Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Ghost of an Apartment’s Former Inhabitant

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What you see above is a New York City landlord's ledger entry for a tenant named Vivian Grant, who lived in a Manhattan apartment building in 1960. The ledger was found by a woman named Joanne O’Connor, who now lives in that same building. A few years ago she became curious about the building's history, so she poked around in the basement and discovered the ledger, which indicated that Vivian Grant had once lived in Apartment 2F. That happens to be the same apartment where Ms. O'Connor now lives, so she decided to learn as much about Vivian Grant as she could.

As it turns out, there was a lot to learn. Vivian Grant had died in as the result of a botched illegal abortion, which was a major news story at the time. Here's how the Daily News covered it (click to enlarge):

The more Ms. O'Connor learned about her apartment's former occupant, the more obsessed with the story she became. She spent long hours poring over microfilm, examining court records, tracking down relatives, visiting Vivian's grave. She even named her cat Vivian Grant.

All of this, and a lot more, is described in this excellent article, which I can't recommend highly enough. Engagingly told and endearingly written, it's a great story. PermaRec's highest rating — don't miss.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Old Rifle Found in National Park

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It's hard to see because it's so well camouflaged into the background, but it's there: an 1882 Winchester rifle. An archaeologist named Eva Jensen recently found it leaning against a juniper tree in Great Basin National Park in Nevada. It's not clear how it got there, how long it was there, or who it belonged to, although those questions are currently the subject of lots of speculation among historians and gun enthusiasts.

It's fun to think that the rifle could have been left there, propped against the tree, for over 100 years. But one article I read had a reader comment that said (I'm paraphrasing here), "If it had really been there that long, it wouldn't look like the tree; it would be part of the tree." Hmmmmm. In any case, the rifle is now being studied, although the odds of finding out how it got there seem pretty remote. Here's a short audio report on it from All Things Considered:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

An Old Letter With Life-Changing News

What if you had a son but didn't know it? And what if someone had tried to tell you about that son more than 50 years ago by mailing you a letter? And what if someone had intercepted that letter and kept it from you, and now you just found it?

That's the situation for a Michigan man named Tony Trapani. Trapani, who's now 81 years old, impregnated a woman in 1953. The woman didn't initially tell him about the child but eventually broke the news to him in a letter that she mailed in 1959, by which time Trapani was married to another woman. That woman, Trapani's wife, apparently saw the letter before he did, opened it, and then hid it in a file cabinet.

The wife died several years ago. Trapani recently found the letter while going through the file cabinet and was stunned to learn he had a son. And just for added poignancy, Trapani and his wife had always wanted children but had been unable to conceive.

Meanwhile, the person identified in the letter as Trapani's son, Samual Childress, who's now 61, grew up thinking that his father wanted nothing to do with him. His mother had told him about the letter she'd mailed and they both mistakenly assumed that Trapani had simply ignored it. Childress and Trapani have now met (they have literally two lifetimes' worth of stories to catch up on), and they're planning a DNA test just to make sure they truly are related.

We've done several stories here at Permanent Record regarding old letters or letters that were really slow in being delivered. This story is sort of a hybrid of those two categories. You can learn more here, and here's a video report from a Michigan TV station:

The big question here, at least for me, is why the wife saved the letter instead of just discarding it. My hunch: She initially thought to herself, "At some point later we'll deal with this, but I'm not ready for it yet." As weeks turned to months, months to years, she found herself painted into a corner — the longer she waited, the harder it became to reveal the truth to her husband. At some point she acknowledged to herself that she was never going to tell him, but she also couldn't bring herself to destroy the letter, which was a symbol of her sin and deceit, much like Poe's tell-tale beating heart. And she hoped her husband would stumble upon the letter after she was gone (as he eventually did), so that he could learn the truth without her having to tell him.

Or at least that's my take.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Student of the Week: Teresa Fantazzo

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Today we're going to turn our attention to Teresa Fantazzo, a Manhattan Trade School dressmaking student who grew up in Astoria, Queens. Her main card, shown above has two noteworthy items. First, an entry near the bottom notes that she was overweight by 32 pounds. More intriguingly, her father's occupation is listed as "coal heaver," a term I wasn't familiar with, although it seems rather self-explanatory. Some quick Googling produced photos, historical accounts, and more.

Teresa's grade and teach comments were generally good (as always, E = Excellent; G = Good; F = Fair; P = Poor):

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The comments at top right from Elsa Pohl are particularly strong: "Conscientious, absolutely dependable, and trustworthy, dignified. Former G.O. president." I believe this last comment refers to the school's General Organization, or student body.

