Monday, March 31, 2014

In 2007, a 26-year-old Chicagoan named John Maloof was working on a book about Chicago history. Maloof lived across the street from an auction house that was selling a stash of several thousand old negatives shot by a Chicago photographer several decades earlier. The auction house had acquired the negatives from a storage locker after the photographer had let the locker's account go delinquent. Maloof thought the negatives might be helpful for his book project, so he bought them for $380.

When Maloof looked at the negatives, he was quickly struck by how evocative they were. The photographer — a total unknown named Vivian Maier, who died shortly after Maloof acquired the negatives — clearly had a special feel for street photography. Her senses of framing, composition, portraiture, storytelling, pathos, and wit were all superb. But Maloof couldn't find any information about her. It appeared that none of her work, including the photos Maloof had acquired, had ever been exhibited or published. The more Maloof looked at the photos, the more convinced he became that he'd stumbled upon the work of a major overlooked artist. His hunch became even stronger when he scanned some of the negatives and posted them on Flickr, where they immediately generated lots of very positive response. (That's one of Maier's photos shown above, and the other photos scattered throughout this entry are hers as well.)

Thus began John Maloof's trip down a deep, deep rabbit hole that continues to this day. He has essentially become the chief custodian and cheerleader of Vivian Maier's legacy. Or, to put it another way, he's devoted his life to hers. Along the way he learned that Maier spent most of her adult life employed as a nanny, so he interviewed many of the families that hired her, including some of the now-grown children she looked after. He also visited her family's ancestral village in France. And he sought out and acquired thousands and thousands of additional Maier negatives (many of them salvaged from another storage locker she left behind), along with hundreds of rolls of film that she shot but never got around to developing (ditto). In short, Maloof is trying to be as encyclopedic about Vivian Maier as he can be. But there are still many pieces of the puzzle that he hasn't yet been able to put together, because Maier was intensely secretive and seriously eccentric. Among other things, she appears to have had a hoarding disorder. (Storage lockers and hoarding — this story reads like a reality TV treatment.)

This odd backstory has probably helped Maloof's efforts to promote Maier's work, because it adds an element of intrigue. In any case, the art world has embraced Maier's photography, which is now compared to the works of Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, and other great American populist photographers. Maloof has successfully shepherded her photos into an assortment of gallery shows, book projects, and more. Prints of her work, sold by a New York gallery that has partnered with Maloof, now sell for prices starting at about $1800.

And now there's new documentary film called Finding Vivian Maier. I saw it last Saturday and was blown away. It's a great story, superbly told. If you're into found objects and PermaRec-ish stories, it's absolutely essential viewing — don't miss. (As a bonus, Maloof, who co-directed the film, was on hand at the screening I attended, so I got to hear some of his commentary and participate in a short Q&A session he conducted.) Here, take a couple of minutes to check out the trailer:

Some of you may be thinking, "This Maloof guy is just profiting off of this dead woman's work. That's exploitation!" That's an understandable gut reaction, but I don't think it's accurate. While I could be wrong, I don't get the impression that Maloof is getting rich off of any of this (he needed a Kickstarter campaign to help finance the documentary), especially since a lot of the money that comes in from sales of Maier's prints is getting rolled back into the project's overhead (Maloof still has thousands of negatives to scan and hundreds of rolls of film to develop). I do think he's making a living off of all this, and good for him — that's a fair trade for the time and energy he's invested. It's pretty clear to me that he cares deeply about Maier and her work, and that he's made some pretty serious sacrifices to devote himself to this project. He didn't go looking to acquire something valuable. But once he realized what he had, he felt (and still feels) a strong responsibility to bring it to light and share it with the world. By his own account, he's also fairly obsessive, so it's his nature to keep following the rabbit hole, wherever it leads.

I relate to all of this. When I found the Manhattan Trade School report cards in that discarded file cabinet years ago, I knew had to do something with them — that was the responsibility I took on when I grabbed the cards. Frankly, given how important I think the report cards are, part of me feels a little ashamed for not having made them a full-time pursuit, the way Maloof has done with Maier's photography. I respect and admire how far he's taken this project.

Anyway: If you want to know more about Maier and her photography, look here. Meanwhile, Finding Vivian Maier is tremendous. See it!

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Researcher extraordinaire Bill Maselunas has once again tracked down the details on a photo I.D. badge employee. This time it's Fred H. Talbot, whose badge is shown above. (If you're new to the photo I.D. badge scene, you can see how I first became fascinated by the badges here, and you can see the results of Bill's two previous badge research efforts here and here.)

Here's what Bill managed to find regarding Fred Talbot:

This guy proved to be somewhat enigmatic in his adult life. Also, the research was complicated by the fact that Googling for "Fred Talbot" yields a lot of hits for the Major League Baseball pitcher of the same name and a British weatherman who was recently rung up on some unfortunate charges. Finding our Fred Talbot means eliminating a lot of results for these two guys, which can be tiresome.

