventually plucked from the act, Edward on the other hand completed a university degree, went to a military academy, and contemplated a career in the military, before deciding to follow the family path into the theater and films as a director. Although Eileen made more than a hundred films (mostly serials) neither of the twins makes the transition into sound. Josie ultimately opened a talent agency. Eileen lives to be 93. Edward continued to work as a director however, until the 1950’s. His last listed credit is an episode of I Love Lucy in 1953.

Meanwhile, Marion Goodall’s interest in being photographed with these lobby cards is now lost to us. In her strappy shoes, good coat and with her marcel curled hair, she is indeed a snapshot of a woman of her time. More and more I notice silent films that are slipping into the category of having been made 100 years, or more, ago and even in my lifetime that seems amazing. It didn’t seem like they were made all that long ago when I started watching them with my dad in the 1970’s. These films, photos and music of the time remain little time capsules, ready to transport us back in time, at least for the flicker of a moment and these days at the touch of an internet button.

 

Sittin’ on a Wall

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have already opined on the origins of Humpty Dumpty (see here for my post Humpty Dumpty where I discuss my version of the toy shown here, several amazing variations on it, and dip into Humpty’s humble beginnings) so I will not focus on that today. I admit that the weird toy attracted me to the card though. Even owning one, I remain fascinated by it’s strangeness and can’t quite get enough.

This Humpty wears a jolly beret! (Mine has a peaked cap, jaunty as well. Did Humpty always wear a hat? Did I miss something about that?) He and the little girl both hold their hands up in the air in an identical pose – she just wrapped in some illusion fabric rather than a dress, but seated on a little cushion and with those hotsy totsy shoes! They appear to perch together on more of a chimney than a wall, but perhaps we can say a piece of a wall? This card is clearly made by a professional studio and was never used, nothing written on it.

Hang on now because I’m afraid I am going to wander down that sort of meandering path I do occasionally when I have something scratching at my mind. I have been thinking a lot about the crucible of change and how I have gone through it at various points in my life. I wish today I had a story of how I went into it and came out the other side. While I know intellectually that there is always another side and I will eventually come out, I write today as I flounder in its midst; without even a glimpse of the far shore yet, trying to figure out to paddle my craft there.

Humpty Dumpty and his great fall are a good metaphor for this – man, once he fell all the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again. After the page has turned and change has begun, watch out because like Humpty, you aren’t going back to the old you. Last week I alluded to this (see Time is Flying) and the process I went through after my sister died years ago. More than I thought it would, my father’s death has propelled me into another catalyst for a transition that is roiling forward, somewhat of its own accord.

I feel like I am clutching a tiger by the tail, being thumped around as I try to hang on. This week I think I realized that you can’t fight it, despite a rather cat-like tendency of mine to abhor change I need to figure out how to embrace it. Transition and growth sound so positive that after the fact, you tend to forget the growing pains, but there is nothing now but to get on board. It is a tough path to be on and taking charge of it requires marshaling resources I will have to find. And it is hard to remember that it is not so much about putting the pieces back together – that ship has sailed – as it is about forging an entirely new whole.

 

Hanging Out

Pam’s Photo Post: This card was purchased at the April El Dorado of a postcard sale here in New York this spring. The screwiness of it attracted me to it. I assume this is not a one-of-a-kind card, but the back does not however indicate commercial production. The card was mailed to Miss Lilly – Lane M B Elliott Dillon Mont. Also written in a messy pencil script is, as written, This is a very nice winter so far & how I would like to see all you folks and Janes folks. Was all well last Heard from J Sam Bell & girls Last week. Will. This card was mailed on December 7 at 10 AM, 1907 from Ames, Iowa. (A quick look tells me that Ames, Iowa is where Iowa State University is. No evidence that our less than literate writer was attending however!)

Under close examination, these gents on the card do not appear to be hanging from this light pole. There seem to be lines run down from the top which affords some sort of foot hold, while holding on above. I will guess that this was officially a function of telephone line repair? Isn’t it odd that many places don’t actually have phone poles and lines now? There was of course a time when they were ubiquitous. I remember though at some point being aware that they didn’t have them and how odd that seemed. The town I grew up in has phone lines above ground and as a place which is prone to hurricanes, which routinely knock them down, you would think they might have committed to the cost of moving them underground, but perhaps more to it than that. In Manhattan they have of course moved them underground.

When I first saw this card I could not help, but reflect that it would have been an impressive amount of upper body strength if these guys were hanging from the poles. As an adult I developed an addiction to working out at a gym – I find it very relaxing and work out four or five days a week. However, despite developing more muscle than I have ever had in my shoulders and arms, I doubt I could do more than a chin up or two – especially with my arms facing forward – let alone hang from something like this. Ouch! I was abysmal at these sorts of things as a kid, rope climbing, pull ups, push ups and the like. I do occasionally wonder – what were they thinking testing us that way as kids? If I can’t do it now, why on earth would I, as a more or less average kid be able to do it then? It remains a mystery to me.

Lucky Kitty and the Sea Shells

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This postcard comes from Great Britain, but the location is unidentified. It was never sent and there is nothing written on it. I am on the fence about whether this was a mass produced postcard or something small scale, even singular. (Kim speculates even printed; we aren’t sure.) This shell garden may have been something of a local tourist destination, and perhaps they produced these cards – or maybe a lucky one off.

When I look at something like this garden I wonder how it all started. Was there a basket of shells, an abundant collection, which inspired someone to start affixing them, perhaps to a planter at first? Plunk a few on every Sunday until this is what the yard looks like? Or was the whole thing envisioned of a piece? While I suspect that the first is the most likely, I prefer to think that someone had a grand vision, started collecting shells and got to it. A living seashell mosaic. The kitty looks to be a lovely fellow and the seashells have a luminous quality. This card sends me day dreaming into thoughts of being tucked away in this garden.

Of course the handsome black cat makes the photo for me, although it does suffer from being poorly lit – we don’t even see glowing eyes or whiskers. Historically the British seem take a kindly attitude toward black cats, although admittedly I don’t know their feelings today. Therefore I do not think his or her presence was at all perceived of as unlucky – in fact they seem to take promote the idea that black cats are lucky. I have been reading a lot online lately about how people don’t adopt black cats because of the superstition. I think of the joys of living with our almost black kitty, aptly named Blackie, and I am stunned that someone might deprive themselves of living with such a great little guy. However, we did once have a cat sitter who wanted to see the white spot on his chest. She was sort of joking…and not.