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

Friday, August 3, 2012

Sending and receiving postcards and poems

Postcard published by Arctic Circle Enterprises, Anchorage, Alaska

It occurred to me today that my blog (besides being neglected too often) only exhibits postcards that I am adding to my collection. That is only half the story. Any collector also sends out as many or more postcards as they receive. Here is a recap of today's activities.

To England and Beyond
Today I sent out seven postcards (England, Iowa, Finland, Washington,Canada, P.R. China, Poland). The beautiful image above was sent to Victoria, a collector in Cornwall, England. The interesting connection to Victoria was that she describes herself as a "young mum." That does not mean she tends to be quiet. It is an affectionate name for a mother. I told her that Mum was the name I called my grandmother. Do you think I have any English in my background?

Unfortunate Title
This postcard I have sent to collectors before. It is often favored by them. I think its a beautiful representation of the varied faces of native culture in Alaska. Yet I would like to see a revised title. I may be reading this a bit too close but I think the title is unfortunate and awkward. A better title would be Native People in Alaska. I know it was not intended but the current title suggests native people belong to the state. This is not true politically or humanely. 

Postcard Poetry
All of the postcards going out today were to collectors from the Postcrossing: the Postcard Crossing Project, save one. This month I am part of the August Postcard Poetry Fest. The fest challenges poets to write an impromptu poem each day and send it to a poet on the list. There are five groups of 33 poets who will send 31 poems each. If everyone sends all their poems out there would be 5,115 new poems sent out into the world. That's a lot of poems. To date, I've sent seven poems. This is a real challenge for me. I prefer to set first-draft poems aside for a time and revise several times before calling it a poem. You can see some of my poems, drafts and finished products, here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Magical Places and Marvelous Creatures

Sometimes a postcard message is as much inspired by the image on the postcard as a message to another person. I sent this postcard and message below some time in April of 2009 from my home in Fairbanks, Alaska, to Suyhou City, P.R. China. Jinlin was the user name (no longer used) of a postcarder acquaintance met through Postcrossing, an online international postcard exchange project. At 150 words, this was a relatively long message for the reverse half-side of this 4 by 6 inch postcard. A typical postcard message In English runs less than 100 words. I had to use my fountain pen with a fine nib to squeeze all the words in. I consider my message to Jinlin an ekphrasis -- a fancy Greek word that means art inspired by art, typically poems (in this case a prose-poem) based on a work of visual art.  

Alaska Bird Observatory:

Sandhill Crane in flight. Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge,
Fairbanks, Alaska. Photo by Ted Swem. Alaska Bird Observatory:

To Jinlin in Suzhou,
Suyhou City must be incredible. How lucky for us who live in magical places. I imagine floating the canals, wandering the expansive gardens, strolling past the new museum, pondering how much blood and sweat civilization requires to flower. I hope you enjoy this Sandhill Crane postcard. After the long, bleak and bitter cold days of winter, our heads tilt and ears open as flowers for the sun hungry for spring light. These magnificent birds, with their sweeping wing span and prehistoric call --- more a guttural crank ---, ride on lofty winds, some, all the way from Mexico. They give us pause to ponder what is elemental, what is winged, what is astonishing, what is simultaneously primitive and modern yet natural and supernatural in every creature.
I pray many blessings for you and your young son, Kris

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Can postcards save our national parks?

The Eldridge Glacier in Denali National Park
Alaska Color Card Company, Anchorage, AK

Postcards are helping save our national parks.

That’s the opinion of a University of Alaska professor. Though I’m skeptical of the claim, the idea may sit well with some postcard collectors, especially those who specialize in national park postcards. They can’t help but be happy with this news. A few will be licking their chops because news like this stands a fair chance of increasing the value of their postcard collections, both contemporary and vintage.

Who wouldn’t want to buy a postcard that would save the national parks? Of course, postcards or curios of any kind are not going to save the parks because our parks don’t need saving. They are protected by law and have a rather high regard by the American people and policy makers. 

According to Dr. Ken Barrick , associate professor of geography, souvenirs bought at and around national parks whether buttons, beads, earrings or postcards are a way of taking home a piece of the park without taking home an actual piece of the park. “Souvenirs prevent people from collecting natural objects such as feathers and rocks,” he was quoted in an article by Johanna Love, published this week the Jackson Hole News & Guide and syndicated today in my home town newspaper, The Fairbank News-Miner. He’s right on the money here.

