The Snake Handlers of Harlan, KY

In light of the recent death of a religious snake handler here in the United States, I share with you an International News Photo from October 23, 1947 of snake handler W. H. Edmonds holding aloft a poisonous timber rattlesnake during a worship service in Harlan, KY. Though outlawed, the practice obviously continues today in some remote regions of the United States.

Photo collection of John and Teenuh Foster



The Snowmobile as Envisioned in 1924


Armstead Snow Motors from Seeking Michigan on Vimeo.

WHEN I FIRST WATCHED THIS VIDEO, from an old 16mm film made in 1924, I was stunned. For the last 100 years, American ingenuity and know-how has been a leader in the industrial world. From backyard tinkerers to garage inventors to larger productions—there’s nothing like the freedom of the entrepreneurial spirit to spur a new idea. My father once told me the story of the trouble American tanks had during WWII in the hedgerows of France. The tanks could not negotiate the thick, thousand year old hedges until a ordinary soldier—a farm-boy from back home—suggested welding to the front of the tank steel prongs—which was able to virtually rip their way through the underbrush. Problem solved… a simple solution to a serious situation.

What an ingenious idea to a crippling problem before the small, fast and streamlined snowmobiles of today. The concept is a little bit like Buck Rogers, a futuristic design below a Ford tractor.

And then I wondered why the concept never went any further? Perhaps the idea lacked backers. Perhaps there were design problems this “PR film” did not display, or perhaps the concept vehicle sat stagnant until the 1929 stock market crash doomed its production.

To my knowledge, the U.S. military did not have any kind of snowmobile vehicles during the fierce winters in Belgium and Germany in WWII in the early 1940s. I do recall seeing pictures of trucks and jeeps being stuck in and dug out of snowdrifts, troops walking alongside. While it’s not such a peaceful thought, think of this baby multiplied by 200 with a couple of machine guns mounted on the front—leading a frontal assault during the Battle of the Bulge. Wild! Or, think of it being used to move supplies or injured troops to and from the front lines. It seems to me that the military would have funded this concept in a heartbeat.

So, where did this (seemingly) great industrial design go? I don’t know.

This old silent film is about 10 minutes long, but I guarantee you’ll watch every bit of it—in awe.




Vilet Lester: A Slave Letter from 1857

(Above is actual letter, below is translation):

Georgia Bullock Co August 29th 1857

My Loving Miss Patsy

I hav long bin wishing to imbrace this presant and pleasant opertunity of unfolding my Seans and fealings Since I was constrained to leav my Long Loved home and friends which I cannot never gave my Self the Least promis of returning to. I am well and this is Injoying good hlth and has ever Since I Left Randolph. whend I left Randolf I went to Rockingham and Stad there five weaks and then I left there and went to Richmon virgina to be Sold and I Stade there three days and was bought by a man by the name of Groover and braught to Georgia and he kept me about Nine months and he being a trader Sold me to a man by the name of Rimes and he Sold me to a man by the name of Lester and he has owned me four years and Says that he will keep me til death Siperates us without Some of my old north Caroliner friends wants to buy me again. my Dear Mistress I cannot tell my fealings nor how bad I wish to See you and old Boss and Mss Rahol and Mother. I do not [k]now which I want to See the worst Miss Rahol or mother I have thaugh[t] that I wanted to See mother but never befour did I [k]no[w] what it was to want to See a parent and could not. I wish you to gave my love to old Boss Miss Rahol and bailum and gave my manafold love to mother brothers and sister and pleas to tell them to Right to me So I may here... (continued)

(Above is actual letter, below is translation):

Click for larger view.

... from them if I cannot See them and also I wish you to right to me and Right me all the nuse. I do want to now whether old Boss is Still Living or now and all the rest of them and I want to [k]now whether balium is maried or no. I wish to [k]now what has Ever become of my Presus little girl. I left her in goldsborough with Mr. Walker and I have not herd from her Since and Walker Said that he was going to Carry her to Rockingham and gave her to his Sister and I want to [k]no[w] whether he did or no as I do wish to See her very mutch and Boss Says he wishes to [k]now whether he will Sell her or now and the least that can buy her and that he wishes a answer as Soon as he can get one as I wis him to buy her an my Boss being a man of Reason and fealing wishes to grant my trubled breast that mutch gratification and wishes to [k]now whether he will Sell her now. So I must come to a close by Escribing my Self you long loved and well wishing play mate as a Servant until death

Vilet Lester of Georgia to Miss Patsey Padison of North Caroliner

My Bosses Name is James B Lester and if you Should think a nuff of me to right me which I do beg the faver of you as a Sevant direct your letter to Millray Bullock County Georgia. Pleas to right me So fare you well in love.


