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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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, https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200035701.

 

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:

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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.

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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.

Postcard Adventure…And Believe Me, This Has Been An Adventure

written by Lisa Van Gaasbeek

This experience felt like going through a Rorschach test. The theme of the David P. Campbell postcard collection was ‘Dreams.’ The theme is good for “thinking of you” cards, considering most of the messages (or ones I was able to make out) were just that. Thinking of you. The pictures on the front, however, of the postcards held a deeper meaning, or at least that is how I saw it.

For instance I read a postcard message that pretty much stated ‘I’m sorry I haven’t written in a while because I have been busy.’ Yet the picture on the front is of a man sitting at a desk, smoking a pipe, and a woman’s face appears in the cloud. The caption printed underneath the picture sums up time spent away from a loved one is time wasted. So there seemed to be a great irony within the message and the postcard. And I think that was one of the easier postcards to analyze while creating the metadata.

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Other postcards were harder to follow, but most of that was because some are written in a different language. One postcard I viewed, and it is probably my favorite of all of the images, is a postcard that is written in Russian. Unfortunately the writing was very difficult for me to type into Google Translate. But the picture on the front is very moving. It is a picture of a soldier during World War 1 sitting in the trenches. I’m assuming he is asleep considering the theme is ‘Dreams.’ There is a ghostly woman standing next to him. I really liked the mystery of the piece, especially since I have not been able to translate it for the metadata. The picture says a lot with it being surrounded by war and death. It doesn’t seem like a “thinking of you” card.

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Three of the postcards I viewed had captions of a song called ‘Lead Kindly Light’ by John H. Newman. Now no messages were written on the backs of these postcards, nor were there any postmarks or stamps. The pictures were pretty similar. They usually consisted of women dreaming about angels. It’s a good look at how postcards could be purchased as a set in that the person writing had to follow the order of the song until the very end.

Another thing I had to learn was the difference between a fullback or split-back postcard. Now I pretty well established that all of my postcards, even the ones that had no messages, were all split-backs in that you could tell where the message and address were to be written. Most of the time publication companies could be viewed on the back of the postcard off to the side.

In conclusion, this project has been an interesting look at how examining collections works and entering metadata. It’s been an adventure…and I mean an adventure in studying the art, conditions, and structure of a postcard as well as viewing the time period in which the postcards were distributed and learning the different languages.

Disney, Spanish, and a Postcard Addiction?

written by Alexandra Malinowski

The project of using metadata to sort postcards was one I very much enjoyed, perhaps because I have a connection with this. I personally have a postcard collection which I buy from all over the world. Every time I travel I buy a ton of postcards from different cities. I started this habit from my mom when we first went to Europe together. My most recent trip abroad I went to Belgium for the first time ever and I fell in love with all the postcards. They are some of my most prized postcards, with hand painted scenery from Belgium. So I really enjoyed seeing the different postcards from all over the world.

While doing this project one of my favorite postcards to analyze was ‘The Haunted Mansion’.

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The post card was from Disneyland in 1975, which was a cool thing to see the type of postcard they distributed in Disney. What was odd about this postcard was that I believe it was addressed between two professors or academic men corresponding to each other from very different places in the world. Someone was in Florida writing to someone in South America. What also struck me about this certain postcard was that it was covered in information, either from Disney, or the sender to the receiver. The image on the front also raised questions for me, like why the writer chose the haunted mansion. Was it just an extra postcard the sender had around his house? This postcard raised more questions than answers. This postcard was written in Spanish and fortunately I am fluent so I was able to translate. The message was something about different volumes of books and that the sender will speak with the receiver soon.

What struck me as fun in this assignment was the ability to look and discover all new designs, photographs, images, and drawings from all different time periods, along with all the different stamps. I found stamps from Abraham Lincoln and different presidents on the Disney one, but also ones from Belgium and other places in Europe during the 1900s. In some cases I found myself frustrated because either I was unable to read a postcard because it was so worn the letters faded, or I did not know the language, or I just wanted to know under what context the message was sent, like the one I was mentioning before from Disney. Was the man sending the letter there from vacation or was he a professor in Florida and taking a day trip there? Overall this assignment was a lot of fun to do, oddly. I enjoyed the meticulousness, the observations of the image and the ‘decoding’ of the messages on the postcards.

Spirit Photography on a Postcard?

written by Janos Jalics

Imagine that you lost a loved one as you lived your life during the late nineteenth century. Things should be going right for you because the world is on the upswing with more trade and industrialization, yet you are still at that loved one’s gravesite, wishing that you could see them again. Then, a nicely suited man comes up to you and says that he can help you see them again. Perhaps you are skeptical at first, but you decide to let him do his magic just to see if he is right. He takes a picture of you and when the photograph comes out, you notice that the loved one is at your side. Maybe you wonder how he faked it or maybe you believe him and recommend him to your friends and family. This is the scam known as Spirit Photography, the art of taking a photograph and adding the ethereal likeness of a person to it. Spirit Photography was done and promoted by one man, William Mumler. While Spirit Photography does not actually appear on the postcard that I am writing about, it and some other postcards resemble Spirit Photography enough for me to write about it.

William Mumler had come into the photography industry while it was in its infancy. He was an amateur chemist and silver engraver who once came up with his own homemade cure for dyspepsia[1]. This knowledge of chemistry perhaps allowed him to control some chemical reactions on his photographs when he added an old photo negative, producing the illusion that a person was behind his subject. He had first discovered this while taking some self-portraits and these portraits seemed to portray the ghost of a girl. A close spiritualist friend confirmed this, starting a 20-year career of fraud that included photographing Mary Todd Lincoln with her deceased husband at her side, Harry Gordon with a bearded man behind him, and many others.

Some were more skeptical than others and the noted photographer JW Black decided to get his portrait done by Mumler[2]. He wondered how Mumler had managed to get a ghostly image of a man behind him. After some investigation, Black and other skeptics found that he had been using old photo negatives to help him create the images. He was soon arrested and tried for fraud, and one of the key witnesses that testified against him was P.T. Barnum, the founder of the famous Barnum and Bailey circus and the most famous fraud of the nineteenth century. Barnum commissioned his own photograph with the dead president Abraham Lincoln, proving that anyone who could make photographs could do what Mumler did without any spiritual help. While he was acquitted, Mumler did not have much of a career after the trial.

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Visit this postcard on the repository.

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Now, the postcard that I am writing about here is not a spirit photograph. It displays a smiling man in a suit in what may appear to be his study. Above him is an image of him embracing his lover. While this couple’s pose is extremely exact in sharp contrast to Mumler’s photo negatives, the background blurs into the study, somewhat like the spirit photographs. Furthermore, the French caption translates as follows: “I see you listening a sweet smile the secrets my heart would like to tell you”. This caption sounds much like the motivations of many of Mumler’s customers, who sought to see their lost loves again.

[1] Roos, Dave. “When a 19th-century ‘Spirit Photographer’ Claimed to Capture Ghosts Through His Lens”. The History Channel. https://www.history.com/news/spirit-photography-civil-war-william-mumler (Accessed February 2, 2019)

[2] Manseau, Peter. “Meet Mr. Mumler, the man who “Captured” Lincoln’s ghost on Camera”. The Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/meet-mr-mumler-man-who-captured-lincolns-ghost-camera-180965090/ (Accessed February 2, 2019)