Barrick other idea is that keepsakes like postcards, which people save into old age, somehow help translate into support for the parks. This sounds a little too good to be true to me. I suspect that what he said was more nuanced. It’s more likely that a visitor’s experience at a park, not the memento, does the heavy lifting in terms of support and advocacy and the mementos remind us of that experience.

I do think Barrick is on to something. We do tend to keep souvenirs and recall past experiences, especially pleasant ones, through them. This is what imbues them with value for us. Such mementos have an impact on reminding us of the grandness and splendor of a particular park and our visit there. I simply doubt that these collectibles are the sole triggers by which we become passionate about the mission of the park service. It is rather the enriching experiences in the wilderness inside the park which embolden us to speak well of a particular park and the park service in general.

I don’t think that the postcards of the parks I accumulated motivate me to support the parks. My visits to Yosemite, Sequoia, Yellowstone, Kenai Fiords, Isle Royal and Denali have convinced me that these landscapes and ecosystems are valuable and are worth persevering for future generations. The postcards I have of these marvelous places are valuable to me because they remind me of these marvelous places and in some cases how that experience changed me. 

As a collector, postcards must stand on their own. They must have a history themselves. They were commissioned by a certain publisher or patron. They are an example of a certain artist or illustrators work. They are limited because most of the cards were destroyed in a warehouse fire prior to distribution. All these circumstances and a multitude of others influence value.

Hype also influences value. A story like this one can become, and I suspect it will, a factor that can influence value in a genre of postcards. Barrik is a collector of 400 images of photo chrome lithograph prints produced from 1898 to 1906 by the Detroit Photographic Company, including the 65 of Yellowstone. I’d love to see those prints and hear his talk today, 6:30 p.m., at the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center in Moose, Wyoming. Maybe if we're lucky, Barrik will repeat it here in Fairbanks in the near future. I’d really like to know how postcards will save our National Parks. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

1953 Indinapolis 500 Pace Car

This postcard came today from my friend Rick in Michigan. He knows I like classic cars and the Indianapolis 500 race and history.

The postcard image is the 1953 Ford Crestline Sunliner. The car was selected as the pace car for that year's Indianapolis 500 mile race. The car was designed to commerate the 50th anniversity of the Ford Motor Company and sported a powerful 110 horsepower flathead V8 engine. These cars, now classics, are highly prized with car collectors.The car pictured here is a replica of the pace car that belongs to the Dells Auto Museum, in Dells, Wisconsin.

Each year car companies vie for selection of leading the 33-car field of the famous 500 mile race. For nine of the last 20 years the Chevorlet Corvette has won the distinction of leading the Indianapolis race cars on the parade and pace laps.There is good reason for this. The pace car must pace the cars for one lap at 70 mph and then up to 120 mph before entering the final turn before the flying start.

This year the 638 horsepower Corvette C6 ZR1 will lead the field of race cars to the starting line.Many people have complained that the stock Corvette's engine produces more horsepower than the race cars. While that is true, the Corvette isn't capable of circling the track at an average speed of 225-plus mph. 

You can get a feeling for the excitement of the flying start by watching some homemade videos posted on my blog here.

The race will be run this year on Sunday, May 27, at 12 p.m. Television coverage will begin at 11 a.m. on American Broadcasting Company, ABC, stations.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Indianapolis Motor Speedway: 100+ years

A bird's-eye view of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

This postcard shows the indomitable Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as seen from the air looking south. The 559 acre facility was opened in 1909 for balloon, motorcycle and auto racing. The first 500 mile race was held in 1911.

Last year the speedway celebrated the 100th anniversary of the speedway. This year race, scheduled for Sunday, May 27, 2012, will be the 96th running of the race. It closed only during World War II, 1942-1945.

I date this photo postcard sometime after 1957 when a new control tower was built but before grandstands in the fourth turn at the southwest end were built. Today, yet another control tower is in place.

This postcard, along with several others, was purchased by me at the track during the 1964 race. I was 11 at the time and loved aerial views. Looking at the picture postcard now, I see it's publisher, the speedway, could have benefited from some cropping, flipping, and editing. Though the intent was to show the size of the speedway complex, a two and a half mile rectangular course, complete with 18 hole golf course inside and outside the race track, many details are out of focus.

In the 100-plus years of the speedways have seen many firsts. One of the novel changes to the usual racing milieu was the flying start. Instead of the cars lined up on the track at the starting, as in Formula 1 races of today, the start of the Indianapolis begins when the starter waves the green flag as the cars approach the starting line. The cars are arranged in 11 rows with three cars in each row. Most automobile races begin with cars two abreast. The effect of 33 cars exceeding 200 mph is both frightening and awe inspiring.

