Posting vignettes based on great postcards found in my mail box and elsewhere.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Merry Christmas, Sugah

How do you say Merry Christmas to someone far away? Today, you could phone or text or send a snail-mail, traditional, greeting card. The elaborate holiday greeting postcard from the 1950’s shows a plethora of Alaska native life scenes within the x-mas lettering. On the top left is printed “Hello, Ed Levin.” and just below the Christmas tree, center left , is ““Sugah” Levin.” Between both Ed and Sugah's first and last names is a trapezoid box with dates: 1954 for Ed and 1953 for Sugah. Are these birth dates?

The mystery of this card deepens on the reverse side where a penned message is written from Ed to Vera. Apparently, Ed was not able to make it to Alaska the past summer after being elected County Supervisor but promised to return the coming summer. The interesting thing is there is no postage or postmarks which makes me think the card made its way to Alaska via an envelope.

I found this card at a yard sale this summer along with many vintage postcards. I was intrigued by the multiple and varied images within the lettering. There are dog teams, animal pelts, whaling and boating scenes, even a boxing scene and numerous portraits of men, women and children in fur parkas.

The mystery is someone put these images together and must have know the identities of the models. Was this a family portrait? Was this Ed’s family or the accumulation of his travels in Alaska? Was Vera, “Sugah?” Was Vera, Ed's sister, lover, mother, or ex-wife? Anything is possible. One possibility is that Vera is Ed's mother. The card might have been sent to commemorate the birth of him and his sister, perhaps near Christmas.

An Internet search turned up a couple of possibilities. Ed Levin, a recording engineer, accompanied Father Bernard Hubbard to King Island, Alaska Territory in the 1930's. They filmed 27 hours of footage and taped more than seven hours of sound recordings of the native people there. In the 1990's these recordings were repatriated by the King Islanders. This could be the same Ed who became the Santa Clara, California, Supervisor, Ed R. Levin. He led a campaign to acquire state property for a park. Levin died in 1966. In 1969 Airpoint Park was renamed and opened as Ed R. Levin Park. I do not know if this Levin was the cards maker or sender, though the images, message on the back and the supervisor's timeline would be possible.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Santa Claus House

This is a postcard of the original Santa Claus House in North Pole, Alaska. Yes, there is a real city named North Pole, a few miles east of Fairbanks, Alaska. There you can visit Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus year round, except Christmas Eve when he is rather busy. Forget Christmas Day too when he's taking a well deserved rest.

The original Santa Claus House, 511 Santa Claus Lane, seen in this card, was begun in 1952. This picture postcard shows some add-ons to the original log structure. Beginning in 1954, this building served as the North Pole post office for 20 years. Santa had to move his residence when the state highway was relocated in 1974. Santa, knowing he had a tradition to uphold, moved his house to the current location on St. Nicholas Lane, which is today visible from the Richardson Highway, the main route between the Canadian border and Fairbanks.

You can find the Santa Claus House web site here. Along with remaining accessible year-round, for almost sixty years Santa has offered kids an official letter from Santa on Santa's own stationary. And can you believe some people don't think he is real.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Canadian National Railway in Jasper

Glenn, of Gem's World Postcards, sends me wonderful postcards of trains from Canada. Trains are one of my collection focuses, along with bridges, art prints and any views of southeastern Michigan. These Canadian National Railway diesel engines are seen at the Jasper, Alberta, station. The photo was taken by Lee Simmons.

This engine was likely put into service between 1993-1995 when the short-lived "CN North America" logo was used. Today company sports the plain "CN" logo minus the map image. An in depth discussion of the history of CN's logo can be found at Best Logos -- World's Best Logo and Brands blog. I remember seeing the CN logo on engines and rail cars when I was a growing up outside of Detroit, including the ones that spelled out Canadian National Railways in a box back lit by a Maple Leaf.

CN is the largest railway in Canada with 22,000 employees, Incidentally, the firm owns twenty-one thousand miles of rails run from coast to coast including extensive rails in the central United States running all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, according to Wiki. . From time to time there are proposals to link Alaska with the Canadian rail system, which I think would be a fine idea, but the economics don't seem to warrant it.

Thanks for the card and stamps, Glenn.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Dog Team 1920; uncanny resemblance

I bought this postcard at a flea market at our neighborhood mall a couple of weeks ago. A wonderful find for a retired dog musher and postcard collector. The card is postmarked from Juneau, Alaska, July 19, 1921. Published by the HHT Company, the card was addressed to "Mrs. Wm. Watson Jr., Monto Rio, Calif." The message reads: Dear Jean, We're having a wonderful time & lovely weather to-day. Ruth"

This postcard caught my eye for several reasons: a watercolor like composition, a good image of an historical dog team, and the good condition of the card. Yet the clincher was that the lead dog in this scene is a near spitt'in image of the hardest working and by far the most bizarre sled dogs I ever owned. His name was Lauper. He was a cast off dog from another musher. After a fight in which he was malled by an entire dog team, his heart stopped on the operating table. Six weeks later he finished the Iditarod. He was an unusual sled dog with a small head. The tip of his right ear was lopped off, thus the name, and his snout, legs and torso was crisscrossed with scars. Yet even in defeat he was never defeated. He had a swagger to his step, the kind that said, "Come on, give me your best shot." He was a committed fighter, a stupid fighter to be sure, who always picked fights with bigger and tougher dogs and he always lost. Yet, he'd never back down and even go out of his way to challenge another male. I swear, he could antagonize another male dog who was minding his own business on the other side of the dog yard. He was an idiot but I think that is what made him a great sled dog. I don't think he had enough gray matter to imagine anything other than his current condition. Had he just got drug beneath overflow or kicked by a moose he didn't remember it the next moment. Therefore his work ethic was off the charts. When traveling down the most bone-jarring trail he was unfazed. His tug line was always stretched like a banjo string. The greatest thing about him, like many dogs, is that you were the center of his universe -- the fixed and perfect star in his warped universe.

