Mystery Photo

Girl, or girls?..

Mesmerizing!! A mirror trick? How many girls are there? this photo is intriguing on many levels: the 19th century costume, the hairstyle, the way the photo is taken. Is it intentional, or just a plain accident?

Lots of innocence in this photo, all framed in a clever photographic play. The young women’s smile is as enigmatic as the photo setup. Is she smiling, or is she just pensive? Different angles highlight different results (if this is only one girl!) Strangely, and beautifully, this young woman’s look transcends time and ethnicity: Eastern European, Mediterranean, Native or African American? Who would have such a big mirror back then (or is it )? And what about these drapes, they almost give the feel of a big top circus. As for the flower, one can just wonder about what occasion this girl is preparing for.

Perplexing indeed, the clues are endless. The photo seems to give us every side of the girl, and leave us wondering about the layers of meanings, all while being captivated by a spellbinding mystery.

Ruler of the 180th Meridian

‘Silent Mysteries of the Far East”…

Sailing long stretches at sea can only induce insomniatic hallucinations. The sea turns into a grand mysterious fantastic domain: Abandoned tall ships, heavy anchors, barnacled chains, wind spirits, and deep sea monsters. Mermaids are real, and the fair sex gets fairer through a haze of dreamlike recollections. This is the state of a nostalgic homesick seafarer with imagination running amok. Erotic images of women storm through the lonely sailor’s mind, who is desperately yearning to catch a glimpse, or to feel the touch of the beloved. Heroics are meaningless without sharing with the other sex. Glory, gold and silver might be the sought after treasure, yet woman is the ultimate prize. No adventure is complete without the feminine in it.

To all sailors, Soldiers, Marines, wherever ye may be and to all mermaids, flying dragons, spirits of the deep, devil chasers, and all their living creatures of the yellow seas”

How not to be intrigued with this pronouncement.  Here we are, being instructed by the “Ruler of the 180th Meridian” that a certain Stuart T Middleton earned his spurs as a “sane and worthy” dweller of the Far East. Whatever that means, it is an initiation into a special rite.  The Golden Dragon has bestowed upon Stuart a very special privilege, with some very special protections.

Be it further understood: That by virtue of the power vested in me I do hereby command all moneylenders, wine sellers, cabaret owners, cat house managers and all my other subjects to show honor and respect to all his wishes whenever he may enter my realm. Disobey this command under penalty of my august displeasure.”
Golden Dragon
Ruler of the 180th Meridian

There are many of these line crossing ceremonies  (a hedonistic  ceremony performed for “Pollywogs”–meaning sailors who have not crossed yet.)  The certificate above turned out to be one the rare ones, and crossing the 180th Meridian (International Date Line) is a special one that carries with it special status. This rite is as old as the early 1800s, and it is an initiation that used to be reserved only to military personnel while crossing these lines.

Hearken ye: The said vessel, officers and crew have been inspected and passed on by my august body and staff. And know ye: that are chit signers, squaw men, opium smokers, ice men, and all-round landlubbers”

Certainly between all of the certificates for line-crossing this one takes the cake for the colorful language, and the well chosen art and titles. There is a lot left for the imagination, as the “Far East” is made to resemble an uncivilized domain of sorcery, dragons, magic, pirates and many more–pure enchantment . Also, what’s with the chains and bare chested buxom blonde pin up sirens adorning the cert? Are they supposed to be the Golden Dragon’s women in bondage? Abducted from civilization to far, far way savage lands?? Flanked by that menacing dragon, in a scene only fit for a classic sailor’s tattoo. Yes, I shouldn’t over think the imageries, yet, this should give us a small glimpse into the imagination of WWII young men, sailing for months on end without the sight of a female.

Finally, a few notes about the USS Bladen: the ship was commissioned in 1945 and served as a Gilliam Class Attack Transport.  It was assigned to the Asiatic-Pacific campaigns, where it served assault and occupation in both the Iwo Jima and the Okinawa Gunto operations.

