Thursday, December 27, 2012

Today we have the latest installment of Charlene Dodds's rephotography project, in which she's visiting places shown on old postcards sent to and from members of her family. (In case you missed it, previous installments in this series are available here, here, here, and here.)

Here's the latest from Charlene:

The next stop on my tour of Pennsylvania was Waynesboro, a town General Robert E. Lee passed through after the Battle of Gettysburg. A schoolmate of my great aunt’s had sent her a postcard from Waynesboro over the summer break in 1917. The postcard showed three grand houses along Clayton Avenue. I had no trouble finding the proper street, but I had to drive back and forth several times before I realized that the tiny trees shown in the postcard had grown so much in 95 years that they now largely obscure the houses, one of which you can just barely see peeking through in the photo I took [for all of these images, you can click to enlarge]:

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You can get a better view of that house in this shot, although it doesn't duplicate the original postcard perspective.

My next stop was the Bedford rest station on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. This spot was a big hit for my paternal grandfather, who sent many postcards back home to his kids from this place, including a view of a Howard Johnson restaurant known as "the Midway." I discovered that the building shown is on the south side of the roadway. Roadway traffic necessitated a high concrete wall dividing the directional traffic lanes, so a second, near-identical restaurant was built on the north side of the road. That one is still there -- but much like the houses in Waynesboro, it's now largely obscured by trees:

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My other grandfather, on my mother's side, also had a connection to the Turnpike. He had been the surveyor for this road many years earlier. My mother -- his daughter -- has regaled me with stories of when she was very small and he would take her along in the dead of night to “shoot the stars” with a sextant, which is how the workers plotted where to lay the roadbeds before GPS. It's fascinating to me that both sides of my family had a link to the Turnpike years before my parents would eventually meet.

That's it from Charlene for this time around. More soon.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012



Earlier this month I wrote about story behind an old military jacket that had washed ashore after Hurricane Sandy, and how the person who found it was able to return it to the widow of the cadet who'd originally worn it at West Point in the early 1930s.

The jacket shown above is not that same jacket, but it's very similar. It was purchased 20 years ago at a consignment shop by a Minnesota woman named Mary Helen Taft. When she read a news article about the jacket that had washed ashore, she became curious about the one she had bought, which was stowed away in her closet. So she dug it out and then did what the person who'd found the other jacket had done: She contacted West Point and asked if officials there could use the marks on the jacket's tags to tell her more about its original owner.

In this case, the jacket had been worn by a cadet named Joseph Francis Albano, who graduated in 1971. (West Point cadet jacket design apparently didn't change much in the four decades.) He's still alive, although he and Mary Helen Taft hadn't yet spoken or met as of a few days ago.

Further details on all of this, along with a mention of yet another vintage West Point jacket being traced back to its original wearer, can be found here.

(Special thanks to Barbara Zimmer for pointing me toward this one.)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

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The three front/back photo pairings you see above are all from the book Talking Pictures: Images and Messages Rescued from the Past by Ransom Riggs, who puts an unusual spin on a common hobby. He collects old snapshots that he finds at flea markets and junk shops (nothing new about that), but only if they're annotated with handwritten inscriptions -- usually on the back, but sometimes on the front.

Several hundred of photos from Riggs's collection are compiled in Talking Pictures, and the result is a compelling series of partially told stories that leave you wanting to know more. As you page through the book and read the annotations, you can't help but wonder "Hmmm, what happened to that couple?" or "How did that guy end up with a black eye?" or "Did that smallpox-ridden child survive?"

It's a great book, and very reasonably priced. Highly recommended to all PermaRec readers.

I'll close this entry with an assortment of additional images from the book -- enjoy.

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Friday, December 21, 2012


I've written several times now about Russell Ries. As you may recall, he's the guy who purchased a cigar box full of old photos and other personal effects, all pertaining to the same person (who I refer to as John Doe). Russell did a little digging and discovered that John Doe was accused child neglect that resulted in the death of one of his children. Russell also discovered that while John Doe himself was now deceased, another one of his children was living in the Nashville area -- where Russell himself lives. He wondered if he should get in touch with the son and offer the photos and other items to him, or if he should keep his distance because the subject might be too painful. Several Permanent Record readers offered their own opinions on this.

Russell ultimately decided to get in touch with the son, whose name is Bill. (I had referred to him as Andy, to help protect his identity, but Russell is now ready to use his real first name.) Bill agreed to meet with Russell, and the meeting took place in Westmoreland, Tennessee, a few days ago. The photo above shows Russell on the left and Bill on the right.

Russell provided a detailed account of the meeting, including the following:

Until starting my drive to Westmoreland that morning, the full reality of the situation hadn't dawned on me. This was probably the final chapter of my connection to Bill and his family.