Lauper 1990-2004

Monday, November 2, 2009

Scandolous Kiss

Was it the polite kiss or that the man had lost his hat that made this image so scandalous? Than again, maybe it was all that wild vegetation and the woman's exposed ankle that told the real story. This neatly bordered postcard was published in 1910 by Bamforth and Company of Hanfirth, England, and New York.

For a more than a century, Bamforth's produced scads of postcards. They were best known for saucy seaside cartoon cards and also silent films, according to About Postcard blogger, Linda Kelly. You can still buy Bamforth's saucy postcards from Bamforth and Company, both wholesale and retail. They hold the license for Bamforth's postcard reproductions. The undivided back of this particular postcard shows the distinctive "B" of the Bamforth's original logo.

I consider this card a find. Where I found it was a mystery until I posted it and Diane Glass, Artstanding Stranger, reminded me she sent it in April just before I left on vacation. When I returned from vacation it was back to work for the busy summer season. For the remainder of the summer my personal effects were disheveled. I'm not a neat nix to begin with so the card got shuffled from desk to desk all summer until a few weeks ago. Compounding this is that right now I have a new medical aliment and taking some powerful drugs to combat it. This makes writing, which I love, and even thinking laborious. For the past week I've had enough pain to knock down a moose. To combat my distractedness I've begun to note the backs of my postcards with dates and contributors when I receive them. This is no doubt normal behavior for serious collectors but for me it was never necessary, since my postcard sources were few. Now this old dog has to learn a few new routines to keep his bone yard straight. Thank you Diane for the save. It is not my intention to create mysteries but to celebrate them.
When I wrote this post in a mind numbing fog, I looked for the easy explanation for how it came into my collection. Because this card is an original, not a reproduction, I assumed it came into my collection the way many did, through the past efforts of my now deceased grandmother. She snagged many a postcard, including some very old and rare ones, out of the hand of many unsuspecting relatives or friends. She would curtly say, "It's for my grandson's collection!" as if to say, I had a divine right to it.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Halloween Muse

This postcard shows a 1st-century Roman fresco of a frightful muse. I wonder if Stephen King, American author of a multitude of horror classics, is acquainted with her? We've all heard that one's muse is an inconvenient companion, coming and going at whim, yet I might have second thoughts about calling for her help to write my blog if she regularly arrived carrying a decapitated head.

The postcard is from the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California, circa 1980.

Friday, October 23, 2009

In Another Life

Echos of Tienanmen Square.
This postcard's photo was taken by Michelle Barnes-Ness and printed by Alaskan Postcard Classics on environmentally friendly inks and paper. The card was a gift along with 24 other cards from friends Jan and Rick. They are serious garage sale folks and found the cards at an ongoing garage sale in Fairbanks.
The caption on the reverse side said this particular moose charged, kicked the locomotive, then jumped off the tracks. Fortunately for this moose the train was not moving. Usually their orneriness earns them a trip to oblivion.
This year more than 300 moose will be hit by trains in Alaska. That is not so much a prediction but a figure based on average strikes for the past 25 years. If the snow is heavy, more will die. Even though moose can weight up to 1,600 pounds, a freight train with several thousand tons of mass moving at 40 miles per hour with a steel cattle guard easily wins the battle of nature verses machine. It takes a fully loaded freight train nearly a mile to stop. Moose use the tracks to avoid floundering in the deep snow -- which in some areas can be eight feet deep. One year a train on a 712-mile round trip collided with 24 moose. The only good to come of this carnage is that some of the moose killed by trains are savaged for local food banks.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tossed Alaskans, Part IV

I picked up this great postcard at my local grocery. It is a welcome addition to the other three blanket toss postcards I posted previously. This one, like the others, shows natives and tourists having a great time throwing people into the air. I like that all the folks in this shot have big smiles on their faces.

These blanket toss postcards are popular with my blog readers. It seems people are interested because of the obvious, it looks like fun, and it gives a glimpse into the traditional way of life most people never see. These photo postcards show a relatively new use for a traditional activity -- the sharing of a traditional hunting skill with tourists from outside the community. For eons, the blanket toss is used to spot game, usually during the spring whaling festival (see below).

These postcards show how gracious native communities can be in sharing their heritage. The cards also preserve a snapshot of that heritage for the world. It is obvious that not everyone can travel to Alaska nor live the subsistence way of life, yet everyone can be enriched by learning about these practices. I am grateful that when I lived in Western Alaska, native people openly shared their life and traditions with me. I gained survival skills during that time that served me well on several occasions. It also gave me a whole new perspective on native cultures based on the sometimes harsh realities of life on the coast.

Reader Rob Schmidt was kind enough to send some details about the blanket toss, which is part of the hunting festival called Nalukataq by the Inupiaq Eskimos. According to Ron, "Nalukataq is the spring whaling festival of the Inupiaq Eskimos of Northern Alaska, and is characterized most famously by the Eskimo blanket toss... It (the blanket) is made from several bearded seal skins sewn together in a circle or square. A rope extends from each corner, and is pulled tightly between four wooden beams using block and tackle. This raises the blanket to about waist height. Men and women circle the blanket and hold the edges, and pull out on the blanket to throw the blanket dancer in the air. Anyone may be thrown on the blanket, but traditionally the captains and their wives go first. Originally they threw out goods, such as clothing, tools, or food as a means of demonstrating their ability to provide, but today that tradition has evolved, and wives of the captains throw candy to surrounding children once airborne. This event is the highlight and namesake of the festival, and may last several hours. Following the blanket toss, everyone gathers for a traditional dance."

Rob makes the point that bearded seal skins are used as the material for the "blankets." Several of the postcards I posted earlier note that walurs skins are used. Both animals skins are used. From what I know of living in northwestern Alaska, natives peoples are not adverse to using whatever is available, especially for tourist demonstrations. There is no doubt that seal skins are used and even preferred, especially in the far north, but they are not used exclusively in every location. Many independent sources refer to the use of walrus skins.

