The Really Big Typewriter and a Send Off

My blog has been on hiatus for the last few months while my family makes a slow-motion cross-country move to Northern Virginia. I am focused like a laser beam on tasks related to the move and new house and have been trying to avoid distractions and temptations (typewriters).

The Virginia house is a lot like a really big typewriter.   It has lots of moving parts and I am learning something new each and every day.

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wires

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I have been shuttling back and forth between California and Virginia for the past three months, working on the Virginia house. I really don’t want to be That Lady, but there are some updates and modifications we’d like to make before we bring in our familiar junk and make ourselves at home.  I am home-making.

The Virginia house is full of period details from the 1990s that I am trying to tone down: acres of high-gloss honey oak and brass accents.  This enormous ceiling fan that came with the house is mesmerizing.  It’s like a rare plant of the Amazon that blooms once every hundred years and emits a corpse-like scent. It’s so weird, it may need to stay.

fan

So I am out here in Virginia, trying make this house home-ly for our family – a comfortable setting for all our weird junk.  My skills are limited to demolition, insulation hanging and painting.  I like to paint and my favorite medium is rattle-can Rust-Oleum:

shutters

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I am trying to make two rooms out of one. Sometimes I feel like Gob Bluth: “I’ve made a huge mistake.”

The Olympia Robust joined me on this trip as a carry-on and kept me company in the garage while the floors were being refinished.

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Fire extinguisher at the ready in case the Robust overheats

The Robust appears to have spent some time rethinking the past.  It seems to have experienced some sort of spiritual conversion:

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We are all on a journey, and our paths often lead to unplanned destinations.  Yesterday the Robust journeyed to Richmond, VA where it will be rotated into exhibits at the Virginia Holocaust Museum.

I drove down to Richmond, VA with the Olympia Robust as co-pilot.  I have not been there in 30 years and was amazed at the city’s funky transformation.

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This is a window box at the Poe Museum featuring my favorite type of bird, a corvid:

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The Virginia Holocaust Museum is located near the waterfront in an old part of town:

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Weirdly (and I didn’t plan this) I dropped off the Robust at the museum on International Holocaust Remembrance Day which takes place on January 27—the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

I met with the museum’s Assistant Curator, Angela, and we brought the Robust to the  museum’s collections workspace where it will be processed.  I filled out the paperwork and kissed the Robust fondly goodbye.

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After the drop-off, I met my son and his girlfriend for lunch and reminisced about the good times with the Robust and celebrated the fact that the typewriter was now in a good place.

I drove back to Northern Virginia and sang loudly to the radio.

Farewell, re-born Robust!  Before we parted and the Robust embarked on its new life, it typed out this:

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Pleasing Symmetry

The Olympia Robust had been on my mind ever since it first arrived at Moe’s shop. I took some photographs of it in situ for Typewriter Database:

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Deer antler, tramp art, oil lamp, Jesus, stuffed pheasant…Olympia Robust.

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It bothered me to leave the typewriter at Moe’s shop. Not only was it at risk of getting damaged, but I worried it may be collected for weird reasons. The more I ruminated on it, the more convinced I became that the typewriter should not go to a private collector.

So I took it into protective custody and brought it to my place for the time being. Moe was relieved about that.  She was worried about it getting stepped on.

I am offering temporary shelter to the Olympia Robust – it can’t stay in my home too long.  I’m concerned that it might catch what the Praxis has.

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I went in search of a permanent home for the Robust.  The internet did not disappoint.  After a little digging, I found a Holocaust museum in Richmond, Virginia that was requesting donations of objects from the period.

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What I liked about this museum:

  • extensive community education program
  • open 7 days a week
  • FREE admission
  • great Yelp reviews

I got in touch with Tim, the director of collections at the Virginia Holocaust Museum. He and the assistant curator agreed that the Olympia Robust would be a good addition to the collection for rotation into the exhibits.

As part of the museum’s collection, the Olympia Robust will be available to anyone who may want to examine it (typewriter types, history buffs, ordinary curious people).  Tim says that the museum is developing a searchable online archive of objects in their collection that the Robust will become a part of.

