Thursday, May 30, 2013

Free Father's Day Cards

Posted this last year--now I'm posting it again.  Love those Victorian photos!

Some time ago I designed a few Father's Day cards using antique photos from my collection.
Here are three of them.

Just in case you haven't gotten around to buying Dad a card  -- Father's Day is Sunday, June 16 this year--feel free to assemble your own card by printing one of these, pasting it on a blank piece of folded paper, and writing a sentiment and your name inside, with lots of "X"s and "O"'s.

Free Father's Day Card.

Take that Hallmark!

 (Inside: "You rock!  Happy Father's Day!")

(Inside:  "That's my excuse.  What's yours?  Happy Father's Day.)

(Inside: "Happy Father's Day from your dog.")

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Voice of the Turtle is Heard in Our Land

Song of Solomon 2:11-12 (KJV)
11 For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
12 The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;

She came today, just as she does every year, crossing the road from the lake, digging a nest in our front yard and laying her eggs--the biggest,  meanest old snapping turtle you ever saw, but we always watch from a distance and make sure she makes it back across the road without becoming road kill.
And today the clematis started to pop open and so did the best of the irises.

Last week I was back in New York City. We dined at Swifty's and I walked through Central Park every day at the height of its blossoming and I tried to figure out how I could sell our country house in the Massachusetts village of Grafton and buy a tiny apartment in New York to spend our declining years, but then I got back home for last weekend and realized that Manhattan can't hold a candle to our New England village.

At the Common they were celebrating Grafton History Day--the 150th anniversary of a time when both the Town House and the Unitarian Church were burned down on Sept 11, 1862 as the Civil War was raging, and rebuilt in 1863.
Linda Casey, president of the Grafton Historical Society, greeted me in her daytime dress.  She had another gown for the ball that night.

There was a  Civil War muster and the Mass. 13th Volunteer Infantry Regiment was recreating an authentic Civil War encampment.

Ladies were buying plants on the common, no matter what the shape and size of their petticoats.

Next I went to the Plantapalooza at the Community Barn and Harvest Project where kids and adults were planting about a gazillion tomato plants as part of the community's volunteer farming for hunger relief (they give away everything they've grown) .  And everyone who came got free tomato plants. 

You could meet alpacas and go on the cookie walk & buy handmade crafts and local honey and jams.

And of course there were the yards sales on the weekend--I bought somebody's grandmother's collectible dolls for $2.00 each.  And the all the doll clothes for another $2.00.

Manhattan may be my favorite big city, but as Dorothy said, there's no place like home.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Do You Want to End Your Days talking to a Robot?

An article in today’s (May 20) New York Times business section drew my attention with the pull quote: “Should we entrust the care of people in their 70s and older to artificial assistants?”

Since I’m over 70 and one of my parents died with dementia, I read the article avidly and learned that the future is here for us seniors, and it’s scarier than any science fiction movie.

The article, by Nick Bilton, begins by citing a film called  “Robot & Frank” about an overly busy son who presents his elderly, live-alone father with a humanoid robot called  VGC-601.  The dad, Frank, protests, “I’m not this pathetic!”

The reporter then cites facts showing that, as the baby boomer generation ages, the number of elderly people needing care is skyrocketing (72.1 million Americans by  2030—double today’s number)  while the number of  potential poorly paid caregivers is dwindling.  Hence, a variety of robots are already available to take care of  elderly patients.

There’s Cody, a robotic nurse who is allegedly “gentle enough to bathe elderly patients” .

There is HERB (for Home Exploring Robot Butler) who can fetch household objects like cups and  can even clean the kitchen.

Hector is a robot that can remind patients to take their medicines, keep track of eyeglasses and even help in the case of a fall.

There’s Paro, a therapeutic robot that looks like a baby seal and has a calming effect on patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

PR2, A robot designed at Carnegie Mellon works with people who have autism—it can blink and giggle as people interact with it.  The man who designed it said, “Those we tested it with, love it and hugged it.”

Wendy A Rogers, a professor at Georgia Tech and director of its Human Factors and Aging Lab said, “We are social beings, and we do develop social types of relationships with lots of things.”  She noted that patients with Roomba, the vacuum robot,  tend to give their machines names and even buy costumes for them.