For more details on the Nalukataq, see this link:

Rob Schmidt is the author of several blogs and a web site. His Pictographs and Newspaper Rock blogs are Rob's take on current affairs from a multicultural perspective. His web site, Blue Corn Comics, showcases his comic book publication Peace Party in which native comic characters are cast as superheros. It is also filled with links and commentary on Native Americans as they are misportrayed in pop culture. Rob's mission is to dispel stereotypes of Native Americans in mainstream society, especially in popular media.

For some great pictures and videos of the blanket toss, go here, Alaska-In-Pictures and here World Eskimo Indian Olympics.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Denver Zephyrs

The Zephyrs of the the Burlington (railroad) Route which passes through the American Midwest was once site of the world record holder for high speed trains. On October 23, 1936, the Denver Zephyrs set the record for long-distance non-stop runs from Chicago to Denver (1,017 miles) in 12 hours, 12 minutes for an average speed of 83.3 miles per hour. This particular run beat the previous record held by the original Zephyr, which began service in 1934, by 53 minutes. The top speed on the record run was 116 mph.

In an era of steam locomotives, these trains pointed to the future of rail power. They were diesel-powered and made of lightweight stainless steel. Their streamlined modernistic lines inspired a nation still hamstrung by the grip of the Great Depression. They pointed to a prosperous future. Yet, history intervened. World War II began six years later. Following the war, America invested heavily in automobile infrastructure and trains were placed on the backburner of public policy.

Reading a postcard price guide book the other day, I made a discovery that within my collection are several valuable postcards. The Denver Zephyrs two-color postcard above was valued at $8, according to Diane Allmen's book, The Official Identification and Price Guide to Postcards, published in 1990. Seeing that the book was published almost 20 years ago, I assume that valuation may have increased. If I wanted to sell it, which I do not, it might fetch $12 or maybe more. A quick search on line shows this train is very popular with collectors. Many views of the Zephyrs are going now for $35 and one for $395 here. The same search did not turn up my postcard, so maybe it is a rare find. Though I don't collect cards as an investment, it is always a delightful surprise to find out that my pack rat tendencies have some monetary value.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dancing with the Gods in Taiwan

The incredible image came from Neil in Taiwan, a Postcrosser. The oversize photo postcard shows a dancer from a traditional ceremony called Dancing with the Gods. Neil explains that dancers decorate their faces and dance in front of temples. I'm sure there is more to this but a search did not reveal much. Again, a mystery.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Collage Postcard Art of Diane Glass

Northern California artist, Diane Glass was kind enough to let me post one of her original postcard art works today. She sent this card with some others in a beautiful greeting card with a note related to my blog this spring. We stop in to each other's blogs now and then and offer a comment or two.
You can find her blog Artstanding Stranger: Art with a Heart, here.
Diane's work speaks for itself but whimsical seems to suggest the tone for a lot of her work. Out of the clutter that is her studio, she selects with great skill the pieces necessary to satisfy her muse. The results are subtle pieces of art which, I think, transcends their own medium.

The collage postcard card above extols personal freedom as a key to having fun. "Fun is the ability to be free to be yourself," it says. How difficult that can be, but, as her piece shows, there are clues to this freedom of spirit. The card suggests there are tickets ("Good for One Admission") bold clothing, bare feet -- no doubt to walk on holy ground, and angel wings made of natural leaves. We also notice the background is chosen to accentuate one's attributes. Is this not an illustration for loosening up and putting some jazz in our step.
Diane does a lot of ATC or Artist Trading Cards or Art Cards. You can see examples of some of these at her blog or at Flikr here. Her recent Orange Scarf is fantastic. She also does jewelry. You can purchase Diane's work at Esty. I've got my eye on some of those Victorian Steampunk necklaces she recently made. I think one would look divine on my wife's neck.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Birchwood Postcard

This week the Ken Burns historical documentary on the U.S. National Parks is being broadcast on the Public Broadcasting Network, so I thought I would present this wooden postcard to remind people what a wonderful resource we have in the national parks. I also thought I might offer a note of caution to prevent my readers from getting burned while visiting the parks. Whether shopping, booking your bus tour or making lodging reservations, you need to pay close attention to details.

When I was a very small boy, my father used to remind me each time I walked out the door not to take any wooden nickels. At the time, I took that to mean don’t accept anything fake, including raw deals from shysters, overpriced goods from unscrupulous merchants or BS from friends or acquaintances. I still heed his advice and thought about it when I saw wooden postcards for sale this summer.

I have postcards made of tin, copper and cedar but did not have a birch wood postcard. Midway through summer, I saw some on a rack in one of the many tourist traps along what it known by locals as “Glitter gulch,” located just outside the entrance to Denali National Park. Though there are no glitter from lights or fancy architecture, the shops along the boardwalk-lined, rustic, boomtownesque, commercial village always advertise season ending sales in the midst of the tourist season, so I waited for the authentic 50 percent off sale, the second week in September, to pick up my cards. As a local, I do not like to pay tourist prices (wooden nickels). OK, I admit I am a cheap skate but my grandmother, who grew up during the terrible depression of the 1930's and fed my early appetite for postcards, would be proud of my savvy shopping skills.

This birch wood postcard is very well done and sports an image on canvas which is glued on the wood. The style and name of Mt. McKinley National Park show that it is a reproduction of an historic painted postcard. (The park's name was changed to Denali National Park in 1980.) The color contrast of the composition gives the white mountain, which is intended to represent Mt. McKinley, an almost three dimensional effect. Yet the image combined with the words take some poetic license. I do not mean to sound like the artistic police here but there are no tourist cabins in such close quarters to Mt. McKinley. In other words, if you see the card and think you can stay in a cabin so close to the "great one" you will have accepted a wooden nickel.

