Monday, December 12, 2011

Echo from 1939: A Texas High School and its Six-Man Football Team

I like looking at old school yearbooks, particularly those from the surrounding area where I live. Spend a little time turning the pages and see what kind of interesting history you dig up. Local ads reveal business history and photos of students and activities capture the culture of the day. Old yearbooks offer a time capsule between the covers.

I was fortunate to find one of these time capsules last fall at a local book show where I was exhibiting. I say fortunate because this nondescript book lay hidden among more colorful, inviting covers on a bargain table. Many hands had touched it and brushed it aside to get to more substantial looking treasure. I picked it up for a quick inspection. Fingerspitzengefühl?

A bit beat up and soiled from decades of not-so-ideal care, The Echo, a 1939 Beasley, Texas High School Yearbook, was better preserved on the inside and provided a wonderful glimpse into rural Texas more than 70 years ago.

Paper covers opened to mimeographed text with old photos pasted onto the pages. This old yearbook is pretty much stripped down to the bone--no slick production with tons of content here--a reflection of the lean years of the Great Depression. But it's precisely what this yearbook doesn't have that makes it interesting from an historical and even cultural viewpoint.

The yearbook has about 50 pages and includes sections on Administration, Classes (less than 20 students in each), Athletics, Activities, and Advertising.

What really caught my eye, though, was the Athletics section and the old photos of the six-man football team.With so few students comprising each class, and the whole student body for that matter, the school would have been hard-pressed to field eleven boys on each side of the line of scrimmage, not to mention the extra cost for uniforms and equipment. The six-man version of the game was a perfect fit for Beasley High School in the late 1930s.

Six-man football wasn't invented in Texas, but Texas seems to have laid claim to it. The game was conceived by Stephen Epler in Chester, Nebraska back in 1934 in an effort to give small town schools short on players a chance to have a football team. So the eleven-man squad was cut down to six. The field's dimensions were shortened and a few new rules were instituted. This modified version of football was sanctioned by the University Interscholastic League in Texas four years later, in 1938. Play commenced that fall and the game spread rapidly across the vast rural areas of the Lone Star State.

The photos above are representative of the game in its inaugural year in Texas. As the yearbook in which I found them refers to the Senior Class of 1939, the Beasley six-man football team would have played their games  in the fall of 1938, making these photos some of the earliest images of six-man football in Texas.

Today, more than 150 schools, both public and private, still play six-man football. See the YouTube videos below (the second one an NFL trailer) for an idea of how the game has permeated small-town, rural Texas over the last seventy-plus years.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Words of gold from Paul Margulies

Paul Margulies authored a children's book in 1969 titled Gold Steps, Gold Stones, with lavish illustrations by James Kenton (J.K.) Lambert. It was published by Harlin Quist, who was known for his elaborately designed books and standard of excellence in children's book publishing in the 1960s and 1970s.

I found this copy of a first printing languishing inconspicuously on a corner shelf of a resale shop and, though unfamiliar with the author, illustrator, and publisher, recognized the book as a quality piece of work worth having and researching.

Margulies wrote this fantasy tale of a boy's journey and adventures for his children, one of whom grew up to become an Emmy Award-winning actor. Her name is Julianna Margulies (popularly known for her roles in ER and The Good Wife, among other television and film roles). Her father authored one more children's book that I know of, this one specifically for her: What Julianna Could See.

 Paul Margulies was an advertising writer, who wrote something much more memorable in popular culture than this children's books. For an Alka-Seltzer ad campaign, he came up with the well-known television jingle: "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh wait a relief it is." I'd bet, though, that for Julianna and her sisters, their father's most memorable writing had to be the books he wrote for them.

Gold Steps, Gold Stones is about a boy who who lives in a house made of gold and embarks upon a journey of fantasy for which he has a gold box he cannot open until the journey is completed. He becomes a boy King in a strange new land, helps people in need, and leaves at the end of his one-year tenure for a desert island. There, a stone walkway leads to a stone cottage, all of which turn to gold as he makes his way inside, where he discovers he has actually arrived home.

Having ended his travels, he is finally able to open the gold box he has carried so long and faithfully not opened. Now the open box reveals a miniature version of the room he and his family are sitting in.The inside of the box's lid reveals images all the people he helped on his journey. Had he opened it during the journey, he wouldn't have seen anything. But he did as his father told him, helped people where he could, and was able to return home to a golden home where the sun shone splendidly upon the walls where his family dwelled. It's not to hard to find the lessons or moral of this charming little story.

J.K. Lambert's colorful illustrations evoke a fantasy world appropriate for the dream-like travels of the young boy who became a King and found gold in his family and accomplishments away from them.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Dragons of Kangaroo Island

Here's a book I was delighted to find recently, the reasons for which appear farther down the page: The Dragons of Kangaroo Island (Tangara Publishing, Seattle, 2002), written and illustrated by Jacqueline Vickery Stanley.

Last summer, I visited the aquarium at Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas and saw something I never knew existed. Sea Dragons.

They are some of the most fascinating creatures I've ever seen and I watched mesmerized as they floated ethereally in front of me. They are small and delicate in appearance, dispelling all monster-of-the-deep images their name might suggest.

The photo above I took is not too good, but check out the following video for some brilliant underwater scenes with these mythical-looking marine animals from the south coast of Australia.

This, of course, got me searching for books on sea dragons. Or any information about them I could find from any source. To my disappointment, there wasn't as much on the Web as I thought there might be and books were virtually nonexistent, except for children's stories.

