Monday, September 29, 2014

At first glance, the drawing and photograph shown above are nothing remarkable. They show a fashion illustration and then a finished ensemble. It's not clear which came first — were the clothes based on the drawing, or the other way around? — but it's obvious that they show the same outfit.

Lurking beneath these clothing designs, however, is a fascinating story that's very, very Permanent Record.

Here's the deal: In 1997, a Milwaukee man named Burton Strnad was cleaning out his parents' house after having moved his mother to an assisted-living facility. He found a number of interesting artifacts, including a 1939 letter from his father's cousin, Paul Strnad, a Jew who at the time was in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. The letter asked if the Milwaukee family could sponsor Paul and his wife, Hedvika, as they sought to immigrate to America. Hedvika was a dressmaker, and the letter was accompanied by eight of her drawings, to show that she was talented. The letter was also accompanied by this photo of Paul and Hedvika:

Unfortunately, as it turned out, Paul and Hedvika were unable to leave Czechoslovakia and perished in the Holocaust.

Burton Strnad — the man who found the letters and drawings in his parents' house — donated them to the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, where they became part of the museum's permanent collection. It wasn't until more than a decade later that the museum staff came up with the idea of bringing Hedvika Strnad's designs to life by actually making the clothes she had drawn and using them as the basis of an exhibit. That exhibit, called "Stitching History From the Holocaust," opened a few weeks ago and will run through next February.

The museum enlisted the Milwaukee Repertory Theater's costume department to create the clothing. The costumers did research to ensure that they were using period-appropriate fabrics that would have been available to Hedvika at the time. In an inspired touch, they also created a labeldesign featuring a "Hedy" signature, based on the handwriting shown on some of Hedvika's drawings:

And so this dressmaker's designs have finally been brought to life, seven decades after she herself died. To learn more about this fantastic story and see more of the drawings and dresses, check out this article and the exhibit's website.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Today is a special day. It was 18 years ago today — Sept. 28, 1996 — that I attended my friend Gina Duclayan's 30th birthday party in the gymnasium of the old Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. It was during that party that I stumbled upon the file cabinet full of old Manhattan Trade School report cards that were about to be thrown out. My friends and I decided to rescue some of the cards (we ended up with about 400 of them, which I'd guesstimate to be about 10 percent of the total), a decision that has changed my life in several ways and led to the creation of the Permanent Record project. If you're not familiar with that story, you can learn more about that 1996 evening here.

That's Gina above. It's fitting that she's posing with a pineapple, the symbol of hospitality, because Gina's one of the most hospitable and gracious people I've ever known. She's also from Hawaii, the land of pineapples.

So happy birthday, Gina! And happy birthday to Permanent Record.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Photos by Rachel D'Oro, Associated Press

If you're into Nazi memorabilia — and a lot of people are — you might be interested in an auction taking place this weekend in Anchorage, Alaska, where they plan to sell off some Nazi armbands, a Hitler propaganda booklet, transcripts from the Nuremberg trials, and a letter that signs off, "Heil Hitler!" They were all found in a trunk that was discovered in a long-vacant house that was about to be listed for sale.

The house and the trunk belonged to a woman named Maxine Carr, who apparently died at least 10 years ago. She worked on the International Military Tribunal staff in Nuremberg back in the 1940, which is presumably when she acquired the Nazi mementos.

Carr's trunk also included paperwork relating to her job performance prior to going to Nuremberg. A supervisor gave her a rating of "Fair" in 1944, but Carr appealed to the Civil Service Commission, writing:

I performed a great deal more work than any other girl assigned to the same type of position, and I certainly believe that I should receive a higher rating than "Fair" for work completed, especially considering the unfavorable circumstances under which I had to work.

Paperwork found in the trunk indicates that her appeal was denied, with the Commission ruling that Carr "had not altogether convincingly rebutted" her supervisor's assessment.

You can read more about this here. Meanwhile, here are a few more photos of items found in Carr's trunk:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Photos by Bob Luckey,

The woman shown above is Alicia Collier, who lives in Old Greenwich, Connecticut. She's holding a postcard that was recently arrived at her address in the mail. Just one problem: The postcard wasn't for her — it was for a previous inhabitant of her house. That's because the postcard was mailed and postmarked in 1948 (click to enlarge):

As you can see, the postcard was addressed to Linda Benner. It's hard to read the message because it's sideways, so here's a transciption:

Dear Linda

This is where we are staying Thursday night. Look for the x and that marks our window.


It's not clear why the postcard took 66 years to be delivered. Collier, the woman who received it, did some research and determined that Linda Benner, the card's intended recipient, was five years old when the card was mailed in 1948. Here's how she looked around that time:

Unfortunately, Linda and her mother, who sent the postcard, are both now deceased. But one of Linda's sisters is still alive, and Collier plans to deliver the postcard to her soon. You can read more about this here.

