SPring 7-1261, VIRginia 3-6308.

If the title of this post looks like some kind of code to you that’s because it is. Telephone Exchange Names were the standard for telephone numbers until the mid-1960s, when the Bell System phased them out in favor of 10-digit numbers. Dave Cook, a friend from the long-running food blog EatingInTranslation.com, wrote to share this photo of a very faded VIRginia exchange phone number painted on the wall of a funeral home in Richmond Hill, Queens. This one is a little  hard to see so I added an enormous red arrow to pinpoint it.

VIRginia Exchange Name Sighting

VIRginia Exchange Name Sighting

The VIRginia exchange name sighting is somewhat unusual in that the first three letters of the word are capitalized. Typically only the first two letters are treated in that way. The only other example that I’ve seen of a three-letter exchange is the HAVemeyer exchange name used by the Charles Hoelzer Iron Works company.

I haven’t kept an eye out for this stuff lately, but for a while it seemed as if I was seeing these exchange names all over the place. It became one of those relics from the past that is right there in front of you if you open your eyes and realize what you are looking at.

A few weeks ago I spotted this SPring exchange name phone number at the Raffetto Corp, 144 West Houston. It was my first sighting of an old exchange name in almost a year.

SPring exchange, Raffetto Corp.

SPring exchange, Raffetto Corp.

Dave Cook’s VIRginia sighting reminds me that I was in Maspeth last week, where I noticed that the Laurel Manufacturing Company finally got with the times and papered over its old TWinings exchange name phone number with its 20th century 10-digit equivalent. It took the company 50 years to get with the times. I was actually a little disappointed by this, since I find the enduring presence of these old phone numbers to be charming.

The TWinings phone number appeared twice on this sign. Today a full 10-digit phone number covers one of the numbers, and a web site URL covers the other.

Laurel Manufacturing, modern phone number

Laurel Manufacturing, modern phone number & web site URL.


Statue Swap at Calvary

Rummaging through old photos again, I spotted this set from Calvary, where I seem to have spotted a statue swap.

Something that probably caught the attention of absolutely nobody (save for the perpetrators) was the trading of this statue for another at Calvary Cemetery. This film photo from a few years ago shows a statue of Jesus wearing light blue and white robes. Click the arrows below to move through this set of 3 pictures.
« 1 of 3 »

Everything Is Ruined

All food has turned to inarticulate balls of hair. Grade school craft projects have assumed souls, their dignity damaged with pencil-lashings. Slashes rip leftover radios still chirping nightly news summaries from 1922. Craven fantasies of hedonists lie vanquished, each dream suffocated under its own flaccidity, clustered like punchlines declared righteous by the solitary comedian but dismissed as vacant backwash by her peers.

A lonely tube of shoes and socks rivals for my attention but I am drawn to a crowd of humble geese, their towering and rigid frightfulness sated by the catastrophe surrounding us. Their stern posture of marmish dignity has given way to greyed passions and humorless dust in their lungs. All creatures so remarkably similar but these creatively-appointed birds are unique among the survivors, maintaining their reputation of authority while visibly defeated. I step heavily through their fields, honest but chagrined at what past triumphs have come to.

All motorized vehicles upon which society relied are gone. No one can draw a circle, no one can turn a wheel. The bus and taxi drivers of yore now operate the heavy machinery of thought. They manage obligatory rituals of memory, their urgency falling hardest on they who felt they knew and understood basic accommodations of human races. They anthropomorphize vanquished towers and shattered religions, filling dead air with substances of life.

Oil tycoons are gone. Natural resources are unknown. We survive drinking vaccines and formerly poisonous stinkroot plundered from enormous birdcage facilities that swallowed thousands of hospitals during the Bicholim Conflict. Microphones and loudspeakers from the sky blast savage noise, colossal rapture of radio sounds overlapping like alcoholics addicted to mind control, northern lights replaced by northern noise of a decimated heavenly audio system none on earth could have fathomed had we not seen it ourselves, crashing through thousands of firmaments.

Towering but unsteady the crutches that hold God’s legs above the ground stampede like redwoods from the sky, punishing the groaning earth that He so sullenly surveys. How did crowds of wandering blow so hard and far apart? How do incredible creations, monumental moods, and façades of fathomless extremes resign themselves to such violent deaths?


Old Photos

Rummaging through old photos in search of I-don’t-know-what, this shot seemed weirdly amusing. Philip Glass. Charmin. Coin rolls. Twenty Dollar Billz.

Hard Drives, Charmin, Philip Glass.

Hard Drives, Charmin, Philip Glass.

Little Blue Gone

A bunch of years ago (12, to be exact) I visited the town of Chester, West Virginia.

