Who Forted? Magazine

Postcards from the Edge: Strange Souvenirs

It was about a year ago when an accidental image popping up in a search led me down a path into antiques and greater questions about humankind’s slow descent into stupidity and thoughtlessness. I was doing research on the “Nephilim Giants” when I stumbled across a photograph of a postcard leading me to a Flickr account. As amusing as the image was, the text beneath it was truly mind-boggling:

Yes, you read that right. “And Photoshop didn’t exist back then.” Since the collectible postcard was B.P.—Before Photoshop—it had to be real. This leap in logic turned an ordinary day into a search for the history behind this and similar images and an attempt at saving countless more people from choosing the path of assumption over the trail of critical thinking. [UPDATE: While the postcard poster meant her statement entirely in jest, a simple search for 'giant grasshoppers' and other topics of similar postcards reveals a staggering suspension of disbelief and logic.]

As any of you who are older than 15 and ever dabbled in creating collages may know, there was a whole world of image manipulation going on before that image manipulation software we know as Photoshop was created. Simple cutting and pasting of images onto images, forced perspective, and double exposure were just a few tricks of the trade known still today by many in the world of graphics. Without these tricks, most of the Victorian ghost photographs—and every episode of South Park—could never have been made. But what about the giant grasshoppers? Where did this come from? Well, this and other similar novelty postcards are today classified as Exaggeration (or Tall-Tale) Postcards and their history is a bit amusing.

One of Martin’s original “photoshopped” postcards.

For as long as there have been cameras there has been trick photography. A photographer by the name of William Martin of Ottawa, Kansas, was considered one of the best. He first began creating mundane scenes with spliced-in giant fruit and creatures back in 1908. This venture proved very successful (and profitable) and led to his creation of the Martin Post Card Company the following year.

According to the Kansas Historical Society, there was another photographer named Frank “Pop” Conrad who, after experiencing a swarm of grasshoppers in the town of Garden City, was inspired to create manipulated postcards depicting huge grasshoppers in 1935. Known as “Hoppers Whoppers”, his postcards were made until 1963 when he retired from the business. I can’t be certain, but I’d say the photo on Flick that started this whole thing was either one of his last works of inspired by him.

Just out for a cruise down Main Street…

These postcards weren’t exactly complex to create. Objects from one photograph were carefully cut out and glued onto another photograph. In a way, you could say these images were the predecessors of today’s photoshopped images shared on social media sites by the thousands, especially memes. But today, we recognize modern altered images (most of the time) and even call them “photoshopped”—turning a product into a verb.

As shocking as it could be to some people, there was a world before Photoshop. Computers didn’t invent manipulation of images, sound, and video; they merely provided a new tool for these manipulations. You can find examples of cut-and-paste images, split-screen movies, and many other camera tricks in simpler forms a century ago. So why are we fooled by things so commonplace? How can a decades-old joke inspire someone to believe nuclear fallout created real giant grasshoppers? Are these images simply so well-crafted that they makes us do a double-take, or have we simply forgotten those famous words of Benjamin Franklin: “Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear”?

Ken Summers
Ken Summers is a historical researcher, author, and contributor/resident ghost geek for Who Forted? who started poking around northeast Ohio for hauntings just before GHI was born. After too much paradrama, he went solo with his website Moonspenders and delved mostly into researching history, leaving the super-serious "investigating" to the most staunch believers (a.k.a. "the Black Shirts"). Ken finds himself lost somewhere between "too smart to believe every legend at face value" and optimistic curiosity mixed with wishful thinking. He's had a handful of strange experiences that certainly fall under the category of "unexplained". Secretly, he wants to marry a werewolf and build a fully-functioning TARDIS.
Ken Summers
Ken Summers

4 Comments

  1. peegee

    12/14/2012 at 4:58 PM

    why are you assuming the postcard is actually from 1976? that would seem like the very first thing to question.

    • Ken Summers

      12/15/2012 at 6:43 AM

      He said he received it in the mail in 1976. That doesn’t mean it was from that year, but judging by the image I’d say 50s-70s sounds about right. I dug into it a little more… while I can’t find a year, it was made by Petley Studios of Phoenix. The image is attributed to a Mike Roberts.

      Bob Petley opened the studio in 1946. He mainly photographed Arizona and sold the photographs and postcards. He sold the business in 1984; Petley passed away in 2006 at the age of 94.

  2. M.J.

    07/26/2014 at 10:58 AM

    I’m the person who scanned the grasshopper postcard and posted it on my Flickr photostream. (I’m a “she”, BTW.) My caption was totally in jest, as would be apparent from reading the captions on my other Tall Tale postcards. I am neither stupid nor thoughtless. I did in fact receive the postcard in 1976, as the postmark can attest.

    • Ken Summers

      07/26/2014 at 6:29 PM

      I’m sorry, M.J. My apologies! After seeing so many Tall Tale postcards all over the internet creating actual debate as to their authenticity, I latched on to your Flickr image as an example of it all. I guess my sarcasm meter was broken that day, or it was worn down by so many conspiracy theorist comments on other images proclaiming these postcards as documented proof of all manner of bizarre experiments!

      I’ll correct the article. I’m glad the whole world hasn’t gone completely gullible quite yet!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>