Material History of American Religion Project

Preserved postcards

These objects suggest no deep insights into American religious life--except for the richness of the subject. Project scholar Judith Weisenfeld found these postcards at a used bookstore near her home in Brooklyn. They depict religious sites in Brooklyn, most from the early years of this century.

hospital.jpg (48457 bytes)The first is a picture of the chapel of the Methodist Episcopal Hospital. It is postmarked 4 August 1919, and is addressed to Miss Emma Clark of Hoinsville, New Jersey. The message on the back reads: Dear Friend: Please tell all you may see tomorrow, Sat., that there will be no official board meeting Sat. night. Have been confined to bed all week. Outlook discouraging. Yours. Robert Gray. The storyteller in every historian has to wonder about this message. Was Gray in the hospital for influenza, during the 1919 national epidemic? Did he go all the way from his New Jersey home to Brooklyn just to be in a Methodist hospital? Did he survive to attend another official board meeting?

stjohns.jpg (52717 bytes)The second is a picture of the sanctuary of St. John’s Methodist Episcopal Church. It was printed by the church’s Epworth League, the local chapter of the national Methodist Episcopal organization for young people. Members of the Epworth League organized social events (see another document), did Bible study, and raised money for the church through good works. The printing of this postcard presumably fell into the last category.

anthony.jpg (43862 bytes)The third shows St. Anthony’s altar in Our Lady of Peace Church at 322 Carroll Street in Brooklyn. Printed on the back is the message, "I pray to St. Anthony for you--during the Devotion of the 13 Tuesdays." Regrettably, I don’t know enough about St. Anthony or the Devotion of the 13 Tuesdays to offer an interpretation; if one of my readers knows more I’ll be happy to pass it along.

These postcards, found in an old neighborhood store, reflect the richness of American religion, and the richness of potential sources. By creating and selling the postcards the printers helped share the images with a broader audience, and made some money. By sending them, good Methodists and Catholics could show their pride in their churches, and pass along a message to a friend. By keeping them, the recipients preserved the memories of these friendships and the religious institutions.

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