Saturday, April 16, 2022

Freaky Victorian Easter Cards II

Victorian holiday cards, whether Christmas or Easter, can be counted on to be bizarre or sentimental--and for the most part, secular. While frogs (for some inexplicable reason) in Christmas cards are experiencing mishaps and doing foolish things, in Easter cards, not surprisingly, rabbits and chicks are featured, for better or worse.

     A very large, well-dressed rabbit proposes to an oddly proportioned girl. Did she accept? 

 A hen with color-coordinated dress and umbrella chases away a bunny. Was he trying to take away her eggs?

                                  Bang! In this German card, a chick blasts away at a rabbit.

There's not much joy for this female chick in a guardhouse with broken eggs spilled on the ground. The chick soldier is wearing a Pickelhaube, a German style helmet from that period. Hmm.

                                     Rabbits smoking flowers in egg bowls. *cough*

    Easter bunnies drop their egg basket when bees and mud-slinging frogs attack them.

                             Cherubic babies go at Easter eggs with hammers. Take that!

 Storks don't bring babies, bunnies do, in eggshells. No message on the sign. We, too, are left speechless.

An injured Jewish chick hobbles to his egg-home. Attacked by Gentiles?

 Very bizarre: Injured rabbits pushing a severely wounded one come across a small one slumped on a road marker. Were they shot by gun-toting chicks?

'Want to see more vintage cards? Check out this BBC article, "The Odd World of Victorian Easter Cards":"The Odd World of Victorian Easter Cards"

Happy Easter! 'Hope it's not too weird. 

Friday, December 31, 2021

Weird Victorian New Year's Cards

 As we reach the end of 2021, most of us will have to admit that the past two years have been hard to navigate sometimes. Now, on the eve of 2022, it behooves us to put aside the onerous politics, weather disasters, and pandemic worries afflicting us today and consider some of the passing strange new year's greetings that the Victorians sent.

Wishing you a bright and glad new year--unless you're a fox, in which case we'll rip you to shreds.

What the heck dinosaurs examining a picture of a man has to do with "compliments of the season" beats me.

 Here's one that some of us might relate to, a man afflicted with various maladies. Happy, happy!
Take this, old man! Become vegetarian, or else!

What's with the frogs in Victorian cards? These three are bowling towards a clock striking midnight, using mushrooms as pins.

                                                                    Hi, I'm Satan!

Many of these cards have food and eating as a theme. Some are strange and horrifying.

                                Polar bear having an Inuit entree for supper. Yum, yum.

     Woman making boy soup for supper. Note the legs of another child sticking out of the kettle.

                                                            Roast rat for the elves. 

                     Rats are apparently very useful to elves for food and transportation.

                               The tables turned: rats eat cat, with new potatoes on the side.


A hairy root vegetable wishes you a happy new year.

                                   Fly away! The new year spider is out to devour you.

                                      Ready to take a train to oblivion? They were in 1889.

                            Compliments of the season to you! And a happy, healthy 2022.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

World Series Game 7: "The Greatest Game Ever Played" October 13, 1960

            "Just to hit the ball an' touch 'em all, a moment in the sun
                It's a-gone and you can tell that one goodbye." 

                                                                    -John Fogerty "Centerfield"

For those who experienced them, some events are indelibly etched into our memories: the Kennedy assassination, the September 11th terrorist attacks. We remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we heard they happened. For me, there's another event that's unforgettable, as it undoubtedly is to thousands of other Pittsburghers who witnessed it: Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.

During the late 1950s, I followed in the footsteps of my grandfather, George W. Busch, one of the Pirates' biggest fans in their first half-century. As I described in Darkness Visible, as a teenager, he played Pittsburgh sandlot baseball--which is where he met Honus Wagner. Dad told me about the time when Wagner came to dinner at the house on 21st Avenue. It was one of Dad's unforgettable moments.

                                                                 Honus Wagner

 Grandpap became a master machinist in the USSteel Homestead Workers; Wagner became one of baseball's greatest players. Grandpap always kept connected to baseball through his organizing and support of mill teams. He went to every Pirate opener (save one). In his father's later years, Dad would drive him to Oakland, park over by Carnegie Tech, and they'd walk the mile or more over to Forbes Field, Grandpap matching strides with Dad. The remaining season's games he'd listen to sitting in his chair by the console radio. More than once, I remember him waking, startled, after he dropped off to sleep during a dull inning. "I was just resting my eyes," he'd say.

