Over five decades as a columnist, I have accumulated a lot of stuff because people have given me a lot of stuff. A man in Friendsville, western Maryland, gave me a wooden coat rack for giving him a ride on a winter day. When I returned from covering the 40th anniversary memorials for the D-Day invasion in Normandy, a reader gave me a commemorative ceramic whiskey decanter in the shape of a combat boot stepping on Omaha Beach. I refuse to take gifts in return for writing stories, but sometimes the people I encounter in reporting just want to give me stuff.
The photograph that appears with this post, for example, was given to me by someone name Johnny. I cannot remember who, what or where. I just came across it while searching for an item in a storage container. I remember the photo but not its source. The ink inscription is faded, but I can make out this much: “To my friend Johnny, Sincerely Joe Tipman,” then the others in the photo are listed: “Jim Corbett, Molly McIntyre and Billy Van.” The photo is dated Feb. 27, 1936, but, given the straw boaters in Corbett’s and Tipman’s hands, I’d say it was taken in spring or summer. I did some digging and determined that Tipman, a Baltimore native and prizefighter, is seated on the car’s running board, second from left; to his right is former world heavyweight boxing champion “Gentleman Jim” Corbett; to their left is Broadway actress McIntyre, who was born in Scotland and apparently liked dogs; and comedian Billy B. Van, a well-known vaudevillian who sometimes performed in black face. Van and Corbett appeared together in a silent film together in 1922. The photo strikes me as a promotional shot for touring entertainers, but that’s just a guess. The exterior of the building looks familiar, like one in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon. But I’m not sure where it was taken, or who Johnny was and how I came by this photo. As I say, people gave me a lot of stuff. I’m thankful, even if I have no idea where things came from.