Thursday, July 28, 2011

The "Chicago" Sheik

I like to think that I am worldly. I read, though maybe not as much as I should. I travel, having been to four of the seven continents (or 3 of the 5, depending on how you count 'em). And I'm plugged in, for what seems to me, almost every waking minute. If it's not the computer, it's the television, the radio, or my iPhone. I sometimes even sleep with my iPad! I listen to NPR, watch the evening news, and subscribe to more than a few magazines and newspapers. I do prefer to read fiction over nonfiction, however I can always appreciate a good history book.

I do watch a lot of television but I'm somewhat picky about what I watch – though my mother would disagree if she read this. I hate reality shows, game shows (except Wipe Out! – what's the deal with that show?), docu-dramas, and most sitcoms, except those involving Larry David. I'm hooked on a few dramas, crime and action shows, especially those that are dark and twisted, like Dexter or True Blood. And I love movies. I will watch almost any movie once, or at least I try. Except for movies on the Lifetime Channel. You understand. Everyone has their limits.

So a few weeks ago an event left me completely humbled. I realized there's a whole genre of movies out there that I know little about: Silents. I had tried watching Charlie Chaplin with my father years ago, but I just didn't get it. Not worth my time, I said. That funny little man. No thanks. But while I'm scanning all these photo albums of my grandparents, I ran across some rather unusual photos. A man in costume, standing, sitting, and reclining. How strange. I flipped one over and found handwritten on the back, The Sheik.

My best friend of late, Google, helped me out by finding numerous links for "the sheik". Among them was a blog by Brad Frick called Rudolph Valentino Collectibles. Wow! The Sheik is a movie and I might have actual photos of Rudolph Valentino in my possession. These weren't just postcards either, these were actual photos, stamped Feb 26, 1922. A collectible! What a discovery! I am so sure these are the real deal, that I urgently wanted to share them with Brad, so he could add them to his collection for all to see.

So I wrote a comment on Brad's blog, we exchanged a few emails, and yes, he would be happy to tell me more about the photos. Send them along. Here is Brad's response:  

Unfortunately, your photos do not depict Valentino.  He never had a mustache for his Sheik roles.  I have no idea who is pictured in your photos.  I wish I had more information for you, good luck and have a great day.  

Disappointment, followed quickly by sheer embarrassment.

Below are pictures of the real Rudolph Valentino in the Son of Sheik, the 1926 sequel to his 1921 movie The Sheik. Photos courtesy of Brad Frick.

How embarrassing! Why didn't I look at the photos more carefully? I know I sometimes have problems with ID'ing people (i.e. I earlier posted a photo of my dad and had to replace it when one of my brothers said it looked like our uncle, my mother's brother, not even in the same family tree! – and he was right). But how could I have not looked more closely at the photos of Valentino? Do all men in sheik outfits look the same? (I never thought I'd utter those words...) And more importantly, how could I have never seen a Valentino movie before?

Anyway, Brad was very sweet about my ignorance and we emailed a few more times. I added his blog to my bloglist (on the right column above) because now I'm very interested in broadening my knowledge of classic movies. I encourage you to check it out because it's a great blog!

However, I still need your help. Are the earlier photos of my grandfather? Could it have been some initiation or ritual of one of his many clubs or organizations? He was an active member of the Freemasons, the Delta Sigma Upsilon fraternity, the Junior League, and the Oriental Consistory (Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of the Freemasons of Chicago). What do you think?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Life in Botswana: Safari, July 1989

More excerpts from my parent's journal, Life in Botswana.

With our Canadian friends we went on an overnight into the bush, to a site where there was a bushman camp. The program was organized by a tour guide who set up tents and prepared meals. The bushman camp had two groups, about 100 yards apart, and, in addition to walking around the huts and peering in, we saw demonstrations of how the bushman found food and prepared it, and other things. We gave some old clothing which we had brought and gave them a small amount of money during the dance they did that night around our campfire. Interesting experience. 

The night was cold, and we all froze! The next morning we saw two elders trudge into camp with their bags over their shoulders. They had been gone five days to listen to the Government's proposal to bring them in out of the cold by giving them cattle, a borehole (well), and a school for the children. The bushmen were leery, because a school fire nearby had killed some kids. The Government policy is to encourage the bushmen to accept civilization, but most of them refuse. 

As farms expand, the bushman are pushed farther out into the desert. The Government helped many of the bushmen during the six-year drought we had, which ended in 1988, and with the rains the desert bloomed, wild animals came back and multiplied, and the bushman followed them, bumping up against cattle and farms. Now, they were faced with making an important social decision, which no one can advise them about. Our bet is that they would decide to move on to a new site, maybe 30 miles away. They customarily move every several years because of crop and wildlife reductions.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A King George Welcome

My maternal grandfather, Carl O. Ericke, was an Army Corporal in the First World War. He kept an amazing military scrapbook that includes photos, found German letters and photos, propaganda, devalued currency, postcards, and much, much more. He also kept a journal while in battle on the Western front, which I have just begun to transcribe.

