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Making Brand New Antiques

The other day I promised to provide a few hints about projects that Cthulhu Reborn has been working on for different Call of Cthulhu publishers … and in a few days I hope to be able to provide a bunch of information about something special that I have been working on for Sixtystone, that is veeeeery close to being ready to go. The great thing about that project is that not only have I done some funky work on character sheet design … but Sixtystone have also trusted me to completely design the look of the book, create the layout and provide most of the art! Watch this space for more soon!

In the meantime, though, I thought I would talk a bit about something altogether different … I am working on a project for Chaosium (as yet unannounced, so I can’t say too much) that involves creating a mountain of prop documents with a “1920s Arkham, MA” feel to them. Readers of this blog will know that I’ve done lots of period props before … but the sheer scale of this particular job was quite astounding. Below is an example of the kind of thing that I have created.

New Antique Tut - 7 - Final

Doing a lot of this type of work in a short time frame has been quite an interesting experience, and it has really honed my skills at … well, at making brand new things that look like they are really old. Over time I have developed quite a selection of techniques for using digital tools — designed to make crisp and precise artworks — to make things that are not at all crisp or precise. I thought that folks might be interested in seeing how different techniques can come together to make something like the example above look old … so here’s a quick run-through of how I approach creating designs like this.

Although the techniques I mention below make particular reference to features in Adobe Illustrator (my tool of choice), I’m sure that most if not all of them are also available in other drawing packages. BTW: for all images shown on this page, you can click to see larger versions.

The first key design decision for prop documents is the choice of fonts … its usually pretty easy to find fonts that look vaguely period-specific, even using free fonts or the standard set that comes with modern Operating Systems. Usually I try to find a period-specific referemce image of the type of prop I’m designing, then pick fonts that are “close enough”. Here’s the “Burial or Removal Permit” prop in its raw form — just a bunch of text formatted with some vaguely 1920s-looking fonts:

New Antique Tut - 1 - PreTrackingWhile that already looks pretty reasonable, there are a few things that stop it looking truly vintage. One of the first things I like to do is to tweak the inter-character spacing in text (technically called the “tracking”) of the text. Modern fonts and computer typesetting seems to usually create text where the letters are quite tightly spaced, but old hand-set type was much, much looser — doubtless there’s some historical reason for this. Once you’re used to looking at true vintage typography, samples spaced in a “modern” way just jump out at you as non-authentic. Fortunately, modern drawing and typesetting tools give you a fair amount of control over a number of parameters (including tracking), so you can tweak away to create that wider-spaced look. Here’s a screenshot of Adobe Illustrator’s way of doing this:

New Antique Tut - 1a - Set Tracking

And here’s what our sample looks like with some wider character spacing for most of the text:

New Antique Tut - 2 - PreStrokeTo my eyes, this is already starting to look more like an old document. The next thing to address, though, is the crispness of the lettering — most fonts (and typesetting software) aim to create things that look crisp, but here we want something that looks a bit rough around the edges. One easy way we can make things look less crisp is by adding a stroke (basically a line) to the outside of the text. Adobe Illustrator lets you pick the width of the stroke as well as its colour, so you can achieve several different degrees of de-crisping:

New Antique Tut - 2a - Add Stroke

And here’s our prop with thin black outline strokes added to all the lettering.

New Antique Tut - 3 - PreRoughenSee how that beautiful crispness of the original typeset text has been grunged up a little? But we can go even further … Old typesetting methods were pretty error-prone: real-world offset type would pick up ink unevenly and if there was dust or other grime around the place it was pretty easy for lots of randomness to creep into the outline of letters. If you don’t believe me, go look at some scans of 1920s newspapers! Adobe Illustrator has a nifty way of similarly adding randomness to shapes — and thankfully also to lettering — by means of its “roughen” filter. This basically divides up a shape or letter outline into lots of small segments and randomly perturbs each one by an amount within a range you specify. Here’s how you can use it to add some randomness to our text:

New Antique Tut - 3a - Add Roughen

And here’s what the prop looks like with everything grunged up just a bit. This effect can easily go overboard, so it’s important to show some restraint (otherwise the text can get entirely unreadable) — here I am telling Illustrator that it can only perturb the outline of text by at most 0.1mm but that it can randomly shunt things around 79 spots per inch around the perimeter of the letter.

