LOL Cats of Yore

Long before Internet memes, the obsession with yowling, murderous, disdainful, aloof, and weirdly adorable felines produced trade cards that are still collected today.

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Adored today, cats were just as freakishly lovable to Victorians, as is proven by this circa-1890 blank advertising trade card.
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“Ha! Tis He. The Maltese. Me rival.” Remember the old saying, “Don’t forget to put the cat out”? There were once many more domestic felines who roamed the night, yodeling for love, murdering small animals, and creating loud mayhem when territorially challenged. This circa 1881 trade card was for Allen’s Lung Balsam, “For the cure of all affections of the lungs, throat and chest, such as consumption, colds, coughs, asthma, bronchitis, croup, whooping cough, pain or oppression of the chest, hoarseness, spitting of blood and all pulmonary diseases.” Drawn by A. B. Seeley. William H. Helfand Trade Card Collection.
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“Fair moon to thee I sing, Prithee all good fortune bring.” Here, the family cat was indeed put out for the night, with the implication that the sleepless family wished they’d done otherwise. Circa 1910.
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“Did you see me get the best of him?” Meeting the Maltese mentioned above inevitably led to this at the door come morning, waiting to be let in for a saucer of milk. Circa-1881 trade card for Gray Brothers Boots and Shoes, 56 Main Street, Galesburg, Illinois.
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Because it’s all fun and games until Fluffy, Jr., takes out the floral trumpet epergne. “Compliments of Beard & Allen, choice Family Groceries, 5 Arsenal Street.” There are multiple variations of this trading card, all showing cats engaged in acrobatics dangerous to the Victorian horror vacui . Illustration by Helena McGuire, circa 1880.
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“Tommy Dodd, Awarded 1st Prize at International Cat Show for Sweet Childlike Expression.” I have no clue what “H. R. Knight, dealer of stoves, new and second hand furniture, also furniture repaired, sign and banner painting” of Grand Rapids, Michigan, thought this would do for his business, but I did suss out some the card’s possible meanings from an internet researcher: “[T]he slang phrase Tommy Dodd turned up many meanings, some related and some clearly not: … odd or peculiar; a cemetery may be known as Tommy Dodd’s garden; thank Tommy Dodd for this or that; a phrase related to coin tossing (mid 19th century) as in tossing odds; penis; sodomite; a style of hat; a glass of beer or a walking stick. The coin-tossing allusion is the one most frequently sited and referred to. It appears that there were numerous beer hall songs devoted to Tommy Dodd and below is the chorus to one I was able to find … : ‘I’m always safe when I begin. Tommy Dodd, Tommy Dodd Glasses round, cigars as well, Tommy Dodd. Tommy Dodd, Now, my boys, let’s all go in, Tommy Dodd, Tommy Dodd, Head or tail, I’m safe to win, Hurrah for Tommy Dodd!'”
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And finally, a cat praised as the all-powerful being it was. French, circa-1915 trade card for the soap Le Chat Savon Extra. Hail, kitteh overlords, and yes, you can haz cheeseburger.

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Carte Postal Totes Inapprop

Faux widow + faux husband’s tomb + mourning doggerel = Happy birthday?

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This Edwardian postcard from my collection shows a woman in the fullness of her beauty sat atop a chest tomb that is arguably from much earlier in the Victorian era. Whilst the woman is not dressed in conventional mourning, she does wear a recognizable widow’s bonnet—a necessary prop for the maudlin poem below the image: “She wore a wreath of roses, And once again I see that brow, No bridal wreath was there, The widow’s sombre cap conceals Her once luxuriant hair; She weeps in silent solitude, And there is no one near To press her hand within his own, And wipe away the tear; I saw her broken-hearted! Yet methinks I see her now In the pride of youth and beauty with a garland on her brow.”

The postcard was mailed from somewhere on the Channel Island of Jersey, off the coast of Normandy, France, at 6:30 a.m., 30 July, 1905, to Miss Edith Conner at Clarence Lodge, Clarence Road, in the Jersey town of St. Helier.

The sender’s message was both cheerful and bizarrely inappropriate, as it appears to recognize the recipient’s birthday: “Dear Edith! Permit me to wish you many happy returns of the day. With heaps of love & kind regards to all. Yours truly, A.J.”

One must wonder if the little shop on the High Street was dreadfully low on carte postals. Ω

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Postcard, reverse.

Postcards: Email by Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet

“Thank you dear for the nice letter you sent us and all the kisses. Hope you are a good boy. Did you throw Herbert out of bed Sunday morning?”

