Saturday, July 21, 2012

Saturday's postcards: Two greetings from 100+ years ago

These two vintage postcards don't seem like anything special on the front. They're "commons" that might be sold for a dime or quarter. Or they might be placed in packs of 20 "assorted" postcards, essentially as filler. But they have stories, too.

To me, the interest in these postcards is on the back, in the notes that were written more than a century ago.

This flowery "Greetings" card was postmarked on July 24, 1908, in Norristown, Pennsylvania. (I like the elongated postmark with its Francis Hopkinson version of the 13-star United States flag.1)

The postcard is from Papa and it was mailed to Wesley K. Swartley in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania. The note, with its odd mixture of capitalization and non-capitalization, reads:
Dear Wesley,
We were down to Phila by Trolley on sunday, it was A very hot day, hope you have A good time
From Papa
Thanks to online genealogy records, I think I have figured out the identities of everyone mentioned in this postcard.3

Wesley K. Swartley was born on March 31, 1899, and thus would have been 9 years old when he received this.

Wesley was the son of Sylvester H. Swartley and Ida Knepper. Sylvester was a master painter and paper-hanger. The Swartley family lived in Norristown and was of the Lutheran faith.

The postcard was mailed to Tamaqua in care of Harry Knepper (I really thought that was Kneffer in cursive writing), who is Ida's brother and Wesley's uncle.

Wesley grew up to marry a woman named Katie. When the 1940 census was taken, he and Katie were living in Norristown and had a 10-year-old son named Wesley Jr. The three of them were living in a home valued at $3,000 and Wesley Sr. had grown up to be a paper-hanger, like his father.

This "Remember Me" postcard was mailed to Mrs. Mattie Taggert in Nickerson, Kansas. It was postmarked at 6 p.m. on December 30, 1910, in Stanton, Iowa.4

The period-challenged note reads:
Dear Mattie
well we did not see you Christmas again I think the weather is staying just on purpose for you to come up to see us we are all well and have pretty good appetites I have not had any chicken pie lately though I am still waiting for the letter you owe me We got the Christmas package all right
Nickerson and Stanton are about 360 miles apart (perhaps further, depending on what avenues of transportation were available then), so it would have been quite a production for Mattie to make a December or January trip to visit the writers of this postcard in 1910/11.

If Mattie had access to a car (unlikely) and the roads were good (unlikely) and the weather held out (dicey), it might have been possible to make the trip in 3-4 days, with stops in the likes of Salina, Junction City, Topeka and Nebraska City. More likely, such a trip would have required a cobbled-together itinerary employing multiple modes of transportation.

That's a lot of work to have some chicken pie.

As far as who Mrs. Mattie Taggert was, the best clue comes from this genealogy page, which states that a Mattie Snyder was born on November 24, 1888, in La Crosse, Kansas. She married Andrew Taggart5 on August 5, 1906, in Hennessey, Oklahoma. They had three children -- Rector Dee, Ivan Lee and Arlene Ellen.

1. The differences between this postmark and the Francis Hopkinson flag are its exaggerated width (of course) and the fact that it uses five-pointed stars. Hopkinson's design called for six-pointed stars.
2. Based on the postmark, the "Sunday" that Papa refers to would have been July 19, 1908. I can't find those weather records for Philadelphia. But here are some notable things that happened on that date:
3. Sources include:
4. Stanton, Iowa, has a couple of claims to fame: (1) its two water towers, which are painted and shaped like a giant coffee pot and coffee cup; (2) some of the victims of the Titanic sinking had Stanton connections. Former Stanton residents Ernest Gilbert Danbom and Anna Sigrid Maria Danbom, along with their infant child Gilbert Sigvard Emanuel Danbom, were returning to the United States from a year-long trip to Sweden and were planning to start a fruit farm in California. All three died when the unsinkable ship went down.
5. The page has references to both Taggert and Taggart, which is not necessarily problematic.


  1. This is so neat. I have been collecting postcards for 40 years but it never occurred to me to do genealogical research on the writers and recipients. I guess I started collecting before the PC and Internet. Thanks for sharing this added interesting side to postcard collecting. I will definitely get out some of my oldest cards and try to do research on them.

  2. Hey, I have that Remember Me postcard with the gorgeous rose on it! I love old post cards! I like to use them in my collages, but some of them are so wonderful that I can't part with them! The beautiful illustrations, the messages on the back from "the voices of the past" can I let them go? A lot of times I just use my copier and make copies to use in my art!

  3. It appears that Wesley Swartley, Jr. met a sad and untimely passing, as described in the Indiana Gazette on October 9, 1946: