The Turkey Mount’s Degradation

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A leash and a riding crop. Nice.

When you first see a Thanksgiving card with a kid riding a turkey, your initial reaction is probably a lot like mine: “Well, that’s cute, I guess.” But it doesn’t stay cute for long.

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Is that a cowboy hat? I can’t tell.

There were always a genre of these things that went for “cuteness” in general, and in most cases it just meant slapping a kid on a card doing anything normal that an adult would do. (There’s a whole thing about kids cooking Thanksgiving dinner which drives me bananas, but that’s for another post…)

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Not a designation you would want.

But no one rides a turkey. Except for this woman, I guess:

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I’ve never experienced the joy this woman feels.

No one literally rides a turkey, so, what the hell, card makers? What’s the purpose of these images? Is there some darker reason they showed us this image time and time again?

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Jolly for WHOM!?!?

The answer is dark. Oh, so dark. It’s a not-so-subtle reminder of domination, a kind of defense of our permission to do with these birds what we want.

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Oh, the false nationalism!

What it’s saying is the following: First, turkey, remember that we will soon eat you. You will be our feast. Your flesh will fill our bellies. But BEFORE THAT COMES, we will ride you. We will make you labor. And we won’t even do it with dignity! We will set the least of us, our young, on your backs, and make you serve their immature and depraved whims. You are not worthy of carrying our leaders, our esquires, our very best. No, you get our snot-nosed brats. Then we kill you, discard your organs, and feast on whatever’s left. And we may not even finish you — your “leftovers” may be smothered with ketchup and stuck between white bread…or they may not. We don’t care.

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The chef costume is a bleak reminder of where this horrifying journey will end.

This is a straightforward, unapologetic image of the turkey’s oppression. It is a celebration of how we ride them to exhaustion BEFORE eating the very flesh off their bones.

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That image on the front kid’s face: he just got woke.

When I see these cards, I’m reminded, quite frankly, of Malcolm X’s words:

“I believe that there will be ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those who do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the system of exploitation. I believe that there will be that kind of clash, but I don’t think it will be based on the color of the skin…”

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The sun shines for him, not for you, bird.

No. It will be based on the presence of gizzards and dirty feathers. Mark my words! One day this holiday will mark the beginning of the Fowl Revolution, and these images of oppression will be plastered on every grocery store, on every Sam’s Club billboard, on every marketplace where the trading of bird flesh for dirty money is handled in the open, without shame, without remorse, without even a moment of thought for the generations of fine feathered friends that have been put down for others to enjoy as a symbol of forced merriment around a table occupied by “family” that doesn’t even want to be there, that will complain about how dry the haggard chef has made the bird, ruining its involuntarily sacrificed flesh, and serving as mere “leftovers” for childrens’ lunches when neglectful parents are too tired to spread peanut butter on bread the next Monday.

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LOOK AT THE UNFORGIVING JOY OF DOMINATION ON THAT KID’S FACE!

REMEMBER THESE POOR SOULS! GRIEVE FOR THE INDIGNITY THEY SUFFERED WHILE BEING RIDDEN BY SLAVERING, MINDLESS CHILDREN! RAGE AGAINST THE HORROR OF THEIR HUMILIATION!

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Ridin’ and killin’!

Happy Thankskilling!

 

 

 

Holy crap! A real kid on a real turkey!

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You Can’t Handle the Corn!

THANKSGIVING MEANS CORN. ONLY ALL-CAPS CAN EXPRESS HOW MUCH THANKSGIVING IS CORN. THANKSGIVING CORN MUST BE HUGE CORN. CORN CORN CORN!

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THIS CORN IS HUGE!

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THIS CORN IS ALSO HUGE!

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THIS CORN IS BIGGER THAN YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN!

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YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE CORN.

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GOD’S VERY OWN ANGELS CAN’T HANDLE THE CORN!

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THERE’S SO MUCH CORN IT COMES IN THREE-PACKS!

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THIS CORN IS SO PUMPED IT’S ACHINGLY ERECT!

