Real photo postcard from the first World War
Three Autochrome color photos by Belgian photographer Alfonse Van Besten (1865-1926). “Autochrome Lumière” was a fascinating color process, using potato starch on a glass plate, patented by the Lumière brothers in France.
“Winter Scene in Park” 1912
“Once I was very hungry and lonely in Tennessee. I had been walking most of the day in the Cumberland Mountains without coming to a single house, but in crossing a dark-shaded stream whose border trees closed over it like a leafy sky I found the frail Dicksonia that I had looked for so long, and the first Magnolia, too, that I had ever seen. I sat down and reveled in the glory of my discoveries. A mysterious breathing of wind moved in the trees, and the stream sang cheerily at every ripple. There is no place so impressively solitary as a dense forest with a stream passing over a rocky bed at a moderate inclination.
“Feelings of isolation soon caught me again among these hushed sounds, but one of the Lord’s smallest birds came out to me from some bushes at the side of a moss-clad rock. It had a wonderfully expressive eye, and in one moment that cheerful, confiding bird preached me the most effectual sermon on heavenly trust that I had ever heard through all the measured hours of Sabbath, and I went on not half so heart-sick, nor half so weary.”
– John Muir, who in 1867 walked 1,000 miles from Indianapolis to Cedar Keys, Florida, recalling a moment on his journey in The Wilderness World of John Muir (1954) edited by Edwin Way Teale; the picture above is of the Dicksonia fern.
“By felling trees that cover the tops and sides of mountains, men in every climate prepare at once two calamities for future generations: the want of fuel and a scarcity of water… When forests are destroyed, as they are everywhere in America by the European planters with an imprudent precipitation, the springs are entirely dried up or become less abundant. The beds of the rivers, remaining dry during a part of the year, are converted into torrents whenever great rains fall on the heights. The sward and moss disappear with the brushwood from the sides of the mountains, the waters falling in rain are no longer impeded in their course; and instead of slowly augmenting the level of the rivers by progressive filtrations, they furrow during heavy showers the sides of the hills, bear down the loosened soil, and form these sudden inundations that devastate the country. Hence it results that the destruction of the forests, the want of permanent springs, and the existence of torrents are three phenomena closely connected together.”
– Alexander von Humboldt in Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent (1815), quoted in David McCullough’s Brave Companions: Portraits in History (1992)
“The wind riffled the ten thousand pages of the oak tree.”
– David Mitchell in Black Swan Green (2006)
While searching for information on this postcard of the Wawona Tree Tunnel, cut into a giant sequoia that stood in the Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park, I found the tree was the subject of scores of postcards, family photos, even paintings. It was tunneled in 1881; two men were paid $75 to enlarge a fire scar to create a squared opening. The tree had been leaning prior to this, and the tunneling caused it to lean even more, but no one worried as the tunnel became a marvel and tourist attraction which overshadowed any damage.
In the photos above, the cut appears fresh.
A man modest enough to stand aside.
Shown above is Galen Clark (1814-1910), said to be the first European-American to discover the Mariposa Grove, notable for his role in urging legislation to protect Yosemite, and for his 24 years as Guardian of Yosemite National Park.
Above, a drawing of the tree on the cover of Clark’s book (1910).
A horse and wagon pass through in this photo by Taber of San Francisco.
A bit hard to read, but I believe this one is a 1903 image by Julius T. Boysen.
The horses go first in this undated image.
And they acquire some color.
A horse and buggy pass through in this early tinted image.
Also tinted, these horses know to show their best profile.
Above, images from early stereoviews.
Painting by Thomas Hill (1829-1908), an American artist who did many paintings of California landscape, including the Yosemite Valley.
Photo of Norwegian-American artist Chris Jorgensen (1860-1935), circa 1894, painting the tree.
President Theodore Roosevelt is in this group visiting in 1903.
In 1909, President William Howard Taft visited. Taft (hat off in carriage) was with John Muir, Maj. Forsythe, Congressmen McKinley and Englebright, Gov. Gillett, Charles Forbes, and Capt. Butts. The photo was by a Mr. Boysen, courtesy of the National Park Service.
I love the flag in this one.
Eventually, automobiles replaced horse-drawn wagons.
This photo by Pillsbury’s of Yosemite, California.
And some people no longer bothered to get out of their cars…
… unless they were really good looking…
…or hoped to be…
… or were part of a group of servicemen photographed by Ansel Adams in 1943.
Also in 1943, the Southern Pacific Railroad commissioned National Color Press of San Francisco to produce a portfolio of prints titled “Scenic Grandeur of the West.” Above is one of the prints from the portfolio. Which apparently became the postcard below.
After that, it was cars of many colors.
I’m not sure when the final car drove through, but the tree fell over during a snowstorm in 1969 — with an estimated two tons of snow in its crown — and fortunately no one was posing. Although for the expressions on their faces, that would have been a postcard worth seeing.