The first true postcards had no space for messages. The photograph took up the entire front of the card, while the back of the card was blank. The address was meant to stand alone there, as it would on the front of an envelope, so that the postman wouldn’t get confused and mis-deliver it. Collectors refer to these as “undivided back” cards.
Undivided back of the Mound Cemetery card
The postmark is hard to read, but the US government allowed printers to begin using the words “Post Card” on the back of cards after December 1901. Cards with divided backs — with space for a message on the left-hand side of the card — came into use in Europe almost immediately, but didn’t start to be used in America until after 1907.
I like that the address on this card is so simple: “Mrs. Sadie Hubberd, Robinson, Ill.” No need for a street number. Zip codes didn’t become necessary until 1944, and then only in large cities.
These undivided back cards were intended to be mailed, then tucked into an album and treasured. Even so, senders managed to squeeze a message in where they could. This one reads, “Still living will write in a day or two,” but there is no signature. I hope Sadie understood who was writing her.
The photo on the front of this card shows the Conus mound in Mound Cemetery, Marietta, Ohio. Atop it stands a woman in a long dress and a proper hat. She’s hard to make out in the photo, but she gives a good indication of the size of the mound.
As the first settlement in the Northwest Territory, Marietta has one of the oldest pioneer graveyards west of the Appalachian Mountains. General Rufus Putnam, founder of the settlement, donated land surrounding this large Native American mound to be a graveyard in January 1801. Revolutionary War veteran Robert Taylor was buried there in October. In fact, the cemetery claims to have the highest concentration of Revolutionary War veterans in the country.
The 30-foot-tall Conus mound was built by the Hopewell people between 800 B.C. and 700 A.D. Inside it lie their chiefs, who were laid to rest, then covered over with a layer of dirt carried from a nearby pit one basketful at a time. Each layer of chiefs were laid above their ancestors until the mound reached its current height.
The mound can still be climbed using the staircase you see in the picture.
957 Punchbowl Street at King Street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813-5042
Telephone: (808) 522-1333 Church founded: 1820 Oldest known burial: 1825 Size: 3 acres Number of interments: more than 900
A product of the original Mission Church movement founded in Boston in 1819, Kawaiaha’o Church is descended from the first Christian church to be built on Oahu in 1820. The original sanctuary was thatched with grass and built by order of Kamehameha III, who also gave Reverend Hiram Bingham land nearby to build a house. That house, which Bingham had shipped around Cape Horn from Boston, survives today in the Mission Houses Museum.
The first church on Oahu was built at an oasis around a spring, which still flows, in the midst of what was then a desert. The spring was cared for by a Hawaiian High Chiefess named Ha’o, so the church’s Hawaiian name means “water of Ha’o.” To this day, the church offers services in the Hawaiian language.
Excavation of the present church’s foundation began in 1838. Sometime prior to this, Hawaiian divers began to quarry 14,000 blocks of ocean coral, each weighing up to 1,000 pounds. These were loaded into canoes and ferried to Honolulu, where Hawaiians constructed the New England-style church to Bingham’s specifications. The dedication service took place in 1842.
Along with Christianity, the missionaries brought a tradition of marked burials inside a fenced churchyard. Early converts could not afford tombstones. A 2006 story in the Honolulu Star Bulletin estimated that there were at least 200 unmarked gravesites in the churchyard. At that time, 600 bodies had been already identified. The remaining 296 headstones may mark the graves of more than one person, according to cemetery historian Nanette Napoleon Purnell.
The Royal Mausoleum, Kawaiahao Churchyard
One of the oldest Western-style burial grounds in Hawaii, Kawaiaha’o Churchyard serves as the final resting place of King Lunalilo. His tomb, one of the earliest concrete block buildings in Hawaii, stands near his mother’s grave on the northwest side of the churchyard. Lunalilo was invested as king at Kawaiaha’o Church in 1873, after Kamehameha V died without naming an heir. Lunalilo served only 13 months before dying of tuberculosis, a disease brought to the islands by outsiders.
Among the graves in the churchyard lie several missionaries, including Hiram Bingham Jr., who was born nearby and who authored a native language dictionary, as well as a translation of the Bible.
