I love the old linen-textured postcards, especially the way the images fall somewhere between photographs and postcards. I especially like the most mundane ones, including the frankly commercial ones like this Tichnor Brothers postcard of The Carpet Shop, Inc., of Yonkers, New York (telephone number YOnkers 3-3905, if you want to give them a call.) The dreamlike image fascinates me — why are the showroom windows completely empty? Why is there nothing visible on either side of the building? Whose car is that parked out front, and why are there no signs of life? It’s so mysterious.
My mother always hoped that someday we’d go on a family road trip and drive all the way across the country to California, but we never did. Sometimes I dream of that trip, though, and imagine us pulling off the highway and checking into someplace with little cottages like this. Hollywood! How exciting that would have been.
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
In 1950, the town of Hot Springs renamed itself in honor of the Truth or Consequences radio program when host Ralph Edwards announced he’d broadcast the program from the first town that did so. My mother mentioned this as an amusing bit of trivia once when the show was on television, and this seemed so unlikely I had to go check the almanac to see if this was true. I still wonder who heard this on the radio and managed to talk everyone else into doing this.
Growing up in the era of TV Westerns, I was familiar with a place called Tombstone, but thought of it as someplace fictional or legendary, like Camelot or Shangri-La. I was around 12 when I realized it was a real place. The name just seemed too awful to be real.
I had heard people sing Mexicali Rose on television and I knew it was supposed to be Mexican because the people singing it were always wearing sombreros. But it was just a song, and the name didn’t catch my attention. But then I heard a contestant on a quiz show say that she was from Calexico, California, right across from Mexicali, Mexico, which delighted me. A pair of border towns with matching, mixed up names! How did such cool thing ever happened — who coordinated that?
If you’re working on your family history, you probably know the names of special places in your family members’ lives. Maybe your parents honeymooned at the Pancoast Hotel in Miami Beach, your grandmother graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, and your great grandfather was the President of the Farmers National Bank in Abilene, Kansas.
If you’re lucky, they left you pictures of all these places, but what if they didn’t? My favorite source for this kind of picture is the online postcard store CardCow. They sell real postcards here, but after the card is sold, they keep the scanned images and information on the site. They’ve been doing this for years, and now have a huge collection of postcard images online. You can search by keyword, or browse by category: Churches, Hotels, Amusement Parks, etc. I like to browse by location so I can browse through all the pictures of a particular place, like my hometown: Worcester, Massachusetts. There’s no way to limit a search by date, but try throwing a year in a keyword search anyway. For cards that were mailed, the year of the postmark is indexed, so you just might get lucky. For example : 1906 Syracuse New York. Just keep in mind that you’re excluding all of the postcards that lacked a postcard, and that the dates aren’t very precise because many postcards were sold over a period of several years.
Once you find postcards that are connected to your family history, you have a lot of options. You can order the actual postcard, if it hasn’t been sold already. As devoted as I am to digital images, I like keeping some of these in my paper files, and imagine my future grandchildren discovering them someday. It’s also easy to embed the postcard images in a blog or website, as I have done here. You can get the code to copy-and-paste in three different sizes. The image will be linked back to the Cardcow site, and have a subtle watermark. For cards that have already been sold, you can also buy a digital image in different sizes, starting at $3 for a 600 x 377 unwatermarked image for posting on the web. Larger files (1660 x 1044) with various rights are also available.
These old postcards can supplement family photographs, and help bring your family story to life!
Happy Father’s Day to all my friends who are dads, who are celebrating with their dads or who are missing them. I’d also like to honor the grandfathers, uncles, teachers, neighbors and other good men who provide support to kids whose fathers are not around — a little of the right kind of attention can make a big difference in a young person’s life!
My grandfather often talked about arriving in America with five dollars in his pocket. I pictured the scene in my mind, the young Luigi standing on the deck of a ship pulling in to New York Harbor, seeing the Statue of Liberty and taking a deep breath, removing the old wool cap from his head in respect. I could see the chaotic scene at Ellis Island, crowds of immigrants from many different countries, mothers whispering soft words in Italian, Polish, Swedish and a hundred other languages to soothe their frightened children. A lot of paperwork and then they all burst out into the streets of New York, ready to begin their new lives in America. I could see this scene like a movie in my mind, and it was so vivid to me then that it feels like a memory now, as if I were really there.
A few months ago, I went on the Ellis Island website and found the record of my grandfather’s arrival. Our family name was transcribed incorrectly, but the search engine’s “sounds like” option brought up the right record. It was quite thrilling to see my grandfather’s name and information in the ship manifest, to know the date of his arrival, and to know the name of the ship, the Duca degli Abruzzi, and to see a picture of the ship. I loved the picture so much, I ordered copies for my daughters and sister and nieces for Christmas. There were two different versions of picture, so I ordered both. I hope they will all keep their copies, and that children in future generations of the family will come across these, and look at the picture, and want to know a little more about their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, where we all came from and their family’s story.
My grandmother came from the same region of Italy as my grandfather, but she didn’t come through Ellis Island. She took a ship from Naples to Boston. I was able to find her records as well, and learn the name of her ship, the Canopic. Here’s a postcard from Cardcow.com showing that ship:
Another great old postcard from CardCow.com.
It’s good to see Santa making an effort to get more exercise.