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Buffalo Soldiers

Not many postcard images are suited for the current moment. Scenes of African-American life generally weren't deemed worthy of documenting in postal print for most of the 20th century. 

This photo postcard seems an exception. It was likely shot on a personal camera in  Winchendon, Massachusetts in 1909, and depicts a quartet of black US Army soldiers in some form of R&R astride a classic New England stone wall scene.

It captures a mixture of quotidien life (army buddies passing time together, getting a straight razor shave) and somewhat subversive black power.  Yet it also has the bittersweet and uniquely American overprint of a people enlisted to fight - to build, to serve, to deliver groceries in a pandemic, or any of the things that have disproportionately been demanded of black citizens - for a country that needs them and has been, in fact, built on their backs, but has used them as fodder, as disposable, as second-class citizens or worse. Their faces are proud yet unmistakably weary.

Change is often painful. But not so painful as resigning ourselves to a status quo that is so far beneath our purported ideals. I'm thankful for all the damn hard work that so many have put in and continue to put in on the long and arduous journey towards equality for black citizens of this country. Keep up the fight.


A postcard becomes a magical object when it's not just an image but also a story. When it captures a particular moment through the eyes or pen of a person formerly living on Earth.

Such it is with this somewhat mundane (though still classic) view of the Brooklyn Bridge, which has been elevated nearly to the level of a modest novella with the authors annotation, which begins cheekily: "Over)) Not the Bridge--But the card."

What are they going to tell us?


"NY City: 2/15/8

Yesterday a fellow jumped from this bridge at about its highest point and just missed an ice-floe and also a tug that was nearly underneath. The papers state that he was suffering from the 'Grippe' and was undoubtedly out of his head. He escaped without any apparent injury and is being held for attempted sucicide (sic). He fell about

        160 feet                            George"

A 60 word tour de force! And one which merits some exegesis.

Take first the subject, that of an attempted suicide from the Brooklyn Bridge - a short footnote in the life of an iconic American structure, yet also a peek into the dark and intensely personal chapter of the jumper's life.

Then the interesting turns of phrase. "Grippe" meaning flu, from the French. The unfortunate though strangely comical mispelling of "su-ci-cide." The very concept that being "out of one's head" (from flu no less) is cause enough for a suicide attempt (the concept of "mental health" in its modern usage wasn't commonplace until the mid-century).

A period-limited search for "Brooklyn Bridge jumper" in the New York Times archive yielded a gem of an article from the February 14, 1908 edition with the headline "Dives Off Bridge in Sight of Crowd."


The jumper was named John "Jack" Grant, a former pugilist (boxer) - a curious fact given what we know now about repeated head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

The scene painted by the article is vivid - hundreds of onlookers were on the bridge and "gasped with horror" when he "plunged from the rail like a swimmer diving from a springboard." As indicated on the postcard, he missed several East River ice floes as well as a tug boat named Castor, the crew of which very quickly fished him out of the water with hooks.

Incredibly, he did not appear to be injured other than a black eye. His emergency physician even thirstily noted that "Grant had the toughest physique that had ever come under [my] observation." Sadly the article ends on an ambiguous note - Grant later lapsed back into unconsciousness at the hospital in relation to "internal injuries whose seriousness could not be determined."

In further strangely positive and superlative language for such a sad event, "the police declare that Grant's attempt to commit suicide was the coolest and most deliberately planned of any ever attempted from the bridge," having just visited his printer union headquarters in an apparently level-headed state.

As the postcard author notes, suicide was a felony in New York punishable by up to two years in prison as recently as 1917. Without further research, it's unclear whether Grant survived, and if so, whether he was actually charged and imprisoned for his act. 

All that may be left of the most frightful day in the life of Jack Grant is some newspaper copy and a 3.5" by 5.5" piece of postal history.

Cherry Blossom Time

The blossoms are peaking in D.C. today. Yet the normally joyous moment has been thwarted by the ongoing pandemic (for those not in D.C., access to the Tidal Basin where the famous cherry trees are planted has been curtailed, for good reason).

Nevertheless, we can think back to the beauty and joy of cherry blossoms past, whether directly from cherished memories or with help from historic images. Incidentally, this 1930s linen cherry blossoms postcard was the very first vintage postcard I ever bought. Even today, with 10s of 1,000s of additional cards in my collection, I still prize the deco-styling and vivid coloration of this superb Curteich design.

Most know that the famous cherry trees ringing the D.C. Tidal Basin were gifted to the city by Japan in the 1910s, as indicated by this 1920s postcard which depicts, "a bit of old Japan transplanted to Potomac Park - the Misses Sumi and Sadi Tamura, daughters of...former Third Secretary of the Japanese Embassy, out for an early morning stroll."

What fewer know (including myself until recently) is that an original 1909 gift of trees was burned upon arrival after USDA inspection revealed that the trees were infected with a number of invasive pests, including nematodes! An additional three trees were cut down by an anonymous vigilante four days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Thankfully, despite these early set-backs, the visionary gift has endured and bestows its ephemeral beauty to residents and visitors year after year. Here's hoping that next years blossoms greet a world of health and peace.

Photo credit: Andrew Riely, 2015

Valentine's 1910

Advice to all the wannabe lovers out there - double your odds by doubling your Valentine's Day efforts this year. Take a cue from this anonymous 59 year old fellow in 1910.

Homemade, real-photo Valentines postcards (unposted, so they were likely hand delivered or not at all). Ruby sounds exotic but I'll take Edna any day.

Happy Valentine's Day from Paleogreetings!

The Fur-Bearing Trout of Salida

Sent from Pueblo & Grand Junction, CO, July 18, 1939 to El Paso, TX. "Dear Jack - Now will you believe it? Am up here for a few days visiting my sister - having a great time. Have played tennis and will swim tomorrow nite. Saw an interesting operation at the hospital this morn. Am making a few trips around here. Country is beautiful. Going home Tues. - Margaret."

Looks like proof enough to me! A strange image, with an equally strange and unintended orange coloring from some liquid/chemical spill. Also, what operation was Margaret observing in the she a doctor/nurse, or was this more of a recreational surgery-watching situation? Many unanswered questions here.