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D. R. Crews

My Favorite Antique/Collectible Dumpster Diving Find
By D.R. Crews
Mar 31, 2010 - 8:29:38 PM

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I normally walk a dumpster diving route around my neighborhood every Sunday evening. One Sunday, in 2008, it was the last day of a month - when I am always worn down from surviving the previous month on a meager, monthly veterans disability pension check. On that Sunday in 2008, sheer exhaustion from too many years of months ending with me being penniless kept me from leaving my house.

The next day, the first of the month, my guv'ment pension pay was in the bank; and I walked over to my apartment/townhouse rental office to pay my rent. Instead of walking right to the rental office, I detoured through the alley behind it, which is a section of my regular Sunday dumpster diving route, so that I could look up and down that alley to see if any dumpsters looked worth checking out - even though I knew that the dumpsters had been emptied, as usual, earlier that Monday morning. It was a left turn into the alley towards the rental office, but I noticed some red lettering on a cardboard box in a dumpster that was up the alley to the right. Something about that box's red lettering attracted me to it, so I went up to see what may be in the dumpster; I had been surprised to see stuff already piled that high into the dumpster and didn't expect much; but I thought that the red was on a type of box that often contained good stuff thrown away.

It may have been one of the guardian angels who have, now and then, mysteriously lead me to treasure troves in dumpsters I hadn't planned on diving at the time. Sometimes I just sort'a float in the direction of a dumpster without decided intention, and I score big.

Soon as I am close enough to get a good look at the red lettered box, I realize it is a lousy darned nasty greasy pizza box. But I kept walking up to the dumpster, anyways, and I looked down into the dumpster and saw about eight large photo albums. It were a tough one, but I used a big stick - from off the ground under a tree - to manage pulling all of the photo albums out from down in the bottom of that filthy green treasure chest. HOLLY COW!!! The albums were chock full of some lifetime memories, souvenirs, photographs and keepsakes of an elderly lady who had traveled  all around the world. She had traveled the states, Canada, Europe and  the Far East. The hearty travelin' ol' gal had actually stopped in Vietnam for several days during 1973 - right before the end of American troops fighting in that awful mess called the Vietnam War. There were  both picture postcards and personal photos all through the albums - including several photos she took herself in Vietnam.


Oh, was-I-ever-de-fug-n-lighted

While I'm at it by the dumpster, a resident of the apartment building there comes out to throw his trash away, and that neighbor man and I struck up a conversation. He tells me that the lady who owned the albums had died, and all through the previous day - the one Sunday I hadn't run that dumpster diving route in years - all through the previous day the hearty old traveling gal's young relatives had been cleaning out her apartment and had thrown massive piles of great old stuff in, onto and all around the four dumpsters there. He said elderly ladies from the apartment building had taken some antique Christmas decorations and such truck, and other persons passing by had scored some goodies too. He had spent some time there, on the previous day, looking at some of those discarded items and had passed up on keeping an album that documented the entire decades long process of turning Baltimore's rotting and  falling down, ratty, wino flop house and hard core biker bar Elmers (where shootings were common and stabbings an everyday thing) harbor into the fabulous, world famous (and oft internationally copied) Baltimore Inner Harbor of today. The album had old newspaper articles and photos and who knows what in it, but it was all about the heart and history of Baltimore's revitalization. I collect Baltimore memorabilia myself, but if I had scored that album I may have had to sell it for cash to use towards the betterment of my life's circumstances - if that Baltimore Inner Harbor album had turned out to have a high auction value. And a high auction value it may have deserved - due to how many people now collect Baltimore memorabilia and there might have been museum or Baltimore City guv'ment interest in the album. Unfortunately, it probably went to the dump.

It just so happened that the neighbor man - who was talking to me - is a longtime local Indian artifact hunter. And I have wanted to discover and collect local Indians' arrowheads, stone tools and all ever since I was a little kid. The area I live in is on the shores of backwaters to the Chesapeake Bay, where Indians once thrived for thousands of years. That neighbor man, Vince, is now a buddy of mine, whom I have conversed with several times since that dumpster diving Monday. I hope to get him  to take me along on an Indian artifact hunt sometime, but he's well aware that it ain't good to show anyone where he makes his best discoveries. Maybe someday I'll luck into getting a local land owner - whom Vince don't know -  to allow us both onto their land where Indians lived, hunted and fished before white faces like mine showed up on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and drove them earlier natives away. I'm one of the natives here now.

