The Man-Cat

by Cris Shell, student assistant at the Institute for Human Science and Culture, and graduate student pursuing the NEOMFA

Of all of the weird postcards in the David P. Campbell Postcard Collection, I often find myself being pulled towards one of my absolute favorite things, cats! I implied that cats are some sort of oddity, but they’re not really. In fact, they are only an issue in quantities of more than three, and even that may be either too few or too many depending on who you ask. Anyway, I started where you would expect, in the binder “Cats Volume 1.

What a day, multiple binders of cat postcards! All that was missing was a reclining chair, a stormy evening, a fireplace crackling, and a drink or two. I don’t have any of those things, and that is a lot of missing elements, but I can still enjoy a few pages of cats without those necessities, post card binders are basically like proto-Instagram posts.

I’m a dozen pages into the book and then this mug catches my eye, number 45. (I wasn’t counting, its digitized here.)

Look at that cat! I make a mental note to get a basket so, hopefully, I can find my kitty like this, surrounded by flowers, that would be cute. This cat is not a cutie. It looks like the soul of a man trapped into the body of a cat who has been cursed to travel across the planes alone. It looks like he has seen hundreds of years of time pass by in an instant. Somewhere in that time, this cat gained that thousand-yard-stare. I notice he is surrounded with forget me nots, as if I could ever forget those heartless beady eyes. 

This cat looks strange to me, and I love it, but it also drives me crazy. Let me explain. One thing I really enjoy about postcards is when the message doesn’t fit the image on the front.

The sender of this cat of the apocalypse wrote, “I got what I was looking for from snyder come down to underwood Friday I will be in if it does not storm. your son Geo.” A perfectly normal message I suppose. I could point out that it seems redundant to write both “your son” and your name, as if your parents don’t know you by your name. The sign-off isn’t what stands out to me. Geo here doesn’t mention the cat. They don’t say,” Oh, look at this freaky mannish cat” or “P.S. Have you ever seen a cat like that!” Can Geo see? Am I the only one who can see this beast for what it is? Is it possible that I am the one who is cursed, not the cat? Maybe those who stare into his blank stare are doomed to take his place, like some fabled prophecy I heard and forgotten long ago.

I guess this is my fate now, doomed to become this fiend, cast out and forced to walk a lonesome road, destined to become like this man-cat. There are worse ways to go to be fair. What’s that thing Harvey Dent says? “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain man-cat.”

Échangions mutuellement nos photographs.

– traduit et composé par Mark Itibrout, AP French Copley High School student working on a translation project with French-language postcards from the David P. Campbell Postcard Collection

[Front of postcard] An image of the Abbey of Sainte-Trinité in Caen, Normandy with a postmark from Caen
[Back of postcard] A message written in French, addressed to a woman in Denver, Colorado
La traduction:


I would be enchanted if you would like to mutually exchange our photographs. Receive, dear Madame, every friendship of Paul Brassard.

Les commentaires:

Sent to a town in Colorado, this postcard is from a Paul Brassard. He’s speaking to a Madame Leroy, offering to mutually “exchange photos.” It really calls to mind the question of what kind of photos are being exchanged, and who Paul Brassard is in relation to Madame Leroy. After all, the Madame and not Mademoiselle shows she is already married, and apparently not to him.  

[Front of postcard] An illustration of a woman resting in a chair with a French poem beneath it
La traduction:

You take three baths every week

This is normal, so to speak.

But if you take more every day

Your precious time goes down the drain.

Les commentaires:

There’s nothing written on the back of this postcard, but there is a poem on the front about the potential dangers of too many baths. Literally translated, it reads, “Every week you take three baths / Certainly this is sane / but taking them too often / is an inconvenience to you.”

Il est bête et chancelant.

– traduit et composé par Hannah Parker, AP French Copley High School student working on a translation project with French-language postcards from the David P. Campbell Postcard Collection

[Front of postcard] An illustration of a young woman walking arm-in-arm with an old man with a French poem beneath it
La traduction:

In marrying him, you say to yourself;

Happy with him I would be,

He is stupid and tottering, 

I could take lovers

Les commentaires:

I thought that trying to figure out what the postcards said was a very fun challenge. It did take some time, but it was a very interesting way to explore history and even the French language. It was shocking to see how much the way people speak has changed over the years. It was difficult to decipher some of the handwriting and words that people wrote. Overall, this was a fun, challenging way to get more of history uncovered and to also learn in the process. I think that I would definitely do this again and try to discover more of what people were trying to say in the past.