One day in the mid-1950s, Dad noticed retired Pirate Hall of Famer, Pie Traynor, across the street from the Katilius store on 8th Ave, Homestead, promoting car sales at Toohey Ford. He took me over to meet Traynor. I was surprised that Traynor recognized him and inquired about Grandpap. It was then I realized that Grandpap had a lot of history with Pittsburgh baseball.

Dad was not as thrilled with baseball as his father. A photo of the US Steel 1919 Mechanics baseball team (a photo circulated locally during the '90s), shows Grandpap at left center and grumpy Dad as bat boy. Dad told me that he was miserable being bat boy, and he resented being dragged to these adult games.

I was not such a big Pirates fan as my grandfather, but during the years running up to the '60 World Series, I became devoted to the team. On May 29, 1959, I stayed up past 11 on a school night to listen to the play-by-play of what many have called "the greatest game ever pitched." Pirate pitcher Harvey Haddix pitched 12 2/3 no-hit innings against the Milwaukee Braves when a teammate's error allowed the Braves to score. The loss was heartbreaking, and I was dragging the next day at school. But it was worth it to live through that cliffhanger of a game.

                                                 Harvey Haddix on the pitcher's mound.

My dad would sometimes take me and couple of friends to Forbes Field, where we bought 99-cent tickets to watch the game from the bleachers. I definitely watched more games from there than from anywhere else in the stands. The view of the field was pretty good, and you could watch the pitchers warm up right in front of the section.

                                Left field, Forbes Field, 1920s, bleachers visible at top center.

The 1960 season was a dramatic and uncanny one for the Pirates. As the season progressed, the Pirates wracked up a number of unbelievable come-from-behind wins, for example, the second game of an Easter double-header at Forbes Field with the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates were behind 5-0 in the bottom of the ninth. but rallied to win 6-5 with a pinch-hit three-run homer by Hal Smith and a two-run walk-off shot by Bob Skinner, who was down to his last strike.

 “We came from behind so many times that year that it was unbelievable,” backup catcher Bob Oldis said. “Somebody always got a big hit in the seventh or eighth inning, whether it was Groat, Skinner or (Roberto) Clemente. They knew what they had to do to win.” [as quoted in "Sixty Years Later" Trib Live, Oct. 10, 2020]

       I still have my program from the Series. A friend whose father had connections with the Pirates got me a ball signed by the 1960 team. Years later, my mother, not realizing its significance, threw it in the trash.

By the time the World Series started on October 5th, Pittsburghers, always passionate sports fans, were psyched up. Game One, Forbes Field: Pirates 6, Yankees 4. But the next day at Forbes Field, the Yankees totally creamed the Pirates,16-3. 

At Yankee Stadium on the 8th, the Yankees once again humiliated the Pirates, 10-0 , although the next day the Pirates came back with a 3-2 squeaker. In Game Five in Yankee Stadium, with Harvey Haddix on the mound, the Pirates beat the Yankees 10-5. Back in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, the Yankees once again shut out the Pirates, 12-0.

So by Game Seven, on Thursday, the 13th, Pirates fans were in a frenzy. It was do-or-die day. At Munhall High School, students, staff, and faculty were restlessly waiting for the game to start at 1 p.m. The high school principal, Homer Beggs (good baseball first name), realizing that little work would be done that afternoon, let out school after lunch. 

       Pittsburgh native shortstop Dick Groat, whose sister Elsie taught in the Munhall schools 

Some people listened to the game on radios; some started walking home. Someone got hold of a console TV and set it up on the stage in the school auditorium. It was ridiculous--this little screen in an auditorium designed for plays and choir concerts. But about fifty or so people crowded in the front center section to watch the game unfold.  Because my dad was a teacher who had to stick around until the official end of school, my friends Joyce, Barbara, and I, who rode home with him, joined the group at the back of the section.

