These days, it seems like every human on the planet is spilling his or her deepest thoughts onto the internet for every other human on the planet to read. “Whatever happened to privacy? Modesty? Shame?” the pundits cry. Things we wouldn’t have shared with our spouses or doctors a few years ago are now posted on Twitter and Facebook – and the more viewers, the better.
Once upon a time, in a more genteel age, when ladies and gentlemen wished to communicate with loved ones far away, they penned polite handwritten letters and tucked them into envelopes before mailing them. Privacy was valued back then.
Since the first postcards were sold at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, folks have been scribbling their secrets on very visible, very accessible pieces of cardboard. Don’t count on privacy if the town postmistress is married to the greengrocer, whose sister is the schoolmarm, whose neighbor is the mayor’s cousin.
My father is very poorly received last sacraments yesterday Dear momma it is impossible for me to send you money at present I will write and explain all in a letter I told you to make arrangements to come to (unintelligible) but you wont Maydie
This is the cryptic message scrawled in pencil on the back of a postcard, the front of which features an image of the swanky café inside the Van Nuys Hotel. Maydie has written her name down the length of one of the interior’s massive Doric columns. Did she write the card during luncheon at one of the linen-covered tables, or was she a server or dishwasher who dashed off the card in a spare minute in the café’s kitchen? Maydie allowed someone else to write her momma’s address on the card – maybe she felt her handwriting wasn’t legible enough – then dropped it in a mailbox on a July day in 1909. And that’s all we know about her.
Hollywood Bowl postcard: June 28th ’46 Dear Virginia an John Sorry to hear that you are not in your new home yet. I note that you and John were out at Ann’s grave and that Jean, Mary and Henrietta were there too I sure do miss her. Norene has her picture right here on the desk. Dad
Oddly, both Maydie and Dad sent their cards to people with the same surname: Mrs. M. Donnelly (“momma”) of Cincinnatti, Ohio, and Mr. and Mrs. John Donnelly of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Postcard of Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, postmarked February, 1965: Linda Dear, I just heard today from Bertha that her oldest son is very sick. They certainly, all of her children, give her much worry. They can’t be strong enough to work. I’ll pray for dear Bertha daily. She has had such a hard life, poor luck, awful – I want you to be careful of your health at your age now Linda. Slow up & let your 5 children you mothered help you. You so lovingly brought them up to fine character & studious thinking citizens, which we surely need in U$. If you need me ever telephone the Packards CE7-0761 code 617 for this job is apt to end if anyone got sick here. Old folks are not dependable as employers you, know. & give Mrs. P. & Mr. P. the message for me. They always know where I am located if I have to move. Love, Ruth
Scenic postcard of a canal in Grand Rapids, Michigan, postmarked December 20, 1909: Dear Friend, At last I have got around to answer your card. I suppose you heard Clyde Bowen married Vera Guiller in June and killed her in Oct. his trial is on now it began last Tuesday. Wm. Edwards
But life wasn’t all gloom and doom.
Postcard of the Mar Monte Hotel, Santa Barbara, California, postmarked June 21, 1954: Darling Glady,…It was such a jolly foursome in the coffee shop and I shall long remember our nice walks around the gardens….Love always to my dear sis. Milly
Postcard of Robert Louis Stevenson’s house, Monterey, California, postmarked July 26, 1946: Dear Louise I am on a vaction. We are going to San Francisco and the Red Woods. I am in Carmel 100 miles from San Francisco I hope you have a happy birthday. Love Dora
Postcard of the Northfield School for Girls, Northfield, Massachusetts, postmarked June 11, 1968:
Dear Uncle Fred and Aunt Olga I am attending a religious conference here for a week. The discussions have been very stimulating and I am enjoying myself tremendously. Gram and Gramps have been wonderful! I wish you could have come with them. Carl’s graduation was marvelous! It is great being out of school!
World War II cartoon postcard, postmarked April 3, 1942: I am seeing pink elephants again they keep looking at me
Hello Bev! (Hic)
Hic hic hic hic hic
Thanks for the card! Say I wonder if it was my business to read what you wrote to Red Ha! Ha! When you get some of that nothing send me a line toots! Loads – loads loads loads & more loads of love,
Hic Hic Hic Hic
The Old Man
I must be drunk I think
And just when you think it’s all personal revelations of the good, bad or ugly kind, along comes a card that’s a perfect little time capsule.
Postcard of Quincy House, Enosburg Falls, Vermont, postmarked March 21, 1939: WRITE Write Write This is a picture of our one & only hotel. It isn’t very big but it doesn’t need to be for this town. I’m listening to the “Box Top” program now. They interview people in a hotel lobby. It’s pretty good, too. Have you a game of Chinese Checkers? The game hit this town with a bang! a while ago. Giddings Drug Store is the store where I bought these cards. They were only 3 for 5¢ so I got three. How much are yours? P.S. WRITE Marilyn Rublee, Box 315
They say every picture tells a story. Sometimes the story is penned on the back of the picture. Luckily for us, there are millions of little stories out there waiting to be discovered.