Holiday Mail Call! A Package’s Path to You

It’s the time of year when fireplace mantles are filling up with holiday cards and brown-wrapped parcels are delivered to doorsteps. The packages, letters, and cards we drop into mail-slots across the country contribute to an annual crescendo in the activities of the United States Postal Service (USPS). In the 2015 holiday season, the USPS expects to deliver 15.5 billion pieces of mail, including over half a billion packages. Over 600,000 postal workers are dedicated to making sure that all of this holiday mail is successfully delivered.

But, even with all those people, 15.5 billion pieces of mail are just too much for humans alone to process and deliver. The USPS relies on many machines and automated processes in order to increase efficiency and ensure speedy deliveries. At the National Archives and Records Administration, we hold numerous films that document the development of this technology.

Before 1971, the USPS was known as the Post Office Department (POD). Some advances in the automation of mail processing were achieved in the 1950s and 1960s, but they were not enough to keep up with ever-increasing amounts of mail. In 1966, the Chicago Post Office found itself with such a large backlog of mail that it had to be shut down. Mail was routed through other post offices, causing a widespread disruption in service. On July 5, 1966, Congress passed Public Law 89-492, an act establishing the Bureau of Research and Engineering within the USPS. As seen in the following film from 1970, the Bureau carried out research and development activities aimed at innovating ways to automate some of the more repetitive and time-consuming aspects of postal work.

Other Bureau of Research and Engineering films highlight specific processes, such as mail culling and stamp cancelling (this time in 1968).

The USPS was also an early adopter of large-scale Optical Character Recognition, or OCR. This next 1970 film explains how an OCR system could read the city, state, and zip code of an address to expedite the sorting process.

This holiday season, whether you’re scheduling pickup of a package or buying seasonal stamps at a Self Service Postal Unit, take a moment to think about all of the fascinating work that goes on behind the scenes of the USPS every day of the year.

The USPS has information about holiday shipping deadlines here.

You can watch our entire playlist of postal service films here!

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Favorite Film Finds of 2015

In the past year, staff in the motion picture preservation lab handled nearly three million feet of film. Films might come to us for inspection and repair, photochemical duplication, or digitization. To follow up last year’s list, we’ve identified a handful of films that were digitized in 2015 and found their way to our list of favorites. This year’s list covers four decades and five different agencies.

 

Stay Alert, Stay Alive, 1971 (65-32)

This FBI training film repeatedly demonstrates the incorrect way to conduct an arrest, inevitably leading to disastrous results. The preview frame in the YouTube video shows a man with a jigsaw; in the film, arresting agents give the man a moment to change his jacket and thus the opportunity to nearly kill himself with the power tool before the agents are able to unplug it (at 14:21). This film really caught our attention, though, because of an over-the-top scene where a suspect asks to say goodbye to his cat, Alfred. The man pretends like he needs to get some catnip from the drawer, and shoots Alfred and then himself (at 9:33). Luckily, the film only uses sound effects to convey the action. Stay Alert, Stay Alive also features some really great music.

 

Undercover, ca. 1942 (226-B-6032)

This year, we transferred a couple of films for a John Ford retrospective at the Cinémathèque Française. One of them was Undercover (the other was the Army classic Sex Hygiene). The Office of Strategic Services made Undercover during World War II to train agents how not to blow their cover. Like Stay Alert, Stay Alive, the film provides examples of how not to behave while on the job. Undercover wasn’t just made by the legendary director John Ford, though. Ford actually appears as an undercover agent posing as a lawyer, which is what earns the film a place on our list of favorite films.

 

It’s Up to You! 1943 (208-50)

We’ve seen and transferred a lot of government films made during World War II, but this Department of Agriculture production stood out. First, because its focus is the homefront, and second because it’s one of the most heavy-handed pieces of propaganda we’ve encountered. By the end of this film, you’ll be certain that the war effort depends on your making good use of food. The farmers are doing your part–so should you! If you buy that black market meat, you’ll be directly contributing to the starvation of the troops. It’s Up to You! also features some special effects not often seen in government productions and, as we learned at the Northeast Historic Film Summer Symposium, was edited by “lost” woman director Elizabeth Wheeler.

