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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Can You Spot the Celebrity?

At a Speaking engagement earlier this fall I was approached by one of the members of the Monroe Historical Society with a special assignment.  Led to a table at the back of the hall I was handed a box of glass negatives. “We think a famous actor is in here.” Marvin Moss said as he opened the box containing 4 plates. 

Holding one up to the light for me I could see on each slide were large and medium-sized groups of adults and children One had them against a forest backdrop and another in front of a large cabin structure. “Can you process these and tell us if you can see a young Jimmy Cagney here? We think he went there with his family as a child.” Marven asked. 


Having transferred almost 100 negatives in the past 4 years, some of them for the Monroe Historical Society, I didn’t hesitate for a second to attempt this feat. This transfer would prove to be different from the others in more way than one. 

I can usually process glass negatives pretty easily, but these negatives were darker than most, and after a first attempt I realized that they weren’t as sharp as many of the others. I went from my simple home-made cardboard light box, to a much more complicated contraption fashioned from parts found in my garage to get an even light source and angle for the transfer. 

When I had completed the transfer, I then used photo-editing software to process and adjust the final image to attempt the confirmation.  Looking at each child I found that several of the campers appeared in more than one of the images. They all looked fairly similar in that their hair and dress, especially for the boys, was equally disheveled and worn. 


Finding early images of a well-known actor should have been easy; in this case, I was stumped. Plenty of images from his earliest roles were turned up by a Google search, but almost no images of his childhood years could be found. His familiar knit brow and curled hair were aspects I couldn’t see in any of these campers. But I found one...



An ultra-low resolution image required that I try a few tricks using PhotoShop to de-accentuate the aliasing.  While it looks impossible to see here, I found that when I placed the photo as an inset, the comparison seemed possible. 
Is that him? 
Or, is that him?
My friend Marven Moss has been doing the heavy lifting when it comes to this research, so I will leave it to him to find the answer. Stay tuned if you want to learn more, and if you have any clues on Cagney's background or early years, please share it in the comments. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Mud Pond in Huckleberry Time....ah Paradise!

The irony of finding old paper is not knowing its origin.  There are art projects out there that invite participants to make up stories to fit the scenes and people in these images. I think I'll let this one speak for itself. Make up a story if you want to but I would be happy writing myself into this scene. 
Mud Pond at Huckleberry Time
Dimensions: 6-1/8  X 2-5/8
This card is a product of the Rotograph Company, which could place it around the start of the 20th century. The fact that Rotograph printed over 60,000 cards and may have had a library of over 2 million images doesn't help me place this location. As is the case with many interesting cards the reverse doesn't provide much more detail.
early 20th century Rotograph Post Card
I found 2 good sources of information on the company, one is a blogger's site dedicated to cards from the company, here. The other site is a massive compendium of postcard history here.  Both good reads if you the time to explore further.  

If you find the mud pond in Huckleberry time, do me a favor and send me a card. I'll come as soon as I can.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

We Serve Spaghetti AND Ravioli - Old Matchbook Fun

The selection is obvious. At Colucci's you have 2 sets of 2 choices. Spaghetti or Ravioli and 2 places to eat - at the restaurant, or at home. I wonder if they charge a cover for the latter?
 Gene's French restaurant is fairly black and white. The challenge may be in using the 1960 GPS (Gene's Positioning System). Those directions are far too complicated for me to follow.

 I wonder if they specialized in cold cuts as well? Sorry it's upside down, but the art work is suitable for framing.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Civil War Update: 152 Years Later

A new friend recently introduced me to the ongoing interest in Civil War memorabilia. The history of such a bloody war still fascinates many and continues to prompt authors and documentarians to review and present their findings over 150 years later.  Learning about other people's interests can be contagious.

Maybe it was coincidental that the first sale this weekend would be the home of Genealogist, Pamela Manning. I love the title of this magazine cover found hanging on an office wall, which prompted me to ask:
The Genealogy Helper


 "If I add some ground beef and sauce, could I eat this for dinner on Tuesday?" Or, maybe the only ingredient required is Thyme (time). This home was full of books and research material into the lives of her family.

