I love the old linen-textured postcards, especially the way the images fall somewhere between photographs and postcards. I especially like the most mundane ones, including the frankly commercial ones like this Tichnor Brothers postcard of The Carpet Shop, Inc., of Yonkers, New York (telephone number YOnkers 3-3905, if you want to give them a call.) The dreamlike image fascinates me — why are the showroom windows completely empty? Why is there nothing visible on either side of the building? Whose car is that parked out front, and why are there no signs of life? It’s so mysterious.
I spend a lot of time working with old photographs, at home and at work, but I have recently started spending more time looking at old films online to help me be able to visualize the times and places where my grandparents lived.
My mother’s parents came from Scotland, and I have been enjoying the short, silent films at Scottish Screen Archive at the National Library of Scotland. This film of Glasgow Trams is from around 1902, and it provides me with a moving image of Glasgow as it would have looked to my grandmother Agnes, who just two years later left school and went to work as a 14 year old shop girl. I picture her getting on and off those trams on her way to her first job, feeling nervous but proud to be the first of six children to be able to help support their family.
My grandfather Willie was raised in Ayrshire, and like all of his family members, he went down into the mines at 14. But he wanted to be a photographer, and as a young man he traveled to popular seaside destinations to photograph the tourists. I’m pretty sure one of the places he went was Rothesay on the island of Bute, and when I was there a few years ago I tried to picture the scene as it would have looked during his time. The film Holiday Scenes in Rothesay from the early 1920s shows holiday-makers arriving by steamer and enjoying the beach, the bathing pool, the putting green and the castle, and I wonder of anyone I can see in the film stopped to have their photograph taken by my grandfather.
Those are my favorites because of how they relate to my grandparents’ lives, but there’s a variety of films available in this collection from the 1890s to the current decade, including sponsored and promotional films, documentaries, newsreels, home movies and more.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Making Bagpipes — A 10-minute educational film of the work of the Highland Bagpipe Makers in Edinburgh.
Hugh MacDiarmid: No Fellow Travellers — A 25 minute film about Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, an influential figure in the Scottish Renaissance, made to commemorate his 80th birthday, including conversation with his son Michael Grieve and fellow poet Norman MacCaig about his life, work and politics
I first fell in love with this little red cottage in Asbury Grove in 2008. It looked so cheerful and tidy, with the fancy white woodwork and the heart-shaped decorative elements. It looked like something out of an old cartoon, like a honeymoon cottage for Mickey and Minnie Mouse, or Popeye and Olive Oyl. It was empty and for sale, and I hoped someone would buy it soon, because it looked sad sitting empty.
I took a picture that day and I drove by several times over the next few years, always wondering if it was still empty. Of course I had crazy thoughts of buying it myself and using it as a guest room, but real estate in Asbury Grove is complicated. It’s a religious community and you buy the cottage but are leasing the land from the community, and I don’t think I would pass the admissions process. Also, if I had the money to buy something like this, I would probably be better off using it to expand my present home.
Over the years, the For Sale sign stayed up but the phone number faded, and there were some minor signs of damage. The wooden heart gable decoration apparently fell off, but I could see it inside in the front window. One day I saw a Private Property sign, which made me wonder if someone had seen me there and wanted me to stop taking pictures. I felt like maybe it was time to stop anyway — I felt like I was cottage-stalking. So I stopped going by.
I happened to be driving by the Grove today and decided to take a quick look. I knew the roof of the place across the street had collapsed under the weight of snow during the winter, and was curious to see what was left of it. I found a big pile of rubble, but the real surprise was that my little red cottage was also gone, leaving almost no trace, just a little clearing in the woods. From what I can see online, a tree fell on it and it had to be taken down.
I’m sorry it’s gone, but I am glad I have my photographs.
Abraham Lincoln’s funeral service was held on April 19, 1865, after which the coffin was brought by procession to the Capitol Rotunda for a ceremonial burial service. The following morning, after a prayer service for the Lincoln cabinet, the coffin set off on a journey from Washington, DC, to Lincoln’s final resting place in Springfield, Illinois, stopping at several cities along the way for ceremonies and public viewings.
Here is a historical marker which commemorates the stop in Indianapolis, Indiana.
I’m a great admirer of artist Philip Coleman’s murals around the area, and I especially like the one he did on the side of the Beverly Gas & Tire building at near the intersection of Cabot and Rantoul Streets in Beverly. The subject matter appeals to me — I like diners, old cars and factory buildings. I also like the fact that it’s at a location by the railroad tracks that’s best described as utilitarian, quite a way up Cabot Street from the galleries and coffee shops near Montserrat College of Art, the Beverly Public Library and Beverly Common. The wall of the tire business, bordering a Rite-Aid parking lot, didn’t strike me as a great place for a mural, but the artist certainly knew exactly what would work here. Rather than ignoring the parking lot and just paint on the top half of the wall, he created a mural that works perfectly with the parked cars, incorporating them right into the picture.
It’s been an amazing winter here in Boston. Almost no snow in December and the first half of January, and then BAM, two major snowstorms, Juno and Marcus, with freezing cold in between, no melting, and several smaller doses of snow just to keep things interesting.
Last week we finally had a few warmer days and the snow started to deflate and it seemed like spring was possible, and then Sunday we got more snow which pushed us over the seasonal snowfall record. I didn’t need the additional snow, but my dog Nina was happy to see more. Here she is looking annoyed when I was calling her to come back inside.
Happy birthday to Danny Kaye, born on January 18, 1911! We listened to the soundtrack of “Hans Christian Andersen” all the time when I was growing up, even though I was too young to have seen the movie and had to put the story together from the description on the back of the album. I chose this YouTube video of the spinning record and album cover rather than one of the many clips from the movie, because this one is really the way I remember experiencing the music and the story. (It was thrilling when I finally saw the movie on TV years when I was a teenager!) And of course we loved him in “White Christmas” — another movie that I knew from the soundtrack album long before I ever had the opportunity to see it.
Danny Kaye was also a social activist and served as first Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF from 1954 until his death in 1987. Kaye held a commercial pilot’s license and in 1975 flew his plane to 65 cities in five days on a UNICEF good will mission.
This classic car caught my eye as I was driving by. It’s a two-tone Chevy Bel Air, cream on the bottom and a pale blue on top. The soft color surprised me — I expect 1950s automobiles to be lipstick red, bright turquoise or tiger lily orange. My reference car for the period is the red and white 1956 Bel Air my mother bought in the 60s.
This one was different. It looked like the sky, like the car you might drive into Heaven.
Artist Philip Coleman is currently working on a mural on the side of the Beverly Gas & Tire that provides a glimpse into the Gloucester Crossing neighborhood in the 1940s. Coleman, who has painted several other murals in Beverly, volunteered to paint the mural free of charge, using paint and supplies from Beverly Gas & Tire and a boom lift from Martin’s Construction Company. I love the 1940s theme, especially the old cars and service station, and the trompe-l’œil effect that looks like the past is always there below the surface, waiting to be revealed (because it is.)
Beverly Gas & Tire
383 Cabot Street
Some excitement on Route 1A in Ipswich this morning! I was at the entrance to Appleton Farms when I saw a Police car across the highway with the lights on, and the officer outside trying to guide an escaped cow back over to the farm. The cow kept running in and out of the road, coming right to the entrance of the farm at one point but then running back out to the road, heading for the Hamilton line. I hope the cow eventually returned home safe!