I've patched together bits and pieces from a bunch of sources, including user-created family trees from, which are hit-and-miss in the accuracy department. So, lacking other rock-solid sources, I took people at their word and made a couple of guesses based on hunches below, which seem to be correct, but it's hard to be sure. Here we go:

• Born Fred (or Frederick) Parker, March 31, 1912, to John P. Parker and Maria Hortensia "Hortense" Quesada (1893-1994), also known as Maria Hortensia Quesada Aguirre Velton. Her secondary name, taken when her mother remarried, turned out to be a clue in finding Fred's place of birth (see next point).

• Fred's place of birth on census records is always listed as California. In California birth records on Ancestry, there's an entry for March 31, 1912, in Orange County under "Jno. P. Parker," with the mother's name listed as "Felton." It's not uncommon for the father to be listed in birth records of that era, and the misspelling of his mother's name would seem to be an easy one to make. That was hunch No. 1.

• Hortense married Clyde Edwin Talbot (1895-1992) on Sept. 12, 1917, in Ray, Arizona.

• Fred's middle name and initial are listed inconsistently, depending on the source. Sometimes he is "Fred E." and sometimes "Fred H." The 1945 Tacoma City Directory lists his occupation twice, once as "artist" and once as "draftsman TPS." I suspect "TPS" was for "Todd Pacific Shipyards," as shown on his badge. That was hunch No. 2.

• Sibling Lorraine H. (Parker) Talbot was born about 1915 in Ray, Arizona, and June 1978 in Washington. Unknown if she was married or had children.

• Half-sibling Clydelle Rae Talbot was born on Aug 16, 1918. in Ray, Arizona, and died on Nov. 27, 1989, in Tacoma, Washington. Married Hugo Smith (1914-2000) on May 10, 1938, in Port Orchard, Washington. Three children: Sharon Rae Smith, William T. Smith, James J. Smith.

• Fred attended Tacoma Lincoln High School, class of 1930, as seen in this yearbook page [click to enlarge]:


• His yearbook entry said he was planning to attend "Leland Stanford" University, but a search of the 1934 Stanford yearbook shows no Fred Talbot. Did he not actually go? Did he go but not graduate?

• His yearbook entry hints at his artistic side, calling him "Lincoln's Buddy Rogers." This is backed up by a clipping from The Tacoma Times that describes his furniture making and designing of theater sets:

• Unknown if he ever married or had children. Searches have turned up no obituary, though I have a request in with the Tacoma Pierce Genealogical Society to see if they can find one. Stay tuned.

• Died July 14, 1994 in Seattle. Burial unknown.

• I identified one living relative: Sharon R. Housiaux, a niece, in Puyallup, Washington. I attempted to contact her by U.S. mail but never heard back.

Great work again, Bill. I like how we can see the progression of Fred's facial development from yearbook to newspaper article to employee badge (click to enlarge):


But dang -- yet another badge employee for whom we can't find a living relative. Maybe next time.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Another day, another story about a lost class ring. This latest one, shown above, belonged to a Virginia high school student named Shannon O'Donnell, who lost it while riding an amusement park ride in 1999. It was recently found by man named James Lawrence, who returned it to Shannon's high school.

Although Shannon's name was etched into the ring's inner band, the school's staff no longer had contact info for Shannon. So they put a photo of the ring on the Facebook page for the school's alumni, which set the wheels in motion for Shannon to reclaim her ring. You can read further details in this article.

(My thanks to Beverley Brookes for letting me know about this story.)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

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About a week ago I posted about how reader Bill Maselunas had tracked down the history of the person shown in one of the photo I.D. badges I've recently been obsessing over. He's now done the same for the badge you see above. (If you missed the entry in which I introduced the topic of employee photo badges and want to get caught up on that, look here.)

Bill did all the heavy lifting here, so I'll turn this over to him:

I'm fairly certain the person shown on this badge is Alyce Katheryne Stephenson of West Chester, Ohio. The unusual spelling of Alyce's name made the research somewhat easier than it might otherwise have been (although in some places it was recorded as "Alice"). Here's what I discovered about her:

• She was born Alyce Katheryne Stephenson on Jan. 10, 1910, in Butler County, Ohio, to Samuel James (1883-1956) and Anna Katheryne (Dietiker) Stephenson (1890-1948).

• Sibling Samuel Wilbur "Bud" Stephenson was born on Sept. 30, 1914, West Chester, Ohio; died on June 26, 1935, in West Chester, Ohio; buried in West Chester, Ohio. Appears to have died tragically from an accidental, self-inflicted gunshot wound on his farm. Never married.

• Alice resided in Butler County, Ohio, for most of her life and lived in Sharonville (the location of the facility that issued her employee badge) at the time of her mother's death in 1948.

• She attended Miami University of Ohio, Class of 1931. She's shown at the bottom-left corner of this page from the school's 1931 yearbook [click to enlarge]:


As you can see, that yearbook page used an unusual variant of the spelling of her first name. But the spelling shown on her employee badge was used on this next page, where she's listed as a member of a campus women's organization. She may also be among the students shown in the group photo at the bottom of the page [click to enlarge]:

Although her employee badge was issued by the Sharonville Engineer Depot, her primary career appears to have been as a teacher and educator. She was teaching at Princeton High School in Cincinnati in 1960, and her Ohio Death Record lists her occupation as an elementary school teacher. She is cited as a contributor in this course guide.

