Saturday, October 25, 2014

Halloween Countdown - Day 6

Our postcard today features another painting by Ellen H. Clapsaddle published by the International Art Publishing Company, New York and Berlin. 

Poetry for the day comes from the pen of Fulke Greville, 1st Baron Brooke, a notable 16th century English poet, playwright, and statesman. 

In night, when colors all to black are cast, 
Distinction lost, or gone down with the light, 
The eye, watch to inward senses placed,
Not seeing, yet still having power of sight,

Gives vain alarms to the inward sense,
Where fear, stirred up with witty tyranny,
Confounds all powers, and through self offense
Doth forge and raise impossibility,

Such as in thick, depriving darknesses, 
Proper reflections of the error be. 
And images of self-confusednesses,
Which hurt imaginations only see - 
And from this nothing seen tell news of devils,
Which but expressions be of inward evils.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Halloween Countdown - Day 7

Our postcard for the day is a 1909 number from Julius Bien and Co., New York. Here is his biographical sketch from

Julius Bien (1826-1909) was a trained lithographer when he emigrated to the United States from Germany. His printing company was established in New York in 1849. His firm printed children's annuals and reproduction chromolithographs of Audubon's work. He then became a noted cartographer and produced thousands of high quality maps of the West as well as other parts of the United States. Julius Bien postcards are often colorful greetings of a comical nature such as the ones shown above, and were published in the 1900s-1910s.

Today's music comes from the The Adventures of Ichabod and Mister Toad, a Walt Disney film classic from 1949. The Ichabod adventure appeared again in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a 1955 production for the television series, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color. I turned nine years old in 1955, still the perfect age for the big event. By that year, our gang members had already been veterans at looking out for the Headless Horseman and his fiery pumpkin. Halloween in western Maryland was already an adventure with freezing winds, sometimes rain, and even heavy snow showers that roared off Lake Erie about 150 miles to the northwest. Those Halloweens were unforgettable rites of passage for us.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Johnny Carson: The King Of Late Night Television

Johnny Carson as Carnac the Magnificent

In light of Jimmy Fallon and Dennis Miller already in place as new late night television hosts, and Steven Colbert taking on the same role at CBS in 2015, it's a perfect time to mention Johnny Carson, the King of Late Night. Carson was born on this day in Corning, Iowa, in 1925. As host of The Tonight Show for thirty years, 1962-1992, he brought celebrity, entertainment, and his own brand of wacky comedy to millions of viewers. He was a major influence in the entertainment world but his impact may never be well understood or appreciated because he led a shy, guarded life beyond the studio lights. A documentary film by Peter Jones did much to open Carson's world to the public when it was broadcast on PBS as part of the American Masters series in 2012.

Here is a look at the master at work with his usual cast members and a host of notable entertainers and comedians.  The clip, known as the famous "Lost Episode", is long but it's a first-rate example of Carson at his best.

And here is Carson as one of his most beloved characters, Carnack the Magnificent:

Halloween Countdown - Day 8

Today's poem comes to us from the pen of the American editor, novelist, and satirist, John Kendrick Bangs (1862-1922). 


The ghosts of all things past parade, 
Emerging from the mist and shade 
That hid them from our gaze, 
And, full of song and ringing mirth, 
In one glad moment of rebirth, 
And again they walk the ways of earth 
As in the ancient days.

The beacon light shines on the hill, 
The will-o'-wisps the forests fill 
With flashes filched from noon;
And witches on their broomsticks spry 
Speed here and yonder in the sky, 
And lift their strident voices high
Unto the Hunter's Moon.

The air resounds with tuneful notes 
From myriads of straining throats, 
All hailing Folly Queen; 
So join the swelling choral throng, 
Forget your sorrow and your wrong, 
In one glad hour of joyous song 
To honor Hallowe'en!

Our International Art Publishing Company postcard dates from 1908 and is the work of the American illustrator, Bernhardt Wall (1872-1956). Wall was self-taught and at the height of his career was represented by as many as fifteen postcard companies. He is often called the "Postcard King" having illustrated more than 5000 cards, including a series of propaganda cards during World War I.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Halloween Countdown - Day 9

Today's post begins with a different kind of Halloween music. This country music classic reached #10 on the Billboard charts in 1974.

