How Others (Don’t) See Us…

Coming off a road trip to West Virginia (mentioned in my previous blog) I was thinking about perceptions of place, and by extension the people who inhabit them. As coastal-oriented folks, my wife and I had absolutely no experience traveling through interior states; and oh my, West Virginia certainly lived up to its nickname “The Mountain State”; just ask our poor underpowered Honda. Thought those winding climbs to 3500 feet and above (complete with switchbacks and precipitous drops worthy of a James Bond film) would never end. With apologies to Dorothy and Toto, we knew for sure we weren’t in Connecticut anymore!

The scenery was amazing (even the coal mining operations had a certain undeniable majesty), the towns tiny, the people (though few and far between) absolutely delightful, and Norman (a VERY friendly rooster who befriended us) just unforgettable. So when it came to picking out a postcard to send to my colleagues at CHS I was faced with a decision: how would I document my trip? Perhaps a view of towering mountains surrounding the Canaan Valley? How about the truly spectacular Blackwater Falls near where we stayed? Or should I play the humor card? Yep, humor usually wins out in the end with me. So I sent a card showing “Appalachian Yuppies” sitting outside a small farmhouse with an old BMW perched on blocks. Sure, there were plenty of cars on blocks scattered about the West Virginia countryside, just not that many BMWs if you know what I mean.

 Postcard purchased by Rich in Davis, WV and sent to CHS colleagues, June 2013

Postcard purchased by Rich in Davis, WV and sent to CHS colleagues, June 2013

So, has Connecticut traditionally provided such tongue-in-cheek depictions of itself for visitors to mail home? You know, like the stereotypical “Old Yankee” characters appearing in films like Mr. Blanding Builds His Dream House or Holiday Inn? Well, I decided to weigh into the CHS’s formidable postcard collection to see what I could find. The collection ranges in date from roughly the late 19th century into the 1970s.

The ephemeral nature of the picture postcard gives you a sense of freedom to send a message you might not necessarily do in a formal letter. Sometimes the written message is what is key, but often the postcard’s image is tantamount. So what did I find?

This 1940s postcard, published by Mobil Oil Company, touted Connecticut’s “Elm-shaded village greens, spotless white colonial towns, a rich historic heritage, mountains and seashore…” typifies the type of card of the period. CHS 1969.56.14

This 1940s postcard, published by Mobil Oil Company, touted Connecticut’s “Elm-shaded village greens, spotless white colonial towns, a rich historic heritage, mountains and seashore…” typifies the type of card of the period. CHS 1969.56.14

Frankly, I was surprised that there were no postcards in the collection that portrayed the state as a whole in a particularly humorous or unusual way. Most showed either “typical” views of small towns or village greens, or perhaps a simple outline map of the state crammed with historical tidbits. Nothing to compare to “Appalachian Yuppies”, that’s for sure.

Though published in the 1960s, the artwork probably dates a decade earlier. The emphasis here is on the state’s recreational opportunities, not on any characterization of “Connecticut Yankees”.  CHS 2009.347.0

Though published in the 1960s, the artwork probably dates a decade earlier. The emphasis here is on the state’s recreational opportunities, not on any characterization of “Connecticut Yankees”. CHS 2009.347.0

So what’s the story? Is our postcard collection simply weak on this type of card, or did postcard publishers of the time simply not find anything particularly funny about the state and its people? Or does our state’s strong local sense of place and identity (sometimes described as “parochial” in nature) work against a statewide identity to be celebrated (or lampooned) in postcards and other types of ephemera? Ah, maybe additional research (read “road trip”) is needed to help sort this one out …

Though technically not a CT postcard per se, this souvenir of the 1939 World’s Fair commemorates Connecticut’s manufacturing prowess in the form of a working14-ton Underwood typewriter!  CHS 1991.128.19

Though technically not a CT postcard per se, this souvenir of the 1939 World’s Fair commemorates Connecticut’s manufacturing prowess in the form of a working14-ton Underwood typewriter! CHS 1991.128.19

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4 thoughts on “How Others (Don’t) See Us…

  1. Great old postcards!! I haven’t received or sent one in years, but I agree they do seem to encourage a certain kind of humor and communication – thanks! You might also enjoy my 90-day road trip following the entire Mississippi River from the headwaters to the Gulf (90 days because that is how long it takes a single drop of water to make that trip). It was the road trip of a lifetime – check out “Roadtripping with a Raindrop” at http://www.gayleharper.wordpress.com Thanks!

    • Hi Gayle:

      Wow, and I thought transiting the Panama Canal would be tops on my bucket list! Your three month downstream flow certainly gives you time to savor the local flavor, and note changes in the river, the topography, and the people. Thanks for commenting!

      Rich

      • It did absolutely that – and I love the diversity of cultures that we have in our country. Too bad I didn’t keep an eye out for old postcards!

  2. It’s almost like we have no identity… but we have everything – farms, ocean, hills, fields… There’s a McD commercial right now (I think) for coffee and the people are using different accents. The narrator asks a person to “Do Connecticut” and she answers, “What’s Connecticut?” hmmm…

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