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THIS CORN IS BIGGER THAN A GODDAM PUMPKIN!

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FRICKING TURKEYS CAN RIDE IN THIS CORN!

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It’s a MAIZE-ERATTI! (Stolen from a friend.)

GODDAMIT I GOTTA WRAP A BOW AROUND MY CORN!

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CORN!

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Halloween 2017 Round-up

The most popular Halloween cards this year weren’t particularly surprising. A lot of old favorites got shared, but a few new finds also made the rounds. Here are the ones that were most popular on Tumblr and Twitter:

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This went nuts in early October. Folk love confused owls.

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Cats. Insane cats.

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Scary, poorly drawn peepkin.

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Lots of folk thought this was genuinely creepy.

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I still don’t get the shroud thing.

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Yeah…..no.

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Always a favorite. For obvious reasons.

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This one surprised me a bit. Odd look on the cat and moon’s face, but otherwise not particulalry weird.

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Folk love them some vegetable people.

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I was happy to see this one get shared over 100 times because I just think it’s so cool.

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Not an actual Halloween card, but I thought it was really cool. So did lots of other people.

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A new find this year (I think).

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This was the single most popular thing on Tumblr this year. Close to 1000 shares altogether. SHARES! (Not just likes.) Not surprising, I guess.

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Definitely the most popular weird vintage costume picture.

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Wrong in so many wonderful ways. (This was the most popular on Twitter.)

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Who wouldn’t love this inexplicable little gem?

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I love this one so much. I was glad other people did, too.

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Then…this thing.

 

That’s it for Halloween, folks! Things chill out a bit for Thanksgiving. There’s still some oddness, but it’s mostly a lot of kids and turkeys. I’ll sprinkle some Christmas in, too, just for grins.

Forgotten Halloween Fortunes

I’ve written about the Halloween fortune telling games in the old cards: kale-picking, apple-peeling, and mirror games. And I’ve talked about how some of the cards played with this trend by making up their own ridiculously complicated “spells.”

But there were plenty of other traditions that show up from time to time. You won’t see these repeated too often, but they’re fascinating (and even creepy out of context).

Luggie Bowls

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Luckily, this game didn’t always require a creepy pumpkin(?) headed man leering at you.

Luggie bowls are a tradition that seems to go back to old Celtic areas, particularly Scotland. (Note the hint at tartans in the woman’s dress above.) The game was incredibly popular, and you can find so many versions that it’s hard to pin down anything authoritative. But it generally went like this:

‘Luggies’ are small bowls with handles (‘lugs’). In this tradition, three of them would be filled with different substances and arrayed before a blindfolded fortune-seeker, whose future was fortold by whether he touched the dish of clean water (marriage to a virgin), dirty water (marriage to a widow) or nothing (no marriage would occur). (43)

That’s from Lisa Morton’s excellent Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween, which you should just go buy. Morton’s a wonderful horror writer and anthologist to begin with, but she’s also written a lot about Halloween history, and I’ve quoted from this book I don’t know how many times. It’s an incredibly intersting and thoughtful history.

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More Scottish-ness in the language and thistle and tartan.

James Joyce uses the game in his story “Clay” from Dubliners where a woman plays only to have her fate (a continually sad life) turn out just as awful. Robert Burns also makes fun of the game in his poem “Hallowe’en” when a character gets so frustrated at bad fortunes that he throws all the bowls into a fire.

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I know she’s blindfolded because of the luggie bowl game. But this one always make me think of Disney’s most terrifying move ever: Watcher in the Woods.

 

Yarn in the Kiln

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You’re not hallucinating. It will all make sense.

These cards show lime-kilns, a kind of stove used on farms to make quicklime which was would kill the stench of dead animals or people in burials. But they were pretty common. Somehow, it became a Halloween tradition to take a ball of blue yarn, and – I’ll just let Morton explain again:

“In the classic version of this fortune-telling stunt, the girl threw her clew (or ball [of yarn]) into the kiln and would soon find something tugging on the yarn, at which point she cried out, ‘Who holds?’ She would then hear the name of her future husband which – needless to say – was likely uttered by the hidden boy himself.” (38).