Our postcard is another nicely embossed 1909 issue featuring the work of Ellen H. Clapsaddle. She was the nation's leading postcard artist around the turn of the 20th century. She moved to Germany to enhance her career by working more closely with her engravers and printers. When war broke out Clapsaddle lost everything and had no way to return to the United States. After the war's end in 1918 she was found wandering as a pauper. Her American benefactors returned with her but she never recovered from the war's emotional damage and died penniless in 1934.

And here is a fitting poem about Halloween by Carl Sandburg from his Chicago Poems, 1916.

I spot the hills
With yellow balls in autumn.
I light the prairie cornfields
Orange and tawny gold clusters
And I am called pumpkins.
On the last of October
When dusk is fallen
Children join hands
And circle round me
Singing ghost songs
And love to the harvest moon;
I am a jack-o’-lantern
With terrible teeth
And the children know
I am fooling.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ben Bradlee RIP

News sources are reporting on the passing of Ben Bradlee, the truly legendary editor of the Washington Post from 1965 to 1991. Robert Kaiser said this in the opening two paragraphs of his article for the Post:

Benjamin C. Bradlee, who presided over The Washington Post newsroom for 26 years and guided The Post’s transformation into one of the world’s leading newspapers, died Oct. 21 at his home in Washington of natural causes. He was 93.
From the moment he took over The Post newsroom in 1965, Mr. Bradlee sought to create an important newspaper that would go far beyond the traditional model of a metropolitan daily. He achieved that goal by combining compelling news stories based on aggressive reporting with engaging feature pieces of a kind previously associated with the best magazines. His charm and gift for leadership helped him hire and inspire a talented staff and eventually made him the most celebrated newspaper editor of his era.

Back in 2008 I wrote a post lamenting the decline in American journalism and wishing for a return to better times:

Wouldn't it be pleasant as well as informative to see the restoration of journalism standards that dominated major media throughout most of the 20th century? At least we would know where to turn - the editorial pages - for opinion. Don't get me wrong, I know the history of American newspapers is filled with bias, partisanship, and polemic....
When I lived in suburban DC (1964-76) I devoured the Washington Post in a fit of Potomac Fever almost every day. On vacations near Romney, West Virginia, I made a 60 mile round trip just to get the Sunday edition. That's bad fever. With Ben Bradlee as editor, and the extraordinary personality of Katherine Graham as publisher, the Post became a stellar newspaper. Toward the end of their reign in the late '90s, I believe the Post overshadowed the New York Times. Today, I don't buy either one, but I do review the Post daily as one would a hometown newspaper. As for the Times, I read the obituaries. Sometimes I wonder if they have a draft notice of their own demise. God knows they need it.

And here is what I said a bit over a year ago on the purchase of the Post by Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos:

We've had our disagreements over the past six decades, but I must confess to having a serious affair with The Washington Post. Haven't been on real speaking terms with the paper for the past decade or so, still, the secret admiration burns on. It's all part of my "Potomac fever." In fact, I wrote a friend yesterday about dealing with my Post Addiction Deprivation Disorder, the fear of not having the Sunday edition of the the paper rattling in my hands at breakfast. Yes, the Internet brings me the pixels; however, nothing can replace the smell and smear of the ink on my fingers.
Yesterday's purchase of the Post by Jeff Bezos ends the Graham family era of ownership and operation of a once-great newspaper. I image millions of readers would enjoy the restoration of the quality brought to the paper by the likes of Katherine Graham, Ben Bradlee, and Donald Graham. It will be interesting to see how Bezos treats his new acquisition.... 
I wish Bezos and the Post well. As for me, the affair simply marches on.

The affair marches on because journalists like Bradlee took enormous risks forging the paper into the nation's newspaper of record and setting journalistic standards recognized throughout the world. No question he left quite an impression on the American experience making 20th century journalism informative, investigative, and entertaining. Today's new journalism carries on much of what he did in a totally different environment. Whether or not that journalism can return successfully to a large corporate setting is a question for the future. Either way we can thank Ben Bradlee for getting it right. Spot on right.

Halloween Countdown - Day 10

In 1910 the mysterious "Katherine" mailed the postcard below from Camden, New Jersey, to my great uncle, Charles, who at that time lived in the railroad town of Piedmont, West Virginia. The family archives hold scores of postcards from Katherine but never reveal if she and Charles were more than friends. She did include a "friendly" message:

Dear Friend, Charles: I sincerely hope you are enjoying life to the full extent. I suppose you will be out for mischief tomorrow night. Halloween is always the biggest night in the year for me. Katherine

Today's music is perfect for spooky owls, fearful cats, and flying bats. Witches, too.