Here's Teresa's employment record, showing an assortment of jobs she had over the course of two and a half years:

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Note that her first three jobs were as a dress finisher ("fin."), which is in keeping with her chosen trade of dressmarking. But her remaining jobs were spent operating a Singer sewing machine ("Singer op"). Sewing machine skills were a separate course of study at the school, so it's surprising to me that Teresa moved from one trade to another.

The other noteworthy thing here involves Teresa's third job, for a woman named Amy Campbell. A comment in the far-right column reads, "Miss Campbell did not pay my last week's salary."

Further information on Teresa's missing wages can be found on this card:

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The key entries read like so:

Oct. 14, 1931 [comment from job placement secretary, Althea Dreyer Kotter]: Talked with Miss Campbell about your salary check and she said it had been mailed. Evidently lost but she will mail duplicate. Let hear from you about this. — ADK

Nov. 11, 1931 [comment from Teresa]: Have not received any money from Miss Campbell.

Nov. 19, 1931 [comment from Mrs. Kotter]: Call Miss Campbell on the telephone and tell her you will take legal septs to get your money. Prefer to have you handle this yourself. Write me. — ADK

Oct. 25, 1931 [this date is almost certainly wrong and was probably supposed to be Nov. 25}: Miss Campbell paid the $16.

I feel conflicted about the school telling Teresa to handle the situation herself. On the one hand, it's good that they encouraged her to stick up for herself. On the other, this was a job that the school had arranged for Teresa, and she was only 17 years old when this all took place -- pretty young to be threatening employers with legal action. Couldn't the school have interceded on her behalf? In any event, it's good to see that the matter was resolved.

That's all I have for Teresa. If anyone knows more about her, please let me know. Thanks.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Student of the Week: Marian Fantacone

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This week we're examining the record of Marian Fantacone, an Italian-American dressmaking student who lived in the Bronx and attended the Manhattan Trade School for Girls in the early 1930s. She was born in March of 1916, which means she's closing in on her 99th birthday if she's still alive. The spelling of her first name keeps switching back and forth between "Marian" and "Marion" in her file, but I'm going to go with Marian, because that's how it's listed on her primary card, which is shown above.

A note next to Marian's photo says, "Temporary aid because of unemployment in home." We'll learn more details about this shortly.

Marian's grades were generally solid, and her teachers' comments were, on the whole, positive (remember, E = Excellent; G = Good; F = Fair; P = Poor):

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Next we have Marian's financial aid records, beginning with an assessment of her household, which shows that she was the second-oldest of two children and that her father and older brother -- a bricklayer's helper and a painter, respectively -- were both out of work (not surprising, given that this was in the midst of the Great Depression):

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It was standard procedure for the school to make a visit to the home of any student for whom financial aid had been proposed. Here is a school employee's account of the visit to Marian's home:

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The report, by a woman named Katherine E. Martin (a name that is not familiar to me from other students' files), reads as follows:

On Wednesday, November 12th, 1930, I visited the home of Marian Fantacone at 2414 Beaumont Ave., Bronx. Mr. Fantacone and his son, who is 19 years old, are out of work. The father has been idle for 2-1/2 months. The son has been doing some painting for the landlord but receives no money for the ob, because two months' rend is owing and the painting is for part payment on the rent, which is $38 per month.

No money is coming into the house. Food is scarce. The grandmother gives what food she can spare.

There are six children, ages 19, 15, 12, 8, 4, 2 years.

The mother is living. Family all in good health.

Their home is very poor and cheerless. They are not receiving any aid from any association.

Marian is in the 5th contract [this refers to the sequence of courses at Manhattan Trade — PL]. Her work is fair, deportment good, has never been absent or tardy.

Her teeth need attention, some to be extracted and cleaned.

Marian was ultimately approved to receive aid for "Carfare and lunches," although the amount of the financial assistance was not specified (that's unusual -- the school was usually meticulous about documenting this type of thing):

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Here are some additional notes from Marian's student aid file. These are typed, so I won't bother transcribing them (you can click on the card to see a larger version of it):

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The entry from Jan. 6, 1931, referring to a donation from a "Mr. Palmer," is interesting. I'm not sure who this was or what type of donation he made.

Like all the other Manhattan Trade students, Marian was referred for employment by the school's job placement office. Here's her work record, which shows that the school found jobs for her, primarily as a dress finisher ("fin."), for several years after her 1932 graduation:

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If you look at the job that Marian held from Nov. 19-22, 1935, you can see that her weekly wages were originally listed as $18 and then changed to $15. That was apparently a point of contention, as we can see on this next card:

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The key entries read like so:

Nov. 19, 1935 [comment from Marian]: Told I should get $18. What shall I do?