New Antique Tut - 4 - PreOpacityThe next thing I usually do to make text seem even more “indistinct” (in a vintage printing kind of way) is to give it a variable level of opacity to model the differing amounts of ink that were picked up by different parts of the type. While some letters will have picked up a whole bunch of ink, dust and grime will have caused other letters to pick up less than they should, and in extreme cases maybe left part of the letter entirely free of ink. We can digitally do something similar using my all-time favourite feature of Adobe Illustrator — the Opacity Mask. You can read detailed descriptions of what these are elsewhere I’m sure … but effectively Opacity Masks let you specify how see-through an object should be at different points across its surface by providing ANOTHER monochrome bitmap or shape (the mask). Wherever the mask is white, the original image will show through perfectly; where it’s grey it will show through partially, and where the mask is black the source image won’t be visible at all. When your mask looks like this:

New Antique Tut - 4a - Opacity Stress

you can create a subtle effect which makes you subconsciously see grimy old type instead of nice, new computer typeset type. You put the mask on top of the text you want to make grungy, select the two and tell Illustrator to go:

New Antique Tut - 4b - Make Opacity Mask

Here’s the result for our prop — it’s pretty subtle, but quite effective.

New Antique Tut - 5 - PreGlowThere’s still another way in which we can try to emulate some of the grungy effects of real-world printing. Depending on the type of paper being used, real-world samples tend to bleed a little bit around the edges (this happens even with inkjet printers a bit) — that makes the edges seem sort of a bit blurry or faded. We can model this using an “outer glow” effect in digital drawing tools. Here’s the same prop but with a small amount of black outer glow added to all text:

New Antique Tut - 6 - PrePaperNotice how this makes everything seem just slightly blurry … but in a way which looks like something printed a long time ago. Finally, we can add in some realistic paper texture to make things looks like a real-world document:

New Antique Tut - 7 - FinalWhen adding paper, I have found it is usually a good idea to make the text ever-so-slightly transparent (maybe setting opacity at 90%). That way, some of the paper texture still shows through even in the printed parts, and it generally looks more like a printed document instead of a piece of paper with some text perched in front of it.

And that’s our prop … I hope this brief tutorial walk-through of the vintage prop creation process is helpful or instructive to other designers and artists out there. I have used all of these techniques (sometimes separately, sometimes together) to create a LOT of different period props — when it works, they can look very convincing indeed! At least to my eyes . . .

Look To The Future . . .

Welcome to 2014 … I hope it is all you want it to be.

The beginning of a new year is always a great opportunity to look back on everything that’s happened in the past 12 months … and for Cthulhu Reborn that has been a lot. We’ve launched our first commercial PDF product, run a series of interviews with some of the most influential Lovecraftian game designers, mapped out the evolution of Call of Cthulhu skills, created a family of insane handwriting fonts, and … er … a whole bunch of other stuff.

As always, more than half of what has kept us busy over 2013 is still in the pile marked “waiting to be released”, with our art, writing and design work currently upcoming in products from three or four different publishers, not to mention several projects we plan to release ourselves via this blog. It’s all rather dizzying in fact … but a good kind of dizzy (like when you’ve just finished your fifth Space Mead daiquiri). The pic below gives a few hints and teasers about things that are “coming soon” from Cthulhu Reborn, with a few other highlights from 2013 mixed in for good measure.

2013 Unreleased Sampler Montage

All You Goblins, Show Your Faces

Well … it’s been a while since I last updated this blog. But rest assured my silence certainly does not mean that I haven’t been busy working on a range of exciting Cthulhu-related projects. Some of these are for (hopefully) free publication here on Cthulhu Reborn, but many are jobs for Chaosium and other Call of Cthulhu publishers. My post today is about one of these.