Some people, like me, react to all this news about helpful robots with serious reservations. Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT and author of the book “Alone Together” said she was troubled when she saw a 76-year-old woman sharing stories about her life with her baby-seal Paro robot.  “This is sad,” Professor Turkle said.  “We have been reduced to spectators of a conversation that has no meaning.  Giving old people robots to talk to is a dystopian view that is being classified as utopian.”

The Times reporter does point out the ethical questions raised by tricking patients into thinking their robots are human and can understand them and adds:  “That’s the catch. Leaving the questions of ethics aside for the moment, building robots is not simply about creating smart machines; it is about making something that is not human still appear, somehow, trustworthy.”

I realized after reading the article that health care robots appear to be the inevitable result of a society that isolates its old people instead of incorporating them as venerated members of the tribe, cared for by all the younger members together.  It takes a village….

Meanwhile, I’ll be desperately trying to hold on to my physical and mental health, in order to stave off the moment when, on Mother’s Day, my kids present me with my own personal robot.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Yard Sale Heaven – I’m Obsessed

It's official!  Yard sale season is here and I've already marked up the classified section of the paper with the promising-sounding nearby  sales I'm going to hit this weekend.  It's May, the lilacs are in full bloom and the weather's beautiful, so to celebrate the season opening, I'm re-posting this essay, which I first published three years ago on Memorial Day weekend.
People can be divided into those who like to sleep late on Saturday morning and maybe go to church or golf on Sunday, and those who are on the road at 8 a.m. both days, clutching the newspaper classified section, searching for flea markets and yard sales, determined to be the first one through the gate. Guess which category I’m in.

Those of us with “I brake for yard sales” bumper stickers are motivated by tales of life-changing finds—an original copy of the Declaration of Independence or a Paul Revere tea pot from grandma’s attic, or those Jackson Pollack paintings someone found in the trash. Every yard saler has a tale of the Big Find.

Here’s mine. Maybe 25 years ago, when I was just starting to collect antique photos, I saw a cardboard box labeled “Instant Ancestors” on a front lawn not far from the village green in my own village. In the box I found a battered small, thick leather-bound album filled with CDVs. “CDV” means Carte de Visite, and the photos, wildly popular around the time after the Civil War, are the size of a business card.

I noticed that maybe a dozen of the photos in the album were of Native Americans. The portraits were identified in type as taken by Joel Emmons Whitney at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, of Dakota warriors imprisoned after the Sioux uprising of 1862. Each one, including Chief Little Crow, was identified along with how many white men he had killed.

I was happy to pay the five-dollar price of the album. When I eventually put it up for auction at Skinner’s Galleries and got $500 return on my investment, I felt very smug. Not so much today, because I know that the value of those Whitney Indian photos has climbed so that each one of them would now bring around $500.

All yard salers are looking for that Big Find and my village of Grafton is a happy hunting grounds. (So is Brimfield MA, about 20 minutes away, where in May, July and September they roll out maybe the biggest flea market in the country.) (News update--this year, 2013, the spring Brimfield sale is going on RIGHT NOW until Sunday, May 19.)

I think Grafton is one of the prettiest New England villages, thanks to its carefully preserved historic district around the Common. That’s why they filmed “Ah Wilderness” here back in the 1930’s. And around that historic common, with its 300-year-old Inn, I just KNOW there are treasures that will someday appear in a yard sale on someone’s front lawn.

Today, Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, was a very good day, although I don’t think any of the treasures I bought will make me rich. The first place I hit was the home of Carol and Richard, who for many years owned the Grafton Country Store—one of the longest continuously operating. They have a great collection of primitives and early prints, tools, cookware, etc. not to mention hot coffee and free donut holes to welcome the early birds. I bought 21 things, the most expensive of which was an ironstone butter crock at $20.

The next yard sale, also near the Common, greeted me with a wicker antique doll carriage --the twin of one I had as a little girl. But I wasn’t about to spend over a hundred dollars on a duplicate doll carriage, with no granddaughter to give it to. But I then I saw a stunning set of Madeira Lace work – ten place mats and a table runner—with their own blue brocade carrying case plus a handwritten note that it was “Made on the Island of Madeira for the Beede Family, makers of Madeira Wines”.

I have never been able to resist fine textiles and embroideries, so I bought the set of Madeira work, telling myself it was for a daughter’s trousseau, but at the moment, both daughters have a strict embargo against my bringing another thing into their apartment “if I can’t eat it, drink it or date it” as one put it.