You can find four homemade videos of the Indianapolis 500 flying start below. The video gives you but a hint of the speed, the noise and the excitement of the flying start.

Find other Indianapolis Speedway postcards from my collection here.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Racing Past The Starting Line

Indianapolis 500-Mile Race Sweepstakes start, circa 1950
I wanted a postcard to coincide with the official opening of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's month of May activities leading up to the big race, Sunday, 27 May, 2012. I found this one in my limited Indianapolis collection. It is in poor condition but it remains a good example of a lithographed card done by a photo-chrome process. It shows the start of a race in the late 40s, early 50s. The pagoda on the infield was replaced in 1957. If you compare this image with the race photo postcard of the 1965 race I posted here, you will see many changes to the speedway grandstands and pit layout.

The speedway was built in 1909 and after some initial disastrous races, claiming the lives of a driver, two mechanics and a spectators, the track was paved with some 3.2 million bricks. The first 500-mile race was held on May 30, 1911. It was won by Ray Harroun at the then astonishing average speed of 74.602 mph. It is claimed that this 500-mile race was the first to use a pace car. Perhaps more significantly, Harroun's  Marmon "Wasp" racecar sported a rear-view mirror, the first occasion of its use in a motor car.

See a picture of Harroun's racer here and a picture of a car from last year's race here. If you are a real Indy aficianodo, here is a picture postcard of the 1963 winning car driven by Parnelli Jones.

If you can pinpoint the exact year of the race on this postcard, please let me know. Leave a comment below.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Michigan Has Great Beaches

Another postcard from the state of my birth, Michigan. 
Oh, how I miss the hot sand burning the bottoms of my feet on a sultry summer day. That could be me, the young man with the yellow inflatable raft in the center of the picture, walking behind the two women (perhaps his mother and her friend or an aunt). From the trees we can tell this was a windy day. I can remember many such days returning home sun burnt and happily wiping the sand from the corner of my eyes.
This postcard was sent by my high school buddy, Rick, from Wayne, Michigan. He wrote on the back: 
This is pure Michigan...
but not sure of the decade...
maybe the 1960's

I agree this is pure Michigan and it is most likely the 1960s. There is a possibility this card was published earlier on based on the swimwear. The ladies in the foreground and those I can make out with my magnifying glass in the background are wearing one-piece bathing suits. There is no sign of the bikini which began to appear in America following World War II, after 1945. My best guess would be that this was late 50s early 60s because growing up in the 60s I do not recall seeing bikinis on Michigan beaches until the late 60s, early 70s. I was a very observant of such things as a teenager.
The inscription on the back of the postcard tells us we will enjoy the swimming, picnicking, hiking and camping at Warren Dunes State Park.Today is is a popular spot for hang gliders. 
Note: the black spiral, top center, is not a kite but an ink smudge, courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service machines. So too is the dark haze-like spot, center middle, on the water and sky.  I attempted to remove these marks with alcohol to no avail.
Do you have a favorite beach you recall from childhood? What made it memorable?
Let me know. Leave a comment below.   

Monday, January 23, 2012

Hawaiian postcard cornucopia

Our good friends, the Gebauer family just returned from Kauai bearing gifts. The last trip they brought me a wonderful t-shirt imprinted with the Postcard Cafe, a well-know vegetarian eatery on the island. This time I was the grateful recipient of a wooden postcard picturing a surfer just rising onto his board on a giant wave and a beautiful packet of postcards (left).The packet contains some wonderful classic-style Hawaiian tourist postcards.

The packet reads, "Designed in Hawaii and Printed with "Ecologically Sound Inks on 100% Chlorine Free Paper from Sustainable Forests." That's a grammarian's nightmare of capital letters but I'm sure it covers all the politically correct bases so as not to offend the Eco-tourist constituency. These earth friendly cards are available from 

The Hawaiian islands trade in on the abundance of tourists that visit the islands each year. Americans from the mainland (a odd term when you think of this global village) make up 80% of the tourist traffic. Hawaii, the 50th state admitted to the U.S., is a slice of  paradise with miles of pristine beaches, active volcanoes and tropical rain forests.
As if their postcards and pictures on Facebook were not enough, each time our good friends return from the islands their enthusiasm seems not only boundless but infectious. We are now officially planning a trip to the islands in the near future. Aloha.