What I Did on Summer Vacation

Now that summer holidays have come to an end, I think it’s time to look back on all the FUN we had! massive clown head

“Massive Clown Head, miniature Golf Course and exclusive ‘Mirrorama’ feature.” Who can forget the mesmerizing gaze and gaping maw of the Massive Clown Head, and how it lured us from our happy pursuits at hole 18, how we — helpless to resist — encircled the Massive Clown Head, and how the Mirrorama feature reflected back at us our own twisted visages, and how we realized the screaming… the screaming… it came from US! And the funnel-cakes! Who can forget the delicious funnel-cakes. “Located on 5-A between Springfield and Hartford. Free admission and free parking!”

old lady in the shoe

“Visit the Old Lady in the Shoe and listen to her stories about some of the other wonderful People you will meet at STORY BOOK FOREST on U.S. Route 30 near Ligonier, Pa.”

old lady in the shoe detail 2

And listen you will, lest she give you some broth without any bread, then whip you all soundly and put you to bed. This lad has been trapped in the shoe for so long, he has developed a permanent hunch.

organ grinder

But of course, the highlight of our summer vacation was a trip to the Bottle House at Knott’s Berry Farm and Ghost Town, Buena Park, Calif.
“How did you get so many bottles?” you asked. But one look at the man in the rainbow-coloured shirt and you had all the answers you needed.

organ grinder detail

“Music from the organ grinder’s Hurdy Gurdy will draw you to the Bottle House where ‘Shorty’ the monkey delights young and old.”

“Please… take me with you,” the monkey says.
But all we hear is: “Eh-Eh-EH-Eh-EEEK!”


Hooray for Hollywood

A Letter Folder with 6 Natural Color Views

hollywood 1a

dare you to navigate around Hollywood using just this map. I DOUBLE DARE YOU!
hollywood 3a

Let’s take a look at this “message inside:”
hollywood 3b

Well, THAT’S a little presumptuous! How do you know I’m taking in ALL the sights?! What if I’m only taking in some of the sights? Huh?!

But I have to admit, you’ve got me on the glamour… It is so much more glamourous than I expected. Take a look!


But of course, no trip to Hollywood is complete without visiting these iconic stars on the Walk of Fame. Seriously; if you haven’t seen this, you haven’t seen Hollywood.
hollywood 2b

That’s right! THE Charles Laughton! Famed British actor of stage and screen! Star in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Ruggles of Red Gap, The Tuttles of Tahiti… and let’s not forget Abbot & Costello Meet Captain Kidd.

And not to outshine Lloyd Nolan! I mean, where would we be without the Michael Shayne B-movies, right?


The Biggest New Entertainment Event of the Year!


Spectacular new Cinerama was revealed to the world in 1952, as described by New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther:

… the shrill screams of the ladies and the pop-eyed amazement of the men when the huge screen was opened to its full size and a thrillingly realistic ride on a roller-coaster was pictured upon it, attested to the shock of the surprise. People sat back in spellbound wonder as the scenic program flowed across the screen. It was really as though most of them were seeing motion pictures for the first time…. the effect of Cinerama in this its initial display is frankly and exclusively “sensational,” in the literal sense of that word.

Cryptically the following was writ on the back of the postcard:

cinerama 2

Over The Bridge
Day by Day
(Yellow & blue)
Language Book π
(Sept cover)

Those aren’t track-listings. I found the LP that was released in conjunction with this show, and it was mostly classical and original scores.
And what does PI have to do with a language book?
And how weird is it that in the third column, the first two letters are capitalized? HO-AN-ME-MA-HU-AT-GA-AV-WA.

What does it all mean?!

Canadian Game Fish

According to this pre-1975 postcard, Marineland & Game Farm in Niagara Falls exhibited these “Canadian Game Fish.”

canadian game fish

As a Canadian, I feel it is my duty to set the record straight.
These are not Canadian Game Fish.
These are goldfish.
And some carp.
And carp are invasive species.
… and also Asian.

This is a Canadian Game fish:


A MUSKIE, to be precise — a member of the Pike family. (I do NOT recommend googling for images of muskie bites.)