Chester was one stop among many that year, including South Dakota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Wyoming, and other places in West Virginia.

Chester stood out for its unexpected attraction: A freakishly beautiful neon-blue lake in which all trees and plant life were dead.

Chester, WV. Little Blue.

Chester, WV. Little Blue.


I later learned the lake was man made, and served as a settling pond for fly ash from a nearby power plant. The pond would become targeted by journalists and public officials as a health hazard.

After I posted my account of the lake I received many e-mails from people sharing their stories of Little Blue (oddly enough the area was known as “Little Blue” even before it was filled with blue water).

You can read the stories here, and look for a link to “Dangerous Disposal“, by Alyson Walls. Ms. Walls contacted me before writing that story, though I was never clear on why. Whatever the case it’s a strong story revealing the public health and safety hazards of the fly ash settling pond in Chester.

I revisited the story of Little Blue this week when Ian, writing from West Virginia, wrote to say that he had visited the site recently. He was sad to report that the lake is completely gone, and that no one would ever know it had been there without seeing the pictures.

Ian sought out the lake thinking it was a thing of beauty, and was thus disappointed to find it gone.

Alas, after doing some research on the lake he discovered that it may have been beautiful on the surface but ugly underneath. It even sounds like the dirt used to fill the lake is itself potentially contaminated.

Chester, WV. Little Blue Gone. Photo by Ian.

Chester, WV. Little Blue Gone. Photo by Ian.


Broken Links

Cleaning up broken links at 181.sorabji.com, that has been the agenda here, aiming to clear the link rot inevitably infesting sites that have been around for 20 years.

One day the Internet will disappear, and “links” will be a source of nostalgia, the term found mostly in weathered encyclopædia at tiny libraries.

Far fewer bad links than I expected turn up in these pages, though the link checkup only goes back to 2004. I may run the pages from 1994-2003 through link checkers.

Most of the dead links now are newly born (hah) on account of the move from sorabji.com to 181.sorabji.com. My inane habit of using relative links within the same site came back to bite, as I always knew it would. I could plug in smart wildcard redirects but I actually had a few days of bemusement wandering through some of the content here. I forgot so much.

I rediscovered pictures from the mini-adventure my father and I pursued, driving to Sneedville, Tennessee in the summer of 2000.

Sneedville is central to the history of the Melungeons, a mixed-race people whose ethnic heritage was billed an exotic mystery by the genealogical community in 1999 and 2000.

Modern DNA analysis seems to have painted a Melungeon ethnic profile far less exotic than some had imagined, but there is more debate over this matter than I have time to catch up with now.

I had my DNA analyzed by the folks at ancestry.com. I expected no surprises, and none arose: I am White! (that’s with an exclamation point). I rise White! from stock of Great Britain, Western Europe, Scandinavia, and Ireland. Trace regions of Eastern Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, and Italy/Greece leave some room for intrigue, but I’ll have none of that.

I gave virtually no attention to my parents’ discussions of their family trees throughout their years. My father in particular wanted me to know details of his side of the family. He wrote long letters to me describing his parents and grandparents, people I never knew or barely contacted.

Dad’s enthusiasm for his hawk-eyed past culminated anticlimactically in a dour, depressing reading of the family tree to my sister, myself, and in-laws. Going up and down the lineage he named names, helpfully adding how they died.

“He was a suicide” and “He died by alcohol” and “He died under questionable circumstances” sparkled like morbid Christmas ornaments on dad’s side of the tree.

It puzzles me how I became a genealogical sociopath.

For a few years I made side money as a Forensic Genealogist — a highfalutin term for Cemetery Photographer. Treetracers and occasionally attorneys (usually from far away) offered $50 or $75 for me to go out to Calvary and other New York City cemeteries. My mission was to find and photograph tombstones of their forebears (or their clients’ forbears), for whatever value the markers’ inscriptions might hold.

(You might be surprised by how many tombstones contain pertinent family information not recorded anywhere else.)

I pursued this labor-intensive work with genuinely positive energy and interest. I helped people connect disparate treetracer dots while also helping to open new mysteries.

I abandoned the pursuit after a majority of folks who contacted me not only decided not to pay me for my time and services, they didn’t even thank me for the hours of work it takes to find the right tombstone and appropriately photograph it.

To me this was a common symptom of the “everything is free on the Internet” mentality. In this case the gluttony extended beyond passively stealing digital content, moving into the realm of stealing hours worth of people’s time and physical effort, offering nothing in return.

Nevertheless, I maintained positive energy toward the pursuit for about a year.

For as much satisfaction I found successfully helping others fill in their family trees I am left with a conspicuous void of interest in my own heritage.