• She died on July 21, 1996, in Mongomery, Ohio, apparently without having married or having had children. No survivors were listed in her obituary:

• Her father, Samuel, worked for various railroads, which may explain Alyce's apparently temporary employment at the Sharonville Engineer Depot, a major railroad and industrial center. It's a little hard to figure out when she worked there and why. Was it during her college summers? Part of the war effort? Given that she worked in academia all her life, it's a bit baffling to me that she would have worked there at all.

Speaking of the Sharonville Engineer Depot, it was built in 1942 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stockpile strategic metals (magnesium, titanium, zinc, etc.). The site was occupied from 1942 to 1949 by the Air Force. Of the original 603 acres, approximately 50 comprise the current Sharonville Engineer Depot, now occupied by the Defense Logistics Agency, which operates a facility known as the Sharonville Depot Defense National Stockpile Zone. The site was investigated by the EPA in the 1980s and 1990s for contaminated soil and water, but no remedial actions were taken. Some further information about the facility is available in this discussion board thread.

Research thanks to Samantha Loopstra from Ohio's amazing "Know It Now" program, available at Ohio public libraries, and to Jennifer Rusche, Reference Librarian at the Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County.

Another great research job. The only downer is that Alyce doesn't appear to have any descendants we can contact. The same was true of Martha L. Cannaday, the previous badge employee Bill had researched. I'm hoping we'll eventually be able to track down a living relative of one of the badge subjects. And with that in mind, I'm happy to report that Bill is already working on another badge history — stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Last summer, in the space of a month, I ran three separate items about messages in bottles (look here, here, and here). Now, as you can see above, we have another one. This one was recently discovered on Martha's Vineyard, where a man named Keith Moreis found it.

This one is a drift bottle — a tool used by scientists to help track the ocean's currents. People who found the bottles and followed the pink card's "Break This" instructions would find the following documents inside:

The kicker is that this may have been the very last drift bottle ever cast into the sea by the United States government. Get the full story on that here.

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The letter and money order you see above, both of which are nearly 100 years old, were found amidst a pile of mail that a Canadian man named Larry McLean recently discovered under his front porch. McLean had lived in his house for 35 years without realizing the treasures were hiding right under his nose. He found the mail when pulling out his porch during some home renovations. The letters were addressed to a family that had lived in McLean's house a century ago.

Many of the letters were sent to or from a family member who had enlisted and been sent to Europe during World War I. Get the full story here.

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The letter shown above, which carries a 1945 postmark, was recently found by a Dallas woman named Shelia Polk, who discovered it inside an old book she had purchased at Goodwill. She initially refused to open it, because the letter was "personal." But after ascertaining that both the sender and recipient were deceased — and after consulting the U.S. Postal Service, which gave the go-ahead -— she opened the envelope and found a love letter from one military member to another. Unfortunately, it appears that the couple in question never formed a lasting bond.

(My thanks to James Poisso and Jim Borwick for alerting me to these stories.)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

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I recently posted an entry about my newfound interest fascination obsession with old photo employee I.D. badges. At the end of that entry, I invited PermaRec readers to contact me if they wanted to try to suss out the stories behind any of the badges. Reader Bill Maselunas promptly volunteered to work on the one shown above, for a Wichita school matron named Martha L. Cannaday. Her badge is among the 250 that were recently exhibited at the Ricco Maresca Gallery in New York.

Before we get to Bill's findings, I should mention that Martha's badge was one of my favorites from the gallery show, and I wasn't alone in that regard — several PermaRec readers mentioned it as one of their favorites when I first wrote about the badges earlier this month. At the risk of being disrespectful to Martha, it seems pretty obvious that a big part of her badge's power is the pathos in her portrait and the way her job title — "Matron" — mirrors her matronly appearance. The discomfort I felt when writing that sentence (which you may also be feeling now that you've read it) is the karmic payback that comes with examining artifacts like the badges: We get a little voyeuristic thrill from these glimpses into other people's lives, but we also feel a bit of shame for violating their privacy and making superficial and sometimes condescending judgments about them.

So I was happy when Bill chose Martha's badge as his volunteer research project, because I wanted to be able to know more about her as a human being, not just as a mug shot on a badge. Here's Bill's report on what he found:

This has been a bit of a challenge, because Kansas has not made a lot of its public records and vital statistics available online. But Martha Cannaday is mentioned by name in this Find A Grave entry. That led me to lots of additional information, which allowed me to piece together the following:

• She was born Martha L. Tomlinson, April 27, 1919, in Kansas, to David Tomlinson Jr. and Mildred Chadbourne Tomlinson.

• Sibling Myrna M. Tomlinson was born March 22 1909, in Kansas. A nurse and a lifelong bachelorette. Died Oct. 1, 1985, and buried in Garfield Cemetery, Garfield, Kansas.

• Sibling Betty Jean Tomlinson was born June 10, 1924, in Garfield, Kansas. Died March 1, 2005, and buried in Garfield Cemetery, Garfield, Kansas. Was married to William Roy Kitchens (1923-1984). No kids that I have been able to find.

• My guess as to the date of her Wichita Public Schools badge is in the 1940s or ’50s. I've reached out to both the Wichita Public Schools and the local school museum, but no luck in tracking down any record of her employment. Her role as "matron" would basically have been that of a head nurse, which makes sense, given that her sister was also a nurse. I've checked the Wichita high school yearbooks that are available online, but again no luck.