     Meeting in Munhall High School Auditorium, 1950s--Photo courtesy Borough of Munhall 

The game was already underway by the time we started to watch. I really can't remember many of the specifics of those last innings. (Read a full account of the game here: The Greatest Game Ever Played.) What I do remember is losing hope when the damn Yankees in the top of the 8th inning scored two runs, pulling ahead by three, with only 6 outs to navigate. The Pirates, however, in true comeback form, managed to score five runs in the bottom of the 8th, moving ahead 9-7. The Yankees were not going to take that lying down. In the top of the 9th, they scored another two runs, tying the score.

The auditorium--and Forbes Field--was filled with electric anticipation when, in the bottom of the 9th, Pirates' second baseman Bill Mazeroski stepped up to the plate. One ball. No strikes. At 3:37 p.m. Mazeroski swung hard, and crack! the ball sailed out in a long, beautiful arc over the left field wall. As David Schoenfield comments, "It was a massive blast. Forbes Field was massive to left field -- 365 feet down the line and 435 feet to the flagpole in deep left-center field. As Berra turns around to chase the ball, you can see it fly over the 406 marker carved out in the ivy. Considering the 18-foot wall it flew over, Mazeroski's home run must have traveled 430 feet or so."[ESPN, Oct.10, 2010]

As leftfielder Yogi Berra and the other Yankees watched the ball go over the wall in stunned disbelief, Mazeroski ran the bases, crossing home plate. The Pirates had won 10-9.

On the field, the Pirates went crazy. In the stands, people cheered and danced with joy. In the Munhall auditorium, we stood up, jumped around, cheered, and hollered. We came outside into the sunshine of that beautiful October day and saw the kids in the school buses leaning out the windows, shouting and cheering, as they pulled away. 

People got into cars and drove into the city to celebrate. Others rode buses and streetcars. The party went on a long, long time. But although the celebration was large and boisterous, it never degenerated into the free-for-all destructive sprees that have marred more recent sports celebrations. 

Blue-collar Pittsburgh had beaten the haughty New York Yankees.

Forbes Field is gone; Munhall High School is gone. Many of the players who played that October afternoon are gone. But the game will be remembered as long as baseball is played.

                                                 Celebrating in downtown Pittsburgh

"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball." - French-American Historian, Jacques Barzun

Video: Game Seven Highlights                                  

John Fogerty "Centerfield": A wonderful compilation of black-and-white footage of baseball in the years up to the 1970s, including a clip of Mazeroski, #9, sending the ball over the left field wall, and the fans and players going crazy after.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Tales from the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

      "There was a little girl, and she had a little bird,
         And she called it by the pretty name of Enza;
         But one day it flew away, but it didn't go to stay,
       For when she raised the window, in-flu-Enza."
                                                                          --Children's rhyme, late 1800s 

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, daily we are hearing stories of suffering, selfishness, and mismanagement--yet others of courage, compassion, and self-sacrifice. With most of us at home during the day, we are glued to the computer and TV screens, watching these stories unfold. It's a roller coaster ride of emotions, from horror to inspiration, to see the images of people and places around the world affected by the pandemic.
The famous photo taken at an army hospital at Camp Funston, Kansas, filled with the first victims of the 1918 influenza pandemic.--Photo: Museum of Health and Medicine

During the ongoing stay-at-home directive, I've been entertaining and educating myself by reading The Great Influenza:The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M. Barry (Penguin 2004). I bought it and started reading it when it came out, but got distracted. I've read the first three sections so far, and it's fascinating, yet horrifying reading.

Some chilling facts from these sections:
--Somewhere between 50 million and 100 million fatalities are estimated worldwide.

--In April 1917 when the U.S. entered the war that had been raging in Europe for three years, the Wilson administration clamped down brutally on critics. It demanded "100% Americanism," launching an extensive propaganda campaign.

--Despite being called the Spanish flu, the disease likely first emerged in Haskell County, Kansas, farm country. It is the first recorded outbreak.

--Dr. Loring Miner (a graduate of my grad school alma mater, Ohio University) became alarmed in January 1918 in Kansas about a particularly virulent strain of flu that was circulating. He contacted the U.S. Public Health Service, which did nothing, and the regional newspaper, which suppressed the story, worried about hurting morale in wartime.