I’m sure by now that many people have heard about the “new kid on the block” in Call of Cthulhu publishing, Oscar Rios’ Golden Goblin Publishing. The flagship product which launched this new endeavour was a successful Kickstarter for a book called “Island of Ignorance (The Third Cthulhu Companion).” This book collects a miscellany of interesting source material along with five highly-regarded scenarios. On all fronts this is an excellent book. If you were a Kickstarter backer for a printer copy, you probably have yours by now — and if you weren’t a backer you can now buy a copy (either PDF or softcopy) direct from the Golden Goblin Store.

Now my role in this wonderful project was as the supplier of props/handouts for the various scenarios in the book. I made a gallery of these designs available a little while ago, after several folks expressed curiousity about what handout goodness they would get if/when they bought the book. Island of Ignorance - Consumption 1 - Massachusetts Drivers LicenseBut … the good folk over at Golden Goblin were also keen that these props be made available in PDF form, so that nobody need risk the spine of their beautiful book to photocopy handouts for their game. So today, I am happy to release — in conjunction with Golden Goblin — the “Islands of Ignorance” PDF prop pack.

You can download the prop pack for free using the link below. It spans to 26 pages and is a smidge over 14MB. Every prop from “Island of Ignorance” is presented here in higher-resolution/larger size than the versions included with the book itself. Plus, as an added treat for loyal goblins, you get each handout in two versions — one which is the basic prop design with minimal textures and fx, which the second is the textured versions. I hope you and your players enjoy these handouts …

  Island of Ignorance Prop Pack [26 pages, 14MB]



We here at Cthulhu Reborn always love hearing about the insane things folks do with our props/handouts/scenarios/character sheets. If you want to share something cool, feel free to send us a (Lovecraftian, ie eerily portentious) note using the form below.

State of the Tentacle: Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan


When we kicked off the “State of the Tentacle” series, one of the goals was to cast a net further than just Call of Cthulhu and to try to get some opionions from folks in the broader “Lovecraftian RPG” field. With this fourth installment we have certainly succeeded in this endeavour … for trapped in the bottom of our net (trying desperately to swim back to the nearest Deep One metropolis) we find Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan.

Lovecraftian gamers will certainly know Gareth from his recent work as the “Laundry Guy” and for Trail of Cthulhu. But for gamers who are a little longer in the tooth (or is that tentacle?) his name will certainly be also recognizable as the “Paranoia reboot” guy and the “new Traveller edition” guy and many other epithets besides. All this experience — both inside and outside our little corner of the gaming universe — makes him an interesting person to quiz about the future of Lovecraftian games, so we are really happy that our net held true and we were able to compel some interesting answers from Gareth in exchange for his liberty.


Gareth is a writer and game designer based in Ireland. While innocently starting out writing Cthulhu scenarios ( for conventions, he wandered into a career in gaming by accident. These days, he is a line manager at Cubicle 7 (for The Laundry and other properties) and a freelancer for other companies, notably Pelgrane Press.


Gareth has worked on all the Laundry Files books –that’s The Laundry Files Core Rulebook, the excellent Laundry scenario compendium Black Bag Jobs, The Laundry Agent’s Handbook, License to Summon, Mythos Dossiers, GOD GAME BLACK and the yet-to-be-released Cultists Under The Bed for those keeping score. He’s also written Arkham Detective Tales and has taken over responsibilities in writing the latter chapters of the much-loved Cthulhu Apocalypse campaign for Pelgrane Press. Gareth also contributed to the Maelstrom anthology of Mythos fiction and to the marginalia for Graham Walmsley’s insanely useful Stealing Cthulhu guide to building Lovecraftian tales by … well, er, stealing.

And all this in the last couple of years. Clearly Gareth is either a man who believes sleep is for the weak, some form of military AI experiment, or a Beowulf cluster of Mi-go brain cylinders. Even after interviewing him, we’re not really sure which.