WHAT YOU JUST READ ABOVE IS AN EXTREMELY RARE LETTER FROM A SLAVE BY THE NAME OF VILET LESTER in the Special Collections Library at Duke University. It’s not every day that we get to actually read a letter by an African while enslaved in these United States during the period up to their Emancipation by President Lincoln in 1863. That is why, when I stumbled upon this—I figured it was too good not to share. Obviously, the digitizing of old documents is bringing research to our fingertips. I feel so fortunate to read this, and especially love the cadence and dialect—which we can get a good sense of by the particular spellings—published here as it read in the letter.

According to historians there, this letter “is one of less than a dozen such letters that the Duke Special Collections Library has been able to identify among the vast amount of plantation records held at the Special Collections Library.”

This letter and others were showcased in a wonderful book about letter writing entitled “More than Words: Illustrated Letters from the Archives of the Smithsonian’s Archive of American Art”

by Liza Kirwin. It was published by the renowned Princeton Architectural Press and you can order it by clicking here. The ISBN number is: 9781568985237.

A transcription of this letter has also been published in the 2nd edition of Roots of Bitterness: Documents of the Social History of American Women published by Northeastern University Press, 1996. The Vilet Lester letter ©

Special Collections Library at Duke University. Learn more about this letter and other unique collections at Duke by clicking here.



The Sideshow Banners of Fred Johnson

(click any image for larger view)

(click any image for larger view)

Fred G. Johnson was considered to be one of the finest side show banner painters in the history of the circus and sideshow world. He had a 65-year career of banner painting, creating many works that are still prized by collectors and museums around the world. He worked for the O. Henry Tent and Awning Company in Chicago for 40 years from 1934 - 1974. His ingenious, old school techniques for painting banners inspired generations of younger painters.

These objects are huge, sometimes 10 to 15 feet in size (and some much larger!), a slight drawback to those who like to exhibit their art. But the cool thing is that many of these banners are for sale (and some are sold) by a private collector in Westfield, Indiana. You can learn more by e-mailing the collector: jack@vintagesideshowbanners.com. See more banners and prices here.



Clowns Are Evil

(Above) Does this child look happy? I think not.

COULROPHOBIA IS AN ABNORMAL OR EXAGGERATED fear of clowns. I can understand how someone has such a phobia, especially with photographs like these. Psycho killer John Wayne Gacy was a clown by day at kid’s birthday parties. In the evening, he killed young boys and buried them under his house. Let’s face it—clowns are creepy.

These snapshots are from my personal collection.



Handmade Flash Cards

LAST WEEK I DID A POST ABOUT THE BEAUTY OF THE SILHOUETTE IN PHOTOGRAPHY. Based on that, folk art and extraordinary objects dealer Joshua Lowenfels of NYC sent me these incredible vintage flash cards, made to teach a child to recognize animals by their form.

What you see here are small handmade flash cards, probably from the first part of the 20th century. There are 21 in total that he has, all made from black cut paper lightly glued on these wonderful speckled cards. They are each about 5 x 8 inches in size, and each one is signed on the back. Josh says they are each signed by a woman on the back, and she was from the rural Midwest.

What I like about these besides their complete charm as part of Americana, but that the maker took some unique artistic liberties as she cut the paper. Take the goat, for example. His head is bent down, so we can only see one ear and have to imagine the other. Sweet.

Joshua Lowenfels has some of the best, most extraordinary stuff in the country. Ahhh-h, if only I were a rich man....



Hot Town, Summer in the City

Crime Scene, NYC. Image © Weegee Estate. Click for larger view.

Crime Scene, NYC. Image © Weegee Estate. Click for larger view.
Map pinpointing murder locations in N.Y.C. See below for link to interactive map. Click for larger view.

OK, CHECK THIS OUT. THE CITY OF NEW YORK HAS BEEN PINPOINTING THE EXACT LOCATION OF MURDERS IN THEIR 5 BOROUGHS since 2003. The map above shows all the murders since that time, and what is even more informational is that they have posted an interactive map online. There, you can mouse over any dot and see:

(1) Month and time of day of murder (2) Race and ethnicity of victim (3) Race and ethnicity of perpetrator (4) Sex of victim (5) Sex of perpetrator (6) Age of victim (7) Age of perpetrator (8) Weapon used

Since 2003, 3,402 murders have occurred in the five boroughs of Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens, Manhattan and Staten Island. And since this is powered by Google Earth, you can zoom into to the very streets where the crimes occurred. Interestingly, but not unexpected— most murders occur at night and the summer months record the most murders.

Click here to see the interactive map.

For a little morbid fun, I have posted some vintage crime scene photos by the great Weegee, who shot his photos in New York City during the 1940s and 50s.

All photos by Weegee (Arthur Fellig) are © The Weegee Estate.



Newspaper Blackout Poems

(Above) The poet Austin Kleon.

