Thursday, November 29, 2012


We've covered so many different stories here on the PermaRec Blog that it's easy to forget that Permanent Record is first and foremost about the amazing Manhattan Trade School report cards that I found in a file cabinet more than 16 years ago. With that in mind, here are two announcements:

1) I'll be doing a lecture/slideshow presentation about the report cards next Wednesday, Dec. 5, 7pm, at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Manhattan. It'll be part of a program of several short presentations (I can't speak for the others, but I know the organizers, and they usually tend to book interesting people). Admission is free. Full details here.

2) In case you missed it earlier this week, the long-delayed 10th installment in the Slate series is now available for your enjoyment.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Screen shot 2012-11-24 at 8.04.47 PM.png


As you may have heard, there's been a remarkable PermaRec-ish story emerging out of England, where a gent named David Martin was renovating his chimney and found the remains of a long-dead carrier pigeon with a little red canister attached to its leg bone. Inside the canister was an encrypted World War II-era message. It's believed that the pigeon was sent from Nazi-occupied France during the war.

This story has received lots of media coverage, but I particularly like the treatment from Mallory Ortberg at Gawker, who approaches the story with a very endearing sense of Harriet the Spy-ish adventure. She begins by saying, "[S]ometimes life is every bit as exciting and riddled with mysteries as you had hoped it would be as a cunning, hopeful child" (a nice distillation of the PermaRec ethos, no?). Then she describes the particulars of the situation and observes:

Of course there was a small red cylinder! Of course it was rolled like cigarette paper, exactly as a secret code ought to be. We live in days of wonder.

I really like that.

As for the message, we may never know its contents, because British encryption authorities say its code is unbreakable, at least so far, and they may not have the resources to crack it. Further details here.

I have to admit, until now I thought finding a bunch of old report cards in a discarded file cabinet was about the coolest thing ever. But a finding an encrypted WWII message strapped to the decomposing leg bone of a deceased homing pigeon definitely trumps that. I know when I'm licked.

Friday, November 23, 2012



What you see above are the front and back of a postcard that was mailed from Rockford, Ill., to Elmira, N.Y., in the summer of 1943. It arrived at the address listed on the postcard just last week -- more than 69 years after it was sent.

The postcard was sent to sisters Pauline and Theresa Leisenring by their parents. The parents were visiting their son (Pauline and Theresa's brother) George Leisenring at the Medical Center Barracks at Camp Grant, which is the location shown on the front of the postcard.

The message reads as follows:

Dear Pauline and Theresa,

We arrived safe, had a good trip, but we were good and tired. Geo. looks good, we all went out to dinner today (Sunday). Now we are in the park. Geo has to go back to Grant at 12 o’clock tonight. Do not see much of him. We are going to make pancakes for Geo for supper tonight. See you soon.

Mother, Dad

Unfortunately, Pauline and Theresa no longer live at the address on the postcard (or anywhere else -- they died in 1962 and 1954, respectively), so the postcard was received by Adam and Laura Rundell and their family, who now live at that address.

It's not clear why the postcard took so long to be delivered or where it might have been stowed over the past several decades, but the Rundells were intrigued by it. According to this article, they did some PermaRec-style research, tracked down some of Pauline and Theresa's cousins, and offered the postcard to them. The story quotes Adam Rundell as saying, "They seemed interested but so far haven't picked it up."

I'm not sure why the Rundells can't simply mail the postcard to the cousins, but then this postcard has already had one harrowing postal adventure, so maybe best not to tempt fate.

(My thanks to Sue Kendall for pointing me toward this story.)

+ + + + +

Slate update: I've been told that long-delayed 10th installment of the Slate series will finally run on Monday. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The video shown above tells the story of a stash of World War II-era love letters that were found in a box that washed ashore in New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The man to whom the letters had been sent died in 1991; the woman who sent the letters is still alive, although she hadn't saved the letters herself, so it's not clear who had acquired them or how they ended up getting washed out to sea. In any event, it's another classic Permanent Record-type story. Further details here.