Genealogy books


The funny thing about studying your family's history is that you automatically become a genealogist because often so many other people and families become inter-connected in the research.

more Genealogy books

You can see the dedication in the shear number of books, periodicals and folders of her own findings. Our genealogist either knew ahead of time, or eventually discovered that she was related to a very well known family.
Col. Van Manning and Wife

Van Manning was a decorated Confederate officer who lead over 1300 southern soldiers an an effort to defeat the Union troops.
Van Manning Oil Portrait


Though he was wounded in battle and would eventually lose 90% of his men, Manning went on to serve 2 terms in Congress as a democrat. You can read more about him here.

My thanks to Pamela Manning, whose home I was permitted to traipse through along with many other urban archeologists, collectors, historians, genealogists and, dare I say, opportunists. I was permitted to take pictures, but the only thing I bought was this postcard for a dollar:

I knew it wasn't period and the postmark on the back proved it. The messages on the reverse did strike me as funny, with no disrespect to the family or anyone else.

With the depiction of a grand Civil War battle on the front of the card, the message "This Southern hospitality is better than I expected." is a very odd thing to write. Intentionally funny, or just a coincidence? You tell me.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Forget the Golden Arches, I'm headed for the Pearly Gates!

(Updated  - December 1st, 2014 - Several of the facts gathered for this post were compiled with the help of 2 accomplished researchers: Barry Popik, and his article here , and Bob Belletzkie of Prospect, CT who specializes in state railroad and local history research.)


No, I'm not going to meet my maker, in fact, because it has been 11 years since last entering the Golden Arches, I expect to be around for a long time. If it is Heaven I am going to, I hope it's Hamburg Heaven. 
I found about 80 matchbooks at a sale and bought them because of examples like this one. After a little searching on the web, I found a backstory worth telling. 

Matchbook Hamburg Heaven
No Ham in these burgers!
Mrs. Phyllis Sarah Moffett, a Wilton, Connecticut housewife in 1938 decided she would open up a hamburger restaurant. I learned from my sources that she opened up the restaurant after divorcing her husband, noted Neurologist and Psychiatrist Saul Heller. Was it a divorce settlement that funded the new business? We don't know, but I figure that her backyard barbecue skills were her inspiration for the main menu item. The early menu was limited to burgers, salad and "specials."
Catering to those who are aware (of what?)
She created a popular eatery in a very busy section of New York that catered to the Jazz clubs and made burgers through the night into the breakfast hour. Through the help of my friend Bob I learned Hamburg Heaven would cater events with their well liked burgers. As you can see by the cover above, the business expanded into other locations around the city, even as far as the terminal at LaGuardia Airport. 


Located across the street from Saint Patrick's cathedral, it is easy to see how the name was chosen and protected. There is a news clipping in the 1950's where a suit was filed against another joint for using "heavenly" in their name. Through its history it was known to have lines around the corner-type success, and stars like Sammy Davis Jr., Henry Fonda and even the Gabor sisters were known to call this one of their favorite places to eat. True? Why would Sammy lie? 

I know that Mrs. Moffett died in 1964 and the restaurant didn't last long after that. Her son Richard, who went on to a successful career in law and journalism, died in 2006. The business was transferred to another burger joint who left the restaurant layout pretty much the same until 2012 when it closed for good. You can watch a short documentary about the restaurant's successor "Prime Burger" below. Nicely shot but it shows how time absorbed most of the character from this place. 

All this content from one little matchbook! ...and I have 70 more to go through.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The 6 Places You Need to Eat in New York City (50-70 years ago)

I am surprised that I never started collecting matchbooks. Oh, that's right. I don't smoke. I never smoked beyond some period of teen indiscretion. At its peak the smoking industry put their product and its advertising everywhere. If you owned a restaurant or hotel or any business mid-century you had to have matchbooks printed up for your smoking clientele. This lead to many graphically fascinating designs and advertisements. 

These become more collectable as they become scarcer to find. The businesses reflect the times and and the dreams of business owners to have the kind of place people would enjoy and respect. Charles Cafe must have been a unique sports bar that catered to the boxing enthusiast. A similar matchbook is going for $45 on eBay. 

I don't know what a "real" French atmosphere is, but at $2.00 for dinner I'd be willing to give it a shot. 

Mr. Toffenetti looks like someone I would like to keep happy. Nope, wouldn't be sending anything back to the chef in his place. The quote seems a little backwards, if you get inspired from my satisfaction that's great, but if I'm already satisfied what do I care about your inspiration? He looks like someone just told him that...uh oh!
 I wonder what it is about "Fried Chicken Maryland?"  I do recall there are large chicken processing plants in that area.