Clear Divider 700x10

Outside the Mythos, Gareth is also famous for having written new editions of Traveller and Paranoia for Mongoose Publishing (and is proud of the fact that he added the “Servants of Cthulhu” as a secret society in Paranoia: Internal Security), He has also contributed to many, many more game lines than we could possibly mention here, written a licensed novel (Paranoia: Reality Optional) and is currently working on a FATE-powered game of lurid Georgian-era occult horror called Rakehell as well as many, many other things.


Gareth blogs (infrequently) at, but can be found more regularly on twitter and other forums, where he usually goes by the name “mytholder”.

CthulhuReborn: With over three decades of history to Lovecraftian Roleplaying, what do you see as the key milestones and mis-steps that have been made during its evolution?

Gareth: Lovecraft bestrides the gaming world like some shambling colossus. There are few genres or types of game that don’t have at least a nod in the direction of ancient tentacled horrors. Not just roleplaying games – I’ve got shelves full of Lovecraftian board games, card games, computer gamesplush toys, even. Lovecraft’s a geek shibboleth.

(Of course, calling most of these ‘Lovecraftian’ is arguable a misnomer. If you say ‘Mythos’ roleplaying, you’re on safer ground. A lot of games don’t capture Lovecraft’s artful dread, but have the tropes of tentacled monsters, musty books and madmen down pat.)

The key milestones have to include the publication of Call of Cthulhu, of course, but I think the Deities and Demigods printing of the Mythos gods was also very important, as it seeded the idea that Lovecraft could be added to any game, instead of just being restricted to a single setting. Did that primordial miscegenation open up Lovecraftian horror to strange new vistas of gaming?

Given the huge success of Lovecraftian roleplaying, pointing out missteps feels like nitpicking. “Lovecraftian roleplaying has been a pillar of gaming for decades, hugely well-respected with a sturdy ruleset that’s hardly dated, a host of fans and a reputation for immensely rewarding play – where did it all go wrong?”

If I must answer – the game never really embraced one-shots as much as it should have, the character generation rules are… quaint, but notoriously time-consuming given how quickly investigators can perish, and there’s been a paucity of good advice for Keepers on how to keep a campaign going.

I worry about some of what I’ve heard about the 7th edition rules. Updating a classic ruleset like that is a very, very tricky job – look at the current debates over the direction of Dungeons and Dragons, for example. I worked on a new edition of Traveller a few years ago, and that was a harrowing experience. I feel you have to see yourself as a custodian of the game, not an architect – make tweaks rather than large-scale changes unless you can clearly identify sections that need improvement. It’s doubly hard with CoC, as the basic engine is so transparent and simple. “Here’s your skill, roll under it” is hard to improve upon.

CR: Given the many and varied publishers and product lines that exist in 2013 to support the hobby, what things do you think this “mini-industry” is doing well and what could be done better?

Gareth: The glib answer is “it’s doing well by surviving” in this grim times. The various publishers all seem to be ploughing their own fields quite nicely. Even if you restrict it to BRP-compatible material, everyone’s got their Unique Selling Point – hard-edged modern-day black-helicopter stuff in Delta Green, Lovecraft-country at Miskatonic River Press, 1920s England at Cthulhu Britanica and so on.

We do need more innovation. More player-facing books, for example. Robin Laws’ Armitage Files suggests a fantastic way of presenting investigative adventures, and I’d love to see something like that applied to classic Cthulhu. The big challenges in roleplaying writing are structuring information so it can be referenced quickly in play while still being clear and entertaining, and harnessing the creativity and enthusiasm of the players while still preserving a meaningful investigation.

CR: What do you see as the main factors shaping the direction of Lovecraftian RPGs right now?

Gareth: There’s the X + Cthulhu approach, adding the Mythos to different settings or genres. Cthulhu plus space, Cthulhu plus mecha, Cthulhu plus spies, Cthulhu plus WWII, Cthulhu plus Regency England. The right combination can, I think, spark something wonderful – if you can find unexpected and fruitful resonances between the Mythos and your chosen X, it makes for great gaming. It’s also possible to come up with new and interesting perspectives on the Mythos – look at John Snead’s Eldritch Skies, which recasts the Mythos races as aliens to be encountered and explored, as opposed to fundamentally incomprehensible horrors.