“Merry xmas & happy new year to you–Billy”

1904 Post Card, Front

Postcards are dull. Whether in a supermarket aisles or at the Hallmark stores, they make for a boring, sophomoric (at best) wit. Just like a t-shirt with a snarky childish quote, these new cards tend to smack you with a dull poseur attitude. I still scratch my head at the idea that Hallmark was the conspiratorial instigator of all of the consumerist holidays like Valentines, and others in order to sell “cards.”

Old postcards are different, they tend to leave room for wit, intelligence and care.  Above all, there is a human touch in conveying a feeling in handwriting, especially, when it is done with a fountain pen. Picture postcards are even better. They present the recipient with an “on the subject” location that embellish the message, and add to its content –no silly cartoons, or sappy meaningless poetry, or pictures of kittens.

1904 Post Card, Back –Luxor, Egypt

“Merry Xmas & happy new year to you–Billy.”

Over a century later, I am baffled by the travels of this little card. A sentiment started in Luxor Egypt; travelled to Cincinnati Ohio, by way of New York; onto Villa Leonie, Menton (Alpes Maritime), France; and back to Cincinnati, Ohio.

Now one might ask how and why this subject is appealing? Well, there is a mixture of curiosity and voyeurism here. This card has all the hallmarks of a profound oddity. Signposts are everywhere within the words pointing to  intriguing travel stations along its journey,  begging to be discovered and cataloged. It boils down to going through an exercise of detective work, all due to jots of ink of addresses, dates, names, and most important of all, a crossed out line.

The personalities involved, especially their status in society, and their proximate relation to history and archaeology was of utmost importance. The investigation was surprisingly fruitful and very satisfying.

The first thing that piqued my interest in the card was the subject: Egypt. Followed, by the twentieth century Egyptian and (oddly) American stamps.  Seals, from three continents in three languages: Arabic, French and English, and fountain pen writings that include an odd crossed out recipient.


This was the time of the Ottoman rule: “Khedivate of Egypt,” where the country was an autonomous state of the Ottoman empire at its waning years. Informally Egypt was a veiled British protectorate, ruled by British Consuls. Ultimately, this is no more than one proud tourist sending a Luxor card form Egypt to someone back home. The relation of this sender is unknown, and it is intriguing, as there is no last name included on the card: family, friend??.

The Cincinnati Connection

Cincinnati’s Roebling bridge. Yes, as in John Augustus Roebling, the same fella that Architected the Brooklyn one.

Rawson was a prominent family in the history of Cincinnati. They made their fortune from the hog packing industry which propelled them to be the wealthiest in the city. The card was addressed to Mary Rawson, in care of Josephine Rawson Esq. (Her niece). Josephine worked at the First National Bank of Cincinnati, where another Rawson, her uncle Joseph, was the vice-president.

Leaving Cairo Egypt on the eve of 1904, The Christmas wish left Cincinnati again at 7 PM, January 11, 1904. With a jot of ink, Josephine crossed her own name and re-addressed the card. It is now destined again to Mary, who is in Menton, the South of France, at a place called Villa Leonie which still exists as a hotel in Nice. A transit seal shows the card passing through New York on January 13th (perhaps out of the New York harbor), and arriving to Menton (Alpes Maritime), France on January 22. Not too Shabby, considering that this is not Air Mail (no airplanes existed back then save for the “Wright Flyer” of Orville and Wilber Wright.)  Amazingly, it took less than 9 days to make the journey across the Atlantic.

Ironically, this same card made it back once more to Cincinnati.  No stamps, seals, or dates are on the card, yet records from the Springrove cemetery indicates the death of Mary in Menton and her burial on 6 Jan 1930 in the family mausoleum at this very old and distinguished cemetery in Cincinnati.  This card must have made the journey back with Mary’s belongings, and for me to acquire it close to a century later.