I’m flying out to the DC area in December and will take the Robust as carry-on luggage. Once in DC, I plan to drive the typewriter down to Richmond for the hand-off.

This turned out really well. This particular typewriter’s story has a pleasing narrative symmetry – or at least a very satisfying balance in beginning and end. While I don’t think inanimate objects can experience karmic retribution, the sprinkling of poetic justice and side of situational irony gives me a chuckle.  This typewriter, made in its past life for the SS, will now be used as a tool for education and as prevention against future atrocity. It really does make me laugh (righteously, of course).

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Difficult History: Olympia Robust

I have been wrassling this week with an Olivetti Praxis 48 that I have fixed once already. I bought it off of Craigslist last year, fixed it and gave it to the Arduino Kid (son of Roia who works at Mozo’s shop down the street)

Roia and Burger

Roia and Dog. This dog has one eye that pops like Marty Feldman’s.

I brought the Praxis home last week with its jammed carriage:

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The Chewbacca mug mistook the Praxis for the Millennium Falcon and came over to see if he could recalibrate the hyperdrive motivator.

I removed some loose hinge pieces that were dangling inside, plugged it in and it worked.  For a couple minutes.  Then it was jammed again.

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And that led to:

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So I was sweating and swearing at this technological marvel when I got a phone call from Moe at Mozo’s.  She got some new typewriters including a really cool Olympia that I just had to check out.  So I walked over to the shop.

Lord.

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In pride of place next to the Tonka Winnebago

On the floor, Moe?  Really? With case open for stepping on?

And of course, it was One of Those.

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Moe didn’t know.  I pulled her over and showed her the SS key.

1943 Olympia Robust
serial number 470745

The typewriter is functional.  The carriage feels a little loose and the typed imprint on the right side is a little light, but it’s typing.

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The case is wooden, a faded blackish-green with a German instruction sheet pasted within it.

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The typewriter has a QWERTY keyboard and German characters.  My guess is that this was a US soldier’s war booty and that when he returned from overseas, he had the Y and Z placement switched.

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The “front panel slide” (“schieber im Frontblech”) is mysterious.  I can’t figure out what it’s supposed to do though it does obscure what has been typed. Would the slider have protected the delicate mechanics out in the field?

slider

A lot of people have mixed feelings about these SS rune WWII typewriters. There have been lively discussions in typewriter forums about the ethics of owning an SS rune typewriter.  I wish I could say something deep and meaningful about artifacts of difficult history, but I am coming up short.

I wish my father were still alive; I’d love to get his take on this typewriter.  Born in 1918 at the end of the first world war, he was a US Army serviceman during the second world war. He was an expert typist and bookkeeper, skills that did not go unnoticed by his superiors, and he diligently typed and kept the books through the war.  I imagine he would have studied this Olympia Robust with great interest.  It is the machine of his German SS counterpart, possibly a wartime clerk like himself, who used it to type up requisition forms for canned peaches – or status reports from death camps. We don’t know.

My father had a taste for the absurd and he framed his WWII service portrait in a WWI German commemorative frame he somehow came across.  It says around the frame: “Zur Erinnerung an die grosse Zeit – 1914-1915” (Memento of an Important Time, 1914-1915)

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I feel my father would have regarded this typewriter as a reminder of how war is absurd and monstrous – and full of the workaday. It’s really hard to orchestrate organized, large-scale evil-doing without clerks and paper pushers. You need a good typewriter too.

We Americans like to think of ourselves as “the good guys” though we are not as morally superior as we’d like to think. US history has some very dark chapters, and that difficult history should make us a bit uncomfortable. That discomfort should prod us toward a better future.

This Olympia Robust typewriter is a piece of difficult history, an object from a dangerous time and place. I really wouldn’t want the Robust to go to someone who acquires it as a fetish – an object of dark magical power. I’m hoping that it will find a home with someone who appreciates the significance of its history in a matter-of-fact way and who will preserve it and share it as a reminder of a terrible time in the world. Cue Santayana: those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

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