Eldritch Skies

The downside is that it can be all too easy to rely on Mythos tropes to provide the bad guys for your setting, which can result in retelling The Shadow Over Innsmouth over and over, only the bad guys have different hats. Any worthwhile combination should bring something new to the Mythos. (I was very pleased when reviews of the Black Bag Jobs anthology for the Laundry observed that it would be hard to adapt those adventures for a regular Cthulhu campaign, as they were so tied to the Laundry setting while still using classic Mythos concepts like Deep Ones or cultists.)

There’s also Kickstarter, which may have a big influence on the direction of games, but I’ll get to that later on.

CR: What do you see as the main challenges currently facing the continued prosperity/growth of the hobby?

Gareth: I note the distinction between ‘prosperity’ and ‘growth’. I’ll also draw a distinction between ‘hobby’ and ‘industry’.

The industry’s gotten very good at surviving and even prospering on small margins. The average book sells far fewer copies than a comparable release a decade ago, but there are more books, and they’re more efficiently produced. The industry will continue to prosper, within its own little niche, possibly becoming every more indistinguishable from ‘hobby’. I think the games and adventures coming out these days are richer and better-designed than any before, and there’s more analysis, discussion and refinement going on than ever before, thanks to the Internet.

Growth, though, is harder to achieve. One of the biggest obstacles for roleplaying games is time. I may get a deeper and more interesting experience out of a D&D campaign with six friends than I do out of popping Skyrim into my Xbox – but the latter takes only ten seconds, as opposed to the hours of wrangling, scheduling, postponement and logistical issues needed to get seven busy people into the same room for four hours. Gaming requires a huge investment of time, and that’s a big obstacle for new players.

Call of Cthulhu and its ilk actually do moderately well on this score. The Cthulhu character generation rules are rather slow, but the rules can be explained in a few seconds. There’s a wealth of scenarios available for busy Keepers, and Cthulhu lends itself very well to the one-shot game or a campaign where you can drop in pre-written scenarios.

I’d love to see something with the visuals and props of, say, Arkham Horror but with the structure and interactivity of a roleplaying game…but we’re crossing over into opportunities here. So, one of the obstacles is the lack of an appealing entry-level game, and one of the opportunities is the production of an appealing entry-level game!

CR: If it was up to you, where would you like to see the product lines of Lovecraftian RPGs (whether it’s the games themselves or their support products) go next?

Gareth: Well, one corner of our quaint, witch-haunted town is under my tyrannical reign – I’m line manager for the Laundry Files, the game based on the novels of Charles Stross. While the novels determine the overall trajectory of the line (towards CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN [the Laundryverse name for the imminent catastrophe “when the stars come right” –CR]), we get to explore other aspects of the setting, and that normally involves adding a little more Mythos. This year, we’re working on a guide to the military and political aspects of the Laundryverse, another adventure anthology, and a guide to cults called Cultists Under The Bed, which uses a similar format to the Mythos Dossiers with lots of player handouts.

Other lines I wouldn’t want to dictate, save perhaps to hurry them along (Eternal Lies, for example, is something I’d really like to run at some point). There are lots of very strong designers working in the shadow of Lovecraft.

I’d love to see something that’s really quick to pick up and play, while still keeping all the strengths of a roleplaying game. Cthulhu Dark or Tremulus might come close.

CR: Hypothetically, if you were to gaze into a crystal ball and look five years into the future of the hobby, what do you expect you’d see had changed in that time?

ipad-art-deco-coc-sheetGareth: There’ll be more integration of electronic media and support. The balance of the industry is shifting towards PDFs. These days, if I buy a new game to read, I’ll buy it in PDF, and only get a print version if I want to actually play it. You still can’t beat print for ease of use at a gaming table (at least, not yet — playing “the five year future of consumer electronics, especially tablets” is a whole other blog post). There’ll also be more use of character trackers, virtual handouts, and so on, especially for games set in the modern era.

