Was I meant to find these things or is it that any object older than me just captures my interest? After writing this weekly column for over a year (click here for proof), I know that I can write about anything, but I also know that I don’t want to write about just anything. I want to find the oddest needle in the haystack and write about that.
I wasn’t sure if I would have a story this week — Saturday was looking slim, only a few sales and all I had picked up was a small shelf for another project. Sunday came and was already halfway gone when I thought to look online and see if I’d missed any sales. Sure enough, a listing in East Norwalk looked like a potential dig, “old magazines, vintage-this, antique-that.” I read something about a loaded basement and I was hooked.
It only took the promise of pizza over PB&J to convince my 9-year-old partner that a 45-minute drive south would do us good. It did. The home was in an older palatial neighborhood with homes that were built in the 1940s or ‘50s. There was a lot to explore in this 4-bedroom home. We started in attic and worked our way to the basement.
There we found our “dig” — shelves of old books and a ping-pong table covered in magazines from as far back as the 1940s. Where to start? Upon finding 60-year-old packages of firecrackers, the owner of the estate sale service, Jim, said, “I went through this house top to bottom! How did you find these?” I introduced myself exclaiming, “That’s what I do… find things.”
I have to do a shout-out to WCD Estate Sales in Milford who were contracted for this sale. They were accommodating and pleasant to work with, well staffed, and willing to deal.
I scanned all the books and found several interesting titles that could have filled the shelf I bought one day earlier, but managed to resist temptation. I finally picked up a book with a cartoon-ish cover that seemed to be from WWII. My own interest in cartooning caused me to look further, which was a good thing because there inside the cover was the author’s signature.
“The Desert Battalion” is an amazing story. In 1941, General Patton, who knew he would be facing Rommel in desert warfare, claimed 10,000 acres of California desert to create a secret training base. Over 1 million troops trained there between 1942 and 1944. Patton was known to “lead from the front” and suffered for a time right along with his troops in blistering heat and frigid nights with few amenities.
The wife of Hollywood movie star Edward G. Robinson, after finding out about these troops, convinced Army brass and politicians to allow her to provide some comfort to them.
Mrs. Edward G. Robinson created the “Desert Battalion” and over a 2-year period, more that 600 girls ages 18-24 visited these camps to cheer up the troops. Bear in mind the girls were chaperoned, there was no alcohol and no “necking” was allowed, though that doesn’t seem possible.
I was amazed at the story, but the mystery continues because inside the signed edition is another signature to the original owner of the home from one of the “Battalion.” The signer, a woman called Janie Abel, suggests the reader turns to page 65. There, at the bottom, she is mentioned in one paragraph. I had found an interesting reference to a real participant in one of the most unique and thoughtful unsung service organizations during WWII.
Which was the only mixer in 1933 that won’t interfere with radio waves and costs more if purchased west of Denver? Well, the only one made by the Chicago Flexible Shaft Co., of course! Take a guess and go here.
Greg Van Antwerp is a Brookfield resident and blogger, who can be found on the weekends in search of a good “dig” or a good story. You can read more about his adventures by visiting his blog.