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

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.