Carl also kept his high school letter jacket patches, important papers, letters, frat dance cards, Army razor set, WWI souvenirs and his Victory medal in a shoebox where he scrawled "All About Me – Dad" on the outside. I found this letter inside that shoebox. This letter was handed to every American soldier who landed in England to support the Allied forces. It is printed on Windsor Castle stationery.

Soldiers of the United States, the people of the British Isles welcome you on your way to take your stand beside the Armies of many Nations now fighting in the Old World the great battle for human freedom. The Allies will gain new heart & spirit in you company. I wish that I could shake the hand of each one of you & bid you God speed on your mission.
George R. I. 
His Majesty King George V
April 1918


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Life in Botswana: Safari, April 1989

More excerpts from my parent's journal, Life in Botswana. Photos are mine this time!

Sarah flew in to see the sights and the old folks. We planned to go further north, first into Zimbabwe, to Bulawayo, where we stayed at the Churchill Arms Hotel, an old standby. [Below are some street scenes in Bulawayo.]

We exchanged money the next morning, downtown, and then drove to Matopos National Park and the site of Cecil Rhodes Memorial, on "top of the world", as he called it - high up a large rock hill. We saw also a bushman rock painting and, in the park proper, five white rhinoceros.

The next morning we had a beautiful, long drive to Hwange National Park, with lunch in a small, resort hotel at Gwai. The owner, in his late 60's, and I discussed briefly the experiences he had during the 13 years fighting before independence came in 1980. We stayed the first night at Hwange Safari Lodge, a large place overlooking a water hole set in an open plain, which they light up at night. Very nice to see the animals, including a magnificent sable antelope, while sipping a drink! 


The next morning we drove into the park, saw a number of water holes but only a few animals – antelope, wildebeest and one surprised big male Cape buffalo who charged out of the high weeds next to the road, saw us as we stopped immediately, then darted into the opposite site. We didn't move, and suddenly he reappeared again and bolted back across the road, for good. 

We continued to Sinamatella Camp, overlooking (300 ft.) a broad panorama plain, where we had lunch before continuing on to Nantwich Camp, which didn't have our booking, and then on to Robbins Camp, where we got a two-bedroom chalet (sounds fancy but it wasn't – ask Sarah) for Z$15, equal to 7 US dollars.

 [This tiny building has two bedrooms; the bathroom and showers are located a short walk away. After a dinner consisting of candy bars and Coca-Cola, my mother tucked me into bed for a sleepless night. When my parents awoke in the morning, I was already waiting in the car, as I decided the risk of waiting an hour to reach a bathroom in Victoria Falls was less than using the one at this camp.]

The next morning we drove to Victoria Falls. We did not see many animals in Hwange because it was soon after the rainy season had ended, animals had water everywhere in the bush and did not have to go to water holes where we would have to go to see them. Also the brush was high and full which makes seeing difficult.

Victoria Falls is spectacular and breathtaking. We stayed at the Victoria Falls Hotel, where Ed had stayed when he passed through in 1964. The hotel is a lovely, old railway hotel, built by Cecil Rhodes to drum up business for his new Cape-to-Cairo railway. They have a statue of David Livingstone at Victoria Falls, the first statue built on the Zimbabwean side. 

The Zambezi River was in full flood, the mist was sky-high, and we quickly got soaking wet, which is de rigour. We saw a tribal dance program that evening which was most interesting.

The next morning we drove 60 miles back into Botswana to Kasane, the main town in the Chobe area, so named because it is on the Chobe River, which runs into the Zambezi. Across the river lies the Caprivi Strip, which is Namibia, and to the east lies Zambia. In Kazengula, in Botswana, just before the border crossing into Zimbabwe, there is a car ferry across the Chobe to Zambia. This spot was the scene of a lot of fighting 20-25 years ago.


We stayed one night in Chobe Game Lodge and two nights in Kubu Lodge, which was reported to have better food (and did). The Game Lodge is inside the Chobe National Park. It is a luxury lodge in a spectacular setting, overlooking the river, the flood plain, and Caprivi on the other side. The Lodge had a large double-decker boat, with bar, which we enjoyed sailing up and down the river, seeing hippo, antelope, and a fish eagle swooping down to snatch a fish out of the water which had been thrown for him. [Dozens of warthog grazed on the property. indifferent to our presence.]

Kubu Lodge had individual thatched huts, very nicely done. We took one game drive into the Park and saw a herd of about 50 buffalo, a dozen elephant going down to the river to drink and bathe. Young bulls went swimming, going completely under water, while the older ones watched them and drank.

The next day Ed flew back to Gaborone, to go to work, and Nancy and Sarah drove back, spending the night in Francistown. When Sarah was driving a young impala dashed out so suddenly that Sarah couldn't stop and unfortunately was struck. They circled back and couldn't find it, dead or alive, so perhaps it survived, the only casualty being a missing license plate!

Monday, July 18, 2011


Okay, to be honest, until I saw these slides I wouldn't have remembered this little girl, decked out in her matching red outfit and shoes. That said, this series of photos made me laugh and wince at the same time. Holly lived on Miles Road in Darien, as did my family. Holly was my age, a girl, and we used to play together. So, naturally, I thought she was my friend. What a fool. Meet my brother Bill.