Nov. 20, 1935 [response from job placement secretary]: Better stay for the $15. It is too late in the season to count on getting more.

This exchange is characteristic of how such issues were typically handled. Whenever a student balked regarding pay levels or other work-related issues, the school almost always encouraged her to stick with the job, or to at least be patient.

That's all I have for Marian (or Marion, as the case may have been). If anyone knows more about her, please get in touch. Thanks.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Student of the Week: Lillian Packer

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The Manhattan Trade School for Girls was founded and staffed by high-minded reformers — people we would generally consider to be progressives (at least in the cultural dimension of that term, if not necessarily the political one). So it's surprising when a blatantly retrograde comment shows up on one of the Manhattan Trade report cards in my collection. That's the case with Lillian Packer, the student whose primary record card is shown above.

As you can see, Lillian began attending Manhattan Trade in June of 1928, when she was about 15 (it's hard top be certain because her date of birth "[could] not be verified"). She was from a large family of Austrian Jews who lived in Brooklyn. She was a small girl — 4'8¼", 83 pounds — and was excused from gym class due to a hernia. Like many of the students, she took an appealing photo:

If we turn the card over, we see Lillian's grades, which show that she was a solid if unspectacular student (remember, E = Excellent; G = Good; F = Fair; P = Poor):

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Interestingly, two of the early comments refer to Lillian being "untidy" and another describes her as "careless," but later on she's described as "neat and dependable." We've seen this same pattern on many of the other report cards we've examined — early critical assessments followed later on by more approving comments. It's unclear whether the students actually improved or if the school had a deliberate strategy of using early criticisms as a form of motivation.

Lillian's employment record was short and unremarkable:

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And now we get to the card with the unfortunate comment. Here, take a look:

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And there it is: "Very small. Average. (Not Jewish looking.) Piqued."

The assessment of Lillian as being "not Jewish looking" echoes the comment about Edna Carrington, the black student whose record includes the line, "Skin not terribly dark." It appears that the school found it particularly noteworthy when a student looked "less ethnic," so to speak. Such comments would never appear in a student's record today, but it's worth noting that many Jews still worry about looking "too Jewish" and many blacks still worry about looking "too black," showing that certain cultural prejudices have been stubbornly difficult to extinguish.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Student of the Week: Frances Sehres

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This week we turn our attention to a very special Manhattan Trade School enrollee — Frances Sehres, a dressmaking student whose main card is shown above (with what appears to be a perfect coffee stain splotch preserved at the center of the bottom edge). What's so special about her? This: The Manhattan Trade School for Girls began operations in November of 1902, and Frances's card shows that she was admitted to the school on Nov. 3 of that year, so she was apparently one of the school's very first students.

Interestingly, Frances's birth date is simply listed as "1888." The other Manhattan Trade School cards in my collection show a specific date. But the most intriguing nugget of information on this card is notation that Frances was referred to the school by Miss Lillian Wald. This name meant nothing to me, but longtime PermaRec volunteer researcher Catherine Bloomquist recognized it. It turns out that Wald was a pioneering humanitarian nurse who in 1893 founded the Henry Street Settlement, an important New York City social service agency that still exists today. In the 1940s, the Henry Street Settlement spun off the Visiting Nurse Service, which is also still in operation today.

Wald's original goal was for the Henry Street Settlement to provide services for poor immigrants on Manhattan's Lower East Side. But Frances's card shows that she lived on East 63rd St. and then in the Bronx, both of which are far from Henry Street, so it's not clear to me how Frances's life intersected with Wald. It's possible that the Settlement had expanded its operations throughout the city by 1902, but I'm not sure — a subject for further research.

The school's recordkeeping system was apparently a bit of a work in progress at the beginning. The card that would normally show a bevy of grades and teacher comments was barely touched in Frances's case:

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Of greater interest is Frances's employment record, which is spelled out on the next two cards:

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Lots of interesting stuff here. For starters, Frances's first job, for the "Singer Co." — presumably the Singer Sewing Machine Company — began on Feb. 8, 1904 (in other words, toward the end of her schooling, which would have been standard procedure at the school). She continued working for Singer on and off through 1905 through 1909, then had a series of non-Singer jobs later in 1909, and finally had a bunch of additional jobs in 1913 and ’14. The final job in her employment record is dated Nov. 11, 1914 — nearly a dozen years to the day after she entered Manhattan Trade. This shows that students were maintaining long-term relationships with the school right from the start — a remarkable phenomenon that's also documented in many of the report cards from the 1910s, ’20s, and ’30s.