Right now, Kickstarter’s exerting a huge gravitational pull over the industry. Bigger companies like WotC have enough financial mass to ignore it, but it’s virtually irresistible for smaller companies and hobbyist publishers. The lure of a enthused, connected, invested fanbase PLUS money up front PLUS a financing system that rewards clever ideas and gaming the system… that’s very attractive.

There are three ways this can go.

sott - Kickstarter Growth TentaclesFirstly, the kickstarter bubble might just burst. If a number of high-profile projects don’t deliver, then people may decide that investing money in a game that might never materialise just isn’t worth the risk. A badly managed successful Kickstarter can be much worse than a failed project.

In this scenario, the landscape looks much as it does now. Some product lines will have closed down, others opened up, but I wouldn’t expect any large-scale changes.

Secondly, Kickstart might just tick along, in which case it effectively becomes a pre-order/market testing system. Someone has an idea for a book, up it goes on Kickstarter, and if it funds, it gets published. It gives companies cash flow and lets them avoid sinking thousands into a book that no-one wants. Everyone wins, especially publishers with good track records.

Scenario three is that we keep getting these huge spikes of funding for high-profile projects with thousands of backers. That would open the door to a scenario where there are fewer but much bigger and more impressive products instead of a steady stream of books.

The Kickstarter phenomenon is especially relevant to Mythos gaming, because… well, Cthulhu’s popular and instantly recognisable. We’re a meme.

CR: A meme indeed … Thanks for your time, Gareth!

2012: The Year in Re-Blog

So, as 2012 comes to a close, I guess it’s worth reflecting a little bit about another year of CthulhuReborn.

It’s actually been a remarkably busy year … although most of the great stuff that has been completed in our hidden digital publishing sweatshop (hidden high up on the Plateau of Leng) hasn’t yet found its way to a screen or a page near you. Why’s that? Well … although CthulhuReborn did manage to put out two sizeable scenarios as freebie PDFs — one as a limited-run test print as well — most of the design and writing I’ve done in 2012 has been for commercial projects, none of which have yet to be released.

Freebie PDFs

In case you missed  it earlier in the year, 2012 saw Cthulhu Reborn release the following great scenarios — each released as a glossy-layout PDF overflowing with handouts:

As an experiment, a very limited quantity of professional prints were made of The Past Is Doomed — some were sent to folks who have helped out CthulhuReborn over the years, others were traded to gamers and other Lovecraft enthusiasts … I hope those who received these nifty books enjoyed them: I thought they turned out really well.

Stuff for Other Folks

Although I can’t really say anything much about any of the projects individually, Cthulhu Reborn was busy for much of 2012 undertaking handout design for a few Call of Cthulhu licensees for use in their upcoming projects. The montage below shows just a fraction of the designs that are eagerly awaiting the completion of four-or-five upcoming books:

2012 Unreleased Sampler Montage

Coming in 2013

There are still lots of things in the works, as part of books to be released for free here on CthulhuReborn, as well as contributions to upcoming books. In addition to all the artwork mentioned above, I’ve also got writing contributions which will (hopefully) grace the pages of commercial releases in 2013. I am particularly excited about a contribution I put forward to a certain as-yet-unnamed book of Gaslight scenarios, which looks like it may make it to print. That will be a very nifty thing to see make it to the light of day.

I also have a bunch of ideas for things to make the CthulhuReborn a more interesting place to visit (and hopefully one that is more frequently updated). Stay tuned for some further announcements a little further down the track.

Last Words

I’ll leave you with a glimpse at the very last artwork I completed for 2012, a 3D lighthouse schematic for a Mark Morrison scenario which has been in the works for some time. It’s called The Shadows Over Lulworth — and, er, it features a lighthouse. Mark’s original map sketch from 1983 (left) was hand-drawn; my version (right) is the first real experiment I’ve done with 3D … it sort of works, but some stuff was way harder than it should have been …

Anyway. All the best for a squamous 2013.