The third yard sale, in a red barn in nearby Shrewsbury, was mostly furniture and there’s no more room in my house for furniture, so I came away with only a child’s rocker, which I cleaned up to put in my booth at a nearby group antique shop.

That’s how I justify my obsessive collecting— I say that it’s merchandise for the store.

So after I got back from the yard sales, I cleaned up my treasures and put price tags on them and took them to North Main Street Antiques—at least the ones I couldn’t fit into my own décor (such as my apple-themed bathroom with its red lion-footed cast iron tub or the wall in my kitchen that’s filled with heart-shaped cookie cutters and other objects featuring hearts.)

At least I got to play with my treasures before carting them off to the store. And tomorrow, Sunday, I’ll hit the road early, trolling for that One Big Find.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

You Know You’re the Grandma of a Toddler When……..

…when you get undressed at night and Cheerios fall out of your bra

…when your arms and legs are embellished with bandaids featuring the Muppets and Dora the Explorer

….and your shoes, purse and glasses cases are embellished with an eclectic collection of stickers

….when you feel no qualms about plopping the little angel in front of the computer to watch multiple episodes of “Pocoyo” or “Elmo’s World” while you shovel food into her mouth.  (Quote from daughter Eleni—“Right!  I’ve always wanted to train my child to eat mindlessly in front of the TV.”)

…when you hear yourself coming out with conversational gems like: “Grandma has to go pee-pee in the toilet now.  No, you can’t watch.”

and….”If you go poo-poo in the potty chair, Grandma will let you watch another Pocoyo

…when you refer to your glass of sauvignon blanc as “Grandma juice”

…when, every time a camera is turned your way, you grab the toddler and place her in front of your less photogenic body parts

....when the pacifier falls to the ground in the middle of Park Avenue and you invoke the five second rule, wipe it on your sleeve and pop it back into her mouth.

…when you never leave the house without checking the contents of your emergency kit:  extra pacifier, juice box (make sure the straw is attached) goldfish crackers, baby wipes, extra diaper, Elmo band-aids, bubble blowing stuff.

…. when a temper tantrum in the middle of a fancy restaurant forces your ultimate weapon--you hand over your smart phone tuned to favorite episodes of Pocoyo.

…when you can recite “Mr Brown Can Moo, Can You?” by heart.  Not to mention “Goodnight Moon,” which you haven’t forgotten since you first learned it 35 years ago.

….and when your “Absolutely not!” can be transformed into “Maybe just this once” by those four little words: “I love you Grandma.”

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Scourged Back-- A Famous Photo of a Beaten Runaway Slave, Revisited

Yesterday (Thursday May 2, 2013) I came home at night and saw that my blog had received nearly 700 hits in a few hours, most of them for a post I wrote over four years ago called "The Scarred Back of a Slave Named Gordon".  I couldn't figure out where the interest in this famous and grisly photograph was coming from until my sharp-eyed sister-in-law, Robin Paulson, alerted me to an on-line essay in The New York Times' Opinionator blog in the  "Disunion" section, titled "A photo taken 150 years ago of a runaway slave changed the way Americans saw the Civil War".  The essay by Ted Widmer discussed this watershed image,  which dramatized, through the still-new science of photography, the brutality of some slave owners and served as an effective tool for the abolitionist cause.  Widmer went on to discuss other photographs currently on view in the exhibit "Photography and the American Civil War" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I think that readers wanted to know more about the story of this particular slave, and that's why they searched out my original blog post.  I've had a number of comments since it was first published in October of 2009 and I'm re-posting it below along with the comments and also with an additional image of Gordon and his scarred back, which I added to the post only about a week ago.

On page 14 of the Sept. 20, [2009] Book Review, The New York Times published a shocking photograph of a slave with a horribly scarred back to illustrate a review of “Deliver Us from Evil”.

Because I collect antique photos and have many dealing with slavery and the life of black people in the 1800's, I wrote to the Times the back story behind this photo, and the letter, somewhat abbreviated, is in the book review section this Sunday--Oct. 4, 2009.

I wrote: This famous photograph, usually titled “The Scourged Back”, was widely circulated by abolitionists and is one of the earliest examples of photography used as propaganda. A contemporary newspaper, The New York Independent, commented: “This Card Photograph should be multiplied by the 100,000 and scattered over the states. It tells the story in a way that even Mrs. (Harriet Beecher) Stowe cannot approach, because it tells the story to the eye.”