• She died on April 19, 2007, in Kansas — likely Wichita. Garfield cemetery sexton Ray Wetzel believes he recalls a simple ceremony, attended by a single relative, with no obituary and no headstone placed. His recollection is that there was talk of buying one, but it never materialized.

• Her last known address was 5111 Funston St. in Wichita, an address shared by her sister Betty Jean, which leads me to believe they may have lived together after the deaths of their husbands.

• Martha and her sister Betty Jean both lived in Colorado at one point, perhaps in the Pueblo area. Their Social Security numbers were both issued there.

• The identity of Martha's husband is a mystery so far. Part of the problem is the inconsistent spelling of the surname. Depending on where one looks, it might be Cannaday (as shown on the badge), Canaday, Cannady, Canady, and others. This makes it somewhat challenging to say with any certainty which Cannaday is which. There are numerous male "Cannadays" of about the right age in Kansas in 1940, when Martha was still unmarried, but none in the immediate vicinity of Garfield, where the Tomlinsons (her family) lived.

• No children yet identified.

This pretty much exhausts the online resources. I have a request in at the Wichita Public Library to scan some old phone books and other records, but that could take some time.

Wow — no headstone, few if any descendants, one sister a spinster and the other a childless widow who became her roommate. If anything, this just adds to the pathos. But we still don't know about Martha's husband or marriage, and I'm hoping those provided some joy in her life.

Huge thanks to Bill Maselunas for his excellent research work (and Bill in turn wants to thank Ed Carlson, the curator of the pages for the Tomlinsons, and Ray Wetzel, the sexton at the Garfield Cemetery, for their assistance). Meanwhile, if anyone from Wichita can help us fill in some of the blanks regarding Martha and her family, please get in touch. Thanks.

Monday, March 10, 2014

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Yesterday we took a look at Rose Simone's Manhattan Trade School autograph book and then examined the report card of one of the students who had signed that book, Jennie Grillo. Today we're going to look at the student file of another student who signed Rose's autograph book, Pasqualina Guccione. Her note in Rose's book is shown above.

Pasqualina Guccione's student record is part of my collection. Unfortunately, her report card, like Jennie Grillo's, does not include a photograph, so we don't know what she looked like. But her story appears to have been an interesting one. Let's start with her main card (for all the images in today's entry, you can click to enlarge):


There are a few points of interest here. First, Pasqualina apparently preferred to be called Patricia. But she used Pasqualina when signing Rose's book, so I think I'll continue to refer to her as Pasqualina. Second, Pasqualina lived with her grandfather, Saverio Rozzo, not with her parents. Were they deceased?

But the most interesting thing about this card is the indication, toward the bottom, that Pasqualina received financial assistance from the school — "Lunches & carfare (50¢)." Student aid, based on hardship or need, was available to all Manhattan Trade School students but was usually granted only if the student's family was going to pull her out of school so she could work to help support the household. This apparently didn't come up very often, because very few of the report cards in my collection have any notations relating to the aid program. Because financial aid was granted to Pasqualina, however, her student record includes a series of forms and entries not found in most of the other students' files, beginning with this card from the school's financial aid office:


From this card we can see that Pasqualina's parents were indeed deceased (as indicated by the "dec." notations in the "Occupation" column). She lived not just with her grandfather but with both of her grandparents, along with an older sister who was working as a stenographer. She was referred for student aid by one of her teachers, Miss Meaghre. The card also indicates that Pasqualina was born in Italy, which makes her something of a rarity among the Manhattan Trade students I've investigated, most of whom were born in New York to immigrant parents. At the bottom-right corner of this card are the initials of an "Investigator" — M.A.U. This was apparently the financial aid case worker who was assigned to Pasqualina after she was referred to the aid office by her teacher. I'm fairly certain that that it was M.A.U. who wrote the fascinating entries that appear on the following cards:

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Cards like these do not appear in most of the student files in my collection. They only appear in Pasqualina's because she received financial aid. The handwriting is a little hard to make out, so here's a transcription (for the sake of clarity, I've spelled out a few terms that were abbreviated and added a few annotations):

April 2, 1925: Sent S.S. slip.

April 3, 1925: S.S. slip returned — unknown. [I don't know what this "S.S. slip" refers to. It definitely doesn't have anything to do with Social Security, which didn't yet exist in 1925. — Paul]

April 8, 1925: Visited grandmother [who was] unable to speak English. Through an interpreter learned that Mr. Rozzo [Pasqualina's grandfather] is working in a nut factory, earning about $6 or $7 weekly. Mrs. Rozzo will be glad to have Pasqualina remain in school until she graduates if it is possible. Explained that we would give lunches and carfare with understanding that Pasqualina complete course. Also, we would pay for her bloomers and smock. Grandmother agreed to this. [The bloomers and smock were likely part of either the school uniform or the togs that would be worn during gym class. Both can be seen in this amazing 1912 film about the school. — Paul)

April 8, 1925: Sent for Pasqualina and gave her $1.70 for smock and bloomers and arranged for lunch and carfare. Reported to Miss Meaghre.