(You REALLY have to click on these images to read them!)

(Click on image to read!)

FROM HIS PHOTOGRAPH AND ESPECIALLY HIS ART, AUSTIN KLEON LOOKS LIKE THE KIND OF GUY I’D LIKE TO KNOW. And why not? He is incredibly creative, has a sense of humor and is an American original.

What you are looking at here are examples of his “blackout poetry,” his way of creating prose by finding the words he wishes to keep within a story or article in the newspaper— and blacking out the rest with a permanent marker. Like a stone carver, Kleon “cuts away” the parts he doesn’t need and keeps the parts that are essential to his “found” poem. I think it is great. The final words Austin “keeps” have to fall within a readable order—giving us newly “discovered” poems that are poignant, funny, right-on and right for our times.

Austin lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Meg and his book: Newspaper Blackout Poems, was published by Harper Collins in February 2010. Learn more about Austin Kleon by visiting his Web site here.



Kris Kuksi: Beauty in the Macabre

(Above) Saravati Destroyer
72” w 33” h x 12” d
Mixed Media Assemblage
Click on image for larger view
(Above) Saravati Destroyer (detail)Click on image for larger view

(Above) Saravati Destroyer (detail)
Click on image for larger view

(Above) Saravati Destroyer (detail)
Click on image for larger view

(Above) Plague Parade: Opus 1
38” h x 13” w 29” d
Mixed Media Assemblage
2007 Click on image for larger view

(Above) Churchtank Type 6.6F with Mine RollersMixed Media
9.75” h x 4.25” w x 14” L Click on image for larger view

(Above) Churchtank Type One
Mixed Media, 11” x 5” x 11”, 2003Click on image for larger view
(Above) Caravan Assault Apparatus
Mixed Media Assemblage, 39” x 28”, 2008
Click on image for larger view

(Above) Afterworld Transporter
Mixed Media Assemblage, 26” x 12”, 2008
Click on image for larger view

BORN MARCH 2, 1973 IN SPRINGFIELD, MISSOURI AND GROWING UP IN NEIGHBORING KANSAS, Kris spent his youth in rural seclusion and isolation along with a blue-collar, working mother, two much-older brothers and an absent father. Open country, sparse trees, and alcoholic stepfather, perhaps paved the way for an individual saturated in imagination and introversion. His fascination with the unusual lent to his macabre art later in life. The grotesque to him, as it seemed, was beautiful.

Reaching adulthood his art blossomed and created a breakthrough of personal freedom from the negative environment experienced during his youth. He soon discovered his distaste for the typical American life and pop culture, feeling that he has always belonged to the ‘Old World’. Yet, Kris’ work is about a new wilderness, refined and elevated, visualized as a cultivation emerging from the corrupt and demoralized fall of modern-day society. A place where new beginnings, new wars, new philosophies, and new endings exist.
In personal reflection, he feels that in the world today much of mankind is oftentimes frivolous and fragile, being driven primarily by greed and materialism. He hopes that his art exposes the fallacies of Man, unveiling a new level of awareness to the viewer.

ACCIDENTAL MYSTERIES interviewed Kris about his art, digging into the psyche of this incredible artist whose art is entirely relevant for these troubled days.

AM: Hey Kris! From the moment I saw your work, I knew I was looking at a special artist—one that you see oh, once every hundred years or so. I am serious. You’re more than an artist and I want to know more about you.

So, let me ask: do you have any kind of formal art education after high school?

Yes, I did, from a small mid-western college in Hays, Kansas called Fort Hays State University. It was not a major art school but from what I came out of from high school, I was at least lucky enough to go to college. The program wasn’t strict by any means so I just grew at my own pace, and I probably would have wound up the same had I been on an island in the Pacific.
AM: OK, I’d like to follow with this basic philosophical question: do you believe in any higher power in the universe, or do you feel that mankind is simply a brilliant but failed organism heading to his eventual and ultimate destruction?
KK: Ha! That is a very good question and I’d have to say that I really have a lot of doubt that man will follow through in saving the planet and himself from peril. I’m not so sure about a higher power. Maybe it is just a situation where humans need to come up with the idea that something has to be greater than them to help explain things. I just wonder if humans are smart enough to let reason rule and give up religious fanaticism and political differences. I suppose we might go down in history as the dinosaurs did and, eventually, be engulfed by the next ice age or cataclysmic event even if we did find a way to save the ecology and balance of the planet.

AM: I get from your work the collision of good and evil, the trappings of war, lost technologies, monuments to lost causes and failed leaders—all rendered in excruciatingly three-dimensional detail. Tell me more about this, please?

