Bangor, ME

I feel like this card had to have been printed in the early-to-mid 1950s, but it wasn’t sent until 1967. Someone writing someone to tell them they were pausing here and hoped to be in Canada by nightfall. I imagine it was purchased at some grimy gas station off the interstate from a rotating metal display rack, the only linen postcard left amongst a sea of blurry Kodachromes of moose. The only problem with that story is that this one was in absolute mint condition – it doesn’t look like it spent a decade being exposed to cigarette smoke and hot dog vapors.

Yosemite National Park, CA

I don’t know if I’ve said this already, but for me these postcards represent my travel for this year, both in space and time. Today I imagine myself emerging from the nearly-mile long Wawona Tunnel, where I am greeted by El Capitan to the left, Half Dome in the distance, and Bridal Veil falls straight ahead. Incredibly, the parking lot is entirely empty. I ease my 1937 Packard Super Eight to a halt and take in the view, making small talk with a couple of hikers.

Mt. Washington Cog Railway, Bretton Woods, NH

In recent years, this has been the site of the Railway to the Moon Steampunk Festival. I recently had to explain the term steampunk to a neighbor who thought I might have been talking about steamer trunks. Steamer trunks are pretty steampunk, agreed. Postcards, no so much. I think this crowd would prefer telegrams. On the whole, I don’t think I did a great job of explaining it. I might have to go to their 2021 event and attend the Steampunk 101 lecture.

In Italiano:

Di recente, questo è stato il sito del festival Ferrovia diretta alla Luna Steampunk. Negli ultimi tempi ho dovuto spiegare il termine steampunk a un vicino che ha pensato che forse volevo dire baule (il gioco di parole non funziona in italiano). I bauli sono steampunk, è vero. Le cartoline, non tanto. Penso che questo gruppo preferirebbero i telegrammi. In fondo, non penso che ho fatto una buona spiegazione. Magari devo andare alla festa nel 2021 e partecipare alla lettura pubblica “Steampunk 101”

(Lo steampunk è un genere della letteratura di fantascienza. Le storie possono svolgersi nel passato oppure nel futuro, ma la tecnologia è solo prima circa del 1930 (gli aeroplani e
la radio esistono, ma non i computer e la televisione o qualcosa di digitale e il carburante è il carbone). Qualche esempio classico sarebbero l’opere di H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, le storie diSherlock Holmes, Il dottor Jekyll e Mr. Hyde).

Chautauqua Lake, New York

I have always been puzzled by the number of Native American names that survived. It doesn’t seem like something the American colonists would have desired or even cared about much. The Brits had renamed everything in Ireland, for example. This lake’s name, with its nice triple repeat of the letters au, comes from the now-extinct Erie language. Because the language was eradicated before it could be documented, the meaning is unknown, but two longstanding folk traditions are ‘bag tied in the middle’ and ‘place where fish are taken out'” (source)

Zona Arqueológica de Teotihuacán, San Juan Teotihuacán, Mexico

This city lasted from somewhere around the year 1 to the year 500. Somewhere as I child I learned that ancient civilizations tended to last about 500 years. I threw this idea into a search engine and found a very lengthy blog post on the site Owlcation tackling this very question. A review of 74 civilizations found an average length of 349 years with a range of 14 to 1,100. Plenty of commenters quibbled with the definitions of “civilizations”, of course.

Yellowstone Falls, Yellowstone National Park, WY

This card was first sent in July, 1949, from a train. It is postmarked R.P.O., for railway post office. Addressed to the “Division of American Missions” in Chicago, the sender wrote “I have had some fine meetings. These Danes are interesting people.” A bit of internet sleuthing reveals these correspondents to be Lutherans, which syncs with the Danish reference. Not knowing any Lutherans offhand, I decided to mail it to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Archives in Elk Grove, Illinois.

Minneopa Falls, Mankato, MN

Here is a remarkable coincidence. During my run yesterday I was listening to a music podcast co-hosted by a friend whose band I saw many times in the 1990s and early 2000s. I decided to send him a postcard. Though his band is no longer very active, it did release an album in 2020, on bubblegum-pink vinyl, no less. I checked the liner notes to see if the band still had a PO Box, but it seems not. In the meantime, I decided to send a postcard to the person who released the album. We’ve met a couple of times, and he once invited my own band to play a show in his hometown of Athens, Georgia. I started writing the postcard, then realized in so doing I had limited my postage options. I have many old stamps from the 1930s to the 1990s I like to use, and it’s kind of a game to come up with creative ways to reach 35 or 55 cents. If you start writing first, there might not be enough space and you’re stuck using a Forever stamp.

The first envelope I grabbed contained the 13 cent stamps. Perhaps I could get two 13s, and 6 and a 3 to fit. I located the 3-centers and right on top was a red one I didn’t recognize, a very busy design commemorating the 100th anniversary of the American Turners. At the center was a silhouette of a man about to launch a discus with the phrase “sound mind, sound body”. I find fraternal organizations and social clubs interesting even though I have never belonged to one, but I had never heard of this one. A society of woodworkers, perhaps?

In fact, it is a sports and fitness oriented organization, focused particularly on gymnastics, started by German immigrants in 1848 and still active. I knew that 1848 was a year of revolution across Europe that followed years of famine and economic depression, the same year the Communist Manifesto was published, and a peak year for Germans to emigrate to cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis and Cincinnati. It was no surprise that they would have brought this cultural institution with them.

Less obvious is how they managed to earn a postage stamp a century later. Only a few dozen stamps were issued each year, and covered topics and themes that would have been familiar to virtually all Americans. Following two world wars in which Germany was the enemy and with waning interest in men’s gymnastics, the centennial of the American Turners would not seem to have been a candidate for the short list. As with so many stamps, I assume a geopolitical point was being made. Was it that we stood with newly-formed West Germany? That now that Nazism was vanquished, it was time to return to a time when disputes could be resolved on the pommel horse?

As for that remarkable coincidence I promised: the person who runs Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records happens to be named Mike Turner.