June 1, 1925: Miss Gallette reports Pasqualina needs country air. [It was fairly common during this period for girls and women suffering from "exhaustion" or "a nervous condition" to be recommended for a "rest cure" outside the city. That appears to be what was happening here with Pasqualina. — Paul]

June 2, 1925: Made arrangements to send Pasqualina to N.Y. Dispensary. Telephoned to Miss Ross and explained case and sent Pasqualina with letter. [The New York Dispensary was a philanthropic medical service. Further info here. — Paul]

June 4, 1925: Pasqualina brought note from N.Y. Dispensary saying she could go on Monday [June 8] to Burke Foundation [which was another philanthropic medical facility — Paul]. Pasqualina has sufficient clothing. Reported to [illegible] and Miss Gallette.

June 22, 1925: Not taken. Miss Ross will make other arrangements.

June 28, 1925: Arranged through N.Y. Dispensary for Pasqualina to go to Sunnyside Farms, Manasquan. Secretary paid train fare out of student aid fund. Dropped from [illegible]. [Sunnyside Farms was a "respite home for convalescent girls" in Manasquan, New Jersey. You can get a sense of the accommodations from this 1951 postcard, which shows one of the bedrooms. The facility now functions as a nursing home. — Paul]

June 30, 1925: See letter.

July 1, 1925: Secretary [illegible] letter in longhand. [Unfortunately, this letter was not included in Pasqualina's student file. — Paul]

Jan. 4, 1926: Finished 6th contract. Trade F+ 40 days. [This means Pasqualina had finished her sixth unit of coursework at the school and had received a grade of F+ — a bit better than fair. — Paul] Talked to Pasqualina. She understands that unless she can improve her school work and conduct, student aid will be discontinued.

March 3, 1926: Hygiene record shows baths and underweight. Complains of getting tired in gym. Must omit coffee — use tonic. Deportment: F+.

March 11, 1926: Talked with Pasqualina. Says she is now OK in weight and will try to clear hygiene card at once. Sorry she has F+ in Deportment. Talks, she says. Will try to bring [the grade] up at once. Says grandmother very good to her. Pasqualina attends Italian evening school (Children's Aid Society), where she learns embroidery. Miss Garbarini [is her] teacher. Sister has new position with Steel Co. on Fifth Ave. Makes $21.75 weekly. ¬

May 24, 1926: Pasqualina going to farm. Bought regulation suit for her — $2.25. She thinks she can furnish everything else. [The farm is Sunnyside Farms, the same facility Pasqualina had visited the previous summer. — Paul]

June 3, 1926: Letter from Pasqualina at farm. Mrs. Lynn, of the Margaret and Sarah Switzer Foundation [the philanthropy that operated Sunnyside Farms], called to say they will take Pasqualina at Sunnyside Farms again this year if we will make out a check for board at $3 a week for two or three weeks. Then, after Pasqualina has come home, they will return check to us. They have a rule this year to take no one [for] free, but they had Pasqualina last year for several weeks [for] free and liked her so well, [so they] will be glad to have her again.

Nov. 5, 1926: Getting along well — Hygiene Good, Trade Good. Not absent or late in contracts 9 and 10.

Dec. 6, 1926: Teacher's report: Physical Training Good, Hygiene Excellent, Work Good, Attitude Good. Very willing. Has been transferred to Miss Meditz's class today.

Wow — that's quite a narrative. It really shows how the school kept close tabs on everything relating to a student who was receiving financial aid — her home life, her schooling, her health. I'm fairly certain the school was concerned about these aspects of every student who attended Manhattan Trade, but only the students receiving financial assistance had all of these details documented in so much detail.

Okay, back to Pasqualina's student record. Next up are her grades (several of which were referenced in the financial aid notes) and teachers' comments:


As you can see, Pasqualina's grades and teacher feedback were generally good, although there's a note about her being "talkative," which matches up with that earlier note about her chatty deportment.

Pasqualina, like all Manhattan Trade students, had to demonstrate proficiency in her trade (dressmaking) before she could receive her diploma, so the school's job placement office arranged some work for her. Here's her work record, along with comments from her employers:

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Nothing unusual here, except for the troubling note on March 4, 1927, that Pasqualina's grandfather had been laid off from his job, leaving her older sister as the family's sole means of financial support.

That's the end of Pasqualina's student record. The only other thing we know about her is the cheery note she left in Rose Simone's autograph book.

If Pasqualina is still alive, she'll be celebrating her 102nd birthday later this month. Realistically, though, she's probably deceased. My research assistants and I haven't previously tried to track down her descendants, or those of Jennie Grillo (the student whose record we looked at in yesterday's entry), but we may have to do some digging on them now, thanks to their connection to Rose's autograph book. Stay tuned.

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Pasqualina's and Jennie's report cards have been in my collection for years, but I had never taken a close, detailed look at them until now. Why? A big part of it is because their cards didn't include photographs — the non-photo cards seem inherently less interesting, less inviting, than the photo-inclusive cards. Also, we've largely concentrated on some of the students who would now be "younger" — i.e., in their 90s — in the hopes of finding one who's still alive. (We succeeded in that regard once.)