The Crillon has a listing that goes back as far as the 1930's. Does that put this matchbook around this era? If anyone wants to take a crack at the history of NYC restaurants...I'm all ears.  One more in this group, diplomatically speaking that is.

The range of these is quite wide with the UN matchbook coming in during the 1960's. Can you resist a cool matchbook? 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Guess the Gadget- Hint: It's a Griffen, but it's not Peter Griffen

If I have a super power, I would guess that it is the ability to find the ridiculous amidst the amazing. 
This brass whichamacallit was found at an estate sale in South Kent, CT in September. The sale was a unique old farm house with wide board floors and a fireplace in every room. 
This oddity was sitting in a box of medical supplies, but I was told that this has no bearing on it's purpose or origin.
It is approximately four inches high, and fairly substantial. My first guess was a drawer pull. You can see that the beak forms a hole through which a chain or metal ring could be placed. However, the weight of the piece and the size ring it might accept would be an over-match as a drawer pull. 
The bottom is flat and there are no maker's marks or writing. Is it a chess piece? A pill crusher? It looks like the head of a Griffen, I am hoping someone can help me identify it. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

No Matter How, Where or When...Thank You for Serving.

My father served in WWII, I think he would have gotten a kick out of this...


These Items were all part of a much larger collection found this weekend at a local flea market.



Saturday, November 8, 2014

Confessions Live! (Now with Speaking Tips)


Over a year ago I began getting requests to share my "Confessions" live by presenting the stories behind some of my best discoveries. I have been enjoying the attention of community groups and libraries and even educational institutions who provide me with an hour or more to share my weekend obsession.

At the end of October I was the guest of the Greenwich RMA (Retired Men's Association). This invitation was a pleasant surprise that was revealed by a family friend who pointed out that I was scheduled to speak in-between Charles Grodin and a former director of the Securities and Exchange Commission.  I don't think they were ever able to book Charles Grodin, but I was available.

Not only were they a very responsive and friendly crowd, they also asked a lot of good questions and recorded the whole presentation.


Greg van Antwerp, Urban Archeologist from Greenwich Retired Men's Assoc. on Vimeo.

I didn’t intend to become a public speaker when I began blogging about found treasures 5 years ago. It just happened.
Saturday, I finished my 10th public presentation on Urban Archeology by speaking at the Edith Wheeler Memorial Library in Monroe. I am by no means a professional speaker, but I thought I could document a few pointers because there could be others starting out like me.
1) Arrive early and practice.
If it’s your first time in a new location make sure you know the technology works, from audio visual equipment to the heating and AC. I have had a few stumbles because I relied on computers that were supposed to work but ultimately didn’t.
2) Settle your audience
Even after you been introduced, talk to them like they’re a guest in your home. Asking if everyone is comfortable and can hear your voice, shows you are in the moment with them. If they are unruly find some way to burst on the scene. I once tried yelling “Look what I found!” which worked for my topic, but now I use a 40 year-old pop-up projector stand which is loud and eye-catching. It gets their attention if I need it.
3) Love your topic
Even if you are just practicing or maybe preparing an assigned topic, at least pretend it’s the greatest thing in the world. Well, don’t over do it, but passion is something people connect with. If you like your subject matter, so will your audience.
4) Be yourself
My voice sounds shaky when I begin a presentation. When I think it can be noticed I will often stop and say, “If my voice sounds like I’m nervous, it is actually shaky because I am very excited to be here today.” Telling your audience upfront that you know how you sound and feel, wipes away your anxiety.
5) Tech problems? Meh!
Organizing visuals with a microphone and speakers is sometimes a recipe for something to go wrong. Audio feedback, computers that go to screen saver, and video projectors that suddenly lose signal are common to every speaking situation. The thing to remember is, the time you are taking to fix it seems infinitely longer than what the audience is actually experiencing. So? Roll with it. If moving doesn’t fix the feedback, then kill the mic and raise your voice. Computer hardware can usually be fixed by quickly escaping the program and re-entering. Your audience is always more sympathetic to your situation than annoyed.
6) Q &A
Leave time for questions. You have given your audience new information, they’ll want clarification in some form and questions help fill in the blanks. Also, it makes you approachable and you gain so much from the quick reviews people give in their questions. You’ll know they got it, or tip you off as to how to adjust for the next talk so they will.

That’s not all there is, but as I continue to be invited to new locations I am sure I will glean more from the experience. If you have any tips for successful public speaking please share them in the comments.