On that dumpster diving Monday, when I got home with that heavy load of photo albums, I sat down and began to look at every page, photo, postcard and souvenir. One album was all photos, little league sports cards, greeting cards and letters pertaining to two young boys, who were obviously the traveling lady's grandsons. As I skimmed through that album, I realized that one boy's photos etc. went from baby pictures up to his high school graduation ceremony invitation to his grandma, but the other kid's stuff ended about when he was 10-yrs-old. Figuring what that meant - bad news - I set the album aside and looked all through the others before looking all through it. Sure enough, the one lad had died when he was about 10. In the album was a newspaper article about the grandson being hit and killed by another kid on a dirt bike motorcycle, there was the child's funeral card, and, here's the most painful thing, the album contained a letter from the child to his hearty traveling grandmom thanking her for gifts sent to the child and his brother and the letter came to the grandmother on the morning of the day her grandson had died. That's a rough one. Life is hard.

At  that time I was going through those items, my closest most favorite family member was a 10-yr-old boy - my great-nephew - so reading that very sad part of the grandmother's history was a deeply emotional experience to me.

I tried to find the one known remaining young grandson - of the hearty traveling old gal - by searching for him on the Internet. I wanted to send him that photo album with his and his deceased brother's pictures and little league sports cards in it.

I had the high school graduation invitation he had sent to his grandma, which had his full name and school info, and also the grandsons' home address for where they grew up was on the return address for the envelope of the letter that the deceased 10-yr-old had sent to his grandma a day or two before he was killed in that tragic dirt bike accident. I did numerous Internet searches, on several different search engines, using various combinations of the grandson's name, his home town and school's name. I could not get one good hit at all. I'm pretty darn skilled at Internet searching, but, so sadly, I simply could not find the guy.

But, then, for all I know, that grandson could have been one of the people who threw all that good stuff out in the first place.

I will always wonder, though, was that remaining grandson of hers still alive when I searched for him or not - that I do know.

When I was going through the traveling grandmother's Far East Tour album, I get to a page marked Taipei 1972, and there was what appeared to be a folded handkerchief tucked into there. I unfold the thing and know right away I had scored a World War Two blood chit/survival chit; all pilots and other crew members of  American aircraft carry survival chits during war times. Chits are written in the language of areas flown over and explain to any people on the ground - whom shot down or crashed live air crew members may encounter - that the American flier is a friend and that either his country or theirs will reward them for helping the flier to safely get to an American controlled area.

I believe that my chit is worth between 75 and 150 bucks, which makes it one of the least valuable I saw priced on the Internet.

I love owning the blood chit. It  thrills me to hold it. The thing had been folded in half - in that album  - for 34 years, but it still maintains the original owner's creases in it that I used as a guide to fold it up and stick it in my pocket. Then I realized that there is ink from the flier's pocketed pen on the top edges of the chit. So, I know it went up on aerial missions - folded and tucked into some flier's pocket.

Question is, was the flier who carried it killed in the war, did he survive, and how did it end up in an antique or souvenir shop in Taipei? Was the chit given to someone who had helped the flier after he had survived a crash landing or parachuted to safety? Had the flier crashed and died and the chit been removed - by some local Asian person or an enemy soldier - from a dead man's pocket? Or was the flier a lucky dude who had fought through the war to the end of it then he gave the chit as a gift to some pretty lady lover of his or had he traded it for some Oriental souvenir or given it to an Asian friend after the war?

I had some of my family's grand-kids place the folded up chit into their pocket and asked them if they could each tell - by spiritual connection to the past - whether the flier had survived the war or not, and they felt he had.

The chit has a serial number stamped on it, so I hope that someday someone may be able to locate military records for who was given which number survival chit. The way I figure it is, if an American infantry patrol is sent looking for downed fliers, and they encounter some local person or an enemy soldier who has possession of a chit, the infantry guys can find out by the serial number which flier was either killed or captured by the enemy. I keep meaning to email the History Detectives PBS TV Show about this. Guess I ought'a do it soon.

Here is a scanned image of my favorite antique/collectible dumpster diving score of all times - a World War Two blood/survival chit:

My Photography Portfolio on Flickr:

email: ursusdave {at} yahoo {dot} com

Copyright 2010 David Robert Crews {a.k.a. ursusdave}

© Copyright 2002-2014 by Magic City Morning Star

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