In addition, look at the "How Found" column. For many of the jobs, the notation is "MTS" (i.e., Manhattan Trade School, meaning the school arranged the job for Frances), but many others have "Self." This means Frances obtained many of these jobs on her own but nonetheless kept the school apprised of her employment activities — another indication of the close bond between the school and its students, right from the start.

And how were Frances's work experiences? Surprisingly, there's no feedback — either from Frances or from her employers — until one of her 1909 gigs. It's possible that the school hadn't yet adopted its eventual system of recording this type of feedback in its early years. Anyway, here are the cards with the employment related commentary:

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That first entry, which refers to one of Frances's stints at Singer in 1909, indicates that a supervisor was not thrilled with her, and also includes a doozy of a dated put-down (as usual, I've spelled out some abbreviated terms for clarity):

Miss ______, head of the Sample Department, said, "Franny was never very satisfactory. Was not interested in her work. Never tried to advance — unambitious and was insubordinate (insisted on using the front elevator!) and impertinent in manner. Was not dismissed, but we were glad to have her go and never could return."

Imagine — a mere laborer using the front elevator! It's interesting that Singer kept Frances on for so many years despite this apparent dissatisfaction with her. Sounds like sour grapes after she left, no?

As for the assessment of Frances being "unambitious," that's demonstrably false, as shown in a series of entries on this card:

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The pertinent passages are as follows:

April 29, 1913: Has taken evening course in Lynch School — drafting, cutting and designing. Would like position with a wholesale house, ladies' or children's [clothing], as an assistant designer or pattern cutter.

May 5, 1913: Wrote [to] Lynch School for reference and told Frances to come to [illegible] School to talk with teacher.

May 12, 1913: Note from Lynch Art School: "Frances S. was a student in our Cutting, Fitting, and Design departments and we found her to be a very apt scholar and believe she would fill all requirements in either a ladies' or children's dress house, as a designer or pattern cutter."

That's all I have for Frances. If anyone knows more about what happened to her, please get in touch. Thanks.

(Special thanks to Catherine Bloomquist for recognizing the importance of Lillian Wald's name in Frances's file.)

• • • • • • • • •

Update: Last week's entry on Fannie Panio prompted PermaRec reader Joe Lombardo to do a bit of research. He found Fannie in the 1940 census, where was listed as being married to a man named John Verdigi. Their household included two children; Fannie's mother, Catherine (this name matches the name listed on Fannie's report card), and another relative from Fannie's side of the family.

Joe also found a death notice indicating that Fannie died in 1997 (she would have been 87) and that she and John had one additional child after 1940. Interestingly, the death notice lists Fannie as "Philomena" and John as "Giovanni," but birth date matches Fannie's report card and the first two children's names match the ones on the 1940 census entry, so I'm fairly certain that this is indeed our Fannie.

Good work, Joe — thank you!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Student of the Week: Fannie Panio

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Our latest Manhattan Trade School student is Fannie Panio, who was born in 1910 and attended Manhattan Trade in the mid-1920s. As you can see above, her father did not work (his occupation is simply listed as "Home") and her mother worked with flowers — we'll be referring back to that information shortly, as it relates to a bit of drama that's documented in Fannie's file.

Fannie's student record is particularly interesting because she was was in line to receive financial aid from the school. So her record packet includes the following card, which lists the Panio family's income and expenses:

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As you can see, the Panios lived in a four-room apartment with a monthly rent of $15 (!). Fannie's brother Sam was the family's biggest breadwinner, earning $15 per week as a bootblack.

The back of the card explains why Fannie was recommended for financial aid — she needed dental work done and couldn't afford it:

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Here's a transcription of the notes at the bottom of the card (as usual, I've spelled out some abbreviated terms for clarity):

March 20, 1924: Miss Franc [a teacher] referred the case. Fannie should have teeth fixed, and as father does not work, Miss Franc feels the family probably cannot afford to have this attended to.

March 21, 1924: Talked with Fannie, who says her father has not worked for five years (has sore in side). Mother makes flowers. Brother is bootblack. Fannie works on bead work from 4:30 - 8 p.m. Unable to afford dentist — suggested Dental Clinic. Promised to visit house. As neither Mr. nor Mrs. Panio speak English, suggested Secretary come at noon or after 3:30, when sister, 11 years old, is home.