Perhaps the source of inspiration for this image are the cozy cabins at the Camp Denali & Northface Lodge located in the Denali National Park Wilderness Preserve in Kantishna, still some 30 miles from the mountain. The rustic yet elegant cabins (for which you will pay more than 4 c-notes a night) enjoys a spectacular view of the Alaska Range and Mt. McKinley's northface. Along with the Kantishina Roadhouse, Denali Northcountry Lodge, and the Aramark/Doyan Joint Ventures, Camp Denali & the Northface Lodge is one of a handful of authorized concessionaires that offer wilderness accommodations and transportation in and around Denali National Park.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Wild Music

This untitled photo postcard taken by an unknown photographer will definitely go into the mystery category. It is one of over three million postcards sent through the Postcrossing Project. Go here to find out about the project.
This whimsical postcard image came from postcrosser ananaks, a graduate student from Russian studing biology in the U.S. Could we give it a title? What does this image mean to you? Perhaps: play your music in the wild, or maybe, bring the wild into your music. In either case, just from the selection of instruments, these musicians are headed for an adventure in the proverbial musical pass just ahead of them. Thanks, Anastasia for the great card and welcome to The States.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Mother and Child

This beautiful mother and child photo postcard was sent to me in July by Postcrosser Jying. She is an 18-year-old student in Taiwan studying communication design. By the looks of this homemade card she is well on her way to success in her chosen field.

In the photo Jying's hands hold a photo that was taken of her mother holding the infant Jying. She said she likes the photo because it reminds her of her mother. To me, it is both an iconic picture of love of mother for child and a daughter's way of remembering and honoring her mother's gift of life.

Thank you, Jying, for this precious postcard.

If you would like to send and receive unique and interesting postcards from around the world, join Postcrossing.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Golden Gate Bridge

Vic, one of my postcard swappers from Postcrossing, sent me this wonderful historical reproduction postcard. The postcard's picture shows Fort Point (now a National Historic Site) in the foreground and San Francisco Bay -- the future site of the Golden Gate Bridge. (Now if we can just get the postal service to quit ink-marking the face of our valued postcards.) For an unmarred view of this historical photo click this link. For a contemporary picture of the bridge, showing Fort Point under the bridge's supporting arch, go here.

Some postcards just get to you. This one did me. I think I began to imagine the sheer scale of the task. Pondering this scene with the tiny steam-powered tug and a three-masted clipper ship in the waters of the bay made me appreciate what a monumental task a bridge of this magnitude requires. Constructed during years of economic depression, 1933-1937, it was the longest suspension span bridge in the world(4,200ft). It took great vision, endless engineering calculations, and years of difficult labor to construct. It is a bridge to the future.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Conquering Fear: Farol de Rodillas

This postcard of a moment in a bullfight (La Fiesta Brava) is strikingly beautiful. It depicts the daring move of the matador called, farol de rodillas, literally, “light of knees.” It refers to a maneuver in which the matador drops to his knees before the bull and as the animal charges waves his cape over and around his head.

The bullfighter painted here is the renown Carlos Arruza (1920-1966), also known as “The Cyclone.” Arruza was one of the most prominent bullfighters of the 20th-Century. He began fighting bulls at the age of 14. Born in Mexico of Spanish parents, he moved to Spain in 1944 and fought bulls for many years. He also appeared in several films about bullfighting and even had a part in the 1960 John Wayne film, The Alamo. Like may artist-athletes, Arruza came out of retirement three times – the last time as a rejoneador or a bullfighter on horseback with a lance.

I wish I could make out the artist’s name in the lower left corner. I’ve used my magnifying glass but the signature is not legible -- another mystery. Maybe one of my readers can help here.

The other mystery is how this postcard became part of my collection. I do not remember my grandmother or any one else giving it to me or buying it. There is no post mark and the stamp has been removed rather indelicately. The card was mailed to a Jeff Malone of Livonia, Michigan.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I Will Always Be A Zebra; Save the Zebras

How I came in possession of this postcard is, like many in my collection, a mystery. There is no written message on the back and no canceled stamp but I think it is from the 1960's, maybe 1970's. Whatever its date or origin, I like the mother and child composition. They seem so stately and serene, yet they, like many of their kind, are running for their collective lives.

This postcard of a mother and foal zebra was printed by the East African Wild Life Society. The society was formed in 1961. It is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) and works to protect endangered and threatened species and habitats in East Africa. You can find the society's address and phone numbers here.

There are three species of zebra. The Grevy's zebra (the largest, which I think is pictured above) and the mountain zebra are endangered, according World Conservation Union. The plains zebra seems to be doing well. Trouble for the zebra comes from the typical suspects: diminishing ranges, loss of grazing habitat and access to water due to competition with herds of domestic livestock and irrigation. Another threat is uncontrolled tourism which tramples vegetation.

I like zebras. In fact, I will always be a zebra. Before you quit reading this blog, thinking it's composed by a loony bird, understand that I attended Wayne Memorial High School in Wayne, Michigan, and our mascot was the zebra. No kidding, folks. See here, if you don't believe me.

When I played football there I was a fighting zebra, even though our colors were blue and gold.
I always assumed that our blue and gold colors seemed out of sync with the black and white strips of the zebra. Yet, in looking at this card I see that the sky is blue and the ground is gold. Could it be that someone was thinking of the the zebra's habitat way back when as the debate over what our school colors should be? Perhaps.

Thinking back, I now realize being a zebra taught me how to endure the sling and arrows of outrageous adolescent fortune. There was even the joke where a kid from another school would pretend a terribly bad French accent and say, "How does it feel to be a zeee-bra."

Actually, it feels great.
Dare to be different.

Help create habitat for zebras of all species.