I had purchased the cigar box over Memorial Day weekend in 2011. And since that time, I had come to see myself as something of a steward of the memories contained within it. I had always hoped this day would come. But now faced with it, I began to lament the loss of my role in the story.

The truth was, no matter how close I may have felt to Bill or his father, I was a complete stranger to him. Some guy who, only last week, sent him a letter about pictures of his dad. He had been a compelling character in my life for over a year but I had literally just entered his. Would I be able to find any real connection with this man when we met? How would I feel about preserving and returning these memories to him if he turned out to be a jerk? It was a petty and small way to feel, I know. Fortunately, it proved to be without merit when we finally met.

There's more -- a lot more. To see how it all turns out, check out the full story on Russell's blog.

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A few housekeeping notes: It's been over two weeks since the last post here on the site. Sorry about that -- been busy with other projects. But Permanent Record is very much alive and well. In the coming days I'll be posting about a very PermaRec-ish book that I'm extremely excited about, along with the latest installment of Charlene Dodds's rephotography project, and hopefully a few other things.

Several people noticed the note at the end of last month's PermaRec article on Slate, which mentioned that there would be no more Slate articles for the foreseeable future. Just to clarify that, I plan to keep researching and investigating the stories behind the Manhattan Trade School report cards, and the Slate editors are happy to keep publishing PermaRec articles if I come across a student with a particularly powerful story. But they feel the basic goals of the series -- to tell about the school and its students -- have now been met. So any future articles will only be about report cards with particularly extraordinary stories to tell. (Of course, I think they're all extraordinary, but I understand the editors' point.)

My best wishes to all PermaRec readers for a safe and happy Christmas.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

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Today we have another installment of Charlene Dodds's rephotography project, in which she's visiting places shown on old postcards sent to and from members of her family. (In case you missed it, previous installments in this series are available here, here, and here.)

Here's the latest from Charlene:

For the next leg of my trip, I drove southwest from Harrisburg, and dropped in on Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Mechanicsburg was originally named for Conestoga wagon mechanics who settled this area in the early 1800s. When the Cumberland Valley Railroad came through town, bringing more growth to the area, mechanics in the burg serviced the trains. The many train lines through Mechanicsburg aided in transporting troops during the Civil War. In 1923, Jubilee Day was started by a pre-Chamber of Commerce group. This fair, which takes place on the third Thursday of June, is now considered the largest and longest-running one-day street fair on the east coast.

Many of the same buildings from a century ago are still standing, including the ones shown in a postcard that was sent to my great aunt in 1917. I matched the view in the postcard by taking a photograph looking east from Hershey Violins on West Main Street [for all of these images, you can click to enlarge]:

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Continuing southwest, I arrived at Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. The old church on King Street, completed in 1904 still survives, albeit with a few alterations to the tower. Still, it is recognizable as the same structure shown in this old postcard:

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My great aunt attended Shippensburg College just outside of town. The college recently completed a refurbishing of the ornate fountain in front of the main building. The fountain and the building both look very similar to how they looked in these old postcards:

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Back in town, the Sherman House has not fared as well. An old hotel originally known as the Union House, it was renamed and given new signage as Confederate troops approached, in hopes the it not be destroyed. Time has wrought worse alterations to “Shippen Place.” Looking carefully, one can see the original lines of the old hotel shown in this postcard, although xxpansion has pushed the wall outward, converting what was once a side street with rail tracks into an alley:

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That's it from Charlene for now. I'm sure we'll be hearing more from her soon.

Monday, December 3, 2012

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The two photos at the top of the page are West Point cadet Chester deGavre wearing his formal military jacket in his 1933 West Point yearbook photo, and that same jacket as it appears today. The lower photo shows the jacket being presented last week to deGavre's 98-year-old widow, Teresa deGavre, after the jacket had been found washed up on the Jersey Shore in the wake of hurricane Sandy.

The jacket was found by Donna Gugger (the blond woman in the lower photo), who discovered it while cleaning up debris near her home after the storm. She initially thought it was a costume jacket, but some of the interior tagging indicated that it was a genuine military jacket. With some research assistance from the folks at West Point, she was able to determine that it had been issued to Chester deGavre, who died in 1993. Some additional research led her to deGavre's widow.

That's some impressive sleuthing, although one serious mystery remains: Teresa deGavre had been completely unaware of the jacket's existence. It's not clear how it became separated from her husband, who may have owned it in the interim, or how it ended up in the ocean. In any case, it's now back where it belongs.

You can read more about this here and here, and there's a video report here:

Cadet jacket found in Sandy aftermath

(Special thanks to Sue Kendall for bringing this story to my attention.)