I do not refuse to be interested as a kind of protest or statement. I just don’t care.

Looking at the Sneedville pictures reminds me of how I reacted to the very first roll of film I ever had developed. They were pictures from a summer music festival/camp I attended during high school.

These were not the first pictures I ever took. Those were probably from grade school summer camp.

These were the first pictures I ever took and had developed on my own, with “my” money (as much as a parent’s allowance is “my” money).

The summer camp pictures I took were essentially commandeered by my mother, as would be typical of a 4th grade kid who went wild with a camera. Mother paid to have the pictures developed and she placed them in photo albums. That’s all fine but it was not the same as going to the photomat to pick up your own pictures on your own dime, to see “What You Got” from the camera days, weeks, even months after you took the pictures.

I remember the first time I experienced that moment of anticipation, that moment when the film I brought in to a film developing lab was handed back to me as actual photographs. It was a few months after I picked up a cheap but decent Kodak camera at an Eckerd Drug Store. (I still have the camera, held together by rubber bands in my quasi-hoarded closet.) I had the film developed at the same Eckerd Drug Store I bought the camera.

My reaction to opening my first set of photos was memorable: I cried. Sitting in a hot car parked outside an Eckerd Drug Stores I held the pictures up from my lap to keep tear drops from landing on them.

Why did I cry? I’ve asked myself many times. I do not know.

There was nothing sad about the photos.

I felt sadness for the overrated miracle of photographic images, for moments recorded (and thus regarded as authoritative) when the photographer knows that at best it captured only the slightest essence of a situation.

Photography seemed unfair and dishonest to me. In our culture the photograph enjoys an undeserved standing as a document of record.

A photograph is not a memory captured.
A photograph is the trivia of a moment.

What merit do I deserve for having recorded these images? The pictures were like the broken links I’ve been cleaning up this week: Connections to a whiff of what came before.

Lately I nurture a more recent epiphany about photographic images. I’ve turned against myself on the matter of doctoring and filtering photos. In the past I felt that only a liberal amount of adjustments should be allowed (contrast, saturation, etc.). This approach implies that something approaching sacredness infuses what comes out of the camera.


Expecting a perfect picture straight from the camera is no more ridiculous than a story writer or novelist writing their immortal magnum opus from start to finish straight from the pen without even a spellcheck.

I used to think altered and filtered photos signaled æsthetic dishonesty. Now I feel that refusing to use such tools signals laziness (I know, I know, welcome to the late 1990s).

A photo taken with the intent of communicating a point of view should move from the place at which it was taken to an editorial space to distinguish itself from the subject matter it captured. If an image was worth capturing for its perceived charm or idiosyncrasy then an artist’s work begins (does not end) with the photograph’s raw content. The artist’s work continues with crafting the image in an attempt to evocatively communicate the story.

Needless to say it is easy and even endemic among photographers to overdo it with these things, gratuitously applying HDR filters or postage stamps or borders to works perfectly acceptable under less drastically self-serving alterations.

Iiiiiiii’m going to sleep.


I tried a new approach to my work with “The Etude” Music Magazine. Flipbook. I may have explored this option years ago but I don’t think it was realistic. Today there are dozens of software packages that allow conversion of PDF documents to fully-searchable flipbook documents. The OCR conversion is not as good as with ABBYY Finereader, but it’s not half bad either.

My scans are not perfect, but they are way better than other sources. I intentionally skipped a lot of pages in some issues, omitting pages completely filled with advertisements. I find this is no great loss, since the advertisements are frequently repeated from one issue to the next, and I did scan those pages in a few issues.

I have also intentionally omitted the sheet music pages. Much of that music was pithy, but I do have plans to single out the real gems that occasionally appeared in those pages.

After a few experiments I uploaded the full year of 1920:

Remembering A Cemetery Cat

I spotted this slow-moving, unpleasant seeming cat at Calvary Cemetery a few years ago. It has haunted me since. I rediscovered these pictures and sent a couple of them up to the 500px.com popularity ccontest.

Remembering A Cemetery Cat

Remembering A Cemetery Cat

In the first instant that I saw the cat I thought for a millisecond that it might actually be human. I think this is because of the staid, frozen look in the animal’s eyes. It was a look of having been intruded upon.

The stareoff didn’t last long. Within a minute the cat began sauntering away. I hoped this world-weary beast had some place to go. The cat’s extraordinarily long whiskers suggested that this was a stray.

Remembering A Cemetery Cat

Remembering A Cemetery Cat

Wandering off among the tombs the cemetery cat stopped for one parting stare, one more accusatory look in my direction, into my eyes.

Remembering A Cemetery Cat

Remembering A Cemetery Cat