How people survived a century before Facebook 2014.08.20


Yes, there once was a world where people communicated without the aid of an Internet, computers, texting or smart phones. I’m sure some younger readers  aren’t that familiar with words like pencil, pen, paper, envelope, stamp or other alien terms like “United States Postal Service.” But even 100 years ago, the concept of sharing private thoughts or what many years later became known as “spam” already existed. The means of sharing was just different.

A few years ago, I found a listing on eBay from someone selling “12 long romantic love letters from (I’ll delete the name), Morenci, Mich., sent to (I’ll delete her name, too), Addison, Mich.” The listing goes on to explain that Mr. X taught school in Morenci and that the letters, of 1906-7 vintage, were “interesting and laced with local news.”

I was outbid for the letters and e-mailed the seller to ask if there might be some more available. The seller, Lynn, replied that years ago he had bought many boxes of old envelopes from a stamp dealer in Lima, Ohio, who was moving to Nevada. Lynn was going through a box and spotted the group of letters, which he turned into the eBay lot.

Lynn added that he might very well have more Morenci letters as he had many more boxes which were “mixed with my other junk in a 50’ x 60’ storage building.” Remember the warnings that whatever you post online could be there forever? Sometimes that’s true of letters, too, or, as I recently learned, postcards as well.

A couple of months ago, a relative of a friend passed along a group of old postcards to me. I don’t really actively search for old postcards, but I don’t turn down many I happen to come across, either. I especially like those featuring famous buildings, tourist traps, old motels, vehicles and those of local interest. 

The group I was recently gifted with fall into the last category. Most of them are postmarked between 1907 and 1912, although a few are from later years. Almost all of them are addressed to a Morenci woman who, again, I won’t name.

One of my favorites has two postmarks. The first postmark is from North Morenci on the morning of Feb. 28, 1910. The other postmark is from Seneca on the same day. Although the time marking is blurred, I assume it has to be PM. The big news from the mother of the card’s recipient was that “Clarence went to Adrian this morning.”

Many of the cards were sent for various holidays and special dates. The sister of the recipient sent her a Christmas postcard with a fairly young looking Santa Claus in 1909. The following year, she got a birthday postcard from her father.

In 1912, she received a postcard titled ‘Christmas Greetings from Lewiston, Maine,” even though it was mailed from Morenci. Under a drawing of a boy and girl in wooden shoes and other old-fashioned clothing was printed “I vish youse de habbiest Christmus vat effer vos.” On the reverse side, the sender wrote a sad and simple message: “Santy is quite poor this year.”

A fancy Easter greeting postcard from Cottrell & Seeley extends “an invitation for you to call and inspect our New Spring Dry Goods.” In addition, there was an announcement of a hosiery sale on Saturday, April 8, 1911. I hope she made it to the sale. They had 25 cent hosiery for 10 cents a pair.

Another card has a photo which it identifies as “the lover’s lane in Morenci.” I don’t suppose there is anyone left from that era to confirm if that claim was true.

Then there were a few cards that prove that the Facebook practice of posting nearly to totally worthless information existed well over a hundred years ago. For instance, a postcard with a 1907 postmark features a photo of the LaSalle Monument in Lincoln Park in Chicago. The card’s message is simply, “From Sylvia.” If the monument still exists, today’s version would consist of a selfie of the sender standing on the monument with their face next to LaSalle, posted on Facebook for all of Sylvia’s friends to see.

Or there’s the postcard from Traverse City a few years later that says “Cherry picking is OK.” That’s short, to the point, and not all that interesting, in my opinion. It’s also a perfect description of most Facebook messages.

Mail or online, I guess things haven’t really changed that much at all.