Thursday, November 29, 2012


We've covered so many different stories here on the PermaRec Blog that it's easy to forget that Permanent Record is first and foremost about the amazing Manhattan Trade School report cards that I found in a file cabinet more than 16 years ago. With that in mind, here are two announcements:

1) I'll be doing a lecture/slideshow presentation about the report cards next Wednesday, Dec. 5, 7pm, at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Manhattan. It'll be part of a program of several short presentations (I can't speak for the others, but I know the organizers, and they usually tend to book interesting people). Admission is free. Full details here.

2) In case you missed it earlier this week, the long-delayed 10th installment in the Slate series is now available for your enjoyment.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

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As you may have heard, there's been a remarkable PermaRec-ish story emerging out of England, where a gent named David Martin was renovating his chimney and found the remains of a long-dead carrier pigeon with a little red canister attached to its leg bone. Inside the canister was an encrypted World War II-era message. It's believed that the pigeon was sent from Nazi-occupied France during the war.

This story has received lots of media coverage, but I particularly like the treatment from Mallory Ortberg at Gawker, who approaches the story with a very endearing sense of Harriet the Spy-ish adventure. She begins by saying, "[S]ometimes life is every bit as exciting and riddled with mysteries as you had hoped it would be as a cunning, hopeful child" (a nice distillation of the PermaRec ethos, no?). Then she describes the particulars of the situation and observes:

Of course there was a small red cylinder! Of course it was rolled like cigarette paper, exactly as a secret code ought to be. We live in days of wonder.

I really like that.

As for the message, we may never know its contents, because British encryption authorities say its code is unbreakable, at least so far, and they may not have the resources to crack it. Further details here.

I have to admit, until now I thought finding a bunch of old report cards in a discarded file cabinet was about the coolest thing ever. But a finding an encrypted WWII message strapped to the decomposing leg bone of a deceased homing pigeon definitely trumps that. I know when I'm licked.

Friday, November 23, 2012



What you see above are the front and back of a postcard that was mailed from Rockford, Ill., to Elmira, N.Y., in the summer of 1943. It arrived at the address listed on the postcard just last week -- more than 69 years after it was sent.

The postcard was sent to sisters Pauline and Theresa Leisenring by their parents. The parents were visiting their son (Pauline and Theresa's brother) George Leisenring at the Medical Center Barracks at Camp Grant, which is the location shown on the front of the postcard.

The message reads as follows:

Dear Pauline and Theresa,

We arrived safe, had a good trip, but we were good and tired. Geo. looks good, we all went out to dinner today (Sunday). Now we are in the park. Geo has to go back to Grant at 12 o’clock tonight. Do not see much of him. We are going to make pancakes for Geo for supper tonight. See you soon.

Mother, Dad

Unfortunately, Pauline and Theresa no longer live at the address on the postcard (or anywhere else -- they died in 1962 and 1954, respectively), so the postcard was received by Adam and Laura Rundell and their family, who now live at that address.

It's not clear why the postcard took so long to be delivered or where it might have been stowed over the past several decades, but the Rundells were intrigued by it. According to this article, they did some PermaRec-style research, tracked down some of Pauline and Theresa's cousins, and offered the postcard to them. The story quotes Adam Rundell as saying, "They seemed interested but so far haven't picked it up."

I'm not sure why the Rundells can't simply mail the postcard to the cousins, but then this postcard has already had one harrowing postal adventure, so maybe best not to tempt fate.

(My thanks to Sue Kendall for pointing me toward this story.)

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Slate update: I've been told that long-delayed 10th installment of the Slate series will finally run on Monday. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The video shown above tells the story of a stash of World War II-era love letters that were found in a box that washed ashore in New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The man to whom the letters had been sent died in 1991; the woman who sent the letters is still alive, although she hadn't saved the letters herself, so it's not clear who had acquired them or how they ended up getting washed out to sea. In any event, it's another classic Permanent Record-type story. Further details here.

(My thanks to reader Sue Kendall for tipping me wise to this one.)

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Men at Lunch update: As promised, on Wednesday afternoon I went to see the documentary film Men at Lunch, which is about the famous 1932 photograph of ironworkers posing on a high-rise steel girder. It was good, but not great. A good chunk of the film is devoted to explaining why this is such an important and iconic photograph -- good stuff, but done in a very familiar, PBS-ish way. From a Permanent Record perspective, I was a smidge disappointed, because the filmmakers were able to positively identify only two of the 11 men in the photograph. A nice movie, but ultimately unsatisfying.

Monday, November 12, 2012

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The fellow in the photographs shown above was named Lloyd Domier. He died in 1995 after a life spent primarily in North Dakota. These photos of him, and over 100 other shots of Lloyd and his family, were recently found in a Dumpster by someone in Florida. The photos were eventually sent to the Grand Forks Herald newspaper, which was able to get in touch with Lloyd's brother, Douglas Domier, to whom the photos were ultimately returned.