Graves of 100 wounded American soldiers who died of flu in Devon, England (March 1919)--Photo: (British) National Archives

"[T]hrough both intimidation and voluntary cooperation, despite a stated disregard for the truth, the government controlled the flow of information.
  The full engagement of the nation would thus provide the great sausage machine [i.e. the war] more than one way to grind a body up. It would grind away with the icy neutrality that technology and nature share, and it would not limit itself to the usual cannon fodder."--Barry, p.132

Look familiar? 1918 headline, Kansas. Image: U of Kansas Medical Center
Between September 14, 1918 and November 10, 1918, 27,789 Americans died in the war, while 82,306 died of the flu. No one in my parents' immediate family died. My mother, who was only two at the time, had no recollection of the pandemic. My dad, however, remembered it vividly.

Dad was 11, living with his parents and two sisters in the house on 21st Avenue, Munhall. His oldest sister, Frances, was living with her husband, expecting their first child (Gilbert "Gib" Breakwell). One by one, everyone on 21st Avenue came down with the flu--except Dad. His older sister Estella was especially sick. Frances wanted to come over to help, but Grandma, concerned about Frances and her unborn child, absolutely refused her help. So it fell to my father to care for the other four members of the family.

He recalled being very worried about Estella, who lay at death's door for a couple of days. His mother was also worried, but was too ill herself to get out of bed. Dad acted as nurse, bringing fluids and food, helping as best he could with his mother's direction.

Those were strange days. Dad, cooped up in the house, read a lot. At night, he'd sit at the rear of the house, watching crews carrying the dead in horse carts to the cemetery one short block away on 22nd Avenue. They carried lanterns, burying the bodies hastily, without ceremony--the proper burials to be postponed till the plague passed. Dad said it was an eerie sight as night after night, in the autumn darkness, the crews came to the cemetery on their grim errand.

[Note: Mary Anne Lacey Talarek adds this 1918 story from Munhall: "My dad told the story of how a man with a horse drawn wagon came up their street telling people to put their dead on the wagon."]
A funeral in St. Mary's Cemetery, corner of 22nd and West, in 1976. The Busch family home was two houses from the corner on 21st Avenue in 1918, with a clear view of both St.Mary's and Homestead (Protestant side) Cemeteries. (Photo: Ed Busch)

In Pittsburgh, people were dropping like flies during the worst months of October and November 1918.
"Pittsburgh suffered terribly during the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the area had one of the highest, if not the highest, death rates from the flu of any city in the nation with 4,500 people dying and an astonishing rate of someone catching the flu every 70 seconds and someone dying from it every 10 minutes." (Janice Palko, "Pittsburgh Flu Epidemic of 1918")

During the 1918 pandemic, Pittsburgh was among the last cities to intervene in controlling the spread of infection. Authorities waited until a week after the flu deaths spiked to impose a gathering ban and close schools. To make matters worse, they lifted the ban shortly thereafter. In a 2007 study published in the Journal of American Medicine, Pittsburgh ranked last (that is, having the most) in the number of excess deaths, with 807 per 100,000 people.

In Winfield Township, Butler County, north of the city, is a cemetery of unmarked graves. Immigrant workers in the limestone and other industries are buried in this cemetery, with one to five bodies in each grave. No one knew who these men were, and their families probably never knew their fate.

Neighbors on 21st Avenue died from the epidemic, as did many other residents of Homestead and Munhall, but all five members of the Busch family survived, as did Frances and Jack Breakwell.
A parade marking the end of the war in Pittsburgh, November 1918. An official celebration followed--as did a spike in flu cases. Photo: Western Pennsylvania Historical Society

The other family story is set one thousand miles west of Pittsburgh, on a farm in Sergeant Bluff, Iowa. My daughter Ceridwen passed on this story told by her paternal grandfather, C.H.Christensen, known as "Chris" in his adult years. The son of Scandinavian immigrants, he was named after a close friend and neighbor, Clarence Holmen. Chris was 6 years old during the 1918 pandemic. He contracted the flu, and it hit him hard. As he lay gravely ill, hovering between life and death, he heard the low, disembodied voices of his parents talking in the next room. He realized that they were very sad. Clarence had died. In his feverish delirium, he thought they were talking about him. "I must be dead," he mused, then lapsed into semiconsciousness. Of course, when he recovered, he realized that they had been talking about his namesake, Clarence Holmen.