I’m still not sure exactly why the kilns became the place for this, but I recall reading somewhere that there were beliefs that fairies of some sort lived in them like burrows.

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I don’t think that ugly dude’s gettin’ lucky if the pumpkin has anything to say about it.

In practice, this became a chance to play all kinds of tricks on people, too, and Morton quotes a story I adore:

There is a story of a tailor having hid himself in anticipation of this mode of divination being resorted to, and when the ball was thrown he caught it and gave the thread a tug. In answer to the question ‘who is this at the end of my little rope?’ he said, ‘I am the devil’ … and the woman to whom this frightful answer was given never tried divination again. (39, from John Gregorson Campbell’s Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland)

The yarn game itself moved around and left the farm, even showing up in cities as well:

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Talk about getting caught in a net! Get it? Because marriage is a trap! It’s lifelong, unsexy S&M! (Sorry…)

 

Eggy Love

I’ve only seen this once, but it’s just so weird-looking:

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Why does the candle smoke guy have a hat?

Egg divination! Apparently called oomancy (I picked that link because the site is so amazingly cheesy), which was new to me, and I thought I was a specialist in weird crap. But from what I can tell, the trick was to read the egg whites for the initials of your future lover. The card shows it making a face that I guess you’re supposed to recognize. But I imagine the actual process was made up on the fly.

Your Lover’s Nuts

There were lots of traditions about roasting nuts over the fire. Sounds like a certain ex-girlfriend, but never mind that. A few of the cards allude to some of them, but no overall trend. Some say the cracks in the shells would be the initials of your lover. Others were more like “he loves me/he loves me not” games, where a nut falling into the fire was bad news. There was even a period where Halloween was called “Nutcrack Night” in northern England because the game was so popular. (Morton, 53)

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I bet you do, you minx…

 

Fortune Cake

A lot like the King Cake from Mardis Gras, baking a cake with a small token in it was a common practice in Ireland and Scotland. Whoever got the ring or prize would either get married in the next year, or marry the cook, or need dental work. Accounts vary. But it does explain why there are a lot of Halloween cards that feature some serious cake lust:

 

“The Dipping of the Sark Sleeve”

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It’s as weird as it looks.

I’m not 100% certain, but I think this card is showing something like the tradition of the “sark sleeve.” Again, Lisa Morton explains it better than me:

Many of the now obsolete fortune-telling rituals involved water, but perhaps none was as popular as the ‘dipping of the sark sleeve.’ [Robert] Burns says this must be performed ‘whare three lairds’ lands meet at a burn’, and at that point a young woman would dip her sleeve in to the water, then return home to set the shirt to dry by the hearth-fire. The lass would then retire to bed, and during the night would see her intended enter the room and turn the shirt, so that the other side would dry as well. (42)

Now, if that’s what’s going on here, that poor person’s love life just got weird…

See any other cards that need ‘splainin’? Let me know in the comments or at weirdxmas@gmail.com.

Feline Fright

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Oh, I avoid them all right.

I’m repeating myself, but it can’t be said enough: I don’t like cats. I’ve explained why before because people really like the cat cards. And I don’t.

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Look at that smug bastard. Taking advantage of little kids! Nice! Asshole…

That’s a natural problem at Halloween because of ye old ubiquitous black cat. Let me say, though, if any of you actually think black cats are naturally evil, don’t be an idiot who makes life awful for animal shelters around Halloween. Attempts to adopt black cats specifically to torture them actually go up around this time of year. People suck, even more than cats.

But even cat lovers have to agree that some of these things are just plain wrong.

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This cat aids and abets evil.

It’s not always that they’re doing weird or creepy things. Sometimes, it’s just that sense that they’re planning something bad for you.

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We would like to eat you while you sleep.

And I can’t decide if it’s worse when you actually see them in the process of gathering an army to carry out your destruction.