 

Once Too Often, 1950 (111-TF-1684)

Before Jack Lemmon was famous, he had his first starring role in an Army Signal Corps film. A tried and true formula, Once Too Often tells the story of Mike (played by Lemmon), who has ten days of leave and manages to nearly get himself killed in ten different ways. In addition to a young Jack Lemmon, this film features two “Fates,” some beautiful photography, and some fairly humorous situations. What’s not to like?

 

CG 8225: The People and the Police, 1971 (381-P-1)

When former D.C. mayor Marion Barry died last fall, the National Archives blog Rediscovering Black History featured records that documented Barry’s life and career. That was the first we knew of this fascinating documentary, which depicts the establishment of a pilot project to improve community-police relations in Washington, D.C., and also shows how Barry became a force in city politics. The film was commissioned by the Office of Economic Opportunity and was intended to be a training film of sorts, to help with expanding the program to other cities. The Pilot District Project never fully emerged from controversy and turmoil, which is evident in the The People and the Police as it unfolds. As a result, the film was never distributed, and OEO sent it to the National Archives within a couple years of its production. We think that The People and the Police is an important record of D.C. history that is still relevant today. Much more about the Pilot District Project and the film is in our blog post.

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A Fair to Remember: Colored Lantern Slides at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition

One century ago, San Francisco’s 1915 World’s Fair closed its doors, ending one of the most unique events in American history.  For 288 days, the fair brought together an odd array of individuals that seemingly belong in different chapters of the history textbook.  Civil War veterans could watch as Henry Ford produced a car every ten minutes on his assembly line.  Original miner 49ers could traverse a fake mine and see a glowing, radioactive mineral called radium.  Patty Reed, a surviving member of the infamous Donner party, could walk through General Electric’s model house and marvel at their flameless toaster.  At a time when only 20 percent of Americans had electricity, fairgoers could pay to take an airplane ride or make a transcontinental phone call to New York.  It was a moment of change, and a fair to remember.

Photograph of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition at night, 1915. Local ID: 16-SFX-73

Photograph of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition at Night, 1915. Local ID: 16-SFX-73

The fair itself, also known as the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE), marked two monumental achievements.  The first was the completion of the Panama Canal.  The United States began construction on the canal in 1904 and finished in 1914.  Dubbed “The 13th Labor of Hercules,” the canal shortened the shipping route from New York to San Francisco by 7,700 miles.  The new sea route enhanced American business, and helped make San Francisco one of the world’s preeminent port cities.

The second achievement was the reconstruction of San Francisco.  Less than a decade before, San Francisco was reduced to rubble by one of the worst natural disasters in modern history. The 1906 earthquake decimated the young city.  Many believed the reconstruction could never restore San Francisco to its prior glory, or would at least take generations to complete.  Less than a decade later, however, the rebuilt San Francisco hosted one of the largest gatherings of all time. Over the course of its 10-month span, nearly 19 million people attended the World’s Fair.  At the time, California’s population was roughly 3.5 million.

The National Archives has photographic records from many of the world’s fairs.  Few, however, are quite as striking as the colored lantern slides from the Panama Pacific International Exhibition.  Lantern slides were a popular form of photography in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Photographers would often develop images onto light-sensitive lantern glass, cover the image with an additional layer of protective glass, and bind the two layers together with paper tape.  In some instances, such as the examples in this blog, slides were hand-colored using oil paints, dyes, or pigments.  The lantern slides could then be projected to a viewing audience, and were ideal for educational or professional settings.

These slides here are all part of the series, Panama-Pacific International Exposition.  The photos were taken by Joseph Abel under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture.  Abel was a scientist with the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Animal Industry, and Chief of Exhibits for the Bureau’s exhibit at the PPIE.

All images from this series have recently been digitized and will soon be made available online.

