For some reason my Grandparents kept this postcard. It may have been because it shows the land that according to a family story our German ancestors built their home on. This would have been just across the bridge and on the right, which is also where Ft. Dearborn stood. Or maybe the story was that their home is where City Hall now sits; I can’t remember which is correct. My Grandma told me this tale many years ago so I should most likely research that one before it goes any further. Anyway, they most likely kept this post card because it’s pretty.
This postcard went through many printings and was apparently very popular. So popular in fact that I was able to quickly find references to it on multiple sites. From what I can gather the card is c. 1929 and was reprinted multiple times including a special edition for the 1933 World’s Fair. (There were also editions of this card that had the barges removed and others with the names of the buildings printed on the front.) The area of downtown that it shows was built up almost entirely during the boom of the 1920s. Chicago experienced an incredible wave of construction over that decade that changed both the face of the city and the entire Chicago construction industry. This is to say that after some brutal strikes early on a peace was eventually reached and labor became a well paid union gig. All of the key buildings shown and mentioned on the back still exist and none of the Art Deco grandeur of this area has diminished. As a matter of fact, over the last decade Chicago has set out to replace fixtures that were lost over the years with replicas that are more appropriate. An example is the railings going across the bridge, which were replaced just a few years ago. Like Mies van der Rohe said “God is in the details.”
This is Detroit’s original “place to be seen” - Belle Isle
It was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and located right in the middle of the Detroit River. Belle Isle became an incredibly popular gathering point. There were boat rentals in the summer, or ice skating in the winter, or you could visit the conservatory, and of course the old standby of having a picnic. This was the place to spend your weekend. My Grandmother spent many a day there with her friends back in the ’20s and fortunately I have some photos of those days. It is no surprise to me that she kept this postcard.
A classic postcard of a boozehound and guessing from the art style and his choice of poison, Rye, I would say this was from the 1920s, which puts this smack-dab in the middle of Prohibition. While the selling of alcohol became illegal it by no means rid this nation of drinking. Quite to the contrary it helped create an aura of rebellion around booze that the liquor companies could have never achieved on their own. As a matter of fact, it was easier to get a drink in a big city during Prohibition than it was after the 18th Amendment was repealed. This makes sense when you consider that there were no age limits, and of course no limit on hours of operation or other blue laws to get in the way of a Speakeasy. In turn this counterculture created an entire new world of marketing including items like this postcard.
While Prohibition as a law was a cataclysmic failure it did actually manage to lower the rate of alcohol consumed in this country. According to Daniel Okrent’s really excellent book Last Call – The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by the 1830s American adults were averaging a consumption of seven gallons of pure alcohol per year. This would break down to 1.7 bottles of 80 proof hooch per week or 90 bottles a year. This statistic includes the factoring in of the millions of abstainers that already existed. By the 20th century this level of consumption had not tapered off. After Prohibition was repealed the rate dropped and today we average only a third of what it was back then.
If Prohibition interests you I highly recommend the above book. If history books aren’t your thing, but you’re still interested in learning a bit more, check out this Fresh Air interview with the author. There are really some fascinating and bizarre things that happened because of this goofy law.
This postcard was sent by Frances Zabowski to her daughter, my Grandma Gen, while steaming back to Poland with her husband Antoni to visit the old country. To show that he had made it in America Antoni had shipped back with them the family car to drive around and brought along their eldest son Boniface (Ben) to be the driver. We even have a family photo of my Great Grandma standing in front of this big American car on that trip. This card was written on the voyage over on June 19, 1929 – 82 years ago today. The family story goes that they were on their way back when the market crashed.
Another interesting story I discovered is the one about this ship. The TSS Lituania was built in 1915 and was originally christened the Czaritza and was operated by the Russian American Line. (Over the years she changed names six times.) In 1920 she became the Lituania and was run by the Baltic America Line for 10 years until she was transferred over to Polish control. When WWII broke out her name was the Gydnia and the crew fled to England where the Royal Navy used her for a couple of years. During that time both Winston Churchill and King George VI came on board. In 1941 she was transferred back to Poland (under the Government in exile in London) and participated in the Invasion of Sicily. During the war she was hit by two German aerial bombs, attacked by Japanese aircraft, and hit by a torpedo that fortunately didn’t explode. When the war ended the crew very wisely decided to not go back to Stalin controlled Poland and gave the ship back to England where it became the SS Empire Helford under the Lamport and Holt Line. Her final home was Blyth England where she was scrapped in 1950.
Not only can you find just about anything on the Internet, this particular vessel even has her own Wikipedia page under one of her various names. In this case under her first Polish name the SS Kościuszko; named after the Polish military leader that fought in the American Revolution and led an uprising against Russia and Prussia. This little story I found makes me wonder how many other ships have such an interesting history. Then again, as I’ve tried to show with this site, most things have an interesting history if you’re willing to dig a bit.