To continue with what you have already noted, I believe time becomes blended together as history consistently repeats itself. Countries rise and fall, wars are fought and won or lost, human behavior lives through emotions and passion over and over again. One thing humans can do is to learn from history, however, from what I see in what humans are doing today, is that they are more focused on their current state of the moment and seek answers through their emotional reactions rather than logic and knowledge as example from the past. There are very few visionaries that are leading us to a point of transformation. And so the story goes, the rise and fall of hero’s and nations and religions, etc., etc.
AM: It looks as if you embed found objects in your pieces and yet other parts appear to be individually sculpted? What is your sculpting material?

Just like what you said, mostly found objects but nearly everything is manipulated in some way. A thick filler sort of paste is use to add more form that isn’t provided in an object and is also used to help blend in gaps between forms.

AM: Tell me, what sorts of things do you collect apart from what you use in your work?

I’m not really a fanatical collector for the sake of collecting. But I do randomly collect odd things such as a bird fetuses, old wooden legs, art books, music, movies and art from a few fellow artist friends.
AM: Bird fetuses? Old wooden legs? Gee… that’s boring—everybody collects those. (Just kidding!) Finally, who— or what inspires you, Kris?

The Baroque, classical art, Art Nouveau, Bosch, Giger, design, symmetry, space travel, war, nature, architecture, death, life, passion, love, hate, emotions, and peace.
AM: Kris, thanks so much for taking the time to let us know more about you and your art. I’m a huge fan. Good luck with everything.



Working in the Woodpile

YOU HAVE TO HAND IT TO ANYONE who builds their own, private backyard getaway. And for those who do differently, with style or thought, well, my hat is really off to them. This woodpile office was designed by Piet Hein Eek, is fully ventilated with sliding glass windows and sits by the edge of the woods. This house is located in Hilversum, Netherlands.

Via Home Quotient.



Science Tattoos, Or, How to Let the World Know You are REALLY a Nerd

(Above) Marc Morency, Quartermaster 1st class, USN, writes:
“My tattoo is the visual depiction of how to plot a line of position from a celestial body using the altitude intercept method, a method which has been time tested for more than a century. For me it serves as a reminder that while technology improves, the sea remains an unpredictable place and it is up to the older generation to teach the younger the old school ways of doing business.”

(Above) Zach writes: “This is a half sleeve up my upper right arm based around an image taken by one of the CERN bubble chambers. It is based on this image. I first saw that image my freshman year of college. It had the sublime, simple beauty that only something made of math and science can have. It stuck with me for 8 more years before I actually decided to get it etched into me. Oddly enough, on Valentine’s Day. I guess it was my Valentine's to physics and science. Oh, and when people ask who drew it, I always respond ‘God.’”

(Above) “For some time I have wanted to get a tattoo to depict my appreciation for meteorites. On September 28, 1969 meteorites fell in Murchison, Australia. On September 28, 2004 our daughter Christina (a.k.a. Pinky) was born. As if wasn’t already a top-fiver for it’s amino acids, Murchison quickly moved up the ranks of my favorite meteorites and I had decided it would somehow be involved in the meteorite tattoo. With a little help from friends Steve Arnold (IMB) and Jason Phillips I obtained a small capsule of Murchison crumbs to pulverize and one day add to the ink. I ultimately decided on a carbon buckeyball, found in Murchison, unrolled and laid out flat. With Murchison fully represented in design and medium, I had the tattoo artist make one carbon atom bright pink in honor of Pinky. Although it’s only the size of the head of a pin, it means the world to her… and me.”

(Above) Loren, a biology graduate student, writes, “It’s a sketch of the horseshoe crab Limulus, such as a zoologist would make (and with the abdominal segments correctly identified). Perhaps the most magnificent living fossil of all, the horseshoe crab is the survivor of a lineage that extends back some 445 million years into the Ordovician. The four extant species are the only living representatives of the ancient arthropod class Merostomata and the only known chelicerate crabs.”

(Above) Alice writes, “This is an Aztec speech glyph that dates back before the conquest. I’m a linguist, and I believe this glyph embodies the impossible elegance of spoken language as well as the intrinsically artificial and cumbersome nature of written language.”

(Above) Mark writes:
“This tattoo is the Zermelo-Fraenkel with Choice axioms of set theory. These nine axioms are the basis for ZFC set theory, which is the most commonly studied form of set theory and the most well known set of axioms as well. From these nine axioms, one can derive all of mathematics. These provide the foundation of mathematics, a field that you can likely tell that I love dearly.”

(Above) Alison, a high-school physics teacher, writes:
“Like many scientists, the wonder of the natural laws of the Universe is where I draw my spiritual inspiration. I also study the religions of the world, and have been fascinated by the reoccurring theme of Creation, Preservation, and Destruction. The Mandelbrot Set (top) represents Creation, with the emergent properties of a simple equation that produces such a rich, complex, and unpredictable fractal pattern that goes on into Infinity. The equation for hydrostatic equilibrium (bottom left) represents Preservation, describing the precarious balance between crushing gravity and expanding pressure inside of stars (including our own) to keep them in a stable, sustainable size for billions of years. The equation describing entropy (bottom right) symbolizes Destruction, simply stating that this fundamental break down of systems and accumulation of disorder either increases or stays the same over time, but never decreases. All three circle around the Delta, the symbol for Change.”