On You Zebras!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Women with Deer

I worked as a Humanities Department archivist at Eastern Michigan University nearly four decades ago. This was in the era before power points or computer assisted classroom instruction, so the work was slow and meticulous. I took photos of art history antiquities from books that were later developed into slides for use in projectors. As I spent hours sweating over a camera beneath hot lights, I began to admire these ancient images. I remember photographing this image in particular. Some years later, I bought this postcard at an art gallery in Petoskey, Michigan.

This postcard is in pristine shape but the actual Roman fresco (nearly 2,000 years old) has cracks and other degradations. The fragment is from the First Century A.D. called Fresco with Woman and Deer. The caption on the back says the fragment is housed in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California. I have not had success locating it among their online archives, though I found another similar fresco with a women and swan here.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Tossed Alaskans

This is a postcard photo of the Inuit (Eskimo) people of Kotzebue, Alaska, from the sixties or seventies (1960-70's). It seems here they are just having fun showing some tourists in stuffed shirts and ties how to cut loose. Like the previous pictures of the blanket toss posted on this blog, this "blanket" is made from walrus skins.

This card was produced for Wien Alaska Airlines of Fairbanks. The company was the first airlines in Alaska (1927) and the second in the nation until its demise (a victim of a corporate raider, according to the son's founder, Merrill Wien) in 1985. This was unfortunate not only for the family business, the loss of job and service to remote Alaska, but it was a blow to the those who document Alaska's traditional heritage. The company produced many postcards showing the simple live and traditions in the remote villages of Alaska, such as this one.

This postcard photo was taken by Frank Whaley. Many of his photos were used by Wien air to celebrate the unique cultural communities served by the airline. Whaley took many photos of rural Alaskan native scenes from the fifties (1950's) until this decade. See a great blanket toss photo here and other fine Whaley photos in the Alaska Digital Archives.

Monday, August 24, 2009

More High-Flying Alaskans

This postcard was postmarked August 5, 1975 from Kotzebue, Alaska. It was sent to a R.V. O'Brien in Springfield, Massachusetts. The message is brief: "Greetings from Kotzebue. L &B." I bought this card at Candy Waugaman's recent garage sale for charity in Fairbanks, Alaska. Candy is a collector of ephemera, including postcards from Alaska's past.
This scene, like the one published August 12 on this blog, shows a young girl being flung into the air, presumably to spot game (often walrus), and having great fun while doing it. Unlike the black and white postcard previously published, which was shot in the summer season, this one takes place on a windy late spring day. I deduced this by the condition of the broken ice pack.
What makes this image so striking is not only the high-flying girl but the parkas and the quality of the ruffs. Note the back of the ruff in the lower left hand corner. This person's elaborate ruff exhibits the fact that their family has hunting prowess as well as artistic talent of considerable degree.
There is nothing more comfortable or essential in the Alaskan climate than a good ruff. It can mean the difference between a frost free or frost bit face and even life or death.
The photo was taken by Frank Whaley for Wein Consolidated Airlines and published by Arctic Circle Enterprises of Anchorage, Alaska. It was printed by H.S. Crocker Co., Inc., San Bruno, California.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

This commercial postcard advertises the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus's winter quarters in Sarasota, Florida.

Wouldn't you just love to clown around with an elephant? It looks like these guys are having a ball.

Though the guy leaning on this pachyderm's shoulder seems a little down, the guy on top seems on top of the world. I've heard that riding an elephant is one of the things that should be on every one's top 100 things to do before you die.

This card brought to mind the last lines of a poem by Mirabai, the poet-saint of 16Th-Century northern India. "I have felt the swaying of the elephant's graceful shoulders; and somehow you expect me to climb on a jackass? Try to be serious."

You can find more on Mirabai here.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Revealed: The Origin of the Cold Shoulder

Because this is one of the hottest summers in Interior Alaska, I thought I would cool things off a bit with this card which claims the origin of the phrases "Cold Shoulder" and "Icy Stare" came from the land of the Midnight Sun where men still outnumber women.

Postcard and photo by Tom Sadowski, 1983. This card was published by Tom Sadowski Films which unfortunately seems to have stopped filming. You can find a book by Tom here and enjoy similar pre-Photoshop images. The book chronicles the zaniness of three original Alaskan humorists traveling to Tok, Alaska.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Getting Some Air

Long before the X Games and motorcycles were invented people were "getting air." Here an Eskimo gal from the 1940's shows how its done. The blanket toss is an event at many native gatherings. It is one of the official games at the World Eskimo Indian Olympics. Though it is a lot of fun, the practice had a practical purpose. It was used to spot game in hunter-gatherer societies. Maybe she can see the walrus off the coast but I think she's having too much fun to tell anyone until she tires out.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Stripping Along The Rocks

I went to a garage sale Saturday and found a treasure trove of postcards. My wife beat me to the punch by a day and bought me ten postcards. (Thank you, my love.) She presented them to me when I returned home after a week away at work. I couldn't believe my eyes. These were some of the best Alaskan postcards I'd ever seen. The next morning I was out of bed early so I could be the first at the sale on its second day.

The reason I had to attend was that Candy Waugaman, one of Fairbanks, most prodigious historical collectors of Alaskan memorabilia, including postcards, was unloading tons of her stuff. If you were a pack rat or a postcard collector, this was the place to be. Besides, all the proceeds from the sale went to the charity of your choice. It was a win-win deal all the way around.

For several hours I poured over boxes of post cards. I even worked the boxes with a friendly neighbor. She picked out pictures of locomotives for me while I handed her images of antique autos. I was only disappointed with my limited budget which forced me to leave behind some fine examples of postcard art and history.
The one above shows an example of hydraulic mining. I think this is in Ester, Alaska, just outside Fairbanks. I think it was taken in the late thirties or early forties. I bought another that shows the same shirtless guy from a different angle. That card has a white boarder. Neither card has writing or postal marks on the reverse side, so precise dating is difficult. Along the bottom of the card are the words, "Stripping along the rocks, ASP 15."
The "stripping along the rocks" could but does not refer to the shirtless man but rather is another name for hydraulic mining. High pressure water jets were used to strip the sediment or overburden from river beds to uncover gold deposits. Water was piped in from higher elevations through progressively smaller diameter pipe to create powerful jets of water. This engineering technology was extensively used during the California gold rush but similar techniques were employed by the Romans in northern Spain, (see this article).

