Thursday, October 22, 2015

Good Doggie: Pooch Finds Message in Bottle

The dog shown above is named Sheba, and she recently did something many of us have dreamed about doing: She found a message in a bottle.

It happened when Sheba and her person, a Britisher named Idris Martin, were recently walking on a beach in Weymouth, England. Sheba, who likes to chase bottles, came up with the prize. Martin examined it and found notes and drawings that had been deposited in the bottle 14 months earlier by three children in Lozenets, Bulgaria:

Based on the children's location, tthe bottle had to travel a fairly remarkable 3,500-mile route in order for Sheba to find it on the beach in Weymouth:

Martin has written to the email address listed on the note but has so far not received a response. Further info is available in this article (which, somewhat incredibly, was written by someone named Stephen Messenger).

(Big thanks to reader David Sonny for letting me know about this one.)

Trying to Unlock the Mysteries of Old Polaroids

Click to enlarge

We know the date when this Polaroid was taken — Nov. 18, 1978 — and we know it shows a child named Nuchie and her father. But who were they, and where was the photo taken, and by whom?

Zun Lee doesn't know. The photo, which he purchased on eBay, is one about 3,500 discarded and found Polaroids that he's accumulated, all of them showing African American families in everyday situations. He's interested in documenting black life, but he's also fascinated by the question of how these photos became separated from their owners in the first place. In this excellent New York Times story and accompanying slideshow, he describes the photos like so:

There looms over them that question of dislocation and dispossession that made these images available to us. What are the circumstances that allow families to lose these images? It cannot be a good circumstance. You can possibly conjecture a history of gentrification, foreclosures. Some of the stories may not be so grave, maybe they just wanted to get rid of them. In any case, there are a multitude of interesting stories you could conjecture [regarding] how these images are available to us.

I'm sure most of us who are fascinated by found photographs have gone through that same thought process. How did these photos become orphaned and end up in this flea market (or scattered in an alleyway, or up for sale on eBay, or whatever)? Didn't anyone want to keep them?

Lee is trying to answer those questions through a new project called Fade Resistance, via which he hopes to use social media to help find the people and families shown in the photos and then return the Polaroids to them. It has the potential to be an amazing project — I'll be rooting for him.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Curious About George

My friend Miriam recently came across this 1968 Hunter College High School yearbook on the sidewalk in front her Manhattan apartment building. Knowing my fondness for old documents, she nabbed it and later gave it to me.

I have two much older brothers who graduated high school in 1966 and 1970, respectively. Their yearbooks were floating around the house when I was growing up, and I was always poring over them, so there were lots of things about this 1968 Hunter High yearbook that felt very familiar to me — the hairstyles, the eyeglass designs, the references to the Vietnam War. But as I was flipping through the pages, one spread caught my eye (click to enlarge):

Let's take a closer look at that photo at far-right:

Here we have George, who, judging by his uniform and the setting, appears to have been an elevator operator. (The arched lettering above his jacket pocket begins "Hunter," and then the rest of it is obscured.) He doesn't get a description, or even a last name — he's just George.

I suspect George's one-name appellation was a reflection of the affection the students had for him, and I further suspect the yearbook editors thought it was an act of kindness to include him in the yearbook alongside the school's faculty. But there's something very condescending about that, and something quietly horrifying about George being consigned to the role of the smiling darkie who goes about his menial duties without so much as a surname. (I found only one other black person depicted in the entire yearbook — a student named Diane Barnes. Update: A commenter who is apparently an alumnus points out that there are indeed several black faculty members depicted in the yearbook. Mea culpa.)

Who was George? Is he still alive? Assuming he was at least 40 years old when the photo was taken (a conservative estimate, I'd say), he'd now be in his late 80s or 90s. Still, Hunter College High School still exists on Manhattan's Upper East Side, and it has an active Alumni Association. I haven't yet contacted them (life and work have both been extremely busy lately), but I'll be doing so shortly to see if they can fill in any of the blanks. At the very least, George deserves to have a last name. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Treasures in the Attic

The love letters and envelopes you see above were recently found by an Atlanta woman named Gina Teliho, who discovered them in the rafters of a house she was renovating. The postmarks on the envelopes were from 1915 -- 20 years before the house had even been built. How did the letters end up there?

Teliho posted photos of the letters on Facebook and asked if anyone recognized the names of the letter writer (Norman T. Arnold) or the recipient (Hannah Arnold). After a series of good breaks and some productive research, she eventually made contact with a man named Kelly Arnold, the grandson of her house's original owner, Paul T. Arnold, who was the son of Norman T. Arnold -- the man who wrote the letters.

It's not clear how the letters ended up in the house, but they may have been heirlooms that were passed from father to son and somehow got left behind. In any case, Teliho has given them to Kelly Arnold — the great-grandson of the letter writer — who's happy to have this set of family artifacts that he didn't even know existed until now.

Further info on this story is available here.

(Big thanks to Chris Flinn for letting me know about this one.)

Friday, October 2, 2015

What Would You Do If You Found a Paper Airplane on the Street?

What you see above is a paper airplane that was found by the bohemian eccentric Harry Smith (best known for his highly influential Anthology of American Folk Music). As you can see, Smith annotated the plane with particulars of where and when he found it: Fifth Avenue between 17th and 18th Streets in New York City, and Sept. 6, 1978.

This is one of about 250 paper airplanes that Smith found, kept, and catalogued from 1961 through 1987. They're currently on file at the Getty Research Institute, which acquired Smith's papers after his death.

At first glance, paper airplanes don't seem as evocative as old snapshots, messages in bottles, or most of the other found objects we've discussed here on Permanent Record, because they don't have anyone's name or image on them. But some of them still have interesting stories to tell. Take this plane, for example:

That plane was made from a flier describing the view from the top of the Empire State Building. Smith found it near the skyscraper in 1968 — someone probably launched it from the observation deck.

And then there's this one:

As you can see, that one is a connect-the-dots illustration of a child, captioned, "Oh! How I wish I could fly, There's so much to see from the sky." How perfect is that for a paper airplane?

For more on Smith's collection of paper airplane finds, look here.

(Special thanks to my friend Miriam Sicherman for letting me know about this one.)