America in the 1900

Mary seems to have been living in France. A woman of high society and education, she could afford leaving the US behind and moving to France to be an expatriate on the beautiful Mediterranean. From what I gathered of publications about the Rawson family, travel, ivy league education and the arts have a prominent place in their lives, starting with the Elder Rawson, Joseph Sr. who traveled through Europe for museums and music interests. Just like the majority of American elites in their time, culture must have meant a lot to them, as each and every member of that family led an interesting life. This was a formative time in the history of the US.  Teddy Roosevelt was president, Ford Motor company got established, The Wright brothers make their first powered flight in the Wright Flyer, and the Panama Canal Zone acquired.  While the civil war was not a distant memory, people were not thinking of Depressions.  Rather than world wars, people were looking forward to world fairs, and the US was starting to assert its power on the world stage with treaties and doctrines.

The Rawson family ties for this post

Classical Archaeology

This card adds one more intriguing twist. Beside the Rawson family wealth and status, Mary is an aunt to another famous woman: Marion Rawson.  A pioneering classical archaeologist who was credited along with Carl Blegen of the University of Cincinnati of finding evidence to substantiate and date the sack of Troy described in Homer’s Iliad. Wealth, education, and dedication to the arts seemed to have come together to produce Marion.  She and her sister found their calling in archaeology.  This interest was not so trivial, as the combination of independence and hard work were instrumental in Marion being a crucial contributor to the uncovering of the palaces of Priam and Nestor.

This card made an amazing journey through the world.  From Africa, to America, to Europe, and back to America.  This was accomplished due to stature and rich lives of each of the people on the card. There are brushes with wealth, fame, classical and modern history at a crucial time in the story of American power ascendancy, the eclipse of the Ottoman empire, and the change in the whole world order for centuries to come. It is amazing how a few words on a humble post card can peel so many layers from the past.  Most of all, it is that crossed-out line, which created such dissonance, that ended up prodding us on such a special journey.



Billet from the Leviathan


Troop Billet, USS Leviathan -Front

Always been fascinated by ocean liners, transport ships and anything that was of Great Wars and maritime historical value.  Early twentieth century is laden with war, grit  and romance. Imagine my excitement when I came across this gem last weekend. A Troop Billet from the USS Leviathan, the ship famously known as a spoil of war of sort. The ship was originally built as Vaterland for Germany, it was seized in 1917 around WWI by the U.S. government and renamed Leviathan. Before the armistice on 11 November 1918 the ship transported over 119,000 fighting men from the US to Europe, mostly to Brest, France.

USS Leviathan in dazzle camouflage

The Leviathan had a very rich history. Its mystique augmented by the fact that among the ship’s US Navy crew during that period was future film star Humphrey Bogart. The ship was decommissioned and was lavishly refurbished to be used for trans-Atlantic crossings under the management of U.S. Lines. The Leviathan proved to be very popular and a huge symbol of American power and prestige. The ship was literally America’s first Super Liner.

Troop Billet, WWI USS Leviathan – Back

Aside from its military service, the Leviathan was a subject of inspiration in art and music.  It was a witness to the roaring twenties big orchestra Fox Trots,  as well as illustrations and propaganda posters. The internet is replete with pictures and YouTube videos featuring the elegance and historical value of the ship.

SS Leviathan, by J.C.Leyendecker

On a personal level, I wish the billet has the troop’s name and rank.  Yet, with that lack, it makes for a powerful testament to the sacrifices of the “Unknown Soldier.” Incidentally, this billet is surprisingly kept in good shape after almost a century from the time it was issued.

Additional Videos:

SS Leviathan – America’s First Super Liner

Sailing on the SS Leviathan (1929)

S.S. Leviathan and her Passengers – Then it must be love

SS Vaterland and Leviathan

Life aboard the American troopship, SS Leviathan, during World War I. HD Stock Footage

Views of engine controls and boilers of the SS Leviathan troop transport ship dur…HD Stock Footage