Je n’ai plus entendu parler de vous.

– traduit et composé par Molly Bagatto, AP French Copley High School student working on a translation project with French-language postcards from the David P. Campbell Postcard Collection

[Front of postcard] An image of a woman holding a bouquet of flowers and a man in a soldier’s uniform with a French caption that translates to “Courage dear soldier. My heart is not ungrateful for it is for you that it beats!”
[Back of postcard] A message written in French
La traduction:

Dear Sir,

I ask myself if you received my letter in response to yours. I have put inside an envelope and some paper for a response, and I don’t hear from you anymore. I hope you make up for this carelessness and write me back as soon as you can and tell me if you are in danger. I received news of Marie, she feels better if this could continue. I know it would be happy for you if hopefully the war ended this year. I hope to go and celebrate your return with affection.

-Your good-

Les commentaires:

Translating the postcard messages from the David P. Campbell collection was a great way to throw myself into more “real-world” French conversations. While translating, it was hard to figure out what some of the words were because of the aged handwriting. I do not use cursive that often so there was a difficulty with identifying certain letters. On top of that, naturally, humans make mistakes when writing, so I noticed a few grammatical errors while studying the letter. 

The letter that I translated was from a woman who was writing to a loved one who was out at war and had not responded to any of her letters. She seems to be upset and frustrated that her loved one never responds to her letters, which lead me to think that whoever she was writing to had died in the war. She closes the letter with “your good…” but the final word is illegible, so it was not clear how the writer was related to the person she was writing to.

Beaucoup de pommes tu as croquées.

– traduit et composé par Macy Emich, AP French Copley High School student working on a translation project with French-language postcards from the David P. Campbell Postcard Collection

[Front of postcard] An illustration of a man standing in front of an old woman with bags of apples around her with a French poem beneath it
La traduction:

Though you are an old fairy 

A lot of apples you have munched 

Look in this transparency 

And call you only (recall who you are)

Les commentaires:

This was the first french postcard I had ever translated, and I would say it was a great one to start with. There was no handwriting to try to understand because it was typed, and the message was fairly easy to understand. I love the message this card has to offer. It talks about how even though whoever this is going to is growing old, they need to always recall who they are and who they were through life. They need to look deep to recall that. I also loved how they used “a lot of apples you have munched” to politely say they have grown old. So cute. I loved this experience as well. I never have received a postcard, mainly because they are not very popular now, but it was huge back then. It was how they communicated, and I find that very humbling. Today, it is easy to come in contact with people, but back then, it could have been a big hassle so it makes me thankful for what I have. However, it also makes me wish I lived back then because it seems wonderful. I must have an old heart even though I am so young.

En attendant cette heureuse époque

– traduit et composé par David Britton, AP French Copley High School student working on a translation project with French-language postcards from the David P. Campbell Postcard Collection


[Front of postcard] An image of three people and a donkey in the desert with the caption “Famille de Nomades” which translates to “Nomad Family”
[Back of postcard] A message written in French, dated December 23, 1918
La traduction:


My son Victor told me that you would like to receive some pictures of Arab monuments or constructions. I am very happy to fulfill and send you 3 pictures, about which I will give you the details later if you wish.

I will confirm my shipments once on a regular but fairly frequent basis, at least for the moment. I will do {…} in about twenty days.

While waiting for this happy time, I beg you {…} that I have {fulfilled?} and send you the assurance of my best feelings. {Signature}

Les commentaires:

Il me semble que l’auteur et son correspondant sont des amateurs de l’architecture. Il n’y a pas assez d’information sur la carte postale pour spéculer beaucoup sur les vies des correspondants. Cela étant dit, il apparaît que les correspondants ne sont pas en couple parce que l’auteur écrit “mon fils” plutôt que “notre fils” ou juste “Victor.” La carte postale a été envoyée le 23 décembre 1918, donc il est possible que les vues dont l’auteur écrit soient des cadeaux de Noël. La Première Guerre mondiale était terminée un mois avant que ceci était envoyé, et puis la grippe de 1918 a commencé cette année-là, donc les correspondants ont dû faire face à beaucoup. L’écriture de l’auteur est assez lisible au début, mais vers la fin, la lisibilité diminue. Malgré cela, beaucoup est déchiffrable. Dans le coin supérieur gauche, il y trois lettres qui ressemblent à  π, G et B. Je ne sais pas la signification de ces lettres.