I learned about this story from PermaRec reader Cliff Corcoran. He's the stepson of Linda Benner's living sister — the one to whom the postcard will soon be returned. Small world.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Speak of the devil: Small Town Noir, the excellent mug shot-centric site I wrote about just a few days ago, is going to be featured tonight as part of a documentary being aired on the Canadian cable channel TVO. Further details here.

Unfortunately, my cable package doesn't include TVO. But for you Canadian folks, this looks highly worthwhile.

Friday, September 19, 2014

All photos from Small Town Noir; click to enlarge

I've recently become aware of a fantastic project by a Scottish parliamentary reporter named Diarmid Mogg, who has an endearingly niche-specific hobby: He collects mid-century mug shots and their accompanying police reports from one particular city — New Castle, Pennsylvania, a now-faded manufacturing town about an hour north of Pittsburgh. Then he searches the online archives of New Castle's daily newspaper, The New Castle News, to learn more about the arrestees, their alleged crimes, and the anything else he can discover about their lives. Because the News was the type of paper that documented virtually every aspect of its local community, Mogg is sometimes able to piece together a surprisingly vivid picture of a mug shot subject's life, from birth announcement to obituary. In other cases, the pickings are slimmer. Either way, Mogg chronicles all of this in his wonderful blog, Small Town Noir, which he's been writing since 2009.

Mogg is a sharp enough storyteller to recognize that the crimes these people were accused of were often much less interesting than the other aspects of their lives. In the case of the mug shots shown above, for example, the gentleman in the photos was named Frank Heckathorn. Mogg spends eight nicely crafted paragraphs explaining how Heckathorn and his cousins had been picking blackberries in the woods in 1921 when they came upon the unconscious body of a badly beaten 14-year-old girl. This turns out to be completely unrelated to the Heckathorn's mug shots, which resulted from an arrest for indecent exposure in 1943 — an incident that Moggs mentions at the end, almost as an afterthought.

In other words, the mug shots are intriguing as historical artifacts but are even more interesting when viewed as portals into people's lives — just like the report cards that inspired Permanent Record. And just as the report cards led me to seek out and become acquainted with the descendants of the Manhattan Trade School students, Mogg has developed an intimacy with the people connected to his project. As he recently wrote:

Since I started researching and publishing the stories behind the mug shots on the Small Town Noir website, I’ve visited New Castle a couple of times, tracked down crime scenes, met relatives of the people I’ve written about — I’ve even attended the 95th birthday party of a man who had his mug shot taken at the age of seventeen, in 1935, when he was charged with stealing a car. (The return of his mug shot was my birthday gift to him.) Over those years, I’ve come to feel something like love for New Castle and the people whose lives I’ve tried to piece together.

That quote comes from an article Mogg wrote for a narrative history website called The Appendix. It provides the best overview of what he and Small Town Noir are about, including a good explanation of how he began collecting the mug shots, how they became available in the first place, and so on. I strongly recommend that you start there and then dig into Small Town Noir itself.

One additional detail worth mentioning: As longtime PermaRec readers are aware, I've written several times about lost class rings being found. So I laughed when I read this Small Town Noir entry about a 1945 mug shot, which includes the following passage about the arrestee:

By the 1970s ... Charles [the arrestee] was made foreman of the city’s sewers. In 1976, he was working in a sewer in Winter Avenue when he found a 1942 class ring inscribed with the initials MAS hanging on a broken tree branch. He called New Castle High, whose staff checked their records and told him that it must have belonged to Mary Agnes Schetrom. Charles’s friend, Frank Gagliardo, had been the Schetroms’ paper boy and still knew some friends of the family, who told Charles that Mary Agnes was living on Kenneth street. Two hours after he had found the ring, Charles returned it to Mary Agnes, who told him she had accidentally dropped it down her toilet in 1946 and had not expected to see it again.

The story of a lost class ring lurking within the story of a vintage mug shot — very meta, at least from a Permanent Record perspective.

Friday, September 12, 2014

I've featured many stories about lost class rings being found. But the story of the ring you see above stands out for at least three reasons:

1. The ring was lost in 1970 and found this year -- a 44-year gap!

2. The ring was successfully reunited with its original owner.

3. The ring was found by a St. Louis sewer crew, which found it while cleaning a clogged sewer line. The ring (which was not the source of the clog) had apparently been there for four decades. Hmmm, would you wear a ring that had spent that long in a sewer, or even want to own it?

You can read more about this here.

(Big thanks to James Poisso for pointing me toward this one.)

The ring you see above is more than 100 years old. The little design on the top, or what remains of it, is the crest of the Roosevelt family. Yes, that Roosevelt family.

The ring is currently owned by Theodore Roosevelt V — the 38-year-old great-great-grandson of America's 26th president. He inherited the ring, along with some other jewelry (cuff links, tie tacks, etc.), when his grandfather died in 2001. He assumed the ring was important to his grandfather but didn't know anything else about its history.

