Sunday, August 08, 2010

Item From Someone Else's Past: Dinner at the Sanitarium, 1915

A few months ago I practically cleaned out the postcard bin at a nearby resale shop, since the cards were going to 12.5ยข each. A card for a bit, in other words, and there isn't too much you can get for a bit. Even a shave and a haircut used to be two, or maybe six.

One of the cards was this one, vintage early 20th century, a picture of the famed Sanitarium at Battle Creek, Mich. It was never mailed as a postcard, so I was planning on sending it to someone, when I saw the writing on the front of the card.

It says: "Ate dinner here on Tuesday, Aug. 10, '15 Daddy." Interesting that "Daddy" wrote his message on the front, and I can only speculate that perhaps he stuck the card in a letter he mailed home, rather than mailing the card itself. Who was "Daddy"? What was he doing in peaceful Battle Creek that summer day 95 years ago, as the world burned in far-off Europe? Was he a health-food enthusiast eager at long last to try Dr. Kellogg's formulations, or simply curious to see what the health nuts at the San would serve him?

I'll never know. Speculation will have to do. My guess about the card's provenance is the following: "Daddy" sent the card home, his kids looked at it for a moment and then got back to the 1915 equivalent of Xbox, and it was kept at his house for years. When "Daddy" and his wife were at last gone, the card passed to one of the children, who likewise kept to stored away for sentimental reasons. Closer to our time, the child, now an old man or woman, died and the card went to one of "Daddy's" grandchildren, who also kept it for reasons of sentiment, maybe remembering his or her grandfather in the wispy way I remember my mother's father.

In our time, "Daddy's" grandchild came to the end of his or her life not long ago, leaving behind children with no memory or sentimental notion of a fellow who passed through Battle Creek in the summer of 1915. "Donate them to the resale shop," was a spouse's suggestion regarding a stack of old postcards, along with some other unwanted items.

There may be no writing on the back of the card, but the printing does say that it's an Octochrome, with a serial number 38846. Goggle that name and that number and the result is -- nothing. However, according to the web site of the Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City, "an Octochrome is a trade name for a type of postcard distributed by the American News Company that was printed using four-color continuous tone lithography. These cards are characterized by a sharp look with hard clean colors that emphasize blues and reds. They were printed in Germany."

The United States was still neutral in 1915, of course, but I have to wonder whether the American News Co. had its supply of postcards from Germany disrupted by the war. Probably. I figure the one I have, which was acquired by "Daddy" in 1915, was manufactured just before the war.

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