July–August 2021

From the Editor

Wish You Were Here

Vintage postcards are 'visual symbols of the region'

In Minnesota in the Mail, an exhaustive history of the state’s postcard traditions, author Bonnie Wilson writes, “Subtly and quietly, postcards have shaped Minnesota’s image.” This is especially true of outdoors- and tourism-themed cards, as you’ll see in our photo essay “Posts From the Past” (page 30). 

As postcards exploded in popularity at the turn of the 20th century, Minnesota’s card publishers began chronicling the state’s travel and recreation habits, with an early focus on lakes in and around the Twin Cities. One postcard shown in Wilson’s book depicts a tranquil, perfectly manicured Big Island on Lake Minnetonka, which in the early 1900s housed an amusement park and picnic grounds that drew travelers from around the state. (It’s a far cry from the island’s current reputation as—how do I put this?—a colorful hangout.)

When northern Minnesota became a travel destination after World War I, postcard publishers followed the trend, portraying rustic tourist camps and early resorts that promised world-class fishing, pine-scented breezes, and a chance to play lumberjack for a weekend. Another card in Minnesota in the Mail depicts the Klose to Nature Camp, a former Hackensack resort that prided itself on its high-low design. The 1920s-era postcard shows the resort’s dining room, which was outfitted with birch log support posts, wasp nests, a stuffed great blue heron, and tables draped in linen and topped with fine china. “Food is great . . . Fishing is good,” wrote the sender. 

Wilson posits that “the views that tourists buy become the visual symbols of the region.” In recent decades, Minnesota-themed cards have leaned heavily on places and things that stand for a version of the state: walleye, loons, sunsets over lakes, peaceful campsites, kitschy roadside attractions like giant fish and Paul Bunyan statues. I’ll let you decide if these “shorthand abstractions”—Wilson’s catch-all for modern postcards—are preferable to the specific, hyper-local cards of the past. Meanwhile, settle in and savor this issue’s vintage postcard story. Who knows? Maybe it’ll shake loose a few postcard memories of your own. Happy height of summer.

Chris Clayton, editor in chief