As you may be aware, PBS is about to begin airing a seven-part Ken Burns series about the Roosevelts. TR V, as one of family's living heirs, got to see an advance version of it during the summer. And during one scene, he spotted a familiar piece of jewelry on his great-great-grandfather's left pinky (click to enlarge):

A bit of additional research confirmed that TR V's ring was indeed the same ring that had been worn by his famous ancestor. He'd had no idea.

You can read more about all of this here.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The photo blog Humans of New York, which launched in 2010, consists of portraits of NYC residents, accompanied by short quotes and stories. It's a relatively popular site and has been spun off into a best-selling book, so maybe you already know about it.

The site recently featured the photo you see above. It was accompanied by a short, cryptic quote — "I was Defensive Player of the Year" — and prompted a lot of interesting comments from Humans of New York readers, who read all sorts of things into the man's life just based on that one image and the simple statement.

That was enough to intrigue Sports Illustrated writer Greg Bishop, who became fixated on the question of how the guy in the photo had transitioned from some sort of athletic glory to a construction job. Bishop had nothing to work with except the photo itself, so he began using every tool and technique he could think of to track down the man's identity.

The result turned out to be a very PermaRec-ish little project, which you can read about here — highly recommended.

(Big thanks to reader Jeff Ash for letting me know about this one.)

Thursday, May 29, 2014


The camera shown above was recently found in 40 feet of water — and with quite a few aquatic creatures living on it and in it — by marine science students who were doing research dives off of British Columbia, Canada. The divers were able to remove the camera's memory card and access the photos and video that, rather amazingly, were still preserved and intact.

One of the photos appeared to be a family portrait, so the students' professor posted it on Twitter in the hopes that someone would recognize the people in the photo. A local coast guard official saw the photo and recognized one of the family members as a shipwreck victim that the coast guard had rescued two years earlier. The camera apparently went down with that wreck and remained in the sea until the student divers found it.

The camera and memory card are now being returned to their owner. You can read more about the story here, and here's a TV news report on the camera's discovery.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

I've written several times this spring about old employee photo I.D. badges. Now PermaRec reader Kirsten Hively has found one of those badges in an unusual place: the familiar "Rosie the Riveter" poster, shown above.

See that little pin on Rosie's collar? Looks like an employee I.D. badge, right? I've looked at that illustration a gazillion times but had never noticed the badge until Kirsten pointed it out to me the other day. Let's take a closer look at it:

It's a Westinghouse Electric employee I.D. badge! That makes sense, because the Rosie illustration was commissioned by Westinghouse's War Production Coordinating Committee, which was looking to inspire the company's female workforce. You can learn more about that here and here. (Those links also explain why the it's actually a misnomer to refer to the poster as "Rosie the Riveter," but I'm going to keep calling it that for now, because it's a convenient, easily understood shorthand.)

The Rosie image has been adapted, copied, and repurposed countless times over the years. Some women taking inspiration from the image make a point of including the I.D. badge while others don't bother with it. Maybe those in the latter category were using this "How to look like Rosie" guide, which doesn't include the badge.

And here's someone who flopped the original orientation of the Rosie image and then Photoshopped her own face onto it, apparently not realizing (or caring) that the "Westinghouse Electric" lettering on the original badge would appear backwards on her flopped version.

Did Westinghouse Electric really have badges like the one shown in the illustration? They sure did. Not only that, but some enterprising soul on Etsy has used that badge design as the basis for a replica Rosie I.D. badge. (They also offer the same design as a zipper pull, but come on — that's cheating.)

Anyway: Employee photo I.D. badges — endlessly fascinating!

(Big thanks to Kirsten Hively for spotting Rosie's badge.)

Saturday, May 24, 2014


Last week I wrote about a 1975 high school ring that PermaRec reader Frank Bitzer recently discovered while going through his late mother's belongings. There's been a new development on that front.

First, a quick recap: As you may recall, Frank's mother found the ring on the side of a highway in 1984 but apparently never attempted to locate its owner. Frank had trouble reading the school's name on the ring, so he sent it to me, hoping I could find the owner. I determined that the ring had belonged to Jeff Weeks, who had graduated in 1975 from Indian Lake High School in Ohio. I had two short conversations with Jeff's brother, Todd Weeks, and traded a few awkward voicemails with Jeff, but Jeff never actually gave me his shipping address for returning the ring. For that matter, he didn't seem particularly interested in the ring at all. Then he stopped responding to my calls.

For the next few days, every time the phone rang, I thought to myself, "That's gotta be Jeff Weeks." But it never was. And whenever I received a voicemail, I thought to myself, "That's gotta be Jeff Weeks." But it never was.

Then I came home one day to find a voicemail from Todd Weeks — Jeff's brother. The message, which was spoken in a very slow, almost disinterested-sounding voice, went like so:

Hello, this is Todd Weeks. My brother said you keep missing each other. You wanted the story on the ring, but he doesn't even remember — it was 30 years ago. [Long pause.] He doesn’t even know. I was thinkin' you might wanna mail him the ring. It's Jeff Weeks, [address redacted]. That's Jeff Weeks, [address redacted]. [Long pause.] He doesn't remember anything about the ring. [Long pause.] Thank you. Bye.