And sure enough, someone from the school visited the Panio home four days later, on March 25. The next card tells the story of that visit:

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The card reads as follows:

Visited — family lives on first floor of a shabby Italian tenement house. The rooms themselves were clean and neat. Mr. Panio was playing cards with another man. Mrs. Panio was hanging up the wash on the roof. She showed Secretary the fancy flowers she makes, for which she gets 85¢ a gross, and also some bead work which Fannie does, for which she earns $2 or $3 weekly. The brother works at the bootblack parlor in Grand Central Station. He earns $15 [per week], which he gives to his parents, and tips, which he keeps for himself.

Mrs. Panio would like to have Fannie's teeth fixed but can't afford to do this. Mr. Panio is ill — he has a growth in his side, which he should have removed — he is afraid, however, to have an operation. He has not been able to work for five years.

Secretary said it might be possible for us to send Fannie to the Dental Clinic and pay for this after Committee Meeting. — Reported to Miss Franck [whose surname was spelled "Franc" on the previous card but appears as "Franck" hereafter — PL]

And how did things turn out with Fannie's teeth? The next two cards tell the tale, which includes a new wrinkle regarding the Fannie's and her brother's work activities. Apparently they did not have working papers:

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Those two cards read like so:

April 3, 1924: Committee decision — pay for necessary dental work and refer to proper agency regarding children in family working illegally after school. Reported to Miss Franck — sent for Fannie and told her to go to Miss Cutting [another teacher] on April 7, 1924, regarding a pass for Dental Clinic and to bring estimate of work to Secretary.

April 8, 1924: Consulted Mrs. King [of the] C.O.S. [Charity Organization Society], who advised referring case [regarding the illegal child labor] to Jefferson District Office.

April 9, 1924: Reported case to Jefferson District Office.

April 10, 1924: Miss Spence (Charity Organization Society worker) visited Manhattan Trade School regarding case. Explained situation to her.

April 28, 1924: See letter from Charity Organization Society.

April 29, 1924: Miss Spence (from C.O.S.) at office. Reported to her regarding working papers — child can work Saturday but must stop at five other days.

April 28, 1924 [listed out of chronological sequence, so date may be wrong — PL]: Sent for Fannnie. She will go to dentist the following day.

May 12, 1924: Telephoned Miss Franck. Fannie will go after June 1st, as Dental College is having examinations now.

June 10, 1924: Fannie is to go back Saturday for estimate of work and then report to Secretary. Will take out summer working papers.

Nov. 11, 1924: Fannie attending school regularly. Did not need assistance.

Wow — there's a lot to process there. One thing at a time:

1. So the school agreed to pay for Fannie's dental work, but did that even turn out to be necessary? The last entry reads, "Did not need assistance." Hmmmm.

2. The whole bit about the school arranging an intervention because of the children working illegally was interesting and unexpected, no? Here are two documents that appear to be related to this, both involving the school's contact with local social service agencies:

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I haven't seen documents like these in any of the other students' files, so I'm not sure what to make of them or how they fit into the larger storyline of the school and its students.

3. The April 28 entry refers to a letter from the Charity Organization Society. That letter, which was apparently written by the Miss Spence who's referred to in several of the preceding entries, is included in Fannie's file. It's typewritten, so I'm not going to transcribe it. You can just click to make it large enough to read — and it's definitely worth reading:

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Wow. So according to Miss Spence, the family could probably have afforded Fannie's dental work all along, and Fannie was just playing a ruse to avoid going to the dentist! Well, who among us hasn't resorted to semi-desperate measures to avoid the dental chair?

Finally, you may have noticed that I haven't yet included Fannie's grades or employment record. Here they are — I left them for the end because they both unremarkable:

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That's all I have for Fannie. If anyone knows what became of her, please get in touch. Thanks.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Very Special Project: Baltimore Brick by Brick

The notebook shown above belonged to a high school student named Dorothy Bolden, who apparently used it in her English class in 1963. It's one of many objects that have been discovered in the course of a remarkable project that's unfolding in Baltimore.

The project is called Baltimore Brick by Brick, and it's a great example of what's called "unbuilding" or "deconstruction." It basically works like this: A group called Details Deconstruction has been given access to a blighted block of abandoned houses in East Baltimore. Instead of just demolishing the buildings and sending the demo'd materials to a landfill, they're taking the buildings apart — brick by brick, floorboard by floorboard, and so on — and making the materials available for resale and reuse. Along the way they're finding all sorts of interesting objects and artifacts, which they're documenting on the project's website. It's all very Permanent Record.

