November 2013

Posted by Ellen

Photographer Trey Ratcliff called this picture "The Infity of Tokyo."

Posted by Ellen

Lily wraps one of her custom-created alliterative labels around a naked crayon at Crayola's play park in Easton, PA. Among her names for crayon colors: Lily Lemon, Lily Lollipop, Marvelous Mom, and Naughty Norman.

In the huge Crayola factory just outside of Easton, where all 64 colors are melted and molded and labeled and boxed and shipped out to the world, the wrapping of labels is of course done by machine. But until the wrapping machines came on line in the late 1930s, that part of the process was farmed out to families in the Easton area, who would work at their kitchen tables wrapping labels around each crayon individually for a piecework wage. Each family worked on a single color, and the delivery routes were organized by color: e.g., turn left at the Green house and go up the hill to the Blue place.

Modern crayons first showed up at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, where Crayola exhibited them as "dustless chalk," a healthful innovation for the classroom. The company that made them, Binney & Smith, was getting a little out of its comfort zone, since its main facility in Easton was a slate quarry, which provided slates for schoolrooms utilizing the non-dustless kind of chalk.

Today, Crayola's theme park and factory undergird the economy of Easton, which was once home as well to the headquarters of another corporation manufacturing the stuff American childhood used to be made of: Dixie Cups.

Posted by Ellen

At a watercolor workshop above a coffee shop in Singapore.

Posted by Ellen

. . . that Bart Simpson doll? We have no idea. But the baby in the middle? He turns 21 today.

That would be our youngest baby, Hankystein, shown here with his biggest brother John. All grown up now, a serious, stand-up guy, already taking his hard turn at fixing the world. He says he'll celebrate his 21st tonight by watching a documentary about climate change. Maybe that's really what he'll do. The kids today.

Hank's a serious guy, and you can count on him, but he takes a way goofy tack when things are looking a little too sincere. For example, below, he's nearing the finish line of a 50-km trail run–that's 50 kilometers, as in more than 30 miles, up and over a mountain, a Rocky Mountain. He was running amongst the rocks for eight hours. And there near the end, he sees a photographer, and it appears that he digs deep and summons the energy to . . . well, to jump in the air and mug for the camera.

On this occasion, Hank, we offer advice from a couple of your great-grandmothers, who never quite got to know you but who still pull a lot of strings across generational and other divides. From your great-grandmother Harriet, after whom you are named, we share a warning not to run too much, lest you come down with toe cancer. And from your great-grandma Buddy, we share an all-purpose birthday wish: Wear it in good health.

Posted by Ellen

By the sackful at Gavin's Cafe near Schuylkill River Park.

Posted by Ellen

The retina of the Chrysemys picta (painted turtle), enlarged 400 times, photographed through the eyepiece of an ordinary light microscope. This image was among the finalists in Nikon's 2013 Small World photomicrograph competition.

Posted by Ellen

Between 1941 and 1945, more ships were built here at Baltimore's Bethlehem-Fairfield yard than anywhere else on earth. Early in the war, building a Liberty Ship–a clunky freighter using a simple design left over from World War I–took eight months; by 1944, after they'd knocked out a few hundred Liberty Ships and gotten a knack for the work, Baltimoreans could build one in 19 days.

Liberty Ships were slow, awkward cargo vessels intended to last only five years–just long enough, it was hoped, for them to supply our forces overseas with everything needed to win the war: jeeps, tanks, food, ammunition, mail from home, medical supplies. More than 2700 were eventually constructed, all from standardized designs and prefabricated components, at shipyards around the country; 350 were built here in Baltimore, more than in any other single yard.

They weren't pretty–the newspapers called them "Ugly Ducklings"–but they could float.

Next door to the Bethlehem-Fairfield works was another shipyard, Maryland Drydock, where round the clock war work was also under way. At Maryland Drydock, old freighters and passenger liners were refitted to carry troops to war. Racks of bunks were installed in former cargo holds and staterooms, stacked eight deep, with just 18 vertical inches between them. Thousands of soldiers would be crammed into each ship.

Meanwhile, thousands of workmen, including my father, were making fabulous wages of a whole dollar an hour at Maryland Drydock. My father worked as a sheet metal helper there until he got drafted into the army in 1943. His job was to install ductwork in hopes of providing ventilation deep into the holds of cargo ships, where once piles of sugar or bolts of cloth or cases of rum had traveled in relatively airless comfort. The idea was that soldiers on their way to war might want to be able to breathe while jammed together into the new bunks. 

By the summer of 1944, my father couldn't have been very surprised when he became a passenger on a troop ship just like the ones he'd worked on at Maryland Drydock. Fifty years later, he wrote about his experience aboard the USS West Point: 

As we boarded the ship, each of us was given a paper tag–mine was pink–and that meant I got into the chow line at 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. The cooks started serving Spam and beans as we pulled out of Boston harbor, and they didn't stop, around the clock, until our ship tied up at Liverpool four and a half days later.

On the ship, which was carrying more than 11,000 soldiers and a 1500-man crew, my company was assigned to bunks in the lowest hold. I was given a wooden club, and in the event of an emergency I was supposed to stand at the head of a specified gangway and maintain order.

We all ignored those assignments and simply slept on deck. We didn't want to be below the waterline when the torpedo struck. We lucked out.