(My thanks to reader Sue Kendall for tipping me wise to this one.)

+ + + + +

Men at Lunch update: As promised, on Wednesday afternoon I went to see the documentary film Men at Lunch, which is about the famous 1932 photograph of ironworkers posing on a high-rise steel girder. It was good, but not great. A good chunk of the film is devoted to explaining why this is such an important and iconic photograph -- good stuff, but done in a very familiar, PBS-ish way. From a Permanent Record perspective, I was a smidge disappointed, because the filmmakers were able to positively identify only two of the 11 men in the photograph. A nice movie, but ultimately unsatisfying.

Monday, November 12, 2012

6.jpg 121.jpg 8.jpg

The fellow in the photographs shown above was named Lloyd Domier. He died in 1995 after a life spent primarily in North Dakota. These photos of him, and over 100 other shots of Lloyd and his family, were recently found in a Dumpster by someone in Florida. The photos were eventually sent to the Grand Forks Herald newspaper, which was able to get in touch with Lloyd's brother, Douglas Domier, to whom the photos were ultimately returned.

That's the short version. You can get more details in this article, which includes a link to a slideshow of additional photos.

(Special thanks to reader Tim Fry for tipping me off to this one.)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Screen shot 2012-11-11 at 9.25.10 AM.png

You've almost certainly seen this photo before. Taken in 1932, it shows an assortment of immigrant ironworkers taking their lunch on a steel girder at a New York City construction site. It has become one of history's most iconic New York photographs.

But who are the men shown in the photo? They've always been anonymous. For that matter, even the photographer's identity has long been unverified. (The photo has often been attributed to Lewis Hine, but that turns out to be inaccurate.)

A new documentary called Men at Lunch aims to solve these mysteries. I haven't yet seen the film, but it sounds very Permanent Record. You can read about it in this intriguing article. The film itself will screen this Wednesday, Nov. 14, at 3:15pm at the IFC Center in Manhattan. I'm going to try to attend. Anyone care to join me? If so, let me know.

Meanwhile, here's the film's trailer:

+ + + + +

Slate update: I'm told that the long-delayed 10th installment of the Slate series will finally be published this week. Hope so! Thanks for your patience.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Screen shot 2012-10-30 at 8.37.42 PM.png
Click to enlarge

What have we here? It's a photo of Hodel's Drug at the BaseMar Shopping Center in Boulder, Colorado. It was here that Oscar Hodel went to work each day and filled out the ledger that I eventually acquired.

The photo was taken in 1956 -- the year that Hodel's Drug (and I think the shopping center itself) opened. While looking at the photo, I noticed something interesting. Check out the signs for the other shops (click to enlarge):

Screen shot 2012-10-30 at 8.53.41 PM.png

It's a little hard to read some of them but they say:

Laundry•Dry Cleaners
[Illegible] Pastry Shop
[Illegible] Barber Shop
Dairy Foods

So four of the six signs are completely generic, indicating a category of commerce rather than a shop name -- odd. I must say, I would have been very disappointed if the Hodel's Drug sign simply read "Pharmacy."

(Special thanks to Wendy Hall of the Carnegie Branch Library for Local History in Boulder for providing the photo.)

+ + + + +

As some of you know, I live in Brooklyn, New York. Fortunately, I came through Hurricane Sandy completely unscathed -- no flooding, didn't lose power, didn't even have any trees come down on my block or in my back yard. Same goes for my Mom and my brother, both of whom live in the New York area.

Obviously, millions of other people weren't as lucky. If you and/or someone close to you were affected by the storm, hang in there -- we're all thinking of you. In a bit of cosmic irony, however, on Wednesday I broke my arm in a bike accident. Typing is now very tricky, so content here on the PermaRec site may be spotty for a bit. Thanks for understanding.

+ + + + +

Slate update: As you may have guessed, the storm has futher delayed the publication of the next full-length PermaRec article on Slate. Will they get it up next week? Hope so.