In the late 1920s and early 1930s, there was a Reverend L. Heumann who made his money peddling healing ointments, elixirs and various cure-alls through widely distributed pamphlets. This week’s Friday Find is one such pamphlet:
The copy in the pamphlet tends towards panic-inducing sensationalism, and it’s quite hilarious when read with the benefit of 80 years of hindsight and medical progress. A few examples:
“Pain and disturbances warn us of imminent danger…Do not pass these warnings- heed them before costly disease overtakes you. No one knows when he will be struck down by pain and disease.”
On a page called “Information For Nervous People”, Mr. Denver Bloom wrote a testimonial about Rev. Heumann’s “wonderful nerve medicine”:
“It is actually the best medicine I ever took. I now feel like a new person. I doctored with three different doctors but neither of them seemed to hit the spot. Yes, my nerves are 100% better.”
There’s also a page about eczema, titled “Don’t Lose Your Charm” with a photo of a young lad whose pocked face indicates that he has clearly lost his charm.
“When the skin is diseased or hurt, the germs have a broken-down gate through which they pour into the helpless system…Eczema makes its victim truly unfortunate.”
On the last page, Rev. Heumann claimed that he’d received over 7,000,000 requests for pamphlets- if this claim is to be believed (read: this claim should NOT be believed), one out of every 17 people in the United States requested one of his pamphlets.
It seems as though we’ve dug ourselves into quite the hole: last week, we found the find of all finds (especially if you’re as nutty about bricks as we are). How can we top this gem?
We can’t. But here’s an equally important artifact from another era:
It’s called a Video Home System cassette- apparently, there was a time when you couldn’t watch any movie in the universe by tapping into an amorphous system of interconnected computer networks. You had to actually go to a “movie store” and “rent” a “VHS tape” which you would then have to physically stick into a Videocassette recorder.
This particular cassette contained the 1982 movie Blade Runner, which looked ahead to the dystopian year 2019, when genetically engineered “replicants”, ordinarily relegated to menial work in space, were sneaking around Earth and being chased by Blade Runners. How prophetic!
This is the Friday Find to end all Friday Finds.
The title of this post is a misnomer: “needle in a haystack” is generally used to describe the near futility of finding a sought after item hidden among a mess of other non-sought after stuff. A more apt description of today’s Friday Find would be a needle in a galaxy of haystacks, and it comes to us via the incredibly sharp eye of Ms. Bernadette.
We clean a lot of bricks on Eager Street. In fact, we’ve palletized north of 100,000 of them so far. All told, the 35 houses on the 2400 block of Eager Street contain well over half a million bricks. If you lined up half a million bricks end to end, you’d have a row that would stretch from Baltimore to Wilmington, DE. In a sea of anonymous bricks, what are the chances that Bernadette would spot the jewel below?
If you can’t quite make out the writing on the brick above, you’re looking at the handiwork of one James Walker, who scrawled his name, the date (June 21st, 1906 A.D.) and his hometown (Highlandtown, MD) on the bed of the brick. Bernadette tells me she was stacking bricks when this brick caught her eye for some reason. The odds of her finding this among the half million others are beyond miniscule.
James A. Walker was born in Indiana in 1872 to Irish parents. He moved to the Baltimore area shortly thereafter, where he took up work as a bricklayer. By 1910, he lived at 3207 Canton Ave (now Fleet Street) with his wife, Mary, and his three children. Elmer, his 15 year-old son, worked as a pipefitter’s apprentice, and his 13 year-old daughter, Gertrude, worked as a helper at a can factory.
By the time the 1920 census was taken, Highlandtown had become incorporated into Baltimore (just one year earlier) and James had moved on from brick setting to carpentry, an occupation he would keep until his retirement two decades later.
It’s tempting to say that James’ message is analogous to a modern “James Wuz Here” tag, but James likely never meant for anyone to see this brick. He would have scratched his words into the brick before it was fired, probably just after it was molded, the clay still wet. The wet clay then would have been sent to the kiln, where James’ words became baked into the brick itself, achieving a longevity uncommon for what was likely no more than an act of boredom. The fired brick then would have been sent off to be laid in a nearby house; maybe the bricklayer saw James’ message, maybe not. Regardless, with a quick flick of the bricklayer’s wrist, a smear of mortar should have covered the words for all time.
Did James Walker, the brick setter, imagine the lives of the bricks he molded? Did he assume that the bricks he made, durable as any contemporary building material, would serve stoically in Baltimore rowhouses for centuries? Or maybe he was a realist, and imagined that one day his bricks would be pulverized by a wrecking ball or steam shovel. One thing is for certain: James surely did not envision that 109 years after he scratched his message, a crew of fellow Baltimoreans would be taking apart a block of rowhouses, brick by brick, and come across his scrawl.
Another bottle for ya on this edition of Friday Finds, this time a late 1940s to early 1950s “New Gold” soda bottle we found in a pantry in one of our houses. The story behind this product takes us across town into West Baltimore.
The New Gold Bottling Co. was founded in 1925 by Dionicios Karavedas. Dionicios (who would later Anglicize his name to “Daniel”) worked as a shoe shiner before getting into the world of soft drinks. In 1942, New Gold moved into new digs at 930 W Baltimore Street, taking over a space formerly occupied by a succession of movie theaters.
The company produced the popular “Sun Spot” soda along with the house brand “New Gold” bottle we found. Following the 1968 riots, the company experienced a sharp decline in sales, and Nicholas Karavedas, who had taken over from his father, explored a new and ironic line of products, namely a beverage that would detect sugar when ingested- Nicholas eventually refined his drink into a glucose-testing product useful for the detection of diabetes.
As for the old New Gold building (the one with the ovular sign hanging from it on the left side of the street) and its environs, here’s what it looked like in 1920:
And here’s what that same block looks like now:
Another twofer in this edition of Friday Finds: old vinyl records.
The first batch of records dates from the late 1940s. In this stack we actually have some rarities, or at least some deep cuts by folks who never quite made it big. There’s “Ain’t Nature Grand” by little known country songstress Esmereldy. Then there’s “Walking With My Shadow” by the Jimmie Valentine Quartet and “Boulevard of Memories” by jazz clarinetist/saxophonist/band leader Woody Herman. None of these songs made the Billboard Top 40, so it’s possible that an Eager Street denizen in the 1940s was a hipster who listened to bands nobody had ever heard of.
The second batch of records from a house just down the block features some more familiar artists:
If Ronald Isley’s outfit didn’t already give it away, these albums come straight from the 1980s. Midnight Love was Marvin Gaye’s last album before his untimely death at age 44. It featured what would become the biggest hit of his career, “Sexual Healing”. Reflections was Rick James’ first compilation album, featuring an extraordinarily clever reflecting (get it?!) record jacket.
In 1930, Jacob Horn, a cement finisher, lived with his wife Barbara and their daughter, also Barbara, at 2418 Eager Street. With them lived Ferdinand and Helen, listed as Jacob’s stepson and stepdaughter, respectively.
In 1938, we know that Helen was a patient at the Mt. Wilson Sanitarium, which had operated as a hospital for children until 1924 when it expanded to accommodate adult tuberculosis patients. On March 24, 1938 Helen wrote the following letter to Barbara Horn:
I received your letter and glad everyone is OK. I am feeling better. I would like a bottle of ink and a washrag. And send me a pair of pajamas, the pants don’t have to match. I need them please. Don’t send any thing I have plenty here. I am glad Pop got home safe. Well don’t forget those things I need please. Take care of yourself and be careful.