The Divine at Work

written by James Latham

Collecting the metadata for my set of post cards from the David P. Campbell Postcard Collection has led me to notice something about these cards. Many of them feature religious or divine figures. The way in which divinity is present varies within the set of postcards.

In Dreams 151 the divine figure is a ghostly Jesus who seems to be looking over a dying elderly person. This interaction depicts a more somber and depressing relationship between the divine and the mortal world.


This theme seems to be carrying over to Dreams 152. This shows a ghostly figure being held onto by a woman. She seems to be holding on and refusing to let go of a deceased man.


Both postcards depict scenes of people having death show up and affect them.

These both are in stark contrast to Dreams 154. The divine figure in this postcard seems to be more associated with happier times. The woman in front of the piano seems to be playing happily and the angel is there to accompany her music with their own.


This happier scene is also present in Dreams 159. The praying girls are being watched over by the angels. There is no somber or dark tone to this, just children praying and communicating with a higher power.

Dreams_159 (front)

Dreams_159 (back)

The difference in the depiction of these figures is incredibly interesting because these are postcards. While depictions of religion seemed to be common in the 17th and 18th centuries, the death and loss of loved ones seem to feel out of place for cards that may have been sent to family or friends.

The Music Man in the Mail: the Story behind the Art

written by Analicia Miller Heisler

As I was going through the David P. Campbell Collection of Postcards, I was drawn to the artwork that was used on the fronts of the cards, and a few looked like paintings as if they were souvenirs from a museum. Two of the first postcards I looked at actually had the same exact painting depicted on them, a portrait of Stephen Collins Foster by artist Howard Chandler Christy. This stuck out to me because I didn’t expect to find a painted portrait in a collection titled ‘Dreams’, let alone the exact same portrait on multiple cards.


Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864) happens to be an American songwriter, known for songs such as “Old Folks at Home”, “Oh! Susanna”, “Camptown Races”, and “Beautiful Dreamer”, with the latter being the possible reason for his portrait’s place in the collection.


Foster’s song “Old Folks at Home” was designated as the official state song of Florida in 1935, and while Foster had never seen Suwannee or any part of Florida, the portrait seen on these postcards was commissioned by the state in 1947-48 and is housed at the Stephen Foster Memorial which is located in White Springs along the Suwannee River in north Florida.

Stephen Foster had early success with his songs, with “Oh! Susanna” in 1847 being a hit, and “Camptown Races” in 1850. This so called “America’s First Composer” has reportedly written over 200 songs during his lifetime, but it was “Beautiful Dreamer” that was his last,  that brought his legacy back to the American people. Written just weeks before his death, and after years of a declining life and career, this song soared him back to where he started.

“Stephen Collins Foster, 1826-1864.” The Library of Congress,


The Universal Language

written by Allison Prendergast

Music is often seen as a “universal language”, and a performer can truly tell stories through their music. A reoccurring theme within a few of these postcards is the depiction of scenes or images overlaid over a person playing instrument, as if the performer and the instrument are creating these detailed images and, although no music can be heard, a viewer of the postcard could imagine what the song may sounds like.

This theme is seen in Dreams postcards 171 and 177:


In 171, the overlaid image is faint, and could potentially be depicting what is happening in the background of the image, but due to this postcard’s category as “dream”, the far-off gaze of the pianist, as well as the muted colored of the background image, this man is likely playing a tune that would bring about scenes of a lover serenading his true love, as seen as by the guitar player and the woman looking down at him.


In 177, the scene is much more robust. It is clearly supposed to be depicting the bow of the violin producing the image. One of the figures is holding a flag, perhaps heading into battle, as the men cheer a large figure in the sky. The performer is passionate about the image he is creating through his instrument. He has a wide, strong stance to mimic the image he is creating.

Creating images through music is not a new idea, but depicting these through postcards and art, a medium that obviously does not produce sound is an interesting way to share feelings and thoughts. However, through overlaid images and instruments, the artist and sender can communicate sounds and moods of music.