(Above) Milad writes:
“I am a Mechanical Engineering undergrad at UC Berkeley and I got this tattoo about a month ago. It’s the golden ratio in the shape of a rectangle, with the ratio of the sides of the rectangle actually being the golden ratio! I have been obsessed with this number since I heard about it in high school, and it is the reason why I became so fascinated with mathematics. The golden ratio is known to be the closest mathematical explanation of beauty. It has been used a lot in architecture, art, and music around the world, and has some amazing mathematical and geometrical properties.”

(Above) This tattoo is the schematic for the reference point of electricity. I just think of it as the source of electricity. Its really either the point at which you consider voltage to be 0, or in this pictures case, the physical connection to the earth (hence the lower calf). Electronics has been my passion for as long as I can remember, and I feel like this tattoo doesn’t do it justice. So I plan on getting another one to incorporate my passion for electronics and my trans-humanism beliefs.”

(Above) Anonymous writes: “This is a ‘Ramon y Cajal’ drawing of a human motor cortex pyramidal cell. I am a student of neuroscience and greatly admire Ramon y Cajal not only for his scientific contributions but for the artistic and beautiful quality of his images. This image reminds me of the vast and incredible power of the neocortex, and of the amazing capability of the human body.”

THERE’S NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED ABOUT IF YOU ARE A NERD. NERDS RULE THE WORLD, let’s face it. Today, being a nerd means you are deeply into something—usually science or mathematics. People into art don’t get that moniker for some reason—kids just think they are weird.

Carl Zimmer, a science writer for Discover Magazine, the NY Times and author of 6 books, wondered if people “out there” ever had tattoos of the science they love. He put out a call, and bingo! he was flooded with examples. I think they are cool—love ‘em by the way.



Twins, Triplets, Death and Kidnappings

(Above) Baby born 16.3 pounds and 2 feet tall. Click on image for a larger view.

(Above) This Dorothea Lange-style photo shows the 11 member Cleveland Piper family. Click on image for a larger view.

(Above) 15-year old wife of a farmer. Uh-h, I thought this was against the law? Click on image for a larger view.

(Above) S.P. Dinsmore, creator of The Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas. Click on image for a larger view.

(Above) Mrs. Henry Bates looks none too happy. Click on image for a larger view.
(Above) Baby drug addict. Click on image for a larger view.

(Above) Killed by Reds! Click on image for a larger view.

(Above) Really creepy (and sad). Click on image for a larger view.

(Above) I can only hope that Mr. and Mrs. Riley went to jail.
Click on image for a larger view.

A YEAR OR SO AGO, DAVID RUHLMAN, A FELLOW BLOGGER, CONTACTED ME TO SEE WHAT I THOUGHT ABOUT HIS RECENT DISCOVERY of a scrapbook of old newspaper clippings. David told me that he was searching antique/thift stores in Salt Lake City and at one store came across a folder that was filled with newspaper clippings. There wasn’t any information about the previous owner, but the folder contained about 40-45 articles cut from newspapers. What was unusual about the clips were that almost all of them were about twins, triplets, death and kidnappings—an odd menagerie of characters—victims of crime, underage mothers and being born a twin or triplet. Weird!

In looking at his wonderful site, called The Earth Is a Secret Knot, I was more than surprised to spot a clipping about S.P. Dinsmore, the creator of the Lucas, Kansas art environment called The Garden of Eden. At the time this photo was taken, Dinsmore was 88 years old and his wife was 27. The news clipping shows there were at least two young children from this marriage, and this was long before Viagra.

The headlines and subject matter of these clippings are wonderfully surreal—which gives it the perfect pedigree for Accidental Mysteries.



Inspired by the Manta Ray

(Above) Inspired by the Manta Ray, 24k-Architecture went to work developing an extraordinary structure for children in Thailand.

(Above and below) Scale models.

(Above) One of many preliminary drawings.

(Above) Actual photograph of the Children’s Activity and Learning Center.

(Above) A dramatic view looking up at the center.

(Above) Interior view.

(Above) Would this space inspire a child? For sure. Let’s hope that these kids are old enough not to fall down stairs.

(Above) A sleeping room.

(Above) The main building materials of this structure, locally harvested bamboo.

(Above) A view from above the “manta-ray.”