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Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Today’s postcards convey “Wish you were here!” almost exclusively, but in the first decades of the 20th Century this method regularly moved information to friends and family who resided even just a few miles away. The short messages often read much like modern email, and when in combination with the photos on the front, can seem like old-school versions of modern Facebook posts.

On 4 March, 1914, this cheerful, beautifully colored postcard of Hagerstown, Maryland’s Broadway (above) was sent to Mrs. C. L. Pennison, Newton, Massachusetts, care of Peckitts on Sugar Hill. The message reads, “Dear Catherine, I was pleased to get your card on Monday while at home. But surprised to hear you are in the White Mountains. I hope you will soon recover your health up there. We were in the midst of a blizzard Monday but are enjoying pleasant weather now. I am well and enjoy my work. Yours, B.”

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Ann Longmore-Collection.

This postcard of the Washington Street Bridge, Monticello, Indiana, was addressed to Miss Ruthie Brown of Modesto, Illinois, and mailed 4 July, 1913. The reverse reads, “Dear Ruth: This is where I am spending the day. This morning our car struck a buggy just as we were going up the hill beyond this bridge. I hope you are having a lovely vacation. Would like to hear from you very much. Grace Mc. 1 Danville, Ind.”

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Courtesy Jack and Beverly Wilgus Collection.

Beverly Wilgus, the owner of this example, writes, “This postcard was mailed by a grandfather to his granddaughter in November, 1912. The caption ‘Tommy’s first and Turkey’s last picture” [has an] unpleasant edge. The image is embossed and gives the figures a slight 3D effect. It was sent to Dorothy Flower in North Uxbridge, Massachusetts, by Grandpa Midley.”

The message reads, “Dear Dorothy: How would you like to have your picture taken this way? I suppose you would rather have some of the turkey to eat. Hope you will have some for your Thanksgiving dinner. Am going to try to get to No. Uxbridge to see you soon.”

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Courtesy James Morley Collection.

Margaret Ripley was a nurse in France during World War I. The above is one of a series of postcards she sent to her sister back in Surrey, England. “Had 2 nice days here unfortunately Louvre & all museums shut but seen as much as possible. Off to Dunkirk tomorrow to typhoid hospital—so glad to feel we may at last get real work in connection with war. Have enjoyed our week’s holiday very much & were hoping to stay on here a few more days. Love to E & children. Hope they are well again. Mar.”

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Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Although the photographic image is from a decade previous, this postcard’s stamp was cancelled 24 December, 1922. Addressed to Mr. S. Schmall, 4549 Calumet St., Chicago, Illinois, the delightful message reads: “Thank you dear for the nice letter you sent us and all the kisses. Hope you are a good boy. Did you throw Herbert out of bed Sunday morning? Love to you & all. Aunt Alice.”

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Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection

Postmarked 30 October, 1917, this postcard was sent by the United Brethren Sunday School of Myersville, Maryland, to Helen Keller and family. “U B ready for the U.B. Rally. We need you on Rally Day. Remember the date: Nov. 11th. Do not disappoint us. Help us make this our best Rally Day.” (If there was a smiling emoticon after “Do not disappoint us,” I would feel less creeped out.)

According to Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, “In liturgical Protestant churches, Rally Day marks the beginning of the church calendar year. It typically occurs at the end of September or the beginning of October. Although not all Protestant churches observe this day, the customs associated with it include giving Bibles to children, promoting children from one Sunday school grade to the next, welcoming new members into the church, and making a formal presentation of church goals for the coming year.”

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Courtesy Jack and Beverly Wilgus Collection.

Beverly Wilgus writes, “This multiple-print, real photo postcard shows two soldiers in a studio prop biplane flying over a real San Antonio streetscape. A banner reading ‘San Antonio 1911’ flies from the wing. Even though the plane is obviously phony, the two airmen appear to be real pilots since the message on the back reads, ‘Our first lesson what do you think of it? Geo.’”

I’m thinking Photoshop, version 1.911. Ω

Edith’s Bitter Valentine

“If my Valentine you won’t be,
I’ll hang myself on your Christmas tree.” —Ernest Hemingway

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Postcard valentine, 1910. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

This tart little valentine was sent from Battle Creek, Michigan, 8 February, 1910, to Mr. Barhite, Bellevue, Michigan, RFD No. 1. The message reads: “Well Mr. Barhite I have not heard from you in a long time and so I don’t know whether you are dead or alive. I hope you are the latter and well write. Edith Mathews.”

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Edith’s valentine, reverse.