This muscular lad strikes a strong pose for the picture. No doubt, handling the big gun was a task for a stout hand. I've been told by old miners that a good hand on a mining job could shovel ten cubic yards of "dumps," or mine diggings, a day. This is probably one of those guys. Notice he's wrapped the nozzle rope around his left hand to steer the water cannon where he wants it. Obviously, hours and hours of this work have put some pipes on this guy. For the benefit of our female readers and those who are curious about the giant water gun, I include the detail shot of it and its buff operator below.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fantasy Farm Motel

I always thought the No Tell Motel was a family joke . This picture postcard proves places with names like the No Tell Motel and the Half Way Inn really exist.

The Fantasy Farm postcard was sent by friends of my grandmother to an address in Largo, Florida. The addressee’s name does not ring any bells with me but somehow my grandmother seized it and gave it to me. I suspect she persuaded yet another friend to retrieve their sent postcards for my collection. At the time she gave me the card I thought it was yet another example of the ubiquitous non-discript advertisement postcards that were free to any traveler in America during the mid-century. I did not think anything was odd or off color or weird so my guess is I was given the card before entering puberty. Now I think of it as a classic of commercial double entendre.

To learn more about the Fantasy Farm Motel go here.

The postcard was published by Perry Printing Co. Inc. of Middletown, Ohio. I think it was sent in the early sixties. The postage stamp is a Washington 5 cent. I can read June 3rd on the post mark but not the year. Also on the reverse side is a AAA symbol, so it must have received the American Automobile Association‘s stamp of approval.

The Fantasy Farm was part of an amusement park. The motel had all the amenities of the day, including “spacious carpeted rooms, ceramic (tub and shower) baths, television, room phones, free morning coffee, electric heating and air conditioning, family pool and good food” to boot. The motel’s slogan states, “Modern as tomorrow…in a restful, rural atmosphere.”

The hand written message tells the story of our mysterious travelers. “We arrived here last Tue. And have been plenty busy since. We are staying at this motel. It is very nice. Our children live only five miles north and south of the motel. They raised the devil when we moved into the motel but we thought it was the best…”

No doubt, the best plan when staying at the Fantasy Farm Motel is to stay at least five miles from the children.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Grist(for the)Mill

The summer season is a busy one for most Alaskans, especially with those of us who make their living seasonally from fishing, hunting, construction or tourism. If you work in remote areas, far from computer access, there are few opportunities to post on this or any other blogs.
The image on the postcard above is of a gristmill in Appalachia. These big water wheels were used in the U.S. to grind wheat and corn before oil-based machines came to prominence in the early 20th-century. Most were retired after World War II but some, like Tom Walker's Grist Mill in Michigan, lasted into the late 1960's.
This card was produced by W. M. Cline Company of Chattanooga, Tennessee. This giant 9x6.5 inches card was added to my collection on a childhood road trip along the Skyline Drive in the Appalachian Mountains.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Planet X

During a recent trip to the southwest U.S. we stopped one evening at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. We lined up with 50 or so other tourists to take a peek through the 101 year-old Alvan Clark Telescope telescope, pictured in this black and white photo above. On view was the planet Saturn, and though small, its rings were visible. The telescope and building housing it were a big hit with mom and dad but the kids were more impressed with the gift shop and nearby museum with its interactive displays of the wonders of the universe.
The postcard above shows Percival Lowell viewing the planet Venus through the 24-inch Alvan Clark Telescope. Lowell is best known for his Planet X theory. He conjectured that the irregular orbits on Neptune and Uranus were caused by the gravitational pull of an as yet undiscovered planet. Though he searched in vain for eleven years, his theory proved correct fourteen years after his death when Clyde Tombaugh, a young astronomer at the observatory discovered Pluto.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Revolution Is Complete

This 3x5 inch postcard shows the starting field of the 1965 Indianapolis 500-Mile Sweepstakes. The eventual race winner, Scotsman Jimmy Clark, is in the middle of the front row. He is flanked by defending champion A.J. Foyt, on the pole (right) and Dan Gurney (left).


This was the first year that a rear engine car won the 500 mile race. Since 1911 the front engine roadster-style cars were the vogue. The rear engine revolution was now complete and there was no looking back.

The rear engine was brought to Indy several times. The first was in 1937 by Lee Oldfield, a maverick engineer. The car failed to qualify. There were a few others but the revolution began in earnest in 1961 with Jack Brabham's Cooper-Climax, a modified Formula I racecar. Compared to the traditional front engine roadsters, the Cooper was a tiny car with a small engine compared to the roadsters of the day but because of superior handling finished a respectable ninth its first time out.  Despite this top ten finish, the rear engine car's finish was seen as a fluke by most, though others could see the future was in the rear end.

Seeing the writing on wall, American Dan Gurney paid famed English car builder Colin Chapman to attend the 1962 race and arranged for him to meet with the Ford Motor Company executives. He returned to England with a contract to build three rear engine cars powered by an aluminum Ford engine for the 1963 race. Jim Clark drove one of those to a strong second-place finish. By 1965 27 of the 33 cars were rear engine. Fourteen were Ford-powered rear engine cars and they took nine of the top ten spots. People soon began to refer to the front engine cars as dinosaurs.

Besides the first win by a rear engine car, this was a years of other firsts. Notable among them was the first year since 1916 the race was not won by an American. It was the first year the race was televised live by the American Broadcasting Company (ABC's Wide World of Sports). It was also the first year the racecar's gas tanks contained a thick rubber bladder with a low-density plastic foam so that if the tank was ruptured the fuel spill and splash would be minimized. This safety feature was added following the previous year's worse fiery accident in the speedway's history (another first). This seven car accident claimed the life of rookie Dave McDonald and veteran racer Eddy Sacks. The deaths and injury to other drivers in this conflagration led to several safety related changes at the speedway, such as less volatile fuels and limits on fuel capacity in cars.