Another missionary, James Kekela (also known as Kekela O Ka Lani), became the first Hawaiian Christian minister when he was ordained in 1849. In 1853, he went as a pioneer missionary to the Marquesas Islands where, for 49 years, he preached against cannibalism and tribal warfare. President Abraham Lincoln recognized him in 1861 for rescuing an American seaman from cannibals.
Also buried in Kawaiaha’o Churchyard is Sanford Ballard Dole, who orchestrated the overthrow of Queen Liliukolani and the end of the Hawaiian monarchy. Dole served as President of the Republic of Hawaii between 1894 and 1898, when he became Governor of the Hawaiian Territory after its annexation by the United States. His cousin James founded the Dole Pineapple Company and is buried on Maui.
Somewhere amongst the unmarked graves lies David Douglas, for whom the Douglas Fir is named. He worked as a botanist for the Hudson Bay Company, cataloging plants in the Northwest. He came to Hawaii in 1833 to study its plants and fell to his death in a pit dug for capturing wild animals. A plaque on the church wall is dedicated to his memory.
Surviving tombstones in the churchyard bear Hawaiian names as well as Haole (white) names, with origins as far away as Ireland, England, Germany, and Nova Scotia, or as close as Lahaina (Maui) or Kona (the “Big Island” of Hawaii).
Despite the church being considered Hawaii’s “Westminster Abbey” — because Hawaiian monarchs, chiefs, and their families attended the Kawaiaha’o Congregational Church’s services, were married there, and laid in state there — and appearing on the original National Register of Historic Places, the churchyard has not been accorded similar respect.
In 2006, a public board meeting convened to discuss demolishing an old structure and the possibility of exhuming remains in order to build a wedding reception area over part of the churchyard. Construction halted in 2009 after 69 sets of remains had been unearthed, but crews continued again in 2011. As of last week, two lawsuits remain unsettled and the project is in limbo.
According to a 1/13/12 story in the Honolulu Civil Beat, “The church argued that the burial remains, discovered during construction, are exempt from the state’s Native Hawaiian burial law because the remains are Christian burials of Hawaiians located primarily in a church cemetery.” If I read that correctly, it’s saying that these people stopped being Native Hawaiians when they became Christian.
The earliest postcards weren’t actually postcards at all. They were trade cards, designed to be collected as souvenirs for the pictures on their faces. Their reverses were filled with advertising text. Cleverly designed, they were advertisements that people chose to keep around.
This card on the left is an advertisement for Eldorado Engine Oil, “the best oil made.” On its face is a reproduction of an etching of the monument to James A. Garfield, America’s assassinated president, who was laid to rest in Cleveland, Ohio’s Lake View Cemetery.
The Garfield Monument, November 2011
The etching puzzles me. The monument resembles the Garfield Monument, in that it has a similar square Romanesque base and a conical tower. However, the tower as built wasn’t nearly as tall. I don’t know if this artwork was based upon the original architect’s plan (which wasn’t entirely executed for some reason) or if this is an artist’s rendering from imagination, description, or another source. It’s clearly not from life. Even the stairways and terrace are different — though eerily similar.
A little poking around reveals that the tomb wasn’t completed until 1890. My tentative dating on the card is 1884, based on the text on the card’s back, which reads in part:
Clark, Clark Co., Dakota
July 1, 1884
Gentlemen: — We have fully tested Eldorado Engine Oil during the past year on all kinds of Farm Machinery and on our Threshing Machines….
Very respectfully yours,
So the card can’t be earlier than 1881, when Garfield died, and is probably no later than 1890, when the President was entombed. 1884 seems as likely a date for it as any.
This card was never intended to be sent through the mail, though. (In fact, the penny postcard stamp was not put into use until 1898). This card is printed on very thin card stock or very sturdy paper. It survives because it was pasted into an album. The advertising side of the card is still slightly rough with remnants of the adhesive.
It’s the oldest card in my collection. So far, anyway.
King Edward Street, London EC1
United Kingdom Park founded: 1850 Size: less than an acre Number of interments: perhaps none Hours: None listed. It seems the park is always open.
Not far from the Museum of the City of London and the Barbican, home of the Royal Shakespeare Company, lies Postman’s Park, one of the City of London’s largest green spaces.
Bordered by Little Britain, Aldersgate Street, and King Edward Street, the park is comprised of three former churchyards. These were stuffed to overflowing by the cholera outbreaks of 1831 and 1848, during which graves were reused so many times that the ground level is six feet higher than that streets outside.