Really, though, a lot of it is just a matter of the large number of student records in my collection (nearly 400) and the limited amount of time and resources for examining and investigating them. In this case, there was a bonus connection — Jennie's and Pasqualina's notes in Rose Simone's autograph book. That provided the impetus to pull out Jennie's and Pasqualina's report cards and give them a closer look.

I wish I had Rose's report card as well. I'm super-grateful to her granddaughter, Sara Dunphy, for contacting me and sending me photos of the pages from the autograph book. She also sent me Rose's lovely graduation photo, which shows her holding her Manhattan Trade School diploma:


Sara also sent one additional photo — a family shot of Rose (center), Sara (top), and Sara's children. The photo was taken a month before Rose's death at the age of 102:


Thanks again for everything, Sara. And Rose, RIP.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

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It's been quite a while since I had anything to report regarding the Manhattan Trade School report cards, which are supposedly the core of the Permanent Record project (or at least that's what it says in that little description over in the right-hand sidebar). Today, however, I have some report card-related news.

I was recently contacted by a woman named Sara Dunphy, whose grandmother, Rose Simone Antonecchia, had just passed away at the age of 102. Rose had attended Manhattan Trade in the 1920s, graduating in 1927, and Sara had come across my work regarding the Manhattan Trade report cards while Googling the school's name. She wondered if Rose's student file was included in my report card collection.

I get a fair number of inquiries like these from people whose relatives attended Manhattan Trade. Occasionally I do indeed have the relative's report card. But more often I end up saying, as I did in this case, "I'm sorry, I don't have her report card," and that's usually the end of it — I never hear from the person again. This time was different, though, because Sara thought I might be interested in seeing her grandmother's Manhattan Trade School autograph book (see photos above), which she described like so:

My grandmother was evidently proud of [Manhattan Trade] and would speak of her time there often. ... She kept a special section of one bookshelf with college and high school yearbooks, and the Manhattan Trade School autograph book became her de facto yearbook from that school. ... When I was growing up, she would proudly take out the autograph book out and show it to us. She seemed to enjoy how it represented her brief independence prior to her marriage and working/family life.

Here's the best part: The autograph book, as you'd expect, features assorted notes and messages written by Rose's classmates, who of course signed their names. And some of those students are represented in my report card collection, even though Rose herself is not.

Let's start with a student named Jennie Grillo, who wrote a note and also included a really endearing self-portrait (click photos to enlarge):

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Jennie Grillo's report card is part of my collection. As longtime PermaRec readers may recall, many of the report cards included photos of the students, and I was really hoping that would be the case with Jennie's because I wanted to see how her photo compared to her self-portrait. Unfortunately, her card packet does not have a photo, but it nonetheless features lots of interesting material. Let's start with the front and back of her main card (click photos to enlarge):

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As you can see, Jennie was born in August of 1909, which means she is likely now deceased. She was of Italian descent and grew up in Brooklyn, where her father worked as a bricklayer. Like most Manhattan Trade students, she had completed the eighth grade before enrolling in trade school, where her chosen trade was dressmaking. Aside from being cited by one teacher for a "poor memory," her scholastic performance appears to have been solid. (Regarding the grades, P = Poor, F = Fair, G = Good, and E = Excellent.) It's interesting to see that two of her art grades are listed as "Museum" — not sure what that means, but perhaps she had an internship. She left the school in February of 1927.

Manhattan Trade students could not receive their diploma until they'd demonstrated a proficiency in their trade in a work setting, so the school maintained a job-placement office that helped arrange employment for the girls after they'd completed their vocational training. Many of the girls continued to use this office as a de facto employment bureau for many years after they graduated. In Jennie's case, it appears that she was referred for various jobs for nearly four years after completing her schooling, as you can see on these next two cards (click to enlarge):

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As you can see, Jennie worked primarily in dressmaking (listed as "D" in the "Trade" column), first as an assistant finisher ("Ass't Fin") and then as a finisher ("Fin"). This is typical of the Manhattan Trade dressmaking students, most of whom were place in finishing jobs. Her wages, which were primarily in the range of $18 to $20 a week, were typical as well. Also of note: Under "Reason for Leaving," you can see that the term "Slack" was frequently used. This does not mean Jennie was a slacker; rather, it indicates that the business had entered its slow or "slack" season and was therefore reducing its staff.

The final card in Jennie's file contains comments from her and from the placement office's staff, which appear in black ink, and from her employers, which appear in red (click to enlarge):


It's mostly unremarkable, but I recognize the handwriting on the little note at the top of the card — "Average. Too much makeup." That's a classic bit of critical commentary from the woman who ran the school's job-placement office at the time, Althea Kotter, who seems to have reveled in the art of the withering critique. (More of her report card comments, many of them quite entertaining, are available here, and you can learn more about her very interesting backstory by scrolling down to about the midpoint of this page.)

That's enough for today. Tomorrow: A close look at the report card of another student who signed Rose Simone's autograph book.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Photos by Ricco Maresca Gallery

I have a new obsession, and it's very PermaRec-ish. It's going to take a while to tell the whole story, so please settle in and bear with me.

