The year is 1910, the place Phoenix, the event is billed as the Second Aviation Meet in America. As I research this card, I can literally feel the excitement in Phoenix. The newspapers are full of articles, ads, plays, activities. At the same time, I am stunned by how we, as Americans are so American – no matter the century, the year or the event.
I am struck by the world contained in this artifact, which is defined as “an object made by a human being, typically an item of cultural or historical interest.” These postcards are artifacts in the truest sense of the word – they speak of time, place, event and very personal connections.
Intrigued by the planes, the balloon and the blimp, I realized this was an early form of photoshopping. The word photoshopp was not part of our lexicon until 1992. But this is, indeed what created this card, most likely with actual cut and paste.
The McNeil Company, Phoenix, Arizona, obviously took some time and trouble to put these images together. It is a celebration and the exuberance of early day flight. These are truly experimental aircraft, accelerating for takeoff on bicycle wheels (which you can see), devices that look like box kites leading and trailing aircraft, and the balloon and dirigible in the background. Pilots weren’t pilots – they were man-birds.
Newspaper ads and articles tell the stories of hotels filled to capacity, so visitors turn to local residents to rent rooms in their homes, or rent their entire home for Aviation Week. Ads for everything from shoes, to hardware, to saddles reference Aviation Week. One drug store invites the public in to use their phones, rest their feet, take a break, meet their friends. Postcards of the time show families who look like they’ve spent 20 hours walking around the county fair. The Aviation Meet sold private VIP boxes for well to do patrons, attendance at which afforded one a spot in the society pages. Some banks closed at noon for the Meet. Some closed altogether. Local trains provided late runs to what were then, Phoenix suburbs, like Mesa.
All of this reminds me of current spring training, or the Super Bowl in Phoenix, or any one of the world renown events that take place there every year. People flock in during the winter to see the remarkable, the new, the competitive, ambitious and enjoy the sunny, spectacular days in the Valley of the Sun. The early photoshopping has been replaced by professional photoshopping on our phones. Society pages have been democratized through Instagram and Facebook. Airbnb replaced ads in local papers. Uber and Lyft replaced the custom train schedules. Starbuck’s replaced the drug store’s offer of free phone usage and somewhere to sit with coffee and free wifi. We are the same, we just have more advanced technology.
Our writer sends the postcard to Miss Nellie Brown, Pueblo, Colorado. “Dear Sis this is what we have in Phoenix may go and see them tomorrow Miks seen them the weather here is fine will be very hot the trees are all of palm love to you sister…Mack” I cannot quite make out the fine details of the last bit, even with all the filters and zoom features my computer has to offer. If a reader can figure it out, please let me know.
I am intrigued by the entire story encapsulated in this postcard – the planes, the flyers, Miss Nellie and her sibling. This is another chapter in the story of Arizona, and its brash, adventurous, remarkable people, whose approach to life included anything and everything new and amazing. I hope to find more of the postcards from Aviation Week in 1911. Those people must have had such a wonderful time. Imagine the dinners at the local restaurants, around the kitchen table and in the yards as the sun set over the miraculous Valley of the Sun. To be continued.
May your 2020 be as filled with adventure, wonder and discovery.