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The colorful history of Cape Cod postcards

Colorful snapshots of Cape Cod, August 2017 Cape Cod LIFE |

Postcard courtesy of the Centerville Historical Museum

Many of these postcards were not touristy, at least not in the modern sense of the word. Some were promotional, featuring local inns, stores or businesses. “Some were of strange things,” Boyd says, “like a road in the woods.” Another example in his book features a black whale washed up on an East Brewster Beach in 1934, with two men walking away from it in the background. The composition is interesting, and it illustrates an event that sometimes happens on the Cape, but it’s unlikely that anyone would write, “Wish you were here” on the back of this card. Another card that captures the uniqueness of the Cape depicts fish weirs on the flats off Brewster. Carts drawn by ox and mule are in a line along the netting of the weir. The card reads, “Dear Friend: How would you like to go to sea in a cart? This weir is about one mile and a half from the high water mark. Sat. P.M. Jan. 26th, 1906.”

Though postcards thrived in the 20th century and remain to tell the stories of many classic locations on Cape Cod and around the world, both George Boyd and Randall Hoel wonder what the future holds for this mode of communication—and what the ramifications may be for historical documentation of our brave new world in the webs and clouds. “Today,” Boyd says, “an email comes and is gone; it’s not kept.” Platforms such as the popular Snapchat are even worse in this regard, and applications such as Facebook and Instagram have become saturated with so many images that it becomes difficult for people to manage them.

“The digital age is changing the way we inherit history,” says Hoel. “This really shows in a physical collection.” He further notes that in 2015 only 840,000 postcards were mailed, a decrease of more than 300 percent since 1997. Nevertheless, postcards remain popular and continue to feature subjects—such as aerial photos of the Cape Cod shoreline or of Cotuit’s Elizabeth Lowell Park—that capture items of historical interest. “I just don’t know if there is any other place,” Boyd says, “that will show a town the way a postcard collection will.”

The Centerville Historical Museum is located at:

513 S. Main Street, Centerville •

The Brewster Store is located at:

1935 Main Street, Brewster •

That Fabled Shore, a home decor retailer based in Scituate, turns historic Cape and Islands postcards into night lights, pillows and tempered glass cutting boards. Shop That Fabled Shore’s postcard cutting boards in the Cape Cod Life General Store.

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