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No! Do not sing! You sing of our doom!

Sometimes, though, there’s just this sense of feline insanity that comes through a few of the images.

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Our destiny is to scratch and kill!

Sometimes it’s the feline killer instinct that doesn’t even fear the otherworldly horrific supernatural.

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“I’ll cut you, demon-spawn animate pumpkin thing!”

Sometimes it’s simple murderous rage.

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Those pumpkin people are about to see their own seedy insides.

And sometimes, it’s the sheer terror of the unknown happening inside their tiny, furry bodies that makes me fear the darkness.

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Even the drum knows this is wrong.

You know what…it’s just too much. Here. Just…here. Look upon your end.

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Let’s end on a high note, though. One less cat…

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Halloween Zeppelins

No one believes me when I tell them that Halloween balloons, like hot air balloons that you can ride in, are a thing. But I have proof!

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No people allowed. Just pumpkins.

I mean, it wasn’t the biggest craze in the world.

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She’s swatting the bats away.

But there does come a point where you see enough that you realize: “Huh, there was a demand for this kind of thing.” And more than one company got in on it.

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One pumpkin balloon not enough? WELL, WE’VE GOT THREE!

It’s not just Halloween, either. Christmas has a ton, too…probably more. Usually, Santa’s just dumping presents from 2000 feet and hoping at least a couple land where a kid could pick one up, if it doesn’t kill them when it hits. But those are for another day…

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I’m quite happy to fly for you.

This one even says that the real purpose here is to keep Halloween festivities “modern”:

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“The day of brooms as witches’ steeds / Has given way to modern needs, / And now, in style by parachute / They ride around their Hallowe’en route.”

Some are just downright terrifying.

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I like the suggestion here that the hot air came from a campfire. Inefficient, but really atmospheric.

But mostly, I remain, as always, mystified:

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Granted, the balloon itself is implied. But, stlil, this has got to be one of my favorite cards ever.

“Over the Garden Wall” and Vintage Postcards (Part 2)

[This is a continuation of a longer post. Click here for the full thing.]

 

“The Old Grist Mill” (Episode 1)

The first episode doesn’t have much to do with the old cards, but I think it’s odd how similar Wirt’s hat is to this card that’s always bugged me. Plus, with the whole anthropomorphized black cat thing with Enoch…who knows?

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Otherwise, I feel the first episode pretty much has its own vibe.

“Hard Times at the Huskin’ Bee” (Episode 2)

McHale says that this is one of the first episodes that they produced, despite airing second, so it makes sense that it probably owes most to the postcards for its mood.

First, many of the older Halloween cards (and often the Thanksgiving ones) try to create a nostalgic sense of early rural American autumn. The cornfield, the barn, and even the empty field where Wirt has to dig at the end all have a generally similar feel to the mood that many of the cards are going for.

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Background from “Hard Times…” (Art of OTGW)

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Granted, it’s a bit generic. But, still, the general pastoral feel of the whole thing fits.

But the strongest connection is of course the pumpkin people of Pottsfield. And Nick Cross says that many of them were straight from the cards:

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Enoch’s pumpkin is definitely a “painted-on” pumpkin instead of a carved jack-o-lantern, and the citizens are a mix of paint and carved. But the one guy that just smacks me in the face as so close to one of the cards is this one:

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Lots of pictures of people carving pumpkins, but the pose and placement of this is too perfect.

For the others, “pumpkin people” were all over the Halloween cards. The thing that makes the connection to the Pottsfield people closer than just a pumpkin head, though, are the arms and legs that seem sometimes like wrapped limbs of hay.

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The faces in these are more painted on than carved.