That's the short version. You can get more details in this article, which includes a link to a slideshow of additional photos.

(Special thanks to reader Tim Fry for tipping me off to this one.)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

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You've almost certainly seen this photo before. Taken in 1932, it shows an assortment of immigrant ironworkers taking their lunch on a steel girder at a New York City construction site. It has become one of history's most iconic New York photographs.

But who are the men shown in the photo? They've always been anonymous. For that matter, even the photographer's identity has long been unverified. (The photo has often been attributed to Lewis Hine, but that turns out to be inaccurate.)

A new documentary called Men at Lunch aims to solve these mysteries. I haven't yet seen the film, but it sounds very Permanent Record. You can read about it in this intriguing article. The film itself will screen this Wednesday, Nov. 14, at 3:15pm at the IFC Center in Manhattan. I'm going to try to attend. Anyone care to join me? If so, let me know.

Meanwhile, here's the film's trailer:

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Slate update: I'm told that the long-delayed 10th installment of the Slate series will finally be published this week. Hope so! Thanks for your patience.

Friday, November 2, 2012

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What have we here? It's a photo of Hodel's Drug at the BaseMar Shopping Center in Boulder, Colorado. It was here that Oscar Hodel went to work each day and filled out the ledger that I eventually acquired.

The photo was taken in 1956 -- the year that Hodel's Drug (and I think the shopping center itself) opened. While looking at the photo, I noticed something interesting. Check out the signs for the other shops (click to enlarge):

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It's a little hard to read some of them but they say:

Laundry•Dry Cleaners
[Illegible] Pastry Shop
[Illegible] Barber Shop
Dairy Foods

So four of the six signs are completely generic, indicating a category of commerce rather than a shop name -- odd. I must say, I would have been very disappointed if the Hodel's Drug sign simply read "Pharmacy."

(Special thanks to Wendy Hall of the Carnegie Branch Library for Local History in Boulder for providing the photo.)

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As some of you know, I live in Brooklyn, New York. Fortunately, I came through Hurricane Sandy completely unscathed -- no flooding, didn't lose power, didn't even have any trees come down on my block or in my back yard. Same goes for my Mom and my brother, both of whom live in the New York area.

Obviously, millions of other people weren't as lucky. If you and/or someone close to you were affected by the storm, hang in there -- we're all thinking of you. In a bit of cosmic irony, however, on Wednesday I broke my arm in a bike accident. Typing is now very tricky, so content here on the PermaRec site may be spotty for a bit. Thanks for understanding.

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Slate update: As you may have guessed, the storm has futher delayed the publication of the next full-length PermaRec article on Slate. Will they get it up next week? Hope so.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

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Today we have another installment of Charlene Dodds's rephotography project, in which she's visiting places shown on old postcards sent to and from her great aunt, her grandmother, and their friends. (In case you missed it, further details on the project are spelled out here, and Charlene's first report from the road is available here.)

Here's the latest from Charlene:

After my first stop in York, Pennsylvania, I headed north on I-83 to Harrisburg. I wanted to visit the state capitol building, which is shown on a postcard sent to my great aunt from her aunt in 1907.

Some quick background: This is actually the third capitol building in Harrisburg. The first one was destroyed in 1897 by a fire, and a second one was left unfinished due to lack of funds. The Capitol Building Commission was formed in 1901 to hold a competition open only to Pennsylvania architects. They selected a Beaux-Arts design by Joseph Miller Huston. Known as the Huston Capitol, it was designed in 1902 and dedicated in 1906, a year before this postcard was sent [for all of these images, you can click to enlarge]:

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Here's a roughly equivalent view from when I visited more than a century after the postcard was sent:


Obviously, something's missing. What became of the Washington Monument-like obelisk that's show in the middle of the postcard image? It took quite a bit of research to uncover the answer. The Dauphin County Veteran's Memorial Obelisk was originally erected in 1876 in memory of the county’s Civil War dead. It stood 110 feet high and weighed over 600 tons. After decades of exposure to traffic and the elements left it looking a bit grim, it was refurbished and relocated to Third and Division streets, where it remains today.

Next, I headed a few miles north of Harrisburg. My designation was the Rockville Bridge, the “largest stone arch bridge in the world,” according to this postcard sent to my grandfather in 1922:

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The bridge was completed in 1902. Although it's no longer the world's largest stone arch bridge, it remains the world's longest stone masonry arch railroad viaduct, with a total length of 3,820 feet. You can learn more about the bridge here.

The bridge is still in use today. Here's how it looked during my visit:



Very, very nice. Thanks for the great material, Charlene -- keep it coming.