And now, from Away, Greek doughboys, Joe West and a cow in the front yard

Posted on September 18, 2010


I tell you, some days are just full of adventures.  I didn’t even get pictures of everything from Thursday and I have more than I can possibly use.  I think I’m going to start at the end and work my way backwards.

Tom Vranich had left a message on my answering machine–by which you know I was gone all day and the slooow dialup was not on.  Tom was calling a couple dozen of his nearest and dearest friends to say that this singer/songwriter name of Joe West was going to be over at Scott Nelles’s studio that night and we should come hear him.  Tom and Ardie had been to Joe’s gigs before and really liked him.  Well. I had never heard of Joe before, on account of I live in a cave, but I went and I enjoyed myself.  He’s funny, he can sing, and he’s from New Mexico.  All good.

I like straightforward songs about straightforward people, and Joe did some of those.  I also, and this will surprise none of you, enjoy funny songs by smart-aleck songwriters, and we had some of those, too.  Just can’t resist a guy on the kazoo.

Altogether a satisfactory evening.  Partway through it occurred to me to try to take some concert photos–maybe one would be eligible for Scott Thomas’s latest challenge over at Views Infinitum!–but my results were underwhelming.  Sorry, Joe.   

Just before that I’d been over at the old Township Hall in Elk Rapids, where I had expected to hear Glenn Neumann talk about this great painted stage curtain they have there.  I had the night wrong.  Glenn looked smug.  I think he tricked me into going to Elk Rapids twice.  That’s OK.  I tricked him into coming up to Torch Lake Township on Monday to hear me talk about our Civil War flag.  (Note how cleverly I stuck in a plug about that?) 

Anyway, in the event, Stef Staley was there talking about the lighthouses of the Grand Traverse region, and that was absorbing stuff, too.  I did not take pictures, but you can see the inside of Stef’s Grand Traverse lighthouse museum on Loreen Niewenhuis’s Lake Trek post about volunteering there.  You can see the outside here because I swiped the photo from Stef’s site.  Good looking lighthouse, isn’t it?  There are lighthouses like these all over the Great Lakes, most of them in Michigan on account of our 3,000+ miles of Great Lakes shoreline.

Still working backwards, before Stef’s talk I spent a great afternoon at the Traverse Area District Library.  And if you’ve been waiting patiently for the cow in the front yard, here it comes.

Sherry Gaines thinks it’s the first time she ever saw a cow and a car posed together for a photo.  Sherry was the reason I was at the library.  I had read a little notice: Sherry Gaines, Vintage Photo Hobbyist, will be available to assist with dating vintage photographs that people have been wondering how to identify. . . . [She] is able to give an approximate date and a bit about why the photo was taken.  

Hm, I thought.  That’s a useful skill.  Wonder how she does that?  Well.  You would be amazed.  She knows that men’s pants didn’t have creases before 1910, that women didn’t bob their hair before 1930, that they switched from boots to shoes at this period and from those floor-length skirts to the ankle-brushing ones at that period.  Celluloid collars were done by a certain date, and striped menswear came in at another.  Sherry says she isn’t real good at military uniforms, but one way she tells Spanish American War soldiers from World War One soldiers is that the former tend to have sabers. 

Sherry has good listening skills and that handy dandy magnifier

People lined up to talk to her. Jackie was one of them, and allowed me to photograph her and her photos for Torch Lake Views. Sherry always begins with an interview. Jackie told her about the photos coming to her in a package from a relative who was clearing out old things. No one knew much about any of them.  There were letters and postcards in Greek. She had a lady from the Greek Orthodox Church translate them for her. What else could she learn?

It turned out that pretty much the whole package could be dated to the period between 1905 and 1920.  That’s a very good start on research, let me tell you.  You can save a lot of time chasing down rabbit trails if you know that much.

I thought you’d like to see these photos from Jackie’s collection.  (Keep in mind that I was taking pictures of pictures.  The photos people brought were better than they look here.)  Sherry says she rarely sees really good photos of Doughboys–World War I soldiers.  Jackie had two.  Clearly these guys were posing for the photographer, making postcards to send to the relatives, proud of serving their new country.  Knowing what you know about the war they were headed into, you hope they came out of it OK. 

Then there was this photo, from a different participant.  Her ancestors came from Sweden–naturally my ears perked up–and she had something quite unusual: a photo taken in the Old Country before they came to the New Country!

The home they left in Sweden

I don’t know if these were the people who were coming here, or the people they were leaving.  Either way, you hope they saw this little house again.  You hope their lives went well.  You can feel quite tenderly about strangers in old photographs.

Hope to see you on Monday, unless you’re from Away, of course, in which case I’ll tell you all about it next week.  You’ll be sorry to have missed the excellent treats.