There’s also this fun similarity with the pumpkin/cat dance:

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There’s also a moment that goes by so fast, it easy to miss: two pumpkins are peeling apples, and then they throw the peels over their shoulders. But they’re not just throwing the peels on the ground. There was an old Halloween party game where you could find out the identity of your future lover by peeling apples and throwing them on the ground. It was a big theme of many of the old cards, and I wrote about it here. But these two pumpkin-lovers are obviously playing this game with each other:

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“Listen, Little One! On Hallowe’en, throw an Apple Peeling over your shoulder and if it spells ‘kiss’ go to it. Its bound to work, girls. Any old thing looks like kiss to the right fellow if the time, place, and the girl are there.”

Enoch in his full costume also looks a bit like a few cards that put a pumpkin head on top of big stalk of, I assume, corn:

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On top of that, there are just a bunch of old, weird cards out there that seem Pottsfield-esque.

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“Heaven and How to Get There.” This one I can’t help but find connections with…

 

“Schooltown Follies” (Episode 3)

According to Art of…, “Schooltown Follies” draws inspiration from a lot of different sources: “There was a lot of talk about Our Gang, Anne of Green Gables, and Shirley Temple while making this episode” (101). McHale also mentions Dogville Comedies, old shorts made with real dogs in human clothes. And Richard Scarry’s childrens’ books are also pretty clear analogues.

That said, there are still a few old cards that show similar things:

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The compliments of the Season. Victorian Christmas card

I would love to find a card with potatoes and molasses on it, tho…

“Songs of the Dark Lantern” (Episode 4)

This episode is another that’s doing something quite different from the vibe of most of the old cards. But I did come across one thing that I couldn’t help but compare the Highwayman.

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Probably not. But, still, the weird angles and dancing oddness of the card…

 

“Mad Love” (Episode 5)

On this one, I have to admit that I’ve come up blank. McHale says that it began as a dream he’d had, and I’ll leave it at that.

 

“Lullaby in Frogland” (Episode 6)

McHale mentions an odd stop-motion video called Frogland as one of the main inspirations for this episode. But anthropomorphic frogs were a huge part of the old postcards, something I’ve talked about before. I also know that he posted an image from the McLoughlin Brothers company on his twitter awhile back, saying that their style was a big influence on this episode.

But there are so many cards showing frogs in fancy dress and/or playing instruments that it can’t hurt to share a few here.

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“The Ringing of the Bell” (Episode 7)

Auntie Whispers is my favorite character of the series. I actually think she’s a nod to Studio Ghibli and Spirited Away in particular (Yubaba), something that this video brings up as well.

But there are a couple of cards that just seem like Auntie to me, whether or not they had anything to do with her.

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There are also a few “hearth” cards that seem a bit like Whispers’ house.

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If only I could find old cards with small, black turtles…

“Babes in the Wood” (Episode 8)

Most of this episode was a nod to an old sentimental opera about children lost in the woods. It came back in animation as Hansel and Gretel: An Opera Fantasy and the Silly Symphony short Wynken, Blynken and Nod.

But one small detail is straight from the old postcards: the disembodied angel heads.

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And there are indeed a ton of cherubs that are depicted on these cards as completely disembodied heads with wings.

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xmas (3)

 

“Into the Unknown” (Episode 9)

Since this episode is a flashback to the “real” world, there’s not much nostalgia for early Americana going on (or at least pre-70s/80s). However, on the DVD commentary, McHale says that they modeled a bunch of the kids’ Halloween costumes on images of old costumes they found online (and I’ve posted my share here). He mentions the egg girl’s costume in particular, and I’m pretty sure this is the one he means:

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“The Unknown” (Episode 10)

Dare I say it? I don’t have anything for this one. This episode is its own beast…

 

Wrap Up

Were the postcards’ influence necessary to the mood of the show? As much as I’d love to say yes, I don’t think so. The throwback nods are even more about old cartoons and animation styles, but the mood and oddities in the cards were certainly part of the atmosphere that McHale was trying to create from the beginning. Personally, I was thrilled to find two things that grab me match up so well. And, one day, if McHale or Cross ever read this, I’d love to know if they still have those cards and which ones they actually looked at during production.

Until then, though, if anyone else finds something simliar, please let me know. Comment or email me at weirdxmas@gmail.com.