Now, to be fair, the postcard was printed in Yugoslavia, so it’s understandable that these two fish species could be confused with each other.

A Masterclass in Photoshop

Like tourists who travel to Shanghai and dine only at McDonald’s, in 1911 a group of Danes travelled to far-off Santa Barbara County, California, to establish a Dutch-speaking, windmill-turning, smørrebrød-eating colony.

Weren’t nothing photographer Woody Gillette thought couldn’t be spruced up with the addition of some roses! Proportionally speaking, that yellow one at the centre is the size of a soccer ball.

slovang california

Secret Handshake

My real job is pretty fantastic, probably best described as “freelance historical research.” I’m currently buzzing away in the background of an ambitious project to catalogue the 200+ heritage buildings of a small town, including brief biographies of all who lived there. I don’t make much of a living but my needs are small, and on the days I explore attics and basements of old houses I feel very much like Nancy Drew.

This post is going to deviate slightly from postcards (but still solidly ensconced in ephemera) because my latest rabbit hole has been into the world of Fraternal Benefits Societies, or “Friendly Societies.”

Friendly Societies served an important social role Great Britain (and, by extension, Canada) in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries; they remained strong up until broader systems of socialized welfare came into being. Membership in a Friendly Society worked like health and employment insurance, with each member paying an annual due. If a member fell ill the fraternity helped pay for expenses, or a “friendly” doctor would visit them for free. If the member died some money was provided to the family, and the funeral expenses would be covered.

In a lot of ways, Friendly Societies were similar to Masonic Orders. While the Freemasons didn’t offer insurance benefits, both tended to be groups of people who aligned along a common profession, religious belief, and general morality. They sought the betterment of society in their own way… sometimes that way was really prejudiced (take a look at the Orange Order, for instance. And Fraternities are overwhelmingly male, white, and anti-Semitic.) But sometimes they did a lot of good in a community through charity.

I asked an old friend (by which I mean he’s 93-years-old) why the churches didn’t fill that role. Churches were strapped for cash in the heyday of Fraternities. They had to maintain the church and the manse or parish house, and support all the needs of the minister and his family. Even then, the ministers often had to take on side-hustles (i.e. my town had an 1852 Protestant minister/tavernkeeper). Fraternities simply didn’t have all that overhead. In 1926 of one of the town scions, a highly-ranked Mason and respected businessman, marched an impoverished family of eight down to the general store and bought them all shoes. The store clerk was also a Mason and sold them at cost. That’s the kind of thing they did.

Another way in which Friendly Societies and Freemasons are similar is that they are bonkers about all that secretive hokey-pokey! See, humans love to play (even when they pretend they don’t), and all sorts of symbols and costumes and elaborate ceremonies and invocations and passwords and ritualistic funeral rites have been built into these orders. Here is a great breakdown of the Ritual of the Independent Order of Foresters for Subordinate Lodges. As to their claims of origin: “Forestry” was suggested by the romantic and historic story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men of Sherwood Forest. In the twelfth century these men banded themselves together for mutual aid and protection. There in the forest they practised their “Swain Motes”, and shared the joys and sorrows incident to the life of every one. Though centuries have passed since their time, their deeds of bravery, their skill in Forestry, and their acts of charity are still the theme of many a song and story. The simile is this, ‘The Forest was their world, to-day the world is our Forest.’ Moral courage, physical fitness, and stability of character were their essential qualifications. The aims and objects of our Order are also in a measure akin to theirs, to assist each other in health and sickness, and to provide for our loved ones when the axe of time shall fall in our Forest.”

The Foresters are still plucking away from their North American Headquarters in Don Mills, Ontario but it’s now called Foresters Financial, and I doubt they invoke the example of Robin Hood.

forester house fraternal benefit society

But here’s what I really wanted to show you! An Oddfellows membership certificate from 1916. The top banner has a crest that says, “We command you to visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead, and educate the orphan.” And membership cost only $1.50 per annum.
That’s great! I could totally get behind this organization! But I’d be remiss if I didn’t make note of the fact that they only removed the whites-only clause in 1971. So there’s that, then. *sigh.

odd fellows certificate 1916 banner

Being a financial aid society they had to beware of rampant shenanigans and fraud, so on the back of the certificate is their TELEGRAPHIC CIPHER AND KEY:odd fellows certificate 1916 back

Check it out — if a telegraph were received regarding someone who claimed membership, and the word black was in the message, it meant, “He is a fraud, and if he has a card or other papers from this lodge, they are forgeries.”

