“Greetings from Alabama: A Pictorial History in Vintage Postcards”
Author: Wade Hall with Nancy B. DuPree and Christopher Sawula
Publisher: NewSouth Books
Price: $24.95 (Trade Paper)
The late Wade Hall was a singular man. A native of Bullock County, Hall taught for 30 years at Bellarmine College in Louisville, Kentucky, all the while writing and editing a score of books—poetry, biography, studies and anthologies of Kentucky and Alabama literature. He wrote on country music and Southern humor. He endowed the Hall literary prize at his alma mater, Troy University, and saw his book “Conecuh People” made into a successful play,
Hall was also a tireless, not to say obsessive, collector. At the time of his death in 2015 he had amassed over 100,000 books, photographs, Civil War documents, works of art and of course, postcards. His postcard collection extends from the late 1800s to about 1950, in black and white and in color.
His volume of Kentucky postcards, “Greetings from Kentucky,” was published in 1994.
Now, NewSouth Books has issued “Greetings from Alabama.” This collection of 400 cards is only a fraction of the total. In his Foreword to the book, then-Dean of Libraries at UA Dr. Louis Pitschmann tells us Hall had 25,000 postcards, 2,000 of which depict Alabama locations. Pitschmann quotes Wade Hall as saying his intent was “to document in words and pictures the culture that has shaped me and was beginning to fade as people adjusted to new ways and inventions of the 20th century.”
In the Introduction to this volume, partly reprinted from the Kentucky volume, Hall teaches the reader about postcards.
Postcards began about 1873 and collecting became a craze from the 1890s until after WWI. Hall says tens of thousands of people attended postcard shows each year. There were postcard clubs. People collected and traded cards and set them, like stamps, in attractive albums.
People who cared about and studied postcards were called deltiologists, from the Greek deltos, meaning writing tablet or letter.
There were images of nearly everything: towns, churches, colleges, city halls, restaurants, a lot of motels and hotels, mansions, Confederate statues, waterfalls, marketplaces complete with cotton bales, all kinds of businesses. Aerial views were very popular. There are even underground photos, of Cathedral Caverns in Marshall County, for instance. Some postcards had jokes printed on them. Hall says there have been, over time, more than 10,000 different Santa Claus cards.
You could have a card made, with you on it, standing in front of your house or, if you wished, pretending to be a cowboy in a saloon. Photographers had studio sets made, with costumes.
This volume covers the state of Alabama geographically, beginning in the southwest corner in Mobile County and ending in the northeast corner in Jackson County.
Naturally the big cities are more fully represented but there are cards from everywhere. Readers will be interested to see the changes in a place like Dexter Avenue in Montgomery, or Dauphin Street in Mobile or University Boulevard, then called Oak Street, in Tuscaloosa. And it is a treat to see photos of churches, statues, parks or government buildings which for one reason or another, fire or urban renewal, just aren’t there anymore.
I found this collection a real pleasure to peruse.
Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.” A shorter form of this review was originally broadcast on Alabama Public Radio.