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.