It all started in January, when my friend Jack told me about a cool-sounding exhibit at the Ricco Maresca Gallery in Manhattan. The exhibit featured 250 vintage employee photo I.D. badges, primarily from the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. These were badges that many companies used to require their workers to wear for identification purposes, just as many employees nowadays have to wear laminated I.D. cards around their necks.

Vintage photo badges had never been on my radar before, but I immediately saw their appeal. For starters, they're beautiful little objects. They're also a great source of vernacular photography and portraiture. The tiny I.D. head shots offer a rich cast of faces offering a full range of humor, pathos, menace, and more, just like the head shots on the Manhattan Trade School report cards that gave birth to the Permanent Record project.

Also, the badges capture and evoke a very industrial, manufacturing-y sense of America's bygone production economy. Part of this is because many of the badges were used by industrial companies, but it's also because the badges themselves feel like industrially produced objects — a very satisfying parallel that you can see in, for example, these two badges:

badge50 badge106

The badges also reflect certain realities about the American workforce of generations past: The overwhelming majority of the photos show employees who were white and male. This isn't surprising, but it's still interesting to see.

Best of all, though, the badges represent a mother lode of stories waiting to be told. Who were these people? How did they come to be working for these companies? Were the photographers professional studio cameramen, or were they just "the guy who takes the head shots" at each company? What happened to the companies (most of which are now defunct)? Were there certain manufacturers that specialized in making the badges? And how did the badges become available on the collectibles market — like, did the employees keep them when they retired and then the badges became available at estate sales when the employees died, or did the companies keep the badges and then the badges found their way to vintage dealers after the companies went belly-up?

It took about two weeks until I was free to go check out the exhibit. But during those two weeks I became increasingly obsessed with photo I.D. badges. As I quickly discovered, there's a brisk market for them on eBay, where they can usually be found by searching on "employee photo badge" and "worker photo badge." Perfect, I thought — I'll buy a few of them and start a little collection. Unfortunately, as I also discovered, they tend to sell for at least $50, and often for considerably more than that. That was more than I was willing to spend, especially for such small items. (I mentioned this to my friend Robin Edgerton, who's very knowledgeable about various collecting subcultures. "You used to be able to get them for around $10 each," she told me, "but they went through a collector's frenzy the last few years and have gotten pricey." Dang.)

But if I couldn't afford to collect the photo badges, I could at least collect photographs of them. So I spent a few days downloading over 100 badge photos from assorted eBay auctions, just so I could look at them, study them, obsess over them. Here's the gallery I ended up with (if the slideshow below doesn't work for you, or if you'd rather see the photos as a gallery instead of a slideshow, click here):

As I looked at more and more of the badges, one thing that occurred to me (and is probably occurring to you) was that many of the employee photos looked like police mug shots. More specifically, they reminded me of the photos in Least Wanted, Mark Michaelson's amazing 2009 book of vintage police mug shots. It had been a while since I'd poked around Michaelson's Flickr page, where he posts his latest mug shot acquisitions, so I went there and discovered, to my surprise, that he has a set of employee badge photos. As I clicked through them, I saw that in 2010 another Flickr user had asked Michaelson, "Where on earth do you find them all?," to which Michaelson had responded, "I've been getting them from eBay from time to time for years now. I think I have a couple hundred." Well, at least I was on target when I saw the commonality between the mug shots and the badges, but I also started realizing that I was very late to this party.

Meanwhile, I still hadn't gone to see the gallery exhibit. I finally did so in mid-February, just before it was taken down (it's now gone, so you can't go see it yourself — sorry). After having spent a few weeks poring over photos of the badges, it was exciting to finally see the real things. They were mounted on a single row of pegs that stretched along the gallery walls (first photo by me, the other two by Ricco Maresca Gallery; click all three images to enlarge):

IMG_3471 exhibit6 exhibit5

Most of the badges were about two inches across — a bit larger than I had assumed (it was hard to gauge their size from the eBay photos, most of which had nothing to provide any sense of scale). Seeing hundreds of them lined up one after the other was mesmerizing. So many gorgeous badge designs, so many fascinating faces.

There was very little information about how the badges had been collected or arranged, but I had read that they were all from the collection of one of the gallery's owners, Frank Maresca. As I walked through the exhibit, I noticed someone sitting at a computer in an office off to the side of the gallery space, so I stuck my head in and, on a hunch, asked the guy if he happened to be Frank Maresca. He was.

I explained that I was a journalist interested in the stories behind found objects and asked if he had a few minutes to talk about the badges. He graciously agreed. I didn't record our conversation or take notes, but I've reconstructed as much of our chat as I can remember. All of this recollected dialogue should be considered paraphrasing, not direct quotation:

Permanent Record: How long have you been collecting the badges?

Frank Maresca: About five years. I started collecting them with the specific goal of creating this exhibit.

PR: Did you get most of them on eBay?

FM: A few of them came from eBay, but for the most part I put the word out to vernacular photography dealers, who were able to procure a lot of them for me.

PR: Why did you collect the badges from this particular period (i.e., the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s)?

FM: It was an incredibly eventful 30-year period — maybe the most eventful 30-year period we'll ever see, what with the Great Depression, World War II, and the rise of the postwar middle class.

PR: Have you tried to research the stories behind any of the employees shown on the badges?