There was an additional long pause — about seven seconds — between "Bye" and the official end of the voicemail. Very odd. Even odder, if Todd and Jeff discussed my attempts to return the ring, as appears to be the case, why did Todd call me back instead of Jeff? Those Weeks brothers — such inscrutable characters!

And just to be clear, I never asked Jeff or Todd for "the story on the ring." Rather, I thought Jeff might be interested in hearing the story of the rather circuitous route the ring had taken on its way back to him. But I guess he doesn't care, which of course is his prerogative.

Anyway: Since Todd gave me Jeff's address, I dropped the ring in the mail. I included a note with my phone number, just in case he wants to get in touch and provide a bit of closure, but I don't expect to hear from him. If I do, though, I'll provide an update here.

Monday, May 19, 2014

For all photos, click to enlarge

I've written several times now about lost class rings being found. But the ring shown above is different — it's been found twice, in two different contexts. And it doesn't seem to want to go home.

The story begins with an email I recently received from reader Frank Bitzer, as follows:

I recently rummaged through my now-deceased mom's old cedar chest, where she kept a lifetime's worth of keepsakes. I came across something odd: a 1975 class ring. My mom had it in a plastic baggie with a note saying she found it in the emergency lane on Interstate 271 east of Cleveland in September of 1984. (She was moving my kid brother to college; they made an emergency stop.) Mom died in 2005 and I just discovered the ring now.

My eyesight isn't good enough to make out the school's name on the ring. But if possible, I would like to see it returned to its rightful owner.

So the ring was first discovered by Frank's mother and then again, nearly 30 years later, by Frank himself. I told Frank I'd be happy to look into the situation, so he sent me the ring, along with his mother's note, which is shown above.

Frank wasn't kidding about the school's name on the ring being hard to read. The lettering is teeny-tiny and a bit weathered. I couldn't make it out with the naked eye, so I took a close-up photograph of it and then enlarged the photo, at which point the words "Indian Lake" became apparent:


School rings are often marked with owner's initials, but this one has something much better. The owner's name, Jeff Weeks, has been engraved on the inner shank:


Some quick Googling revealed that there's an Indian Lake High School in Lewistown, Ohio (about 170 miles from Cleveland), and that the school's class of 1975 included a Jeff Weeks. So I contacted the school, where a helpful staffer agreed to post something about the ring to school's alumni group on Facebook.

About two weeks later I received a call from a gentleman named Todd Weeks — Jeff Weeks's brother. He had seen the Facebook post and wanted to know more. I explained the situation and he said he'd pass my contact info along to Jeff.

About 10 days went by with no further developments, so I called Todd Weeks and told him I hadn't heard from Jeff. He sounded surprised, and then he gave me Jeff's number and encouraged me to contact him myself. I called the number, left a voicemail about the ring, and went out to run some errands.

When I came back, there was a message waiting for me. The voice sounded rather distracted: "Um, yeah, this is Jeff Weeks, just returning your call. [Pause.] Thank you." That was it — no mention of the ring, no curiosity about how I came to be in possession of it, no nothing.

That was five days ago. I've called Jeff twice more since then and have left messages, but no response. Maybe he doesn't want his ring back..? Could be — I can imagine all sorts of scenarios in which the ring might be a bad reminder of unpleasant times.

I'll post an update if I ever hear back from Jeff. For now, though, this story remains frustratingly unresolved.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Scan 10
For all images in this entry, you can click to enlarge

I periodically receive inquiries from people who stumble across Permanent Record while researching their family histories and want to know if I have the Manhattan Trade School report card for their mother or great-aunt or whatever.

One such inquiry recently came my way from a woman named Carol Chadwick. Carol's mother, Margaret Nagy, attended the school from roughly 1939 through 1942, when her name was Margaret Sabo. Unfortunately, Margaret's report card isn't part of my collection (almost all of my report cards are for students who attended the school from the 1910s up through the mid-1930s), but Carol asked if I'd be interested in seeing Margaret's yearbook. I said sure.

As it turned out, Carol wasn't able to locate Margaret's yearbook, but she offered me two very good consolation prizes. First, she found Margaret's art class portfolio and made printouts of some of the pages for me (you can see a few of them distributed throughout this entry). Even better, she arranged to have me do a phone interview with Margaret, who's now 90 years old.

Scan 9

Throughout the course of the Permanent Record project, I have interviewed only one person who attended the school as far back as the 1930s. That was Rose Vrana, who was 95 when I interviewed and wrote about her two years ago.

In Rose's case, I had her report card — she's the only living student I've found from my report card collection. But although I don't have Margaret's report card, she's still a living link to the school's PermaRec era (okay, a few years after the PermaRec era), so I jumped at the chance to interview her. We ended up speaking on the phone for about 40 minutes a few weeks ago. Here's how it went.