The notebook shown above was featured in the website's "Friday Finds" section, a weekly tally of found objects that's updated each Friday. (You can see the full entry regarding the notebook here.) There's also a gallery of the various wallpapers that have been found in the houses, a section devoted to the various people who lived at a given address, a closer look at the bricks that are being salvaged, and more. It feels like a really special project, and I encourage all PermaRec readers to poke around on the website, which is full of fascinating details. It's totally worth your time — trust me.

(Big thanks to Spencer Mierzejewski for letting me know about this one.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Student of the Week: Vanice Greco

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Our Manhattan Trade School student this week is Vanice Greco, who was born in March of 1917 and could therefore still be alive today at the age of 97. Her main card is shown above and has several notable aspects:

1. According to the card, Vanice lived in "Astoria, Long Island." Now, Astoria is a neighborhood in Queens, and Queens is indeed part of the land mass of Long Island (as is Brooklyn, for that matter), but Queens is never referred to as being part of Long Island these days because Queens is part of New York City while the term "Long Island" is usually understood to mean the suburban counties of Nassau and Suffolk. But the Manhattan Trade School report cards routinely append the Long Island qualifier to assorted Queens neighborhoods. Interesting.

2. A note at the top indicates that Vanice was a union member. Although the note is not accompanied by a date, it was almost certainly added after Vanice graduated from the school. Like many of the Manhattan Trade students, she used the school as an employment resource for several years after her schooling, and she apparently became a union member along the way.

3. Vanice's parents were both cigar makers. This occupation is listed quite a bit in the report cards for various students' parents — cigar production must have been a sizable industry in New York back in the 1920s and ’30s. To my knowledge, no cigars are produced in the city today.

4. In the lower-left corner of the card, under "Physical Defects," is the following note: "Had nails 3 times during course!" I believe this means Vanice's nails were unsatisfactorily dirty or otherwise unkempt on three different occasions.

Now let's take a look at Vanice's grades (remember, E = Excellent; G = Good; F = Fair; P = Poor):

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As you can see, Vanice's grades were generally solid, although there's a note about her being "careless about [her] personal appearance."

This next card provides an assessment of Vanice's character, attitude, and work competency:

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Everything here is quite positive, except for a reference to Vanice's "bad complexion." First the note about her nails, then the disapproving mention of her "personal appearance," and now this — it's almost as if the school's staff felt compelled to include a negative comment about Vanice's aesthetics at every turn.

Next up is Vanice's employment record:

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Take a look at the second entry, for an employer named Ruth Strauss. The card indicates that Vanice went to work for her on Jan. 2, 1935. But under "Reason for Leaving," there's a note dated Jan. 2, 1935 — the same date she supposedly started working — which says, "Offered $5 [per week], refused position." So Vanice was apparently sent to work for Ms. Strauss but turned down the job when she learned how little she'd be paid.

But there's also a notation in red, dated Jan. 4, which says, "See note." The note being referred to there can be found on this next card:

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Sure enough, there's a big note in red (meaning it's from an employer), dated Jan. 4. Here's transcription, with a few abbreviated terms spelled out for clarity:

Vanice was offered $10 [per week]. But upon questioning her regarding the mechanical stitching she told me should could not do that, and then I said I could get a continuation school girl capable of finishing and [sewing machine] operation for $5 [per week]. Vanice misinformed [the] school regarding what I said. — Rush Strauss

In other words, Vanice claimed that she turned down the job because the pay was too low, but the employer said Vanice didn't have the skills to merit a higher wage.

A few months later, the following sequence played out:

March 13, 1935: Not heard from since Jan. 2, 1935 [when she turned down the Ruth Strauss job] although [illegible] was sent March 7, 1935. Taken off applicant list.

March 25, 1935: Please keep me on the applicant list, as I am not satisfied with my present position.

April 3, 1935: You are off the applicant list. I waited two and a half weeks for your reply. Besides, I cannot keep you in mind while you are working. — AB [Althea Borden, the job placement secretary]

That's Vanice's complete student file. If anyone knows anything about her or her family, please get in touch. Thanks.

Meanwhile, coming soon: two very inspiring contemporary stories that have nothing to do with Manhattan Trade. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Student of the Week: Edna Farrel

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For the second consecutive week, we're going to examine the Manhattan Trade School student record of a girl named Edna. Last week it was Edna Carrington; this time around it's Edna Farrell, whose main card is shown above. As you can see, was born in 1912 (and is therefore likely deceased, or else turned 102 just a few weeks ago) and grew up in Harlem.

There are two notable entries on this card. First, Edna's father, George, is listed as a sheep butcher. That's an interesting degree of specificity — I have several other cards that list a father's occupation simply as "butcher," but a sheep butcher seems unusually specialized.