Or a perfectly cromulent telegraph could read, “Jos. Smith Final Green Purple.” (Joseph Smith died here. Wire instructions to us as to the disposition of his remains. We think it best to bury him there.)

My local chapter of the Oddfellows was already in decline when a 1959 fire destroyed their records, but it wasn’t uncommon for someone to be a member of both the IOOF and the Masons, even though they didn’t always play nice in the sandbox. When one such fellow of dual membership died in 1930 the Masons told the Oddfellows that they, respectfully, wouldn’t wear regalia. The Oddfellows agreed they wouldn’t either. But when the time came to sink old Daniel in the ground the Masons paraded in with all their pomp and flashy bling and performed last rites. It was a spit in the eye of the Oddfellows, and apparently, they never quite got over it.

Final Voyage

I’ve been staring at this postcard for a long time.

You see, it was printed by a HOSPICE.

My gut reaction was, “Oh, that’s grim.” But the more I look at it, the more I find… solace(?) in this image. Is that the word I’m looking for?

I’m ambivalent. I highly doubt a hospice today would put out such a postcard. Not a chance. Everything now is so positive, and bright; with friendly blue, pink, and yellow colours. And a lot of stock-photos of hands being held, and sunshine, and smiles.

But this image is probably closer to a kind of existential truth of what it’s like to face the end of one’s life with dignity.  And even though it elicits a “yikes” feeling, beneath that is a lonely kind of peace.

So here it is for you to think on.

st helena hospice


If you were to find yourself in Spokane, Washington, take a little jaunt down Lincoln Street to First Street. You will find yourself at Steam Plant Square, and good for you! It’s a beautiful building! This once-derelict part of town underwent bold architectural revitalization, earning it the distinction of being the first historic building in Spokane to be granted the National Preservation Honor Award (2001).

As a steam generator built in 1914 it was decommissioned in 1986 and sat empty for a decade. Now it is a cultural hub for downtown Spokane, containing shops, restaurants, a brewery, innovative offices, a music and event venue; all while preserving elements of the original industrial machinery. It is everything a hipster in a gentrified city could ever dream of. annex motel spokane now

But when you park your car, pause for a moment and think about what once stood adjacent to the Steam Plant.

The Annex Motel.

annex motel spokane

This Panopticon-style motel offered “Sauna Baths, Therapy, Swimming Pool, Restaurant, Underground Parking, Luxury Rooms.”

Therapy. I don’t think it’s a good idea to undergo therapy from whomever the audacious lunatic it was who designed this motel. THE POOL! Dear God! Suspended 12′ from the ground, accessible only by two narrow catwalks, surrounded by a low railing, on top of a tunnel! This LOOKS like a massive insurance claim.

I could not find anything about this motel, so I can only hope it was demolished before any serious loss of life and limb.

New Dimensions of Elegance

“New dimensions of elegance are defined in the Peruvian Suite on the ‘Fabulous Fourteenth’ floor of the Columbus. Note the dramatic sweep of form, the richness of color. The wall design is suede-flocked… the floor covering handwoven in marbelized motif… the headboard a rare, imported monolithic antique.”

columbus hotel

Where to start.

At some point very early on in the process of creating this… this… um… [blinks and shakes head with confusion] At some point, they pulled these colour swatches and thought, “Yes. These colours look amazing together.”pantone swatches

And then they commissioned a rug-weaver. “Okay, you know that kind of eczema that’s sorta patchy and cracked? That’s what we want it to look like.”

Then they covered the walls with fuzzy fleur-de-lis and topped the whole monstrosity off with Napoleon’s Imperial Eagle.

And they called it the “Peruvian Suite.”