Permanent Record: I hope you can forgive me for beginning with this question: When were you born?

Margaret Nagy: I am 90 years old. I was born Jan. 10, 1924.

PR: You grew up in New York City, right?

MN: Yes, in Manhattan, downtown. Fifth St. between Aves. A and B. Later we moved to 7th St., across from Ave. A. Do you remember Tompkins Square Park?

PR: It's still there.

MN: I lived right across the street from there.

PR: Nowadays that neighborhood is called the East Village. But back then, did you call it the Lower East Side?

MN: We just called it downtown.

PR: Where were your parents from, and what did they do?

MN: My parents were both born and raised in Hungary. My father was in World War I. He was stationed in China, of all places. How he got here, I don't know. They didn't give us much information.

PR: When you say he was in World War I, do you mean he was fighting for Hungary?

MN: No no no, for the United States.

PR: So he was already in the States by then. And you were born in the States.

MN: Yes, I was born in Connecticut. Warren, Connecticut. And then my parents moved down to Manhattan before I was one year old. I have no idea why, or who brought them here, or why.

PR: What did you parents do for work?

MN: My father worked for the First National Bank on Wall Street. He was an elevator operator. You know, the ones you ran by hand.

PR: And did your mother work?

MN: Yes, after she had both of us — me and my sister — she went to work on Long Island making, of all things, corsets. Of course, she didn't talk good English.

PR: So was Hungarian spoken in your parents' home?

MN: Oh, yes. That's how I learned to speak Hungarian. My father spoke perfect English — I think he learned that in the Army — but not my mother.

PR: And you mentioned that you had a sister?

MN: Yes. She's dead now. She was exactly a year younger than me. Born on the same day, but a year later.

Scan 11

PR: How did you end up attending the Manhattan Trade School?

MN: My father was a funny bugger. When he learned that I liked cooking — he had a funny idea that if you liked that, and you took it up, you became a waitress. To him, there was no such thing as learning how to cook, or being trained to be a chef...

PR: You mean because you were a woman?

MN: Right. And he saw how waitresses worked. Because every day at work he ate breakfast at Schraft's, and he saw how hard they worked. So that was it — I wasn't allowed to go to any other high school.

PR: So he decided you would go to the Manhattan Trade School to learn a sewing trade?

MN: When he heard about it, yup.

PR: I keep calling it Manhattan Trade School, but it probably had a different name by the time you were there, right?

MN: Yes. It was the Manhattan School of Women's Garment Trades.

PR: Right, they changed names several times during that period. [The school was also known as Manhattan Industrial High School at one point. — PL]

PR: The school was on Lexington Avenue and 22nd St., right?

MN: Right, right.

PR: The building is still there, and it still has "Manhattan Trade School for Girls" chiseled into the fa├žade. But it's a regular high school now.

MN: Uh-huh.

PR: Were you excited to be going there?

MN: My cousin had gone there, and she had everything good to say about it, so I figured oh well, I might as well try it. And I did.

PR: What trade did you choose to study?

MN: I had to choose millinery, because, like I said, my father wouldn't let me choose cafeteria.

PR: Oh, right, by that time they were offering cafeteria management as a trade course of study. [The school had previously offered only the needle trades (dressmaking, millinery, and etc.) and the glue trades (lampshade making, decorative box making, etc.) but began expanding its offerings around the time Margaret attended. — PL]

MN: Right. But my father wouldn't allow that. So I picked millinery. I figured I already knew how to sew.

PR: You already sewed at home?

MN: Oh yeah, I was good at it.

PR: Your mother taught you?

MN: Yeah. And my sister was good at it.

PR: And you said your mother was making corsets, so she was already in a sewing field.

MN: Right. But I wasn't crazy about it. I had to choose millinery because I didn't like garments.

PR: Oh, so you didn't want to do dressmaking or sewing machine operation.

MN: No. My sister did dressmaking, a year later.

PR: Oh, so she attended the school too?

MN: Yeah.

PR: What didn't you like about garments?

MN: I didn't like sewing. So I figured doing something hats was okay. And I learned to like it.

Scan 5

PR: And how long did you attend the school — one year? Two?

MN: I think three.

PR: What do you remember about your time at the school. Did you like your teachers?

MN: Oh, yeah. I remember that juniors, we had to wear smocks. A tan-colored smock that you pulled over your head. When you became a senior you were given blue smocks with buttons, and that's how everybody knew you were a senior.

PR: So these were the uniforms.

MN: Yeah. I don't think they wanted anyone to look like they could outdo someone else.

PR: And of course this was during the Depression, so that was a big concern, that everyone appeared equal and nobody looked like they were doing worse than the others.

MN: That's right.

PR: Were there other students from Hungarian families, and did you bond with them in any way?

MN: No, no. For that matter, most of the girls came, believe it or not, from Long Island and Brooklyn. Nobody came from Manhattan.

PR: So these other students, they all had much longer commutes to school than you did.