HOW INSPIRING IT IS TO SEE ARCHITECTURE BUILT FROM LOCAL, SUSTAINABLE MATERIALS (like bamboo) AND IT’S DESIGN INSPIRED FROM NATURE! This children’s learning and activity center is located on the island of Koh Kood, in the Gulf of Thailand. Nearby the 6-Star resort Soneva Kiri is this incredible structure, made largely of locally harvested bamboo.

The Children’s Activity and Learning Center is designed to provide visiting children a wide range of entertaining activities as well as raise their level of ecological awareness. This “den-like” structure provides an Auditorium/Cinema for films, lectures and plays; a library with books on perma-culture and local traditions; an Art room, a Music room and Fashion room, thus giving children both creative and ecological education while playing.

The Den is located at a rocky slope close to the sea. With its Manta-ray inspired bamboo dome, perched in an elevated position so as to offer magnificent views, it seems to launch itself into the bay. The structure and roof are made from local Thai bamboo, thus contributing further to the ecological approach of the resort. The interior is made from local plantation River Red Gum wood and rattan structural elements for the inner domes.
The site provides a sleeping pod for toddlers, and a toilet building as well as a cooking “cave” with a vegetable garden for the children to prepare their own lunch (with a special cook).
Architects: 24H-Architecture
Koh Kood Island, Thailand
Six Senses, Bangkok
Architects in Charge:
Boris Zeisser, Maartje Lammers
Olav Bruin, Anne Laure Nolen
Local Architect:
Habita Architects
Constructed area:
165 sq. meters
Design year:
Construction year:
© Kiattipong Panchee & Boris Zeisser

Via ArchDaily.



World War II: Then and Now

Image 1, c. 1944; click image for larger view.

Image 1, c. 2009; click image for larger view.
Image 2, c. 1944; click image for larger view.
Image 2, c. 2009; click image for larger view.
Image 3, c. 1944; click image for larger view.
Image 3, c. 2009; click image for larger view.
Image 4, c. 1944; click image for larger view.
Image 4, c. 2009; click image for larger view.

Image 5, c. 1944; click image for larger view.

Image 5, c. 2009; click image for larger view.
Image 6, c. 1944; click image for larger view.
Image 6, c. 2009; click image for larger view.

HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED WHAT YOUR STREET MIGHT HAVE LOOKED LIKE 50, 75 OR EVEN 100 YEARS AGO? If you live in an older area or big city, there could be images available to show you. But if you live in a subdivision or new expansion areas, there could be nothing but corn fields, trees or pasture land.

If you have a curiosity or interest about the Second World War, these historic images of Normandy in 1944 (and today) will certainly interest you. What these images say to me is that no matter what—life goes on.

Via Fishki.

All color photos are exclusive copyright © Patrick Elie.



Innovative Escape Tools from German Prisons

This gun was found along with other homemade firearms in the cell of two Celle prison inmates on November 15, 1984. The weapons had been made in the prison’s metal workshop. They were loaded with pieces of steel and match-heads.

Made from a grease injector, wood, a rubber sleeve, and tape. The mock weapon was found in 1994 in a prison workshop in Wolfenbüttel prison, Germany, after jailers were tipped off that an escape attempt was being planned.

Made of radio recorder parts by an inmate of Wolfenbüttel prison, Germany (battery is missing). Prisoners occasionally manage to install gizmos like this one in guard-rooms to be prepared for upcoming cell searches. Also suitable as a means of cell-to-cell communication among inmates. A standard radio serves as a receiver.

Fashioned from an empty horseradish tube; confiscated in ‘Santa Fu’ prison in Hamburg, Germany. Bongs are the most common of all forbidden items in prisons. The range of materials they are made of mirrors the inmates’ great imagination. And their prior needs.

With a padded handle, this weapon is made from a rasp that was presumably stolen from a prison workshop. The weapon was found in a cell in the prison of Wolfenbüttel, Germany, sometime around 1993.

(Above) SAW
An inmate of ‘Santa Fu’ prison in Hamburg, Germany, fitted a wooden handle to a piece of saw blade for better handling. The tool was found in his cell and confiscated.

Made from from blackened cardboard; found on June 23, 1988, in an inmate’s cell in Stammheim prison, Germany, after a fellow prisoner tipped off the jailers. The dummy was hidden in an empty milk pack and was most probably intended to be used for taking hostages in an escape attempt.

(Above) DAGGER
Disguised as a wooden crucifix, this dagger was found in an inmate’s cell in Wolfenbüttel prison, Germany, sometime around 1994; intended for use in an escape or as a general weapon. At that time a lot of crucifixes were fashioned in prison woodshops until jailers finally dug their true purpose.

Made with segmented extension rods (13 segments, overall length: 4.5 meters) and rope made of leather and string. This cleverly conceived tool assisted two inmates in their escape from Ludwigsburg prison, Germany, on August 19, 1987. The attached rod enabled them to place and retrieve the hook and thus negotiate two prison walls in succession.
An inmate of Ludwigsburg prison, Germany, botched together this multi-purpose tool from wire, a broken heating rod and some tin foil. It was found in his cell and confiscated sometime in the mid-eighties.