Friday, May 22, 2009

1950 Indinapolis 500 Starting Bomb

This postcard shows the starting field of the 1950 Indianapolis Motor Speedway race, 69 years ago. It was photographed in Kodachrome and Ansco color by Robert Martin for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation. The description on the reverse side is vague but contains one note of specific interest. It records that the 33-car starting field awaits "the starting bomb" -- the speedway's signal for drivers to start their engines. This was the last year before the now traditional "Gentleman, start your engines" command would be uttered.

The winner of this race was Johnnie Parsons. He is in the yellow car, number one, far right, the fifth starting position. The first row is off picture further to the right. The car featured a lightweight aircraft-like tubular space frame, welded with chrome-moly steel. Instead of solid front axles with springs used by most cars, Parson's sported an independent front suspension with torsion bars. The modern suspension gave the car a softer ride, superior handling and faster cornering speeds. A DVD of the race is available here.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The "Cool and Unshakeable" Parnelli Jones

Perhaps the perfect name for a race car driver -- Parnelli Jones. (Of course, he dropped his first name, Rufus, which rhymes with dufus.) Jones was an incredible talent in a racing machine. He won the Indianapolis 500 once in 1963 but came close to winning in 1967. Leading the race with three laps to go he was forced out by a mechanical break down.

In his autobiography, They Call Me Mister 500, Andy Granatelli made a list of the great Indy drivers. "The names of the outstanding ones leap immediately to mind; the incomparable Jimmy Clark, the cool and unshakable Rufus Parnelli Jones, Graham Hill, Johnny Parsons, Pat Flaherty, Jim Rathmann, Bobby Unser." By a vote of the fans Jones is listed as one of the 33 all-time top Indy drivers. He has the distinction of being the first driver to crack the 150 mph barrier in qualifying at the speedway.

This 6X9 inch picture postcard is the official speedway post qualifying picture. He is at the wheel of the Offenhauser-powered roadster, the J.C. Agajanian Williard Battery Special, in which he won the pole position as the fastest qualifier and the 1963 race. Yes, that is a garbage truck riding pig, complete with cowboy hat decal on the oil reservoir tank. The car owner was J.C. Agajanian, a California pig farmer, whose cars always carried the cartoon emblem.

Judging from the large crowd, my guess is the picture was taken sometime after his qualifying run on the first day of qualifying, usually the second weekend in May. He is one of ten drivers to win the pole position twice, in 1962-1963. Each time was a new speed record. In 1963 his average speed was 151.153. This year's (2009) pole winner is Brazilian Helio Castroneves's. His four-lap qualifying average was 224.864 mph.

The 6X9 picture postcard below shows Jones at the pole (right, foreground) leading the pace lap before the start of the 1963 Indianapolis 500 mile. The red car beside Jones is Jim Hurtubise in a Novi-powered car, one of three in the field that year. Jones and Hurtubise battled in the early laps for the lead, a battle that was caught on recorded tape by Fleetwood Sounds. The tape was made into a thirty-three and a third vinyl disk which I listened to as a young boy. The original tape recording was made into a CD in 2005. It is available from Track one records Bobby Unser's, then a rookie, qualification run. Unser also drove one of the Novi's. The engine was one of the loudest and most powerful race cars ever to circle the track. The Novi's were super-charged and developed more horsepower per cubic inch than any other car. To seriously addicted motorheads, the Novi sound was not only an ear-splitting roar but universally regarded as finely tuned motor music.

"Grand Prix" postcard advertisement

This postcard is an advertisement for the movie Grand Prix. My mother, and later myself, worked for a cinema theater company near Detroit, Michigan, which showed the film after its release in 1966. I think it opened first in Michigan at the Summit Theatre in Detroit, which is printed in large letters on the lower reverse side. The reverse side's top inscription reads: "The International Star Cast of "GRAND PRIX" photographed at the finish line of the Monza motor racing circuit in Italy. An M-G-M presentation in CINERAMA."

Among the international stars of the film are American James Garner, Italian Yves Montand, Chinese Toshiro Mifune, English Brum Bedford and French actress Francoise Hardy. Actual Formula One drivers Phil Hill, Graham Hill, Jim Clark, and Jack Brabham made cameo appearances. The movie follows four Formula One fictionalized drivers through a race season. The movie won Academy Awards for best sound effects and film editing. It was one of the ten highest grossing movie of 1966. In 2006 the film was released in DVD version.

As far as racing movies of that era go, I prefer "Le Mans," starring Steve McQueen. It was not popular at the box office but it captures the tension and all-consuming passion of a race car driver. Le Mans was worth the admission just for the one quote from McQueen's character, Michael Delaney, who said, "When you're racing...its life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting." To hear the quote, go here. The film is an explication of this quote.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway's Main Gate


I bought this Curteichcolor postcard on one of my visits to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I might have picked it up when I was eleven years old when my family attended the 1964 Indianapolis 500 but more likely it is from later years. It is a picture of the main gate to the speedway. Our family could not afford to attend each year so every two or three years we would make the racing pilgrimage to the famed oval. As an adult I've attended the race twice - once in 1978 and again in 1982. I may have picked up the card either of those year because the trees are tall enough to obscure the grandstands. Other postcard views of the gate, like this one -- scroll down to number 77, show younger trees.

This year is the Centennial year of the Indianapolis (Indy) 500. The speed was established in August 1909 when Carl G. Fisher, James A. Allison, Arthur C. Newby and Frank H. Wheeler pooled their ideas and financial resources to create the track. The first 500 mile race was held in 1911. It was called the International Sweepstakes and was won by Ray Harroun at an average speed of 74.602 mph.

