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“The more ridiculous and absurd it impresses me”

Katheryn McMahon Newton album, cards 105 and 106

Only two cards today, but each with fairly lengthy messages that should fill up a fair amount of space.

First up, a card that does not appeal to me at all image-wise. Back in the day, people likely looked at the factories belching smoke and thought “progress” but I, from my 1st Q 21st century viewpoint think “pollution.” Based on the inscription on the reverse, this was supposed to show Seattle’s tidal lands. (And that’s tidal, not tribal although the whole thing belonged the Duwamish peoples.) Perhaps, but I mostly see smoke. The tinting doesn’t help either as most of the buildings, with the two yellow exceptions, blend into each other.

And then there’s the inscription. There’s a lot to unpack here and some of it will have to wait until the cards are rearranged (electronically at least) in chronological order. Several cards discussed here before now have included Fred wanting Katheryn to have her picture taken and sent to him, and him congratulating her on having it done so fast and well.

Except, apparently there was some type of bobble in the middle. Here’s Fred’s words:

Dearie: The more I think of your explanation in regard to the photographer finding it necessary to wait for a bright day to finish your pictures the more absurd + ridiculous it impresses me. I would have much prefered your having told me the actual facts. I feel that my suggestion was entirely + decidedly out of place for which I regret having made However the school of experience[?] is the best training [unclear unclear] not to make the same mistake twice + I assure you there is precious little danger of my doing so again. F.N.

Fred Newton to Katheryn McMahon, 19 May 1908

Katheryn’s side of the correspondence is, of course, entirely missing. It’s possible some of the remaining cards will address this issue and fill in some missing pieces. Lacking that, my guess is:

  • Katheryn sent Fred an explanation for her pictures not being ready that included the photographer needing a bright day
  • Fred disagreed and sent a suggestion that proved “entirely + decidedly out of place”
  • Katheryn provided “the actual facts”
  • Fred sent this card in response

My initial reading (and I’ll grant that this may be me projecting things onto him) is that this is a postcard simultaneously (1) scolding Katheryn for not giving him the truth up front, (2) apologizing without actually apologizing for his having jumped in without knowing the truth, and (3) vowing to do better in the future (or “not make the same mistake”).

But I could well be wrong!

From here we jump to a rather different card and message. The image here is far less smoky (in a literal sense) being two towns that Fred notes had been swallowed up by Seattle. Just in case his language wasn’t clear enough, he offered some Chicago analogies.

Of equal or more interest, particularly from a business history perspective, he also mentioned successful sales.

Hon. Bunch.: This shows two small suburban towns just outside of the city which at one [on reverse] time were separate towns but are now part of the city. For instance like our “Hyde Park” or “Lake Forest” sections I dropped you a card dearie from Ballard, Was. Yesterday wrote it while waiting for my dinner at hotel their By the way, I sold 64.00 in stationery from 11.30 till 4 + was “all in” when I made out my report for the day. Mr Sears complimented me and said I was sure enough from Chgo. As it took lots of hustling to do that much Dear I am trying out this proposition + it may be good in time. With Love Fred

Fred Newton to Katheryn McMahon, 11 March 1908

Sears’ praise reflects that this was a good day. (Sears, of course, being L. Sears who owned a small firm in Seattle and not Sears of Sears Roebuck.) To put Fred’s sales in perspective, $64 in 1908 could be worth quite a bit more in 2021 terms. The website Measuring Worth offers several ways to envision the comparison.

  • in terms of inflation, it might have been equal to $1,876 in 2021
  • in terms of relative income, it could be equal to approximately $9,000 to $12,000 in 2021
  • or in terms of relative project worth, over $45,000 in 2021

And apparently Fred made the sales within a four-and-a-half hour window. Quite the salesman, although Sears seems to have considered this a verification of Fred’s Chicago origins “as it took lots of hustling to do that much.” Which says something about Sears’ idea of Chicago!

And on to the next post . . .

“The more ridiculous and absurd it impresses me,” copyright 2021, A.R. Henle.

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