IF YOU WANT TO DISCUSS PURE RESOURCEFULNESS, INNOVATION AND CREATIVITY, a good place to start is the worldwide penal system. Yep. Prisons. There, restricted of materials and allowed only a few approved “safe” items, prisoners have nothing but time on their hands to devise the most ingenious “unapproved objects.” Of course, many incarcerated people turn their time to making art—carving (soap, wood, stone), drawing, painting, folding paper or other— is better known. Less known are the “other” things prisoners use to defeat the system (as I am showing above).

All of the above items were photographed more than 10 years ago by award-winning German photographer Marc Steinmetz, who has a most interesting Web site of his work. Steinmetz is a pro, having photographed for major corporations and educational institutions in the areas of science and technology, industry, museums and more. Check him out by clicking here.

First published in: ‘Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin’ 25/1999
Photos available through: Marc Steinmetz
All images © Mark Steinmetz.



Amazon Women of the Ukraine

All photos on this post © Guillaume Herbaut.

IN THE UKRAINE, A COUNTRY WHERE FEMALES ARE VICTIMS OF SEXUAL TRAFFICKING AND GENDER OPPRESSION, a new tribe of empowered women is emerging. Calling themselves the “Asgarda,” the women seek complete autonomy from men. Residing in the Carpathian Mountains, the tribe is comprised of 150 women of varying ages, primarily students, led by 30 year-old Katerina Tarnouska. Reviving the tribal traditions of the Scythian Amazons of ancient Greek mythology, the Asgarda train in martial arts, taught by former Soviet karate master, Volodymyr Stepanovytch, and learn life skills and sciences in order to become ideal women. Little physical documentation existed on the tribe, until recently, when renowned French photographer, Guillaume Herbaut, met the Asgarda back in 2004 in the midst of the Orange Revolution.

Finding their involvement with the revolution intriguing, Herbaut spent fourteen days photographing the tribe for “Le Retour des Amazones.” As apparent in several of the photos, the Asgarda idolize Yulia Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko – a key figure in the Orange Revolution and leader of the “Fatherland” party. Hoping to convey “the tradition, the legend, and the uneasiness among women in Ukraine”, Herbaut’s photographs portray devout and austere females in traditional and newfangled garb brandishing braids, battle axes, and boxing gloves.

Here’s their website: Asgarda

While Herbaut is uncertain if the photos are a good representation of the tribe, he adds “They were very happy when they saw the pictures. They want to show their strength.” When asked of his impressions of the Asgarda prior to and after photographing them, he remarked, “My first impression was ‘Asgarda is the root of a new sect’. My second impression was ‘Asgarda is the root of a new sect’!” New sect or the rebirth of a previous one, the Asgarda are reclaiming their lost independence, and, if Herbaut’s photographs are any indication, they aren’t afraid to fight for it.

This article was written by Jenna Martin, for PlanetMagazine. All photos are by and © Guillaume Herbaut. This post via PlanetMagazine.



1889 Johnstown, PA Flood Account & Family Death

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IT IS REALLY QUITE AMAZING WHAT CAN BE FOUND ON EBAY IF YOU SPEND THE TIME TO LOOK. Amidst the flotsam of junk, fakes and Walmart resellers you find wonderful things. This anonymous letter, a four-page account of the Johnstown flood of 1889 and the death of the entire Kirkbride family, is quite revealing. Over 4,000 people perished in that flood, the result of a dam breaking upstream. Think about it. Just after 4pm on a spring day, as people prepared for dinner and the usual things, death in the form of raging water wiped everything away. This letter should be in the Kirkbride geneology archive. It was once available on eBay (for purchase) for $50 bucks.

Circa late 1889 or early 1890s is this four page letter with envelope giving a detailed account of the 1889 Johnstown, Pennsylvania flood and the death of Mahlon Kirkbride and his family. The letter reads as follows...

“Drowned at Johnstown, Pa on the 31st of 5th Mo. 1889 Mahlon Kirkbride, son of Mahlon and Mary Bishop Kirkbride - aged thirty four years and thirty one days, also at the same time his wife Ida V. Kirkbride aged thirty two years. Their children Fannie, aged ten years, ten months and ten days. Linda aged seven years seven months and twenty three days and infant son. By the most correct statistics given 4 thousand persons perished in the flood - which caused almost the entire destruction of the town - little save the foundation of the Cambria Iron Works being left.