s.s. Vaterland, Hamburg Amerika Line, Hapag, Soundtrack out Alexander-

Fake as a Three Dollar Bill


3 Dollar Bill, The Bank of Cincinnati

Dead sea scroll fragment??..  Close, yet not quite. Common knowledge dictates that a three dollar bill should be a “fake”. Well, here is one. As a matter or fact there are lots of these three dollar bills and they can command large sums of money. Research into the authenticity of this bill leads to interesting facts. It turned out that the Federal government never printed any denomination of this sort. As a mater of fact, the US government did not print its own currency until the civil war (mid 1800s), preferring to use gold and silver for purchases. Notes were IOU’s called legal tender or Demand Note. For this reason local banks and railroad were able to print currency. Anyone that can back the printed note with gold or silver was able to print them.
Lots of colorful currency made it to the markets, with idyllic scenes and patriotic themes. Depending on the issuing bank, there would be farming, railroad, or some famous city landmark on the printed bills. Interesting fact is that the limited availability of the printed notes made foreign money from pesos to other denominations accepted legal tender in most states. Local banks printed notes values fluctuated when used locally vs other towns/states. It was even possible to buy tender steeply discounted (outside the original market) and then sell back to the issuing bank for profit. So in the Civil War tender went up and down depending on the conduct of war, as both North and South printed money. it was not surprising to see 1000, 5000, 10000 notes as well as fraction ones, 25 and 50 cents.  The advent of technology made many of these denominations obsolete.  As for printing notes altogether, only with the establishment of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing that this practice slowed and eventually ceased.

The picture above is of a 3-dollar bill from the Bank of Cincinnati.  It is signed by George Hatch, the mayor of Cincinnati (from 1861-1863).   The faint block print shows the bustling commerce of Cincinnati and its riverfront on the Ohio, where the port teemed with steam boats. At that time, Cincinnati earned the nickname Porkopolis for being a chief hog packing center.  Rich history has Cincinnati earning other names: “City of Seven Hills”and “Queen of the West.”..

Aside from being a crucial station on the Underground Railroad, Cincinnati was known as a manufacturing and commerce town. Big industries from the 1800 and throughout the 20th century (especially for the world wars efforts) churned machines that literally “made” American machine shops and factories.  On the lighter side, a little known fact is that Cincinnati was a national beer brewing hub (thanks to the city’s influential German heritage), and a proud home of a strange concoction, called  the Cincinnati “Chili”–made out of spaghetti and a meat sauce, adored by fans, and despised by many– (thanks to the city’s old Greek diaspora.)  Also, Cincinnati has many firsts: the first AM radio station (WLW), the first licensed public TV station (WCETV-TV), and the first city in the world for having a paid fire department and for using steam fire engines.

As for the 3-dollar bill, it would be interesting to know what role the city government had in printing this money (Hatch’s signature,) as the mayor in Cincinnati and not a banker, when the printing is normally done by local banks (is it to lend legitimacy?). For this piece, it is hard to tell whether Hatch’s signature is hand written or part of the engraving. An examination of similar examples from other banks shows the signatures as authentically hand-written. As for Hatch, he had an interesting presence in the history of Cincinnati and the Civil War, from when the Confederate forces were about to cross the Ohio River into Indiana (and Cincinnati), to the protest for the creation of “The Black Brigade of Cincinnati” –a military unit that was organized in 1862 to defend the city (another first.) –If this tattered piece of paper could speak!!

Calling Bill Hicks

The Bill Hicks Apparition

Coincidence??..Hardly, this is just a photo of three muse like dapper gentlemen and some unassuming jots of ink. Except!.. for me coming across Bill’s name on a photo from 1926 is as sacred as seeing a silhouette of the Lord’s face on a piece of burnt toast.  The Ouija board might be misfiring a little bit, but in a séance’y way, it almost about got his full name there: “Bill, Hicks, Marvin,” especially, when his real name is “William Melvin Hicks”: Melvin, Marvin–not much difference. Serendipity works in mysterious ways.  It is as if I’ve been summoned by Bill form the Afterlife—at a Flea Market??:

–Bill, you’re in Ohio, Houston is that’a way…

Mind Blowing!. Only a very few would understand the significance of this opportune Coincidence. More than any time in the history of this fair lady “America”, we need to be channeling Bill’s thoughts and wise words. This is as spiritual of an experience as it could be. One of my favorite comedian, a subject of a personal apparition! On a flea market find of all things! —from 1926! Not to mention the significance of the caption on the picture: “The Trio.” In this age of royal cynicism, it is as if we are dealing with a hip way of calling the “Trinity”: “The Bill, the Hicks, and the holy Marvin”.  We just happened on a whole new crack opening for a new dimension folks: Time travel, Angels, Zombies, spirits: they are all real, Y’all…