Also, look at the upper-right corner, which is where the student's chosen trade is listed. For Edna, it shows two entries: one year of "Nov.," which is novelty box making (one of the "glue trades" that the school taught), and one year of "B.C.," which is beauty culture, a course of study that the school added in the late 1920s to supplement its longstanding focus on the needle and glue trades.

Normally I'd turn this card over and take a look at Edna's grades, but first I want to look at another card from her file — take a look:

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The information here is sparse but telling. The card lists Edna's IQ at 77 and her "basic age" at seven years. It also says she "failed reading, arithmetic, writing [and] composition in upper elementary grades."

So how did this supposedly intellect-challenged girl who failed her way through grade school do in her classes? Let's take a look at her grades (remember, E = Excellent; G = Good; F = Fair; P = Poor):

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As you can see, Edna did just fine — and often a lot better than fine — in all of her classes, including English and arithmetic. She also repeatedly made the Honor Roll and was described as an "intelligent worker." Not bad for someone with a "basic age" of seven, eh?

Meanwhile, look at the top of the card — "Novelty" was crossed out and replaced by "Manicuring." Similarly, the middle of the far-right column has a notation indicating that Edna "trans. to Manic." This reinforces what we saw on the first card — Edna took one year of novelty box making and one year of beauty culture.

Edna's file also includes the record of the jobs that the school arranged for her:

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There are several points of interest here. One at a time:

1. All of the business are categorized as "B.C.," which presumably once again refers to beauty culture. One of Edna's employers was called Ralph Beauty Shop, so that fits. But the first business was called Stewart's, which was probably a Stewart's Candy Shop (a popular chain at the time), and the final entry is for a medical center, neither of which fits in the beauty category — yet they're both listed as "B.C." There's also a "hairdresser" reference, but it's unclear which entry it's referring to. Hmmmm.

2. At Ralph Beauty Shop, Edna was a finger waver (this refers to the then-popular hairstyle known as a finger wave), oil shampooer, and manicurist.

3. Edna left the job at Stewart's because it was "too far" — not surprising, given that she lived way uptown in Harlem and the job was in Brooklyn. (By coincidence, the address listed for the job, 221 Flatbush Ave., is a short walk from where I live — or it would be, if it still existed. There's no longer any building with that address. The street numbers on adjacent buildings on that block now jump from 215 to 227.)

4. The notations in red are comments from one of Edna's employers — Ralph Beauty Shop. Oddly, they're out of chronological order. I've put them in the proper sequence and transcribed them like so:

March 18, 1931: Very slow. Takes 50 to 60 minutes for a manicure.

Dec. 21, 1931: Here. OK. [This is a common entry in the work records. It means the employer is basically affirming to the school that the student is showing up for work and performing adequately. — PL]

Oct. 31, 1932: Fair worker.

March 8, 1933: May have to cut Edna's salary to $10 [per week]. Business is very bad.

The final red entry, "Ref. by Mr. Ralph," suggests that Edna got her job at the medical center on Riverside Dr. as the result of a referral from Mr. Ralph, the beauty shop owner.

Edna's file also includes a sheet of paper that may have been a transcript. This sheet appears in a handful of the other student records in my collection, but I haven't been able to suss out its purpose. As you'll see, it's a frustrating document — cut off at both sides and only partially filled out:

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That's all I have for Edna. If anyone has more information about her, please get in touch.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Student of the Week: Edna Carrington (aka Mrs. F. Meyer)

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For all documents, click to enlarge

The latest Manhattan Trade School student whose record we'll be examining is Edna Carrington. She differs from our previous students of the week in at least three important ways: (1) Her report card includes a photo, which makes her story much more evocative. (2) She was born in 1917, which means there's a vague chance she could still be alive. Interestingly, her date of birth was revised at some point, from Feb. 4 to April 15. (3) She was black, and apparently Caribbean. In the "Nationality" field, near the upper-right corner of the card shown above, it says "English (West India)."

As you can see, Edna's card also includes a prominent black dot. This was standard on the cards of all the black and Hispanic girls in my collection — literally a black mark on their records. The dot system was instituted before the school began including photos on the girls' cards (and was retained even after the photos became part of the cards' protocol), so it was a quick way of identifying students of color. At first this seemed horrifying, but I eventually determined that it was more of a "Handle with Care" warning to the school's staff, because the school wanted to avoid sending the girls to work with employers who were known to have issues with minority students.

There are several other notable things about this card:

• Toward the bottom is a notation indicating that Edna wore glasses, although she didn't wear them for her photograph.