MN: Oh, yeah. They came on trains. Yup.

PR: How did you get to school?

MN: If it was a nice day, I'd walk. If not, I'd take a bus. There was a bus on Ave. A.

PR: Did you make friends with the other students?

MN: Oh, yes. That's why I don't know what became of that yearbook I had. It's in this apartment somewhere, but I can't find it.

PR: Did you stay friends with any of them later on in your life?

MN: Yes, after I graduated. There were one ... two ... three from the Bronx that I stayed friends with. And then there was one from the way, way Upper East Side, the hotsy-totsy side, where they had homes. And even after we got married, we stayed friends.

PR: What did you particularly like about the school?

MN: What I liked at the school, I loved their cafeteria.

PR [laughing]: So even if you weren't allowed to study that, you were still interested in it.

MN: Yes. When I went to eat there, I loved sweet potatoes. And when sold sweet potatoes for five cents a plate, I always saved money to buy that.

PR: The cafeteria was staffed by students, right?

MN: No, there were women there. There were women there. [The school had employed students in the cafeteria in its earlier years. — PL]

PR: By the time you attended the school, it was pretty well established and had been around for a while. But it was actually a very important school when it was founded, because it was the first girls' vocational school in America. Did they make you aware of the school's historical importance?

MN: No. Nothing about their history. Except that the war was going on.

PR: How did that affect things?

MN: Well, on Armistice Day, wherever we were — in the hall or wherever — we'd get very quiet and there'd be a bugle blowin'.

PR: You mean on the 11th hour of the 11th day, and so on, right?

MN: Right.

PR: Were there any male staffers at the school?

MN: No. Well, the young man who ran the elevator. And the janitor. But that was it.

PR: All the teachers and administrators were women?

MN: Yeah. That I remember.

PR: Did you take any class trips?

MN: Just one, for an art class. The teacher — I wish I could remember her name — I always looked forward to that. She took us out in the spring to some place, I think it was around the Central Park area. It was the first iced tea I ever had, and she showed us that if you put milk into the iced tea, she said, "Watch the milk as it goes in, and see the design and pattern it makes in the tea." She was always art-conscious.

PR: So did you do that, with the milk?

MN: Yeah!

PR: And was that eye-opening for you?

MN: Yeah. I says, "Oh, yeah, look at that!" That was different, that was something new. I mean, I lived way downtown. I didn't get any of that stuff.

Scan 4 Scan 3 Scan 2

PR: Your daughter made copies of your portfolio drawings for me. What class was that for?

MN: That was art class.

PR: The same one with the teacher who showed you the milk in the iced tea?

MN: Yes, yes.

PR: Your daughter also told me that some of your drawings were displayed at the Brooklyn Museum. Can you tell me about that?

MN: I was surprised. This was part of our studies. And when we finished them, she picked some of them to go to the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Not only from us, but also from other high schools. They were displayed, to show what each school had to offer. I was really surprised, and happy.

PR: Well, sure you were — your teacher chose your work!

MN: Not only mine, there were some others, too.

PR: Right, but you were one of the ones who whose drawings were chosen.

MN: Yeah. I never saw them — I never got to go to the museum.

PR: Really? Did you mean to, and you just never got around to it?

MN: I — yeah.

PR: But hey, you've been exhibited in a fine art museum. That's more than most people can say.

MN [chuckling]: Yeah.

PR: The school had a job-placement office that arranged jobs for the students. Did they do that for you?

MN: Yes, they did.

PR: What sorts of jobs did they arrange for you?

MN: Believe it or not, nothing in millinery.

PR: Because there was nothing available..?

MN: I'm sure there was. But they gave me a job with a power sewing machine. Remember the chevrons on the [military] uniforms that the men wore? It was sewin' those things.

PR: You mean sewing sergeants' stripes and things like that onto military uniforms?

MN: Right.

PR: And that was precisely the kind of garment work you had wanted to avoid.

MN: Right! I didn't like machines. Oh, I quit that. I couldn’t do that. And it was piece work — you know what that means?

PR: You get paid by the piece, instead of by the hour.

MN: Right. How many chevrons you finished.

PR: These were Army uniforms?

MN: Yes, yes. I remember corporals' stripes, sergeants' stripes. And power machines? Why give that to me when I wasn't even used to a power machine? We didn't have that in millinery.

PR: Where was this job?

MN: Oh, it was downtown, in a crummy place, really. When I walked into the hallway, I says, "My god, what am I gettin' into?" Dark, damp. And when you went into the sewing area, a whole mess of machines, and then older women already workin' there.

PR: So you felt out of place.

MN: Yes, yes.

PR: How long did you work there before you quit?

MN: No more than two weeks.

PR: And did you go back to the school and ask for another job?

MN: No. I figure I'm out of school, that's it, I'll find one on my own.

PR: So you never made use of that office, the job placement office, again.

MN: No.

Scan 6

PR: What kind of job did you eventually find for yourself?

