Tobi Taylor's Journal

News > Tuesday, October-10-2006

Lucky Baldwin

Recently, while proofreading Playing Cards of the Apaches: A Study in Cultural Adaptation, by Virginia and Harold Wayland, and Alan Ferg, I was struck by this passage, a quotation from another playing-card scholar, Sylvia Mann: "I happen to collect playing-cards as my way into history." Intrigued, I consulted Mann’s book, All Cards on the Table, where she writes that “a true collector, whatever the object of his particular interest, be it children’s comics or gold snuff boxes, touches a live element of history...I have acquired, through application and countless reference works and the talents of other collectors, some knowledge about a lot of subjects hitherto outside my interests.” In the case of Playing Cards of the Apaches, my own "way into history" — horses — came in handy. In the book, the provenance of each pack of cards is traced in minute detail, whether the pack belonged to a captured Apache girl, or a U.S. Army soldier, or even Vincent Price.

 

But when I proofread the pages devoted to a pack owned by Elias J. Baldwin, he was mentioned simply as the donor of a pack of cards — and not, as I knew from my crazy patchwork way of assimilating history through horses, as "Lucky" Baldwin, the founder of Santa Anita Park (named for his daughter Anita), where Seabiscuit won the Santa Anita Handicap in 1940. Hearing this, the junior author (Ferg) agreed to add some biographical information about Baldwin. It’s no surprise, given Baldwin's interest in horses and gambling, that he owned a pack of Apache cards — aside from their use in gambling, Apache packs contain cards featuring caballos, ridden by jaunty caballeros.

 

I don’t consider myself a collector of horses (though some of my friends might disagree), but, like Mann, my interest in equines has led me to learn about (and what is perhaps more frightening, to retain knowledge of) subjects that seem, at first glance, to have no connection to horses, including: genealogy (horse and humans); textiles; W. K. Kellogg; hide-tanning; the King Ranch; Jostens' class rings; General Patton; Bromo-Seltzer; the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts; John Davidson; the Battle of the Little Big Horn; Catalina Island; the Polish language; charreria; Calumet baking soda; the Doors; the paintings of Degas, Lord Munnings, and George Stubbs; and, of course, Ramtha (whom J. Z. Knight channeled in What the Bleep Do We Know?).

 

As Dorothy Parker noted, "The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity."


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