(RIP William Melvin Hicks)

The Code of the Dirt Mall

Vintage Manure spreader tires, meant for action much like what I am doing here…

Stinky Pete’s essentials for any Flea Market frequenter/enthusiast. It is the code to live and die by, and they are always evolving:

Shall Nots

  • Thou shall not ask for a price of any item that is held by someone else.
  • Thou shall not take snatch anything from someone else’s hand.
  • Thou shall not buy anything without haggling.
  • Thou shall not “educate” anyone about any item being sold.
  • Thou shall not accept a vendor’s electronics guarantee face value.
  • Thou shall not accept face value any assertion made by a vendor.
  • Thou shall not believe a vendor when saying that he will bring an item the next meeting.
  • Thou shall not believe a vendor when saying that he will bring an item the next meeting “for you only”.
  • Thou shall not date or be romantically involved with any flea-marketer.
  • Thou shall not place all of your cash in one pocket.
  • Thou shall not brag about the deal you got from a vendor and how much profit you made out of it.
  • Thou shall not be a smart-ass.
  • Thou shall not buy anything from a vendor whose name is not Bob.
  • Thou shall not follow any rules.


  • Thou shall accept, believe and live by all flea marketers conspiracy theories.
  • Thou shall accept the marketers assertions that the government is always watching.
  • Thou shall always have correct change of money, and a change of clothes
  • Thou shall blame everything on Obamacare.
  • Thou shall realize that if anything looks hot, it is hot.
  • Thou shall run away from shady deals.
  • Thou shall always feign ignorance about anything and everything.

An Ode to Dirt Malls

Spelling and Compostion

Ever been to a flea market? This bizarre world of resurrected oddities, the physical Wikipedia of junk?  Junk! –the flea market is that temple of “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” It is the place where defunct objects get new leases on life. As an object is written off as outdated and useless, a flea market vendor facilitates a ceremonial re-birth by the ancient mysteries of hawking. This simple magical ceremony of letting go, and acceptance (by throwing down capital), where the recipient assumes an object’s eccentricities, quirks, peculiarities, and bizarreness. From the mundane to the exotic, this is a place of discovery. The flea market is literally a place of knowledge, a school of sorts: history, archaeology, psychology, art, business and much more are offered and taught, albeit only on weekends.

Ironically, the flea market is a place where an object is extremely valuable and very cheap at the same time.  It is a smorgasbord of value that is waiting on your desire, taste and talent.

Old worn out copies of elementary school arithmetic, geography or grammar books beg to be rescued as they lay at the bottom of a box piled up with rusty crooked nails and used half empty cans of paint. The flea market is a wild jungle full of inexplicable encounters. Cheap deals and oddities come alive in bestial forms releasing animalistic pheromones wafting through the air. This in turn triggers the release of colossal amounts of testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, and other hormones coursing through your veins, inducing feverish desires to acquire a useless object you have never contemplated ownership prior to that moment –a junk passion at first sight.

Junk or treasure?

In the modern rigid world of a box store “Fixed Price” the flea market is an open air island of no holds barred; negotiations are encouraged and welcomed, and they can bring prices crashing down to unheard of levels. A final deal requires the wrestling of auctioneer’s speed and buyer’s wit and cunning.

The flea market is the place of discovery: where would anyone go to get an eight-track head cleaner, or rummage through a box of ancient reel to reel tapes? it is a place of light humor: Ever wonder where enterprising Stinky Pete got these flowers he is hawking?  Or did he just rip them off the side of the highway on the way in to sell as “Natural Organic Arrangements”?  One shall never know.

Ultimately, it is where a tattered signed copy of Elbert Hubbard’s “A Message to Garcia” lays in the same box as an unopened six pack of Billy beer, along with a pair of old chipped glass insulators.

The flea market is a place of Cacophony, it induces both confusion and euphoria. With the certainty of finding Known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns you are certainly in the now, in the right place, at home in the dirt mall. So, find one nearby and happy hunting.