FM: Several people have asked me about that. No, I haven't done anything like that. But I'm going to be doing a small book about the badges, and that kind of research might be a good to include. Maybe I'll put a few interns on that. I assume it would take a fair amount of time, though.

PR: I really like the way you arranged the badges in a single row instead of, say, in a rectangular grid.

FM: Thanks. I laid them out in a very specific sequence. As I'm sure you could see, they form a narrative, almost like frames in a movie.

PR [totally bullshitting]: Yeah, I picked up that.

In fact, I didn't discern any kind of narrative in the badge sequence. After I spoke with Maresca, I went back out in the exhibit room and looked at the badges again — still no narrative or pattern, at least that I could see. Maybe I was too dense to see what he was up to, or maybe he was up to something so esoteric that it only made sense to him. Either way, I was happy to enjoy the badges as a random collection of extremely evocative objects.

But while I wasn't able to find any narratives in Maresca's badge sequence, I'm assuming there are lots of narratives to be found within the individual badges themselves. Most of the badges just show the company's name, a head shot, and an employee I.D. number. But some of them — maybe 25% or so — also include the employee's name. I've gathered a bunch of these name-inclusive badges (some culled from eBay listings, others from the Maresca exhibit) and gathered them into their own photo set.

Once you look at the name-inclusive badges, a few interesting things become apparent. For example, it appears that at least three members of the Stump family worked for the Goshen Rubber & Manufacturing Company (click to enlarge):

IMG_3508 IMG_3493 IMG_3495

I was curious about this, so I didn't some quick Googling and learned that Goshen Rubber & Manufacturing was located in Goshen, Indiana. In 1999 it was acquired by Wynn's International, which in turn was acquired the following year by the Parker Hannifin Corporation, a New Jersey engineering company. I made a phone call to Parker Hannifin and confirmed that the Goshen plant still operates today under Parker's ownership.

I didn't know exactly when Irvin, Alice, and Elise Stump's badges were from, or how old the three Stumps were when those badges were made, but it seemed obvious that all three of them were now retired and probably deceased. I'm no whiz at this kind of research, and I don't currently have an active membership (always helpful for this kind of thing), but here's what I found with some basic Googling:

• An Irvin Stump, residing in Goshen, was listed in the 1940 census. He died in 1964, and his obituary specifically mentioned that he worked at the Goshen Rubber Company.

• An Alice Stump, residing in Goshen, was listed in the 1940 census. I was not able to find an obituary for her, but the census lists her year of birth as 1910, which means she would now be 103 or 104 years old. She's likely deceased.

• An Elsie Stump, residing in Goshen, was listed in the 1940 census. She died in 1982.

• Elsie Stump's 1940 census entry notes that her household included a Lloyd Stump — presumably her husband. A Lloyd Stump was also listed in Irvin Stump's obituary as one of Irvin's surviving brothers, and there was another surviving brother named George Stump. Although we don't have employee badges for Lloyd or George, it appears that they worked at Goshen Rubber too, because they're mentioned in the text of the decision from a 1940 lawsuit brought by the National Labor Relations Board against Goshen Rubber. Here are the two pertinent passages:

"On May 12 there appeared in the [Goshen Rubber & Mfg. Co.] plant a petition, prepared by foreman Harold Kintigh, stating opposition to any labor organization 'other than that which might be organized solely among the employees.' It was signed by 40 production employees and 6 foremen. Lloyd Stump (foreman of the trimming department) took it into the trimming room and told the employees therein that 'they could all read it and use their own judgment about signing it,' adding that he 'believed the office might approve of it.'"

"George Stump testified that Hoffman had told him that 'he believed someone caught him smoking.' There was evidence that other workmen had been discharged for smoking."

We've already seen Lloyd listed alongside Elsie in the 1940 census, which said he was born in 1899. He appears to have died in 1978. As for George, he too was listed in the 1940 census, with a birth year of 1897. I was unable to find a death notice for him, but he would now be at least 116, so I think it's safe to say he's deceased.

In short, Goshen Rubber & Manufacturing employed a whole lot of Stumps. As it turns out, the Stumps appear to have been one of the area's pioneer families, which presumably explains why there are so many Stumps currently living in Goshen. (In fact, according to this PDF from two months ago, the current president of the Goshen Redevelopment Commission is Thomas Stump.) So just about any Goshen employer is likely to have its share of Stumps. (Update: Reader Bill Maselunas, who has an account, did a little Stump family research. And reader Scott Jackson came up with a page from the 1946 Goshen city directory that shows how many Stumps were listed back then. Interestingly, the addresses for several of them are rubber companies!)

That's just the tip of the narrative iceberg that emerged from about two hours' worth of Googling regarding a few randomly chosen badges. I'm sure there's plenty more to learn about the Stumps and about Goshen Rubber, and a whole lot more to learn about the employees and employers shown on the other badges.

I hope to delve into this a bit more, time permitting. If anyone else would like to do some research, please get in touch and we can assign specific badges to specific people. I'm pretty sure there's some good stuff waiting to be discovered here.

(Special thanks to my pal Jack Kirr, who let me know about the gallery exhibit and therefore got this whole ball rolling. See what you've started, Jack?)