 

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World War I Combat Artists – Ernest Peixotto

Guest blogger Jan Hodges became interested in World War I combat art as a result of her involvement as a volunteer in a holdings maintenance project for the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) documents at the National Archives at College Park. This article is part seven of the series about World War I Art and Artists

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Local Identifier: 111-SC-155398, Ernest Peixotto

Captain Ernest Peixotto reported for duty as a combat artist in April 1918 at Neufchateau. A short, slightly-built man, Peixotto was forty-nine years old, well past the prime age for a combat soldier.  After meeting up with fellow artists Wallace Morgan and Andre Smith, the three men traveled to Fontainbleau and then to a small suburb of Paris called Samois-sur-Seine.

Samois-sur-Seine was not unknown to Peixotto; he and his wife Mary had a “studio home” there that they visited often. Mary had been living in New York City when Ernest left on a troopship bound for France.  By June, she had found the means to return to France and worked at a hospital close to their home in Samois-sur-Seine.  Her presence, while comforting, was also a source of stress for Captain Peixotto, who was concerned about her safety, but even, he went about the business of sketching the war

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Local Identifier 111-SC-33268: Street in ruined portion of Baccarrat, now headquarters of 42nd Division, American Expeditionary Forces. 

Peixotto often drew pictures of the ruin he saw around him.  Toward the end of April, he and Wallace Morgan went to Baccarat to sketch for a week. Peixotto captured the pathos of the civilian population in this drawing where a young vigorous American soldier passes the bowed, slow moving form of a French woman.

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Local Identifier 111-SC-57021: Casemate, Camp Des Romains. The Camp des Romains forms the apex of St. Mihiel Salient and its fortresses were deemed impregnable. On the afternoon of September 12, 1918, it was bombarded and a great shell pierced the arch of this casemate, killing the commander’s orderly and three other German soldiers. It was evacuated that night. Official drawing by Captain Ernest Peixotto.

Captain Peixotto may have been slight of stature, but that didn’t make him a pushover.  On May 25th, during a visit to Soppe-le-Bas, he was accosted by an officer of the 32nd Division. In Peixotto’s own words, “I was addressed by the Lieutenant Colonel of the 126th Regiment.  He strongly citicized the policy of having captains attached to the A.E.F. as official artists.  I tried to convince him of the uses of this work, but he was offensively insistent on his own point of view stating that “that was no way to win the war.” I then told him that France and Great Britain had issued similar commissions and his reply was “that is why they are not winning the war.” Peixotto reported the exchange to his commanding officer who took the matter to a higher level and Lieutenant Colonel Waldo was chastened for his remarks.

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Local Identifier 111-SC-57022: Main Street, Varennes, just after the Americans took the town, which is interesting historically as the place where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were arrested during their flight from France.

The caption that Captain Peixotto wrote for this sketch shows his attention to history. It was at Varennes that the unfortunate Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette were taken as they tried to flee from enraged mobs in Paris.

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Local Identifier 111-SC-57026:  This great mine crater, 160 feet wide, was in the main street and American engineers are here seen lowering its top and filling it in preparatory to bridging it over. 

During the war, both sides of the conflict employed men called “sappers” whose job it was to tunnel underground toward the trenches of the enemy.  Once they were underneath the trenches, they would plant explosives and detonate them. Evidence of the power of these explosions can still be seen at the Lochnagar Crater in France.

The next combat artist to be featured in this series is Andre Smith.

 Sources

National Archives. Still Pictures. Record Group 111-SC Army Signal Corps, WWI Combat Artists, by name.

National Archives. Textual Records. Record Group 120. American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), General Headquarters; General Staff; G-2: Censorship and Press Division. Correspondence Relating to the Eight Official Artist of the AEF, 1917 – 1919

Krass, Peter. Portrait of War: The U. S. Army’s Combat Artists and the Doughboys Experience in World War I. John Wiley and Sons.  New York. 2006.

 

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Gobble Gobble: America’s Thanksgiving Turkey Tradition

While it is generally understood that venison graced the table of the first Thanksgiving celebration, the idea of Pilgrims chowing down on turkey is solidly enshrined in the American imagination. The 1930 film The Turkey Business shows how the “early explorers” of America hunted and prepared wild turkeys.

The Turkey Business (33.364) begins by establishing the Thanksgiving tradition of turkey on the table, dating back to the Pilgrims.

