Introduction: Postmarked Time Machines
Greetings from Newton in 1908. And 1905. And 1910, and most of the other years from the end of the nineteenth century up to World War I. The people who lived here were still wearing long dresses and derby hats. They rode the trolley out to Norumbega Park on the weekends. They went canoeing with their best girls. They took excursions in funny-looking automobiles. They hiked through Hemlock Gorge and gazed in awe at Echo Bridge. How do we know all this? Because we can use a sort of time machine to see them, where they went, what they wore, what they talked about: we have the postcards they sent to each other.
The styles and the sights of the period show clearly in the postcards that Newton residents and visitors bought to send to family and friends. They sent postcards by the millions, because this period before World War I was the heyday of a national fad for picture postcards. Even nearly a century later, the sheer number of postcards still around show that the city's most popular landmark was Echo Bridge. You can see that people took great pride in its public high school, its tree-lined streets, its many churches, and its imposing commercial buildings. They liked modern transportation, and sent their correspondents all sorts of postcards of trolleys and train stations and automobiles. They particularly liked the Charles River and sent out a huge volume of postcards to say so.
This set of postcards collected around the theme of the Charles River is drawn from the archives of the Newton History Museum at the Jackson Homestead. When I started this project, I knew a little about postcards and less about Newton. Putting together this visit back in time and out to the river has taught me much more about both. I'm particularly grateful to Susan Abele, the Curator of Manuscripts and Photographs for the Museum, for her eagerness to share the Museum's wealth and her vast knowledge of Newton with me -- and with you. I owe thanks to the people who in person or through their research and writing have educated me -- Bob Pollock, the late Ken Newcomb, and particularly Thelma Fleishman; to Bob Spinner, the patron of the Museum's postcard collection, and to the Thursday lunch club.