Saturday, December 7th, 2013

Vintage post cards next best thing to time travel

“Greetings again from sunny Florida. Thank you for the very pretty pin. Ill always think of you when I wear it. I am mailing you a package today. Will write more when I have time. Love, F.R.

The entrance to the John Ringling residence in Sarasota, Fla., is stunning.

Lined with palm trees and tropical plants, the path leading to the circus kings Venetian Gothic mansion is memorable.

It seems fitting that the beauty of the scene be captured on the front of a post card, ready to be sent anywhere in the world so the recipient also can marvel in the architectural masterpiece built in the 1920s.

Its whats on the back of the post card, however, that is captivating.

The card, postmarked Dec. 18, 1963, features a snippet of history captured through the words of someone we only know asF.R.

Though the words written in slightly disheveled handwriting are specific to F.R. and the recipient, a Miss Vera Baxter of Lakewood, Ohio, reading the card can take us all back to a time when a 4-cent stamp was enough to cover postage and hand-written thank you notes were still anticipated.

For me, its amazing to think that at least 46 years ago, I know of someone who walked the same footsteps I did when I visited the Ringling Museum last year. And F.R. wasnt the only one.

Sorting through boxes of vintage post cards I discovered at an antique mall west of Columbus, I found at least six other post cards sent by people who had visited the museum over time. Some were postmarked as early as 1947 and some as late as 1990 – all marveling at the beauty of the Gulf Coast and some sharing their experiences at the Ringling mansion.

I also stumbled across other post cards that caught my eye because of their unique nature. One in particular was postmarked Dec. 23, 1909, and written to a Miss Nella Esbenshade of Shiloh, Ohio – no address specifically, just a Miss Nella Esbenshade of Shiloh, Ohio. Adorned with a 1-cent stamp, it was simply signed,R.C.

“Hello Nella! Well what in under the sun ails you, are you mad? Or dead? Or dont want to write? Which one or any one of them?

The message made me laugh at first, but then I thought,I wonder what did happen to Miss Nella Esbenshade.

Then I wondered,Who is this Miss Nella Esbenshade?

I did a quick search on the Internet and found an obituary of a woman named Helen M. White of rural Shelby, Ohio – 10 miles from Shiloh, Ohio.

The obituary said she was the daughter of the late Jay and Nellie (Esbenshade) Iceman and was a graduate of Shiloh High School in 1938.

Could her mother be the same Miss Nella Esbenshade the post cards author was trying to reach?

All because of a post card found in an antique mall, one Tuesday evening I found myself reading an obituary about Helen White, who died just a few weeks ago on May 2 at the age of 90.

In high school, she was involved in glee club, drama, athletics and coincidentally, journalism. According to the obituary, in 1938, she married Wilbur H. White and lived in the Shelby area for the next 64 years.

She was an active member of her church and enjoyed cooking, knitting and sewing.
While I dont know for sure the Nellie Esbenshade referenced in the obituary is the same one whose name is written on the post card I held in my hands, I feel like they are one in the same.

One minute I was sitting amongst antiques searching through boxes and boxes of old post cards. The next, I was reading about the life of a woman whose mother could have been the recipient of one of those post cards.

How fascinating it is to me, that a post card sent more than 100 years ago led me to the story of a woman named Helen White, who I had never met or heard of prior to picking up that post card.

Thats just one story, one post card. Imagine all the stories out there that can be told through other post cards, telegrams and letters.

Will those stories stop now that e-mail, cell phones and text messaging are the fastest ways of communicating with loved ones who are away? Or will these types of conversations fall into another category of stories to be told by generations to come?

Only time will tell, but for now, I think I might go find my box of stationery stuffed away at the back of my closet.

Christine Bryant-Whaley is the editor of the Eastside Messenger.

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