But it was a children's book I came across one day recently while scouting for books around Houston. At a moment when sea dragons were the farthest thing from my mind, a nice, jacketed copy seemingly jumped out at me. And it was signed by the author-illustrator no less. I had not encountered this title during an online search months ago and, of course, I bought it.

The illustrations are appealing and accompany a story about being comfortable with who you are and the way you look. That alludes to the "plain" Weedy Sea Dragon wishing she could look like her "flashy" cousin, the Leafy Sea Dragon.

Personally, I prefer the look of the Weedy Sea Dragon featured in the video above. I find its features much more striking. And for striking photos of each, see the Leafy Sea Dragon on National Geographic's Photography page and the Weedy Sea Dragon on Club Marine Magazine's site, the preceding link for which also displays a Sea Dragon cover story issue with a good bit of information about these endangered species. The photos of the divers getting up close and personal are stunning.

The author does a good job, in the course of the story, introducing her readers to other marine life in the Sea Dragons' neighborhood, as well as the dangers and threats to their environment and existence. No surprise that humans are number one on the list. She also provides a Q&A at the end of the book to educate children (and adults) about how the Sea Dragons live and reproduce.

I was surprised to learn that the Australian author (Jacqui Stanley) also lives in the Houston area, at least part of the time. That might help explain why a signed copy landed in this Gulf Coast city, a corner of the world completely devoid of Sea Dragons. Most of the world, for that matter, is devoid of Sea Dragons. As the author informs us at the beginning of the book, the south coast of Australia, around Kangaroo Island, is where you'll have to go if you want to see a Sea Dragon in the wild.

And if you can't make it to Kangaroo Island, there are a number of aquariums around the world that have made a second home for these guys and an opportunity for humans to see up close one of the most amazing creatures on the planet.

Some aquariums in the United States, in addition to the Moody Gardens Aquarium in Galveston include, but are not limited to: The Georgia Aquarium, The Monterrey Bay Aquarium, Ripley's Aquarium, Myrtle Beach, The Florida Aquarium, The New England Aquarium, The Tennessee Aquarium, and The Birch Aquarium in San Diego.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Seabiscuit, 9-11-01

This seemed an appropriate cross-post from Writing in Books for this blog. Found in a used book at a resale shop earlier this year and saved for today.

A copy of Seabiscuit (Random House, 2001), by Laura Hillenbrand. A simple gift inscription from a father to his daughter on September 11, 2001:  

Dear Bethany, I hope you enjoy this (I did). Love, Dad.

Next to the inscription, the father created a tiny memorial of sorts to mark the day for his daughter: a small American flag affixed to the page by a 34-cent US postage stamp that depicts the Statue of Liberty. A caption underneath states simply "9-11-01."

Various scenarios come to mind about why this book was presented on 9-11-01 and why it wound up in a resale shop where I found it and thought it worth saving. Scenarios come forth for each, but I'll just let the moment of the gift resonate here--the father's gift to his daughter, a book and a simple, poignant observance of the tragedy that befell a nation ten years ago today.

That day will never be forgotten in the lifetimes of those old enough to have had it indelibly imprinted into their memories. Many memorials and observances, in various forms, were erected that day. Even in a gift book, whose story of inspiration, hope, and renewal may have reflected the needs of the gift's recipient as well as those of the gift giver and an entire nation.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

What to do with those dirty or damaged books?

Books can present cleaning and restoration challenges when stains, dust, and other foreign substances invade the covers or leaves, or when a book's structural integrity has been compromised.

I recently came across some YouTube videos that offer inventive methods for the maintenance and restoration of dirty or damaged books. You'll want to hold onto your leg for the first one and I'm not so sure Rube Goldberg didn't have something to do with the second one. The last one may require general anesthesia. A sense of humor would also help.

Up first, here's a guy who starts out with a certain air of authority and then rapidly spirals into a farce of epic proportions. As the video rolled, I thought I was tapping into an old trade secret, albeit unconventional by initial appearances. Unconventional methods yielded quickly to serious doubt and laughter upon the realization I'd been had. And it kept getting worse. Please don't try this with your books!

Next up is an interesting contraption for automating the dusting and cleaning of a large amount of books as you would find in a library. Following the previous video, I was a bit skeptical going into it. Presenting the Depulvera...

And finally... Book to the OR... STAT!

Friday, August 05, 2011

Rare South African book recalls Luke Limner

I just came across this BBC article about a rare South African book believed to be the first French book, as well as the first travel narrative, published in South Africa. The book, whose title translates in English to Account Of The Wreck Of The French Ship The Eole In April 1829, was discovered by Dr. David Culpin of St. Andrews University.

The book is also important because the survivors of the shipwreck provide detail about contemporary events, including their interactions with indigenous people, the Xhosa, who were featured in a book I sold earlier this week: Red Blanket Valley, by Joan A. Broster

But there's another book I'm reminded of that I haven't let get away: Pen & Ink Sketches in Parliament, by Limner; published by the “Monitor” Office, Castle-Street, Capetown (South Africa) in 1855. I wrote about this interesting little volume nearly five years ago on this blog. See Hunting a Limner in South Africa, 1855.

Interesting in its own right, it still pales in comparison with Dr. Culpin's treasure. But it needs no translation into English and it's chock-full of contemporary views of Capetown life as well as ads for Capetown merchants.

Also important is the fact that Luke Limner was the pseudonym of an important book designer of the 19th century: John Leighton. Leighton was a writer (satirist), as well as a designer of books, fine bindings, and bookplates.