Displayed on my desk is a postcard sent to me this summer by my daughter who was visiting friends on the North Carolina coast. On hectic days, when it begins to feel as though I have bees in my head and I can’t think straight, I’ll focus on the card. It calms me and reminds me of my girl. And that makes me smile.
Naturally, the card wasn’t the only contact I had with my traveling daughter. She e-mailed me several times and there were days we spoke more than once over the phone.
But the card, with its beautiful photograph of the Atlantic coastline, is touchable and permanent.
Six years ago, when I first moved to Spokane, I kept a drawer full of postcards, printed with different views of the city and scenery around the region. I sent cards regularly to the friends and family I had left behind. I wanted to keep in touch and give them a peek at my new home.
For the first couple of years, when more people were making the trip out to visit us, I kept stamps and postcards in the guest room for visitors to send to their own friends and family or keep as souvenirs.
I found a few of those cards the other day when I was cleaning out a drawer. And I realized that now, instead of new sights, the images on them are familiar landmarks.
In the not-too-distant past, picture postcards were a primary form of communication. They were inexpensive and, in some cases, beautiful little works of art.
Today, those cards are prized not only for their artwork, but for the quaint messages – handwritten time capsules – scrawled across the back.
“Vintage Postcards from Old Spokane,” by Duane Broyles and Howard Ness, is a new source of information for Spokane postcard collectors. Published by local authors and historians, Tony and Suzanne Bamonte, the book is an excellent resource for anyone who is interested in the history of Spokane as well as antique and vintage postcards.
I got a copy and spent an evening turning pages, looking at bustling street scenes of the downtown area, and of the crowds of men, women, and children enjoying Manito Park and splashing in Liberty Lake.
The book details how marketing played into the images that appeared on those early postcards. Photographs were frequently touched-up and in some cases completely altered. For instance, two cards featured the same view of Post Street, one daytime and one at night, the scene lit by a full moon. The authors pointed out that it was in fact, the same photo. A dark sky, bright moon and lighted windows had been added, but the same pedestrians and horse-drawn buggies lined the street.
Many of the messages from cards used to illustrate the book are included. And they tell a fascinating story as well.
On a card showing the raging waters of upper Spokane Falls, dated May 15, 1917, the message states: “This is the way the river looks now. We are having a big flood here this week and several houses are flooded and the river is still coming up.”
Another card, dated 1909, shows the Spokane skyline and the words: “They have a scarlet fever epidemic here and are talking of quarantining the town. Luckily I am getting out in time. With love, Otto.”
Turning the pages of the book, I wondered if any of the cards I mailed in 1999, in the months after I arrived in Spokane, were saved; and if they were, how my words – penned on the back of a card that had a photograph of the city on the front – will appear to a reader in the future.
Thinking about it, I realized I wrote exactly what so many of the messages on the backs of the cards in the book, and other cards I’ve seen over the years, have said for more than a century; the same message my daughter wove into the words on the back of the card I keep at my desk: “Thinking of you.”
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