On the Beach


While searching for a higher resolution image of this photo of a young woman with a lion cub, by William M. Van der Weyde, taken in Atlantic City circa 1900, I discovered it was part of a genre: women on the beach with unexpected animals. All of the following were taken on the beach in Long Beach, California.






Bear Cub


Baby Elephant


And my favorite, seagulls, with an accordion.

The Thousand Quilt


“The bundle — the great bundle — was her work! She advanced into the room and began carefully to unroll it. It was the turn of the minister’s wife to be paralyzed. She pushed forward a chair, and the child sat down in it.

“‘It’s my Thousand Quilt that I’m making for Aunt Livia,’ explained Rebecca Mary. ‘It’s most done. There’s a thousand pieces in it, and I’m on the nine hundred and ninety-oneth. I thought poberly you’d have some work, so I brought mine.’

“‘Yes, I see…’ The minister’s wife stood looking down at the tight little red figure among the gorgeous waves of the Thousand Quilt. They eddied and surged around it in dizzy reds and purples and greens.”

— Illustration by Elizabeth Shippen Green for “The Thousand Quilt” by Annie Hamilton Donnell in Harper’s Monthly Magazine, December 1904

The Postal Age


If you love mail, don’t miss David M. Henkin’s The Postal Age (2006). Granted, it’s a bit academic in tone; Henkin uses words like “monitory” (as in something that conveys a warning) and “trope” (commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés) but he must be forgiven. The material he has gathered is delicious, and the insights are many. A few of my favorite bits:

“I know not whereabouts this letter will find thee, but I throw it upon the winds.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne to his fiancée in 1840

Did it not seem “a beneficent miracle that messages can arrive at all; that a little slip of paper will skim over all these weltering floods, and other inextricable confusions; and come at last, in the hand of the Twopenny Postman, safe to your lurking-place, like a green leaf in the bill of Noah’s Dove?” — Thomas Carlyle in a letter to Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I hope I have not made too free in anything I said–I wanted to write as if I was talking to you.” — Lethe Jackson, a slave, writing to her master’s daughter in 1838

In Cleveland, in the 1850s, a letter arrived addressed: “To the big-faced Butcher, with a big wart on his nose.” The local postmen knew exactly who the letter was meant for, but all of them were too afraid to deliver it.

Between 1844 and 1865, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow received more than 400 requests for his autograph, and referred to his growing stack of unanswered mail “as huge and inexhaustible as the guano on the odorous Chinchi Islands.”

Virginia Penny, writing in 1863 of employment opportunities for women, cautioned those who might want to work at the post office: “The class of women who go to the general post office constantly for letters are of a kind respectable women would not like to come into contact with. The majority receive letters under fictitious names.” Penny was referring to prostitutes, who used the privacy of the post and post office boxes to arrange meetings with clients.

Now I Understand


So, three years ago, thanks to Jay Cornell, I saw this illustration by J.C. Leyendecker which appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post of June 3, 1905. But I had no idea what was going on. From the magazine’s cover, it appeared to be illustrating a short story entitled “A State of Mind” by Robert W. Chambers, but I couldn’t find that story in any collection of Chambers’  work. (And a copy of the magazine I found on eBay was $25, which was too steep just to satisfy my curiosity.)

But yesterday, another eminent scholar, Bruce Townley, mentioned Chambers and I was inspired to search again, and by gosh there it was, “A State of Mind,” Chapter 14 in a book by Chambers called The Adventures of a Modest Man (1911). However, the answer wasn’t in Chapter 14. It was in Chapter 15, “Flotsam and Jetsam.”

Two men, Ellis and Jones, have made camp on a ridge after a day of fishing. Earlier in the day, they had been fishing upstream on property belonging to Vassar College, where young women were staging a tableaux from Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin, in full costume with a boat drawn by swans, on a lake dammed especially for such outdoor theatricals.

Back at the campsite, the men observe that a distant storm is swelling the streams on either side and their ridge becomes an island surrounded by torrents. Up at Vassar’s summer camp, the dam bursts, and…

“…Ellis caught sight of something in midstream bearing down on them in a smother of foam – an enormous lizard-like creature floundering throat-deep in the flood… the scaled claws churned the shallows; a spasm shook the head; the jaws gaped. ‘Help!’ said a very sweet and frightened voice.”

The creature is Fafnir the Dragon in papiermâché, and inside is Miss Molly Sandys of Vassar. A moment later, the swan boat also appears in the torrent, carrying one Rhine-maiden (Professor Rawson), one of the two swans, and Lohengrin, actually a young woman named Helen clad in armor; they are brought to safety on dry land as well.

Ellis, who is actually James Lowell Ellis, a famous young artist, falls instantly in love with Molly in the dragon costume, reassures her that all will be well, and there you have the moment captured by the illustration.