MN: I went around to different places, and believe it or not I got a job doin', again, on the sewing machine. That's what was available. But on this job I did better, so I stayed a while.

PR: And who were you working for?

MN: The Durlacher company. Durlacher — D-U-R-L-A-C-H-E-R. It was the man who, I guess, owned the place, it was his name. And it was half and half: Half was sewing machines, and the other half was shipping, packing, and stuff like that.

PR: And what did you sew there?

MN: Remember the bandoliers that the soldiers would wear? They were canvas, and they'd put bullets in them. We'd make those. And then we stopped makin' those, when I guess they ran out of their contract. And then they put me on the other side, with the shipping and everything, and I worked on packaging monograms. No more machines. But then! The airplane scarves — remember how the pilots wore these long white scarves?

PR: Yes.

MN: Okay. They gave me the job of stamping "U.S. Navy" or "U.S. Army" or "USA" onto the scarves.

PR: Stamping with what?

MN: Just a regular ink pad. But it had to be just right, just so. That was another contract, but then that fizzled out too. And before you know it, my husband was coming home from overseas.

PR: Wait, when had you gotten married in the middle of all this?

MN: I didn't. I waited for him to come home.

PR: Oh. So how did you meet him?

MN: Oh, my lord, I met him at a sweet 16 party.

PR: Your sweet 16 party?

MN: No. My cousin's, in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

PR: How old were you at the time?

MN: Oh god — not 16 yet.

PR: And how old was he?

MN: About 17, 18.

PR: Oh, a much older man!

MN: I know.

PR: Did he live in New York, like you did?

MN: No. He lived in New Brunswick.

PR: So the two of you courted while you were living in different states?

MN: Yes. He'd come in on weekends. Then he was drafted, went into the Army, stayed in England about three years. And then when he came home, he couldn't wait — within 15 days, we were married.

PR: So he wrote to you while he was away?

MN: Yes, I have all of them saved. But he was not allowed to send a letter he wrote. They took the letters and scratched out the parts they didn't want in there.

PR: Once you got married, did you keep working?

MN: Yeah, I started working pretty soon after we got married. I worked for Maidenform, which was in New Jersey.

PR: So after you got married, the two of you moved to New Jersey?

MN: Oh, yes, and was I glad. I hated New York.

PR: Really?

MN: Oh, yeah. I still do!

PR: And what happened to your job at Durlacher?

MN: I got a phone call, on Durlacher's phone, from my husband. He'd just got off the boat! He didn't even go home first — he got to a phone and called the number. And I looked at Mr. Durlacher — he was standin' there, along with Mr. Smith, another one — and I says, "That was my boyfriend from overseas. His boat just got in." And to this day, I'm sorry I said this. I says, "To hell with this job. I'm goin' home, I'm gettin' married."

PR: Oh, wow.

MN: Which I did. I never saw them again.

PR: How long had you been working there at that point?

MN: Mmmm, I'd say a good two years.

PR: Why do you regret having said that?

MN: It was a nice place to work, and I didn't want to say that type of thing — "To hell with the job."

PR: So even if you were going to leave, you didn't have to leave that way.

MN: That's right. But I don't think they cared, really.

PR: So then you moved to New Jersey with your husband. What was his name?

MN: Frank Nagy.

PR: And then you got the job with Maidenform?

MN: Yes.

PR: What did you do for them?

MN: Would you believe machine work again? Oh, yeah. But on this one I was better. And I got pregnant, and then I left.

PR: Maidenform is a brassiere company. Is that what you were making?

MN: Yeah.

PR: That's pretty funny — your mom made corsets and you made brassieres!

MN: Right, right.

PR: What about Frank, what did he do?

MN: He worked for the Army at the Raritan Arsenal, in Raritan, New Jersey, before he was drafted. They had a condition there — if he was inducted, his job would be waiting for him when he was discharged. And that's just what happened. He went back to work there.

PR: What did he do there?

MN: Oh, brother. Before he left, he worked with explosives. But after he came home he was a heavy equipment operator. Big trucks and all that. And then he retired from there. It was the only job he ever had.

PR: Did you ever go back to work?

MN: Yes — at another sewing machine job.

PR: Sewing what?

MN: Making pajamas. I was good at it. I don't remember the name of the company. I enjoyed it because I was good at it. I did that as a night job for about a year.

PR: When did you stop working?

MN: By the time I was in my 30s, because I had three girls by then.

PR: Even when you weren't working, did you continue to sew, like at home?

MN [laughing]: No! I mean, I'd sew buttons or stuff like that, but that's all. I did not enjoy it.

PR: And did you ever get to use your millinery training?

MN: No, not for work. I did stuff like that at home, for my own pleasure — I made hats and turbans. But never for work. And that was a shame. I knew enough. They could have stuck me in.

PR: Do you have anything you want to add about the school, or about anything else?