Most of the film, however, is a practical guide to raising turkeys, from eliminating the dreaded Blackhead Disease by keeping your chickens separate from your turkeys, to how to kill and pluck the bird when it is ready for the market. The final sequence shows how “the end justifies the means” when a young boy happily enjoys a perfectly roasted turkey.

The bulk of the film educates the viewer about how to raise turkeys.

The Turkey Business was made by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Federal Extension Service. The Extension Service was established in 1914 with the Smith-Lever Act, which established a formal partnership between the USDA and the nation’s land-grant universities so that information about agriculture and home economics could be distributed to rural areas. In the early decades of the last century, films like The Turkey Business were shown to small communities around the country. Attendees received not just an evening’s entertainment, they also learned how to prevent sickness in livestock, produce better crop yields, and run a more efficient household. (For more on how the extension film shows worked, watch the 1922 USDA film Mollie of Pine Grove Vat.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

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An Update on Kodacolor Decoded

This post was written by Criss Kovac. Criss is the supervisor of the National Archives’ Motion Picture Preservation Lab.

You might remember a fun little post last summer about the Yellowstone Kodacolor discovered within a National Park Accession deposited with NARA in 2012.

The Yellowstone Kodacolor is one 453’ reel of 16mm “reversal.”  An early reversal color home movie format produced by Kodak, Kodacolor only existed for a handful of years, beginning in 1928, until it was replaced by the much more successful Kodachrome in 1935. Kodacolor appears to the human eye as black and white images, but the base side of the film is embossed with hundreds of tiny lenses (called lenticules) that look like minuscule ridges on the surface of the film base. The lenticules captured the color information from the scene while it was filmed through a color filter with red, green, and blue-violet stripes. In order to see the color the film then had to be projected back through a similar color filter. In the case of the “Yellowstone Kodacolor” we believe it may be the first color home movie footage of Yellowstone National Park.

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Kodacolor is black and white to the eye, but is color when projected through the proper filter. This Kodacolor film  was converted via software with a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation.

The National Archives worked with Video Film Solutions using a software program that was able to decode the color information hidden within Kodacolor.  The software that was developed at VFS specifically to decode the color from Kodacolor has amazing registration and reflects the scene as it was originally photographed.  Tests completed with the process showed improved results in saturation and color channel registration over traditional photochemical methods.  Now that the final rendering has been delivered we see that the results are astounding.  The colors are vibrant and the characteristics of the original Kodacolor, such as the vertical lenticular lines and slight ghosting of residual colors, within film is also retained.

You can see the fully restored film here as well as a side by side clip comparison of the before/ after.

79-HFC-16 Complete Film

Side by side comparison original and restored color.

 

Once again, NARA would like to thank the National Film Preservation Foundation for awarding NARA a grant for the preservation of this film.  We would also like to thank Tommy Aschenbach of Video Film Solutions for developing the software and putting in all of the time and effort to preserve the content of this film.

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The Lost Paintings – The Schloss Art Collection

A few years ago the Still Picture Branch accessioned two 19th century French gold tooled albums that contain photographs of a portion of the Schloss art collection. Regarded as one of the last great Dutch art collections to be assembled in 19th century France, the Schloss Collection was curated by internationally renowned French art collector, Adolphe Schloss and contained many paintings from Dutch and Flemish masters including Rubens, Rembrandt, and Ruysdael. It also became known as one of the best examples of acquisition for Hitler’s Führermuseum by forced sale during World War II.

After his death in 1911, the painting collection was bequeathed to Schloss’s widow, Lucie, and upon her death the 333 piece collection was jointly inherited by their four sons. At the outbreak of WWII in 1939, the family relocated the paintings to the Château de Chambon in Corrèze, France for fear of bombing. This was the last time the collection was intact before it was looted by German and French officials.

The collection was so significant that German units began searching for the collection immediately after the invasion of France, but it wasn’t until 1943 that the French Vichy officials in collaboration with German SS officers located and seized the collection. Of the 333 paintings, 262 were selected for the  Führermuseum, 49 paintings went to the Louvre, and the remaining were, unfortunately, disposed of. The Schloss heirs never received payment for the collection. To date, there are approximately 171 paintings that remain lost.