This postcard from the 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago depicts the “Court of Electrical Group,” which had various electrical displays from 20 different companies. According to the guide, the bas-relief sculptures are 40 feet high, and appear to be outstanding examples of Art Deco. The interior had many exhibits including a “fever machine” that had something to do with medicine that is only explained as a “gift of science.” Other displays include a mockup of a living room with various futuristic uses for electric and also a farm which had an exhibit on how electricity could be used for “bug killing.” In other words, this may very well be the introduction of the bug zapper.
One thing I hadn’t noticed until I scanned this card was the photo credit in the upper left-hand corner for Kaufmann & Fabry. This company managed to get the pretty sweet gig of being the official photographers for the Fair. This meant all postcards, posters, ads, official photo books, etc, were all shot by this one company. Looking them up on the web I found plenty of examples of their photographs ranging from photos of the 1929 Cubs to rail road images, but next to nothing about the company itself. The only reference I could find about the company is from the Encyclopedia of Chicago site. They briefly mention that Kaufmann & Fabry (1910 – 1963) were part of a new wave of photographers that focused on architecture and advertising instead of running a portrait studio. Whomever they were, they left a wealth of images of early 20th century Chicago.
This postcard of a form letter home from college gives some interesting insight into the vernacular of a long ago era, yet it also shows how some things never change. A few of the more interesting selections given are:
Under “Send Me” they list: Hair Tonic (I’m supposing like Dapper Dan), Cigarettes (which is enough today to make you a Pariah), Red Flannels (which must have been the trend), Garters (do they even still exist?), Nose-Powder (would that be for powdering one’s nose?), and Pajamas (which I can’t remember anyone of college age wearing).
Another and rather surprising answer can be found under “I spend my evenings” with the possible selection “Making Whoopee.” That just seems like a rather bold statement for the time. Then again, it may have meant something a little less than I’m thinking. Or I’m simply guilty of the common crime of cleaning up the morals of history. Along the lines of “things were simpler back then.”
While there is no date on the card I can give you a pretty good guess by one clue given. That would be the song on the radio, which gives us the lyrics “You’re driving me crazy.” This is most likely from the Guy Lombardo song of the same name which came from the 1930 musical “Smiles.” If that lyric sounds familiar I wouldn’t be surprised. It became a Jazz staple that was covered by pretty much every big name and later crooners like Frank Sinatra and Mel Tormé. Anyway, along with being from a hugely popular musical, Betty Boop did a rather racy dance to this tune in 1931 (this was released before the Hays Code). So with that in mind I think I can easily place this in the early 1930s but after 1931.
Another postcard from the 1933 A Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago. This card is of Fort Dearborn which was the original army outpost that was erected in 1803. The Fort itself has a rather ingloroius history. After war with Great Britain started in 1812 the inhabitants of the Fort and the neighboring civilians were told to march back towards Michigan. Soon after they left they met hostile Patowatomi Indians and most were killed. After that the Fort was looted and burned to the ground.
According to my guidebook from the Fair this replica of the fort was built to be exactly like the original. Inside there were various history related displays. I can’t say as to how accurate all of this was, but the list of contributors was pretty impressive. They included: The Chicago Historical Society, The Army & Navy, The Smithsonian, and West Point - Just to name a few.
My Grandma Alice told me a family story about how my ancestors owned a house (or cabin) on the site of where the fort stood. I’ve never been able to confirm that tale, but maybe that is the reason why she kept this postcard. The real fort was located at roughly the corner of Whacker & Michigan Avenue (across the river from the Wrigley Building). I was walking down there a year or two ago and noticed that there was a marker in the ground with an outline of the footprint of the fort. So if you’re ever walking down Michigan Avenue don’t forget to look down for the marker (but make sure you don’t blindly walk out into traffic).
The 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair was commemorating the centennial of the founding of Chicago. While this postcard doesn’t show the entire Fair it does give the viewer a bit of perspective on the enormity of this creation. I remember my Grandma Alice telling me stories about the Fair and how it lifted the spirits of so many that needed lifting because of the Great Depression. As a matter of fact, it was so successful that it was extended into 1934. The success of this fair is probably why she kept so many mementos (a few of which I’ve already posted).
The back of the card states “A view looking south over the World’s Fair Grounds showing the General Exhibits Group in the foreground: also showing Time and Fortune Pavilion, Firestone Exhibit, Paris, Thermometer, etc.” (The thermometer is that large tower in the background on the left.) With all of these buildings (most of which were in the now classic Art Deco style) you would think that at least a few of them remain. Sadly, this isn’t the case. You’d be hard pressed to find any remnants from this event, which is not only sad but also weird considering the size and the fact that the number of visitors that attended was over 40 million!