Ray Harroun retired from driving race cars after his first and famous victory. He became a builder of successful race cars. In early 1917 Harroun leased a small plant in my childhood home town of Wayne, Michigan. In 1917 he built 500 roadsters at this plant. Like Ray, I left racing shortly after my first and only race car victory two years ago. I have since sold my race car but have yet to open a high speed performance shop.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rio's Christ on High

This post card was sent by Luiz, a Postcrosser from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He wrote a very promotional note on the back that gave a lot of cultural-geographic background in the smallest script I've ever seen. He obviously loves his city of birth. He describes Rio as a " high on life, a city of beaches, football , samba and Carnival." I can't wait to go there. It is on my top ten cities list. If I take in a football game, I'll consider wearing my Nomex underwear and gas mask. Those celebratory flares can get hot and smoky. (See the football video link above. The samba video sizzles too.)
High above the city stands the Christ the Redeemer statue, one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Completed in 1931, it stands 38 meters (120ft) and is perched on Corcovado peak 700m (2,300ft) above the crowded metropolitan area of 11.8 million. Though it is a large statue an impressive atop Corcovado, its appeal comes from its pose. It is a cross triumphant -- a statue that hints at the cross but emphasises the grace filled Christ -- the one who forever stands with arms open to all.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cleaving to the Cross

Printed in England, this Raphael Tuck & Sons "Oilette" is labeled "Easter Postcara (sic) No. 23." Used as an Easter greeting card, it is addressed to a Mrs. Adam Brown in Durham Canada. The addresser is A & GW Brown. The message reads: "How have you folks stood the winter, all well I hope. We are well. Hope you may have a fine time Easter..." The post mark over the green one cent stamp is obscured. On the face of the card at the bottom is hand written, "A Joyful Easter." The word "Faith" is also clearly visible. I think it was the name of the art compostion.

Today these turn of the century images seem melodramatic but I like the drama and tension of this one anyway. Labeled "Faith" on the bottom left, it was meant to illustrate the struggles of the faithful against the storms and tides of life. While clinging to the rock solid cross, this bride of Christ keeps her eye on the heavenly light above. In classic art the cross symbolizes suffering. To Christians, the cross is a symbol pregnant with meaning: of Jesus' suffering, of a believer's struggle and suffering in this life and the bridge of redemption over earthly sin to perfection in heaven.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Crucified Jesus Sold on Auction Block

Like an empty Easter tomb, this sculpture of Christ has disappeared.

This post card shows the crucifixion scene, one of more than 30 biblical scenes, once known as the Biblical Gardens in the Wisconsin Dell's area. The statues were carried away by an army of evangelical youth in the summer of 1997. The 3/4 scale to life sculptures were bought by the Commission on Youth Services and WELS Lutheran's For Life. The groups planned to use the biblical scenes for publicity photos, videos and dramatic displays. All the statues were purchased for $5,000 dollars, according to WELS.

Here you can find one man's account of carrying off the statues, including Jesus on the cross.

This card, published by Dells Photo Service of Dells, Wisconsin, is one of thousands documenting the tourist attractions, both natural and man-made, that awaited families from the American Midwest. The photo credit goes to John A. Trumble. The card locates the Biblical Garden sculptures between Wisconsin Dells and Lake Dalton, Wisconsin, on Highway 12. The area is a popular summer vacation destinations for residents of Chicago, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Petoskey's Underwater Crucifix

There is one crucified Christ that endures each Easter submerged in the icy waters of Lake Michigan. Only once a year is he saved from obscurity and curiously that is usually around Valentine's Day.

Few know or will tell you where the underwater crucifix is located but it lies not far off shore from the Northern Michigan city of Petoskey. It is west of the city's picturesque waterfront waterfall, several hundred yards off shore. Despite the development and beautification of Petoskey's waterfront in the past 20 years, the location of the underwater crucifix is not marked. If you can find a local willing to tell you where it is, you can either view it by rowing a boat over it on a calm day or don scuba gear in the summer and dive to it.

The best time for viewing is winter. Once a year, usually around Valentine's Day, volunteers clear a path across the ice to the location. A hole was cut in the ice and lights placed underwater to illuminate the crucifixion in the dark waters this past year. You can find out more about the underwater crucifix by reading this article in the Petoskey News-Review, the local daily newspaper.

The crucifix was first submerged in 1962 and moved to its current location in the early 1980's. It is dedicated to all who have perished in the water. It is believed to be the only submerged crucifix in fresh water.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Indian River's Crucified Christ

In April I am featuring a few post cards of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. To begin, I recall a site near my former home in Northern Michigan -- the 7- ton bronze cast of the crucified Jesus that hangs from a 55-foot tall redwood cross in Indian River, Michigan. I remember visiting the gift shop there but not the massive cross. I bought this card there. Why I didn't visit the cross is lost in time, thus another mystery.

The cross, located in the Cross In The Woods Catholic Shrine, was erected in 1954. The sculpture was created by Marshall M. Fredericks and added to the wood cross in 1959. The sculpture measures an impressive 22 feet wide and 31 feet high.

An impressive picture of the crucifix, taken from beneath the sculpture, can be seen over at Scott Richert's Catholic Blog.

Each year thousands of people visit The Cross In The Woods, not only to view the stunning crucifix but also to attend outdoor Mass. On the grounds one can visit the All Faiths Gift Shop, statues of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Peregrine (the Cancer Saint), Our Lady of the Highway and the 14 Stations of the Cross.

The grounds are also the site of the world's largest Nun Doll Museum.

To see the doll museum click on these links: and

In 1964, Sally Rogalski's donated 230 dolls to the Shrine with the only instruction, "that no admission charge would ever be asked, so that people, rich and poor alike, would be able to see them". Sally wanted to document the traditional habits of American nuns to preserve the rich history of the Catholic Church and what were once every day folk dress of Europeans. Today the museum has 525 dolls.