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.