Postcards From Hell

We've added a new batch of old postcards to our ever-growing collection (a true indicator we live in Nerdville is we now proudly display our pile of random postcards to visiting guests and family members. They play along and act amused but probably secretly believe postcard collections are for dorks and geeks. That's okay- we're having fun and that's all that matters).

Unnoticed until hours later is the common theme among the new additions. They are from places we'd rather not be, or from events we'd rather not see. Like this image of a glowing alien ship passing over San Francisco. We agree with the experts who believe an alien encounter would not be benign and friendly like in E.T. and Close Encounters, but the complete opposite. The invasion would redefine "shock and awe" and any resistance would be futile as our primitive weapons would be no match for their advanced combat systems. When the invasion occurs (which will probably happen sooner, not later), it will not bode well for the human race. So enjoy today because tomorrow you may be a slave in the Melange mines on the planet Arrakis.

Here's another scene we'd rather not witness: Abraham Lincoln about to get shot in the back of the head by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1965 at Ford's Theatre in Washington DC. Who would mail such a card? True, it's a pivotal event in American history, but so is the OJ Simpson trial and the Exxon Valdez spill and no one wants to get postcards from either of those tragedies. Why so many old postcards are macabre and violent (Japanese executions, dead soldiers strewn across Civil War battlefields, etc.) is a mystery to us.

The same goes for watching a man hammer eight inch spikes into his head. But that's exactly what "Skeets" Hubbard, "The King of Torture", is doing in this Ripley's Believe It or Not postcard from the 1950's. His ability to nail spikes into his melon led to additional nicknames such as "The Human Plank" and "The Human Blockhead." Just looking at this picture causes an instant sinus headache of the worst kind.

Here's a bizarre and unsettling scene. It's supposed to be the Arizona desert (the back reads Arizona highways sweep across wide mesa sentineled by the flowering yucca, toward the purple haze of majestic mountain ranges. Purple haze is right- a Jimi Hendrix purple haze! Notice the inscription at the top: High in Arizona. Guess so!

A massive log jam at Big Ripple on the Clearwater River in Idaho is something we hope to never encounter. Not that we will: when the Dworshak Dam was completed in 1971, the Big Ripple disappeared under the fifty mile long Dworshak Reservoir. So did one of the finest salmon fisheries and extended whitewater runs in North America. So we don't want to see any postcards of the Dworshak Dam either.

7018. Salt beds, Great Salt Lake, Utah. Look at the man and mule plowing salt as a cartoon train comes chugging down the tracks. Plowing salt has to rank as one of the least enjoyable outdoor pursuits in Utah.

We've never stayed at the Oleander Court on US Hiway 17 N in Brunswick, Georgia, but we have spent plenty of time in the area. It's not a place we go to by choice; the coastal breeze wafts with a pungent odor of melting vinyl, courtesy of a nearby pulp mill. Sand fleas and mosquitos are pestilent all year long. Summers are hot and muggy and miserable. On the back of the card, a message dated August 22, 1954, reads Dear Wesley- Granddaddy, Patsy and I are sleeping here tonight. $7.00. Air conditioned and very nice. Be seeing you soon. Grandma Hallowell. Glad to hear they enjoyed their visit. We'll stay away, until the next required visit.


Musty Drawer Messages

If the posting tempo is faltering a bit at RR, it's not because we've abandoned this little blog. The actual reasons are: 1) the weather has become a wintry shit mix of ice and sleet in SE Michigan, meaning zero river adventures until next spring. 2) Work obligations are increasing. 3) We're busy doing other things, like dealing with the endless projects inherent with owning an old house, the kind that seem simple at the onset but increase exponentially and ultimately entail significant allotments of time. Now that we've laid our cards on table, let's move on to our expanding postcard collection and discuss some recent acquisitions from Kaleidoscope Books on State Street in Ann Arbor. Some people collect cars. Some people collect handguns. Some people collect ex-wives. We collect random postcards, and oh boy, do we have some gems to share with you.

Like this card from the Ossario nel Convento del Cappucinni in Italy. The inscription on back (addressed to no one) reads, "Where the monks were buried in the convent where we stayed." Based on the style of writing and faded pen ink, we're guessing it dates back to the early 1900's. A Google search revealed more information: the photo is from the Catacombs of Cappuccinni, an abandoned 16th century monastery that was home to some 8,000 skeletons before allied bombs leveled the place during WWII. What a scene- just look at all the skulls nailed on the walls. We paid a buck for it, and the bookstore owner commented the postcard was very rare and worth much more. To all who may be interested: the first $1,000 takes it.

How about this diamond from the era of women and feathered hats? Obviously taken before the days when PETA flung paint on people wearing clothing made from animals, the front of this card reads Getting Acquainted on the Famous Green Benches of St. Petersburg, FLA-"The Sunshine City." Upon closer inspection, notice how not all is birdy in Florida: on the far bench in the red dress, one of the blue hairs is covering her face, clearly embarrassed she didn't wear her egret hat that day. In the back right corner, the sign reads "X-RAY SHOES." What the hell are x-ray shoes? We suspect the postcard artist who painted the colors took some liberties of his own when prepping the image for production.

Buried deep in a box of postcards we found this picture of Frank James, proudly standing in front of the family homestead in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. The older brother of famed robber Jesse James, Frank was a Civil War veteran who joined the James Gang on numerous bank and train hold-ups between 1866 and 1879. In 1882, five months after his brother was killed, Frank met with the governor of Missouri and handed over his pistol and said, "I have been hunted for twenty-one years, have literally lived in the saddle, have never known a day of perfect peace. It was one long, anxious, inexorable, eternal vigil." Following his acquittal in two trials for his involvement in various robberies and murders, Frank retired to the family farm where he gave tours of the homestead for fifty cents until his death in 1915.

Look at this postcard from the Roma Galleria d'Arte Moderna (Rome Gallery of Modern Art), circa late 1800's. Here we see a father and son, returning from a successful rabbit hunt, dog in tow. What drew us to this image was the ornament above the door: a hawk nailed to the door frame! No doubt shot by an angry hunter tired of competing with birds of prey for his dinner, this is something you just don't see anymore. Hey, we've watched hawks swoop down and nab rabbits and ducks while out hunting, but we always figured they needed the meat more so c'est le vie. Or whatever that translates to in Italian.

The final postcard for today is this image of a menacing puppy in front of a beware of dog sign. On back, a message dated Dec 9, 1916, reads Dear Grandma and Charlie, Your letter I received today. And was very glad to hear from you and to know you are feeling better. Your loving Anna May. Grandma and Charlie and Anna May from Mason, Michigan, are probably long passed, but their thoughts live eternally among the thousands of postcards nestled in the musty drawers of a bookstore in Ann Arbor, waiting to be discovered.

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