C.H. Christensen, around nine years old. He became a family doctor practicing in Duluth, Minnesota. At his memorial service, a former partner said that Dr. Christensen holds the record for most babies delivered in St. Louis County. (Photo courtesy Tore Christensen)

History provides us with cautionary tales and describes to us what can happen during a pandemic to the unprepared or willfully blind. But history also provides solace and hope. The 1918 Great Influenza finally ran its course, ending 18 months after it began. COVID-19 will run its course, too--but the world will never be the same.

Keep the faith. Be excellent to each other.

--Digital poster by Muhammed Aiwad K
Thanks to the doctors, nurses, EMTs, medical personnel and police officers out on the front lines.
Thanks to the truck drivers, ship and railroad crews, and grocery store workers keeping us stocked with food and other supplies.
Thanks to the cleaners making stores safer to shop in.
Thanks to the agricultural and manufacturing workers providing necessary supplies and food.
Thanks to media and communications personnel for keeping us informed.
Thank you all for your service.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Christmas Trees I Have Known

Der Christbaum ist der schönste Baum         The Christmas tree is the most beautiful tree
Den wir auf Erden kennen                             That we know on earth.
                                                                                      --Johannes Carl, 1842 

Christmas trees have always been a central part of my family's holiday celebrations. My earliest memories of Christmas morning are of tiptoeing down the cold stairwell (my dad hadn't yet gotten up to stoke the coal-burning furnace) and peeking around the corner into the living room. At the far end in the faint light of dawn was the tree and under it were two or three unwrapped presents brought by Santa. So magical!
Centuries ago, pagans in northern Europe brought evergreen trees inside their homes around the winter solstice. The arrival of winter brings with it a monochromatic landscape, and who doesn't need a bit of color during these dark, cold months?
A "Wilder Mann" pagan tree costume (Photo by Charles Fréger)

The celebration of Jesus's birth around the time of the winter solstice is, as are so many feast days in the church calendar, an assimilation of an already-existing tradition. Shepherds are out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night during the spring lambing season, not in December. And we all know that taxes are due in April.

We have the Germans in the 16th century to thank for making the evergreen tree into the modern Christmas tree.  Hungarian-Austrian composer Franz Liszt called his suite of 12 short pieces, some based on Christmas carols, Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas Tree). The symbolism of the evergreen tree in the context of the Christian Nativity makes perfect sense: light in darkness, life in death.
The choir of First Baptist Church, Edmond, OK, arranged as a Christmas tree

The traditional German Christmas tree is the Tannenbaum, the fragrant fir. My mother insisted that the fir is the only "real" Christmas tree. Sometimes she and I tested my father's patience in our quest for the perfect tree--which definitely wasn't a pine. One particularly grueling search I remember was through the tree lot set up in the Second Ward Schoolyard in Homestead, one block over from the Katilius store. It seemed it took many hours to select a tree as we stamped around with frozen feet in the snowy brick yard, examining one after the other. Eventually we settled on one, but I can't remember a thing about it, except that it was a fir, and perfect.

Opening presents with Mum, 1949. The tree is, of course, an old-fashioned fir.
When I was older, my dad bought an electric train set, a crazy one made of metal cars with a locomotive that had a red light. Around the base of the tree the train went as I manually switched it to take the one alternate track, then back to the main track. [When I cleaned out the Minneapolis house, I was delighted to find a little girl who had asked for a train for Christmas. Her parents got my old train and set it up under the tree to surprise her Christmas morning. And it still worked.]
Our cocker spaniel Watson is disappointed that there's no train to chase under the tree (1980s).