The bound volumes (the bindings were also looted) only contain photographs of the Northern Renaissance paintings that were selected for Hitler as well as those that were chosen for the Louvre. The division and list of painters can be found at the end of the second album. These albums are an example of the deluxe presentation albums that were prepared for Hitler during World War II and subsequently provide an excellent reference point for research on Dutch and Flemish painters.

The reproduction slides are available for request in the Still Picture Research Room at College Park, MD and show the 308 black-and-white images from the albums.

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Spotlight on Veterans: Navy Women in Parachute Rigger Training

There aren’t many schools that include jumping out of an airplane as part of your final exam, but that’s just what these women parachute riggers had to do in 1951. Women sailors in the Navy went through the same training as men at the Parachute Materials School at Naval Air Station Lakehurst in New Jersey.

Women sailors prepare for a parachute jump at the end of their parachute rigger training.

Women sailors prepare for a parachute jump at the end of their Navy parachute rigger training.

These graduates of the program were responsible for preparing parachutes to be used during the Korean War. Though the newsreel below refers to the women as “WAVES,” they were not members of the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, but permanent regular members of the United States Navy, thanks to the 1948 Women’s Armed Services Integration Act.

120,000 women served in the United States Military during the course of the Korean War, with 1,000 in theater. You can learn more about our women veterans from the website of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial and this 2011 report from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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Before They Were Famous: Actors Who Appeared in Government Films

Robert Mitchum

To the People of the United States (1943)

More than a decade before he terrorized children as creepy preacher Harry Powell in Night of the Hunter (1955), and two years prior to his Oscar-nominated role as Lieutenant Walker in The Story of G.I. Joe (1945), Robert Mitchum played a grounded bomber crew mechanic in To the People of the United States (scene starts at 1:20 and ends at 1:59).

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Noah Beery, Jr. and Robert Mitchum watch as other bomber crews depart on their missions. (Still from 90.13)

In To the People, Mitchum’s character regretfully watches as other bomber crews depart on their missions. Despite working hard to get his plane, Baby Face, ready, his crew will have to wait until a new pilot can be found because theirs has “picked up some germ.” Viewers soon learn that the “germ” in question is syphilis.

The United States Public Health Service made To the People of the United States in an effort to destigmatize syphilis testing and encourage “every man, woman, and child” to be tested. The film was intended to be shown in commercial theaters across the country. While it may seem surprising that a film dealing with such a delicate subject was made to be shown along with features such as Casablanca and Lassie Come Home, it’s important to remember that venereal diseases are historically a serious problem in times of war. During World War II, having or contracting syphilis put troops out of service. With To the People, the Public Health Service was trying to get ahead of the problem by testing and treating the general population so there would be less of the disease out there for troops to contract.

To the People of the United States didn’t make it to general audiences in 1943, however. The Catholic League of Decency protested the film’s release, warning that it would lead to pornographic material being shown in theaters. The film was ultimately distributed to state and local health departments in mid-1944.

Jack Lemmon

Once Too Often (1950)

Today, Jack Lemmon is known for his eight Oscar nominations and a decades-long film career, but years before true fame materialized, the Hollywood legend starred in a military training film. While not Lemmon’s very first film job—that honor goes to an uncredited appearance as a plasterer in The Lady Takes a SailorOnce Too Often was his first starring role. Lemmon played Mike, a Private Snafu-like catastrophe of a soldier who has ten days leave and demonstrates ten different ways to be careless with one’s safety, from accepting rides from drunk drivers to falling asleep with a lit cigarette.

The Army first proposed the film in early 1949, in response to startling statistics that showed that, in the previous calendar year, one-third of lost time accidents and fully two-thirds of fatal accidents involving military personnel occurred while in off-duty activities. The film was intended to be shown to all military personnel and was later cleared for public release.