As photo historian Kathleen Collins explained in The History of Photography Vol. 9 Number 1, January, 1985—it shows a slave named Gordon who escaped his master in Mississippi by rubbing himself with onions to throw off the bloodhounds. He took refuge with the Union Army at Baton Rouge and, in 1863, three engraved portraits of him were printed in Harper’s Weekly, showing the man “as he underwent the surgical examination previous to being mustered into the service—his back furrowed and scarred with the traces of a whipping administered on Christmas Day last.”

The actual photographs of the escaped slave, taken by McPherson and Oliver of New Orleans, were widely circulated as carte-de-visite photos. On the verso of the mount were the comments of S. K. Towle, Surgeon, 30th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers: “…Few sensation writers ever depicted worse punishments than this man must have received, though nothing in his appearance indicates any unusual viciousness—but on the contrary, he seems intelligent and well-behaved.”

I have a colored glass slide of the same photograph (above) in my collection, undoubtedly used in anti-slavery lectures. Abolitionists exploited the new medium of photography, circulating, in addition to "the Scourged Back", CDV’s of a slave named Wilson who was branded on the forehead, and selling thousands of the series of emancipated “white”-appearing slave children from New Orleans, posed patriotically, including wrapped in the American flag. On the back was printed: “The nett [sic] proceeds from the sale of these Photographs will be devoted to the education of colored people in the department of the Gulf now under the command of Maj. Gen. Banks.”

April 24, 2013--Because of questions I've received about this famous image, I am now adding below one of the original CDVs of Gordon's back showing him with his head tilted farther back to show his beard.  I do not own this image, but I've always been aware of it. I always assumed that both these poses of Gordon were taken at the same time, but when I study them together I don't know.  Another question--I always assumed that "my" image up at the top was  reversed--something that could easily happen with a glass negative.  (All daguerreotypes and ambrotypes are reversed mirror images of the actual subject, so if the subject is holding a newspaper, for example, the headlines will be reversed mirror-image writing.)  Now, looking at these two photos of Gordon together, I can't tell if the images show him turned to face opposite sides, or is one of them reversed and he's looking over his left shoulder in both of them?  Or do you think they were taken at two different photo sessions, separated by time?  Opinions? 


candicecusack said...
Ms. Gage: I just read your letter to the editor in the NYT Book Review. Fascinating information. Thank you for taking the time to expand readers' understanding of this amazing photograph.
Carlos said...
have you ever looked at wikipedia?

try it out.

and on this page we see a picture of your Gordon, only its in black and white and his name is Peter (according to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, which is online at

and why would a picture this old be in color anyway.
Joan Gage said...
Carlos--sorry I didn't read your comment until now. I looked up the wikipedia reference--(evidently it was originally written in French?). Anyway, I have seen the original article in Harper's Weekly 4th July 1868 with the description of Gordon's escape and arrival in the Union Camp at Baton Rouge. An engraving of the same photo in the Harper's article--with the same scars on his back--was titled "Gordon Under Medical Inspection". The name "Gordon" was repeated throughout the article. The surgeon who examined him was quoted in the article. He sent the photos on to the surgeon general of the State of Massachusetts.

You're right that a photo that old would be in black and white--not colored. The image I own is a much later glass slide of that same photograph that has been hand-colored. A black and white carte-de-visite version (mounted on cardboard the size of a visiting card) was widely circulated both in the United State and in Great Britain. The later glass slides could be projected on a wall and probably dated from the late 1900's. These slides would be used to illustrate speeches about the evils of slavery. This glass slide that I own was recently used in the PBS Series "God in America."

Joan Gage
Anonymous said...
This phote alone obliterate the silly notion that during slavery, the relationship between slave-master and slave was passive and usually on good terms. It sickens me to the core, to merely take a peek at this photo.

Anonymous said...

I was curious, what is that on the top of his head. I have heard horrible stories of slaves whipped until breasts were sliced of, is that some type of skin flap from him catching the whip on the top of his head?
by Joan Gage said...
To Anonymous: To help answer your question I have just updated the post, adding another photo taken of Gordon--whether at the same time, I don't know. But I think what you're referring to is just a lock of his hair sticking up, so I added the second photo to give a better look at his hair. But I'm glad you asked the question, because I never noticed it before.