MN: Well, it was a nice school to go to. And there was a little old lady there who taught you how to iron. And the iron was a flatiron that you put on a coal stove — not electric. And naturally, cafeteria, I enjoyed that. And my millinery teacher, when we started, she was a maiden. And then she got married, so she had two names. And then there was another millinery teacher, and whoa, she was a whoop-de-do.

PR [laughing]: A whoop-de-do? What does that mean?

MN: The clothes that that woman wore, and the earrings! She had heavy earrings. She was some dresser, with some hairdo. The art teacher, she was lovely. I remember the arithmetic teacher — she lived on Ave. A, of all places.

PR: Oh, right near you!

MN: Yeah, but not the same — how should I say it? Not the same people. It was a big difference. I lived across the street from a doctor, but you would never have known it by looking at the place where I lived.

PR: Tell me about your place.

MN: It was a tenement. A kitchen, a dining room, and two bedrooms, without windows. In the summer, you nearly died. Across the street, the doctor's building — what a difference. And there was a dentist across the street. You would never know that I lived in that area.

PR: How long did your parents live there?

MN: Until we moved to 7th St., when I was about 17. Whaaat a difference. We had a dentist's office on the main floor, and we had a dining room, a parlor, a big bedroom, and two other bedrooms. So there was a biiiig difference. On 5th St., the first place, it was, to me, a slum. It was not what we liked.

PR: What about your sister — did she stay in New York?

MN: She lived in New York until she bought a home out in Jersey.

PR: Did she end up using her trade skills that she learned at the school?

MN: Ooooh, yes, I give her that much. She knew how to make patterns, how to design clothes, how to sew clothes, and she had a little business of her own.

PR: A sewing business?

MN: Yes. And she worked for a designer, a clothing designer. She used what she learned there.

PR: So it sounds like you didn't get to use your millinery skills because they didn't send you to the right jobs. But I guess they sent her to the right jobs.

MN: Yes, they did. They did. I can't think of the designer's name who she worked for — Rosen-something.

PR: Oh! You mean Nettie Rosenstein?

MN: That sounds familiar, yes. A famous dress designer.

PR: Wow. It turns out that another student from the school, whose report card I happen to have, ended up working for her and became her sister-in-law. I wrote a story about her a few years ago. That's pretty amazing, that another student from the school went to work for her.

MN: It's too bad my sister is dead. She could have told you lots more about it.


At this point I sensed that Margaret's energy was fading a bit, so I thanked her for her time and her recollections and wrapped things up. She said, "I don't know what you possibly got out of this," but I assured her that I'd gotten plenty from our discussion.

As I look over the transcript of our chat, I now find myself thinking of dozens of additional questions I wish I'd asked her, especially regarding her portfolio drawings. Hmmmm — maybe I'll try to arrange a follow-up call.

I want to conclude with one more sampling from Margaret's portfolio. I left it for the end because the quality of the image is poor, but in some ways it's my favorite page of the bunch. Apparently millinery students had to be aware of people's "facial faults":

Scan 8

(Extra-special thanks to Margaret Nagy for sharing her story with me, and to her daughter, Carol Chadwick, for making all of this possible.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Click to enlarge

This carousel operator's license, which recently sold on eBay for $30, has several different levels of PermaRec interest. Let's take them one at a time:

1. Fascinating to see that carousel operators' licenses came under the jurisdiction of the NYC Building Department's Elevator Division!

2. You don't see many municipal licenses with photos anymore, at least not here in New York. Taxi drivers? Yes. And maybe barbers and some food handlers, too. But carousel operators? No way.

3. A bit surprising that the licensee, Howard Clayton, wore a jacket and tie for his mug shot. Not the typical disreputable-carny stereotype.

4. Here's where it gets really interesting: The carousel's address is listed on the license as 1000 Surf Ave. That's in Coney Island, and it was the location of Feltman's Carousel. "Feltman's" refers to Charles Feltman, the man who, according to most accounts, created the Coney Island hot dog around 1867. (Nathan Handwerker, who later founded Nathan's, actually got his start as one of Feltman's employees and slept on Feltman's kitchen floor.)

Anyway: Feltman eventually branched out from hot dogs and created a boardwalk empire of sorts at Coney Island, opening nine restaurants, a hotel, a beer garden, and several amusement rides — including a series of carousels. The biggest and best one, which opened in 1903, remained at 1000 Surf Ave. long after Feltman's death and was still there when Howard Clayton applied for that operator's license in 1962.

But it wasn't there for much longer. Feltman's Carousel was one of two Coney Island merry-go-rounds that were dismantled and then combined to create a new carousel for the 1964 World's Fair. That carousel, which includes 24 horses from the Feltman's ride, still operates today in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens.

Feltman's Carousel's last year before being shut down and taken apart was 1963 — one year after Howard Clayton's license was granted. So Clayton was probably one of the last people to operate this historic ride, at least in its original incarnation.

That's a lot of info and history embodied in one random document from eBay, no?

(Big thanks to reader David Gratt for pointing me toward this one.)