The Army Signal Corps paid Lemmon $155 a week ($1530.35 in 2015 dollars) for his work on the picture. Production took six weeks, well beyond the 26 days originally planned. The job was a major one for the struggling actor. Lemmon commented on the film in a 1993 New York Times article, saying, “Somehow I got a reading, and to my amazement I got the part. It was the first thing of substance I got, outside of small parts in summer stock.”

We might hypothesize that the wide use of Once Too Often contributed to making Jack Lemmon a familiar face, so that when he turned up a few years later in the charming It Should Happen to You (1954), audiences were ready to accept him as a star. Of course, a lot of that was likely due to Jack Lemmon being Jack Lemmon.

Mike Farrell

The Year of 53 Weeks (1966)

Before he joined television’s M*A*S*H as Captain B.J. Hunnicutt, Mike Farrell appeared as Captain Kendall in The Year of 53 Weeks. The film follows Air Force ROTC graduate Lieutenant Bob Blake as he completes a year-long supersonic pilot training program. Farrell’s Capt. Kendall monitors Bob’s progress throughout, keeping an eye on Bob while he completes his training assignments.

The Year of 53 Weeks serves as an introduction to the Vietnam-era Undergraduate Pilot Training program. The program consisted of a rigorous slate of study and training that was designed to retain only the best of the best. As the war went on, the program was condensed to 48 weeks.

We recently contacted Mike Farrell to ask about his experience working on the Air Force training film. Like Jack Lemmon, at the time he made The Year of 53 Weeks, Farrell was a young actor who “was still looking for any kind of work and it was a big deal to get the job.” Further, Farrell said that working on the film gave him “valuable experience; there were nice people attached who were very complimentary about the work we did. For a guy trying to make his way in a very tough business it was a terrific experience.”

Farrell said that he made a contact on the set and believes he may have worked on another government film as a result. That film may have been KC-135 Cargo Loading. We have been unable to locate the film in our holdings, but we will keep looking!

Many thanks to Mike Farrell, who graciously answered our questions about the production of The Year of 53 Weeks. Thanks also to Tanya Goldman, who gave us the tip about Jack Lemmon’s appearance in Once Too Often. Production files for Once Too Often and The Year of 53 Weeks are available at Archives II in College Park, Maryland. Records of the Public Health Service and To the People of the United States are held at the National Archives at Atlanta. Details for this post came from John Parascandola’s article “Syphilis at the Cinema: Medicine and Morals in VD Films of the U.S. Public Health Service in World War II,” found in Medicine’s Moving Pictures: Medicine, Health, and Bodies in American Film and Television.

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Circus Clowns and Masks: 13 Images from the Stacks

This post was written in collaboration with Beth Fortson.

We are approaching the end of October and fall is in full bloom.  Trees are changing colors, pumpkin-flavored foods are on the shelves, and people are swapping their short-sleeves for winter coats.  But amidst this lovely season, a more frightening day is lurking around the corner. This day, of course, is Halloween.

The Still Picture Branch has many images of cute animals, lovely families, and festive celebrations.  This post, however,  highlights some of our more peculiar records; photos that are a little less gleeful, and a bit more ghoulish.

The first group of photographs comes from the Works Progress Administration’s, Federal Theatre Project (FTP).  Founded in 1935, this New Deal program intended to improve unemployment in the entertainment industry.  Actors, dancers, writers, and costume designers all benefited from the FTP.  As you’ll see below, another group of performers benefited as well. Clowns. The WPA Federal Theatre Circus Unit in New York City employed 65 well-loved clowns.

Of course, those were not the only hidden faces we found within our Hollinger boxes! In addition to clowns, two of the images below show individuals wearing hand-carved masks that were used to drive out evil spirits and winter weather. The masks continue to be used during traditional Carnival celebrations that take place in southern Bavaria signaling the arrival of spring.

The next group of photos comes from the Paris Bureau of the New York Times.  This series covers a considerable amount of political, military, and cultural events in the first half of the 20th century.  It is one of our most widely used series, and possibly one of our spookiest.

With their origins as pranksters, clowns attempt to be silly and fun, but today many folks see clowns as odd, dark, or downright scary. So, which side of the fence are you on? Do you have a soft spot for clowns or do they make your skin crawl? Let us know in the comments!

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