One year disaster struck when my cocker spaniel Buffy arrived on the scene and pounced on the train as it circled the tree. Crash, down came the tree, breaking a number of ornaments. One of these was "Happy Hooligan", an Edwardian cartoon character that Dad was particularly fond of. My dad had saved several ornaments from his childhood pre-World War I, and after the second tree felling, all but one of these had been broken. The lone survivor was the Liberty Bell, which hangs on my tree today.
Liberty Bell ornament, center, c. 1910. To its left is a drum I made at school from milk bottle caps.
The Busch family church, St. John's (now merged with St. Mark's) Lutheran in Homestead carried on the German tradition of placing undecorated evergreen trees around a large creche to the left of the altar. For the midnight service on Christmas Eve, the sanctuary was lighted by candles placed on tall sticks at the end of the pews--a lovely vision of light shining in darkness.
The Nativity window in St. Mark-John's, made in Germany, c. 1915

My grandfather, George W. Busch, told this Christmas story of his youth in East Liberty, Pittsburgh.  His parents, German immigrants, had a tight holiday budget for their nine children. My grandfather, the oldest, recalled his father making a Christmas tree by drilling holes in a broomstick, then placing sticks in them. (This is part of a scene in Darkness Visible.) The parents hung goodies on the tree, but these didn't last very long. As my dad told the story, by 5:30 a.m. the seven Busch boys had decimated everything edible on the "tree" and left the parlor in shambles.

Another of my Grandfather Busch's trees, was the one in the Machine Shop in the US Steel Homestead Works. This photo shows my grandfather admiring the big, tinsel-laden tree the year before he retired as shop superintendent, 1938.
Getting a tree has always been a Big Deal for me. I can't remember a Christmas without one. In her later years my mother, perhaps having burned out on the quests for the perfect tree, would get a huge poinsettia as a substitute. This is not good enough for me.
Excitement selecting a tree at the Minneapolis Farmers Market with my son-on-law Richard, 2009.
A Mid-Mod Christmas Eve by the tree in Munhall, PA, 1960.
When I lived in Duluth in 1969, before Christmas I went showshoeing with friends out in the woods north of the city. One guy's hippie girlfriend brought cranberries, bits of orange, and popcorn strung together "for the little people who live in the swamp." She painstakingly hung the treats on a swamp spruce while we watched, bemused. As we showshoed away, we looked back and saw Trinket, the golden retriever, jumping up and gobbling down the food, string and all. In about a minute, the entire tree was stripped.

As I did years before in Pittsburgh, in Minneapolis my kids also would come down the cold staircase in the foyer to see what Santa left under the tree on Christmas morning.
Daughters by the tree in the front parlor, Christmas 1981
Under a tall, skinny tree in the front parlor with dogs Watson and Minnie, late 1980s.

Our Minneapolis house, built in 1885, had high ceilings, but scant floor space. I always tried to find a tall, skinny tree, but rarely succeeded. In 2013, overwhelmed with nostalgia (for something I never did), I decided take my border collies, Kip and Viggo, and pull my old sled over to the local hardware store and bring a tree back to the house. I selected a 9-foot Fraser fir and tied it to the sled. What I hadn't anticipated, however, was the reaction of my dogs to having this scary green thing following us on the way back. Kip, completely freaked out, kept trying to bolt into the street. The tree fell off the sled three times in the three blocks to the house. But eventually we made it to the house, and the tree was set up between the parlors.
Viggo eyeing the tree suspiciously in the back yard.
The tree, set up and decorated.
This year my daughter Ceridwen and her family and I went to a local Duluth tree farm to get a freshly-cut tree.  After circling the farmyard three times, I chose a spruce that looked small enough to fit into my house.  The Duluth house, like the Minneapolis one, has lots of overhead clearance, but not much floor space in the living area.  It came as a disappointment--but no surprise--to find that the tree was much larger than it appeared at the farm. So it's squeezed between the patio doors and the dining table, crowding out one space at the table. Perhaps we'll just have to set a place for the tree on Christmas Eve. Or not.
O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum, du kannst mir sehr gefallen!

                                            O Christmas tree, you please me very much! 

Wreaths, angels, stars, bells, holly, gifts, lights and candles, deer--all of these are beautiful Christmas symbols. But for me the evergreen Christmas tree, with its fragrance, lights, and colorful decorations, is best of all.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!  

The Vienna Boys' Choir sing "O Tannenbaum"
German Santa with tree, early 20th century (Image, Brian L. Bossier Collection)