A brass sign at the park’s entrance reports: “A church has stood here since the time of Edmund the Confessor. The present church of St. Botolph is the third, dating from 1754. In 1950, it because a guild church.”
St. Botolph’s is sometimes referred to as Without Aldersgate, which indicates that this church, initially built in the 10th century, stood outside (“without”) the old gate in the Roman Wall. The gate is long gone. The Wall itself has been reduced to a few fragments propped up here and there. It’s strange to imagine that this park, now in the heart of London, once stood on the city’s edge.
St. Botolph is the patron of travelers, so it made sense for his church to stand outside the wall. That way, visitors who arrived after London’s gates had closed for the night had a place to stay. The modern guild served by the church is postmen.
Very little is known about Botolph (more likely Botulf, since he was Anglo-Saxon), except that he built a monastery in East Anglia in 654 C.E. That church was destroyed in the Danish invasions, after which Botolph’s bones were parceled out to sanctify other churches. Three in London alone were named after him, all three of which were rebuilt by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666.
The inscription at the park’s entrance continues: “Postman’s Park, which opened in 1850, is made up of the churchyards of St. Leonard’s, Foster Lake; St. Botolph’s, Aldersgate; and the graveyard of Christchurch, Norgate Street. More land bordering Little Britain was added in 1883. In 1887, Mr. G. F. Watts conceived the idea of a national memorial to heroic men and women and dedicated a wall to this cause in 1900.”
Before you reach the Heroes Wall, you pass through the park itself. Narrow and long, it has a lovely fountain and lots of benches, some of which are re-purposed granite sarcophagi.
Headstones lean against the neighboring building
Against the walls of the neighboring buildings lean eroded headstones from the original churchyards. Some stones are stacked three deep. The headstones are all the old tablet style, carved of marble or slate. They have been stained by soot and discolored by bright green mildew. Their inscriptions have been worn almost smooth. Nothing endures of these individuals: not their graves, not even their names.
Old, nearly blank headstones
At the back of the park stands the “cloister” covering the Heroes Wall. A cloister is a covered walkway around an open space, normally connecting a monastery or convent to its church. This freestanding “cloister” doesn’t connect to anything and has no religious significance, except perhaps to lend respectability to the monument within.
Born in London in 1817, George Frederick Watts became famous for painting “penetrating” portraits of Victorian notables. He presented 150 of his paintings to the National Portrait Gallery in the year before his death. His best-known sculpture, “Physical Energy,” was an equestrian statue unveiled in 1904.
For many years, he collected news stories about average people to saved others, often at the costs of their own lives. Actresses who died saving their colleagues, men rescuing their comrade at the sewage pumping works at East Ham, the laborer who was fatally scalded searching for his mate after the boiler exploded at a Battersea sugar refinery: Watts’ intention with his memorial wall was to recognize everyday heroism, as opposed to the heroism of warriors or politicians, and to inspire common people to look after each other. To qualify for memorialization on the wall, one had to give his or her life in an attempt to rescue someone else. Not all the rescues commemorated were successful.
The initial design called for 120 tablets, only 53 of which have been placed. The tiles were installed over a span of decades and their designs changed over the course of the project. The most recent panel was added in 2009 to commemorate Leigh Pitt, who died in 2007 while rescuing a child drowning in a canal in Thamesmead.
The Heroes Wall
Here are some of my favorite epitaphs:
“Salomon Galaman, Aged 11. Died of injuries September 6, 1901 after saving his little brother from being run over in Commercial Street. ‘Mother, I saved him, but I could not save myself.’”
“William Donald, Baywater, Aged 19. Railway clerk. Was drowned in the lea trying to save a lad from a dangerous entanglement of weed. July 16, 1876.”
“Henry James Bristow, Aged 8. At Walthamstow on December 30, 1890, saved his little sister’s life by tearing off her flaming clothes but caught fire himself and died of burns and shock.”
“Sarah Smith, Pantomime Artist at Prince’s Theater, died of terrible injuries received when attempting in her inflammable dress to extinguish the flames which had enveloped her companion. January 24, 1863.”
“David Selves, Aged 12, off Woolwich. Supported his drowning playfellow and sank with him clasped in his arms. September 12, 1886.”
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