The addressee was Gordon Lyman Barhite, born 10 June, 1883, in Michigan, son of Everon Barhite (1837-1923) and Delia F. Root (b.1846).  Gordon Barhite appeared on the 1900 census of Bellevue as a boarder on the farm of Theodore Davis, probably acting as a farm hand. By 1910, he was in Fredonia, Michigan, working the farm of Frederic Lee.

Barhite’s 1918 World War I draft registration card notes that he was of medium height, medium build, and had blue eyes and brown hair—and if the childhood picture below is any evidence, he may well have grown into a looker. The address to which bitter Edith sent this postcard was that of Gordon’s mother Delia, who was also listed on the draft registration card as his wonderfully misspelled next-of-kin “Deilicia Barhite.”

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Gordon Barhite, back row, second from right, with his family, circa 1898. The 17 June, 1898 Marshall News ran an item that read, “Master Gordon Barhite gave a birthday party to his young friends Friday night, June 10. The youngsters had a jolly time remaining until a late hour.”

The 1920 census appears to tell the outcome of the valentine’s tale: Gordon Barhite then lived in Convis, Michigan, with his wife Edith (b. 11 June 1888). Also enumerated with Gordon and Edith were three children with the surname Patchett: Loren (1907-1925), Wayne (1910-2001), and Bernadine (b. 1912), as well as mother-in-law Frances Coutz (1847-1920).

Frances’s presence provided a vital clue: twenty years earlier, the 1900 Amboy, Michigan, census detailed the household of farmer Joseph Coutz, Jr. (1843-1911), and his wife Frances E. Oldfield Coutz, as well as their daughter Margery Edith.

On 15 January, 1905, Margery Edith Coutz married Frederick William Patchett, who was born 13 April, 1882, in Salford, Lancashire, England, and came to America in 1879. Before 1919, however, the Patchett marriage ended badly. The 1 May Battle Creek Enquirer announced that Gordon Barhite and Edith Patchett obtained a marriage license—they had actually married the day before—and the later 1930 Census placed Frederick Patchett in Hillsdale as a lodger and a divorced mill worker. He later married Edith Mackey (1889-1972). The appearance of this Edith confused me and before I realized that she was indeed a new individual, I believed for a time that Edith Barhite had returned to her first husband.

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A 2 July, 1925, Battle Creek Enquirer article about the death of Loren Patchett.

Edith’s son Loren Patchett, unmarried and working as an electrical lineman, died aged 19 on 29 June, 1925, in Battle Creek, of electrocution caused by the failure to wear protective gloves. “Without the gloves, He climbed a transformer pole on Freemont Street. While in contact with a live wire containing 5,000 volts, he forgot and took hold of another wire which a fellow workman was attempting to sever…. The result was a short circuit which went from hand to hand.” Loren was buried in Riverside Cemetery, Bellevue.

The 1930 census placed Gordon and Edith Barhite in Pennfield. Gordon was a farm laborer and stepdaughter Bernadine worked in a factory. The couple also had a daughter, Helen, born in 1923. Edith acted in a local play put on by the Willing Workers of the Base Line Church in may 1934. In December, 1939, a local newspaper article mentioned that Gordon Barhite and his family were exchanging houses with a Mr. and Mrs. Inman. The Battle Creek Enquirer of 14 March, 1941, noted that “Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Barhite have moved from the Gates apartment house on South Clark to a farm near Climax.” These are the last traces I can find of the family.

Gordon Barhite died in May 1964 and Edith Barhite died 18 June, 1972, in Hillsdale County, Michigan.

Now, the discrepancy: The woman who sent this valentine signed her name Edith Mathews. Was she really Edith Patchett? In 1910, Edith was 22 years old with two young children and an unhappy marriage. Was she already looking to leave Frederick Patchett and was casting about for a new man to provide for her children? If she was, using a false but previously agreed upon surname may have seemed a wise thing to do.

Conversely, Edith Mathews may really have been Edith Mathews. According to the 1911 Battle Creek City Directory, a woman of that name was a boarder at 16 Shepard Street. She was still there in 1912, with fuller details given: Edith G. Mathews was a packer at the Postum Cereal Company. In 1916, she was a machine operator at B.C. Paper Company. After this, she disappeared from 16 Shepard Street.

Was this Valentine from an unhappy woman looking for a way out of a bad marriage or from a single working girl who’d met a handsome farm hand somewhere, somehow? The answer remains unknown, but I shall leave you with this, from my heart to yours: “Love attracts, connects, builds and frees the beauty of humanity. Happy Valentines Day.”—Euginia Herlihy. Ω