MMorrison Map of Beacon Tower

Lulworth Map - Portland Bill 3D redlight 2 crease

Squamous But True: Collateral Damage

Typical investigators in Lovecraftian RPG scenarios have a habit of deploy some pretty .. ahem .. drastic problem solving methods. Have you ever wondered why none of the after-effects (or collateral damage) from their exploits never end up in the newspaper?

As this real-world news clipping from 1921 shows … there are plenty of things that sure sound like Cthulhuoid investigators at work:

Exhibit E: News article from August 9, 1921




PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Sweeping down Narragansett Bay with its machine gun spraying the water with a rain of bullets, an unidentified airplane this afternoon riddled and nearly sunk a launch containing five people and severely wounded a girl passenger.

Failing to observe frantic signals from the boat, the plane sped on its way. With the boat sinking and the girl in danger from loss of blood the launch party traveled eight miles to shore to reach medical assistance. The wounded girl is Grace Buxton, 24, of Oakland Beach, near this city.

Squamous But True (for Christmas)

Here are a couple of Christmas-themed articles from real newspapers of the 1920s  & 1930s which … well, which have a kind of strange aspect to their subject matter which could easily be twisted to form part of a Lovecraftian-themed game scenario. Because I know some of you out there in Internet-land love Christmas, while others hate it with a passion, I have included one upbeat story and, er, one not-so-upbeat story.

The first article is about a little girl who slept for almost three earthly years … anybody know how long that is in Dreamlands years?

Exhibit C: News article from December 23, 1934

Sleeping Beauty’s

Christmas Planned

CHICAGO — For the first time in three years Patricia Maguire, the modern sleeping beauty, is to join the family circle around the Christmas tree.

She slipped away into that strange unnatural sleep on Feb. 15, 1932.

Last Christmas her eyes still had the unseeing dullness of the blind. She was unresponsive to the world.

Today, though still in a twilight of sleeping sickness, her brown eyes have the sparkle of one who sees again.

So Christmas, 1934, is to have something of the cheer that has been lacking since Christmas, 1931, at the modest little yellow home in Oak Park. With a happy twinkle in her blue eyes the girl’s mother, Mrs. Peter Miley, and her elder daughter, Mrs. Gladys Hansen, are trimming the Christmas tree that stands near the big window of the living room.

Here’s a Christmas story that is a bit less light-and-fluffy … (and if it puts you off your Christmas cake, just be thankful that I chose not to go with the 1930s story about the young actor kidnapped and brutally tortured … with his ransom not coming on a Christmas card from the abductors; that one might, er, put you off receiving Christmas cards FOR LIFE :-)).

Exhibit D: News article from December 21, 1929



Action by U. S. Food Officials Probably Saves Suffering.

WASHINGTON, D. C. — By speedily establishing the presence of poison, in nine Christmas fruit cakes, the United States food and drug administration not only protected the persons who might have eaten them but also probably saved the life of the woman who baked them.

Her case had baffled physicians up to the time the analysis was made. Now she is being treated for poisoning, and is responding, though still seriously ill.

Names Are Witheld

Inspector G. P. Larrick, who traced eight fruit cakes in this region and one to Quebec, Canada, Monday told the peculiar circumstances which led to the investigation but refused to reveal the name of any of the persons concerned. “The fruit cake first was brought to our laboratories by a physician,” he said, “he had been treating a woman who was very ill of some sort of poisoning, but he could not establish its nature. The symptoms might have indicated one of several poisons. “It just chanced that he was invited to the home of a dentist friend, and the doctor and his wife and the dentist and his wife sampled the Christmas fruit cake. All four became ill.

Finds Source of Cake.

The doctor asked where the fruit cake had been purchased, and when he learned that it was at the home of his patient, he at once thought of the possibility that he might have hit upon her ailment.”

Inspector Larrick’s story was that a poison, flour like in appearance, had been so unevenly mixed through a batch of flour that the housewife had eaten but small doses in her baking. It was his opinion that some person, wanting a paper bag, had dumped its poison contents into a sack of flour, thinking it was flour.

(and in case you’re wondering what the last sentence actually means … I have no idea, either).

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