• There are several notes regarding Edna's home life, where she was raised by a single mother. She had three younger siblings, and the family lived in a three-room apartment, which was apparently visited several times by the Board of Child Welfare. (As we'll see on a subsequent card, this doesn't indicate that anything problematic was taking place in the home.)

• Edna was one of the students who stayed in touch with the school long enough for her eventual married name to be added to her student record. As you can see at the top of the card, her husband's name was F. Meyer.

• Toward the middle of the card is a note indicating that Edna gave birth to a child on April 25, 1937.

• This card features a jumble of many different people's handwriting, but the first person to fill out Edna's name, address, and parents' names and occupations had seriously beautiful penmanship. Gorgeous to look at!

So that's the first card. Now let's turn it over and take a look at Edna's grades and teachers' comments (remember, E = Excellent, G= Good, F = Fair, P = Poor):

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As you can see, Edna generally got solid grades and was very well liked by her teachers (although the repeated "fine type Negro" comment is distressing to see).

The school arranged employment for Edna, just as it did with other students. Here's her work record:

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The first and third entries are both for an employer called the Margalo Dress Shop. The third entry includes the following notation: "Edna says she gave notice, but employer says she fired her. See above." That apparently refers to the note at the top of the card, written in red (meaning that it's a comment from the employer): "Very dirty — spoken to several times about taking baths. Leaving Saturday, April 13." Yikes.

Interestingly, Edna's file also includes a note from this same employer, dated April 4, 1935 (nine days before she was apparently dismissed for lack of cleanliness):

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It reads as follows:

Manhattan Trade School:

Edna Carrington came here the first part o January and left the 1st of February or thereabouts.

She came back here to work April 1st.

Yours truly,
Margalo Inc.

No mention there of the cleanliness issue. It must have come to a head over the next week or so.

Also of note: If you scroll back up to Edna's employment record, you'll see that the last entry is for a "W.P.A. Project" job. It says that she found the position via "Home Relief," which was the principal New Deal welfare program during the Great Depression. The pay — $16.50 per week — appears to have been better than what Edna had earned during her previous gigs.

Edna's student packet also includes a salmon-colored card. Some of the student files in my collection had this card, some didn't. It appears to be a basic summary or assessment of the student, which in Edna's case was generally positive:

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Three notable things here:

• Someone felt the need to write, "Skin not terribly dark, but full of blemishes." Sigh.

• Someone also wrote, "Superior type." The school's report cards were full of these "type"-based assessments — fine type, decent type, quiet type, and so on. I'm pretty sure this was all just a form of lazy, reflexive social profiling, not a strict classification system.

Toward the bottom, the card indicates that Edna's mother worked to support the family, but then that part was crossed out. Did the mother lose her job, or become ill? In any case, the next line says that Edna "would like a job as soon as she can get one," presumably so she could become the family's breadwinner.

If we turn this card over, we learn more about the visits to the home by the Board of Child Welfare:

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In case you have a hard time reading that, here's a transcription (I've spelled out some abbreviated terms for clarity):

Dec. 21, 1934: Board of Child Welfare pays $45 a month for two youngest children. Rent is $5 a week. Mother has not worked in two years.

Sept. 13, 1935: Child Welfare pays only $25 a month now.

March 17, 1938: Married Oct. 14, 1936.

So that explains the Child Welfare Board visits. But I'm more interested in the last entry — the one about Edna's marriage. Remember, the first card in her packet indicated that she gave birth to a child on April 25, 1937, which is six and half months after the date listed for her wedding. So her child was either significantly premature or conceived out of wedlock, which would have been scandalous in those days.

It's also noteworthy that the news about the 1936 wedding was apparently conveyed to the school in 1938. So Edna must have been out of contact with the school for a while and then circled back. Why? She was apparently looking for work again:

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It's interesting to see that Edna wanted to work even after marrying and having a child. Most of the students whose lives I've researched stopped working once they began a family, but this was during the Depression, and we've already seen that Edna had obtained a job via Home Relief, so times were apparently tough for her and her husband. Still, Edna's employment record (the yellow card we looked at earlier) doesn't show any work during 1938, so the school apparently didn't arrange any jobs for her during this period. This doesn't necessarily mean she didn't work; it just means the school didn't find a job for her. By that fall, she'd drifted out of the school's orbit once again:

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That's the end of Edna's student record. Interesting stuff, right? Since we know Edna's married name, she would probably be relatively easy to research, although I don't have time pursue that now. But if anyone else wants to pick up the baton, please feel free.