Greetings From the Land of the Make-Believe Species
Postcards provided proof of lake serpents, jackalopes and assorted curious monsters
- By Peter A. Smith
- Smithsonian.com, March 29, 2012
The postcard once provided a fast, reliable means of communication. The images on the cards carried strong implications of objectivity, underscored by concise captioning. Among these postcards emerges a unique flowering of the beastly taxonomic tree: dozens of distinctive, little-known species spotted by solitary farmers, hunters and fishermen, lurking all across the country, creatures that came alive through hyperbole, exaggeration and the perceived authenticity of postcards.
(Wisconsin Historical Society, WHI-44534)
Swarms of locusts descended on the Great Plains in the 1870s. Vast clouds darkened the skies and devoured crops all across Kansas. Farmers lost it all. Twenty-five years later, the plague of locusts disappeared as mysteriously as it had arrived—the last one reportedly seen in California.
But no one in 1909 could have expected this giant insect, or rather, “A Kansas Air Ship,” to reappear and loft a baby girl in an American flag-clad basket high above the plains. Imagined by Marion W. Bailey, a photographer based in Hutchinson, Kansas, this illustration was similar to other “exaggeration” or “tall-tale” post cards that proliferated across the region. The images of giant insects doing battle with humans provided both a thinly veiled analogy and some levity in dealing with disaster.