Amazing Treasures That Just Show Up

Some days you dig and dig and dig and never know what you found, if anything. The purported grave of Alexander the Great is one such experience. (click).

Then there’s the opposite: You walk into the office and there’s a treasure, just sitting there.

In this case, it was a miniature version of a steamer trunk, about 6 inches wide and 18 inches long, green with brass-colored edging. Tracy Ehrig, our business manager, was in the fault where we keep all our artwork and said it was just sitting there.

Who put it there? No clue. Union Station has been owned by Ogden since 1978 and in that time has had several directors. The last one, Bob Geier, said he has no memory of this little trunk. Tracy, who has been here a number of years, didn’t know about it either.

No number on it to indicate it was ever received officially. No record in our files. It’s just: Here.

What’s in it. Wow, cool stuff.

There’s a bunch of newspapers from Omaha, Nebraska, dated 1944, a few magazines from 1949, several WWII ration books with stamps still inside, a book that helps someone in the navy recognize naval vessels from their silhouette, and a bunch of letters and a telegram.

There’s a band that would have been pinned around a soldier’s arm with “S.P.” on it, for “shore patrol,” the navy’s cops. There’s a black silk band with “US Coast Guard” written on it.

The interesting thing is none of this stuff is local to Utah. The letters are either mailed to, or from, Omaha addresses. The telegram is from Gentry S. Cannon who is wiring home from San Francisco on April 14 that he’ll be home Sunday the 16th at 6:45 p.m, which puts the telegram in 1944. An envelope shows Gentry  in the Navy, serving on the USS Cambria, so he is probably coming home on leave.

(A side note to some folks today who may not know what a telegram is: Back before instant messaging, and when telephones were an expensive novelty that many folks did not have, a way to send word quickly to someone was a telegram.

(It was like you see in Western movies where a telegraph operator taps out morse code on a key, but by the 1940s it was more modern. You paid by the word, your message was typed or keyed into a teletype machine like a typewriter, it came out of another teletype machine at the receiving end where the message was pasted, or copied, onto a piece of paper and delivered to your recipient.

(As telephones became more common, telegrams lost favor. Now Western Union mostly just sends money for people.)

All this stuff is great fun, but also educational. The envelopes only contain receipts or bills, but those are a window into daily life in the 40s. Gentry Cannon was paying on a loan to the State Finance Company in 1945. He paid $15.83, which included 74 cents interest and $15.09 on the principal of the loan. It may seem funny to be borrowing less than $100 in the first place, but back them $75 was a decent week’s wages, about the same as borrowing $1,000 today.

I love this book recognizing ships. It has a “Restricted” classification, meaning I shouldn’t let it fall into enemy hand, I guess. On the other hand, all the ships in it are long gone. The Scharnhorst and Tirpitz didn’t last the war.

There’s a fun booklet called “The Home Volunteer’s Defense Manual” full of advice on how you, as a consumer, can help win the war by — get this — being thrifty.

Remember how, when the so-called “War On Terror” started after 9-11 President Bush said the thing Americans could do to help was “go shopping.” Spend money, burn up the credit cards, boost the economy to generate taxes?

During WWII it was the opposite. The production of war materials and weapons was a very real thing to civilians because the entire resources of the nation were put to the effort. The book notes that it takes the steel of 500 refrigerators to make one Army battle tank, and we needed all the tanks we could make, so it has advice on how to make your fridge last longer.

Ditto on preparing tough cuts of meat, using up leftovers, making home tools and appliances last longer, and on and on. Everything made a difference. People were urged to save cooking fats to make bombs with.

So it’s a box full of really interesting stuff. I could spend a day reading the newspapers, which are all about the D-Day invasion. I need to research those ration stamps and see what one could buy with them.

Meanwhile, we’ll be formally adding the whole to our collection. It may have just showed up, but it’s staying here now.