The flood was caused by the giving way of the dam of an immense reservoir - the largest either natural or artificial in the U. States. The Reservoir was 11 miles east of Johnstown and 2 miles from the village of South Fork. The dam was 2-1/2 miles long and the western end was 4 hundred feet long and eighty feet high. It was originally one of the feeders of the old Pennsylvania Canal. Afterward retained by sporting club as a resort for fishing and boating. After a steady rainfall of 48 hours this dam gave way at a few minutes past four o’clock on the afternoon of the 31st of 5th mo. 1889. In one hour the water had all run out carrying the most fearful destruction before them for 18 miles.

Mahlon Kirkbride and his family had apartments in the Hager Block - a three story brick building - near the edge of the valley. They could have escaped to the mountains in a few minutes - but brick buildings were supposed to be the safest places. It is thought they would have resisted the water itself successfully - but locomotive engines, cars, frame houses, and trees from above danced about like toys on the water - and striking the brick walls - caused them to cave in - and roofs to fall. Of the thirty five persons in the block all perished. After four months Mahlon’s body was recovered - being found covered with sand and protected by the roots of a large tree on the bank of Stonycreek River - one half mile from his home. His remains were interred on the 4th of 10th mo. 1889- by the side of those of his wife and child in Grand View Cemetery. Mahlon Kirkbride was auditor of the Johnson Steel Street Rail Co. at Johnstown.

This is to be copied in Yardley Genealogy. The envelope reads, “History of the Johnstown flood and the destruction of Mahlon Kirkbride and his family”.



Some Great Textiles

Concentric Square Quilt USA
circa 1940,
Graphic Concentric Square Quilt,
Hand-stitched black, yellow and gray African American quilt made of rayon.
Via 1st dibs and Just Folk
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ca. 1860-1880
Hooked rug with a dog in the center surrounded by a red floral border. Made in New England, wool construction, probably Massachusetts. A great early example, nicely executed, with strong colors. Wool construction.
Via 1st dibs and Jeff R. Bridgeman Antiques
(Click image for larger view)

African American Pine Burr Quilt
Exceptional African American Pine Burr quilt. All hand quilted and pieced. Found in Selma, Alabama. Fantastic color placement and design. These quilts were made with leftover fabric and clothing. These quilts are very labor intensive and would take many years to finish. A simple frame is needed for this quilt to hang on the wall. We do not have it attached to a frame in the image. Framed it will hang appropriately on the wall. This quilt makes a very dynamic wall hanging.
(Click image for larger view)

(Above) Detail of Pine Burr Quilt. (Click image for larger view)

African American Concentric Squares Work Clothes Quilt
Very bold African American Concentric Squares Work Clothes Quilt. Made from discarded work shirts by Eunice Taylor, Winston County, Alabama(Click image for larger view)

African American Abstract Quilt. Attributed to Gees Bend, AL
Attributed to Lucy Mooney Gees Bend, Alabama, Circa 1930-40. The backing is made from 100 pound welfare sacks issued by the US Government, and says: “The Department of Welfare...Donated by the people of the United State of America - Not to be sold or exchanged.” This quilt is an amazing abstract wall hanging.
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African American Memorial Work Clothes Quilt
African American made double sided Memorial Quilt. Wonderful abstract wall hanging. Constructed from the work clothes of a loved one that had passed on. Also some strips of vintage ticking. Made by Annie Rogers, Creedmoor, N.C.
(Click image for larger view)

Gees Bend African American Concentric Squares Quilt
Gees Bend, AL African American Quilt made by Clementine Kennedy (1904-1974). Concentric squares or housetop variation.
Via 1st dibs, Urban Country Antiques
(Click image for larger view)

Yo Yo Rug
United States
circa 1930
A painstakingly executed graphic textile in beautiful colors, this “yo-yo” mat reflects the light in subtle ways to create an astonishing wall hanging.
(Click image for larger view)

IF YOU ARE CONSIDERING A NEW COLLECTING AREA, YOU MIGHT CONSIDER high-quality American textiles, such as quilts or hooked rugs. For example, African American quilts are often characterized by their freedom from the traditional rules of quilt making. Often made from hand-me-downs and scraps of fabric, these quilts are often pieced as things fit—or by following a vaguely defined and always changeable design. Abstraction is the word that best defines them—beautifully balanced in a way that allows chance to play a role in the design. But if you like tradition—there are plenty of other quilts and hooked rugs to fill that need. Either area you wish to collect in, there are still opportunities to find nice examples for under $500. As for the rarest and most collectible examples in an category, the sky is the limit for cost.

All examples via 1st Dibs.



It's Good to be King, if Just for a While

I FOUND THESE PATCHES ON EBAY. Neither the seller nor I have any idea as to their origins or meaning, but I can make some good guesses. I really love the ones with the lightning bolts... me thinks it must be for the radio operators.

Rank. Degree. Hierarchy. Order. It’s the way the world works. It’s the way corporate America works. It’s the way nature works. I don’t like it, but it will never change.
Via ebay.