Massachusetts “In the Future” — ca. 1908

by Paula Bosse

I stumbled across this absolutely fantastic “futuristic” postcard showing a circa-1908 vision of what everyday life in the small village of Baldwinville, Massachussets would one day be like. And, wow.

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There’s a lot going on here — it’s worth taking a closer look. (Click images to see larger pictures.)

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Very enjoyable. Quite the emphasis on flying contraptions. I started looking around for more information on this and discovered that this type of postcard appears to have been something of a fad in the years leading up to about 1910. Almost all of the ones I came across were cards featuring locations in New England states. I can only assume they were produced by the same company — either that or there was a lot of pilfering of images going on. These cards inevitably feature the same cut-up/cut-out photos pasted on top of traditional postcard views of towns — you see the same dirigibles, the same kissing lovers in balloons, the same motorists, etc., resulting in oddly familiar “futuristic” collages. The color postcards — like the one above — are definitely much more aesthetically satisfying — like little Terry Gilliam-esque works of art — but I think I might prefer the black-and-white cards (below), which, though more amateurishly rendered, are more weirdly surreal. 

Here’s a look at several examples. First, Pittsfield, Massachusetts “in the *near* future” (note that there’s often some sort of chaotic accident in these color cards).

pittsfield-MA_in-the-future_postcard_flickr_steve-shook_color

And Greenfield, Mass.

greenfield-MA_in-the-future_postcard_flickr_steve-shook_color

And Orange, Mass.

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A lot of the same elements/cuts are used in all of these — one which I couldn’t not see is the waving and smiling woman who is on or at what appears to be either a scooter of some sort or maybe a small bicycle.

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She’s not particularly representative of the future, but if nothing else, she’s certainly omnipresent. As I continued looking for more of these “in the future” images, I was a little surprised to see her show up in an earlier set of French postcards in which she was still cavorting in the future — in the same outfit and in the same pose… but on another continent! See her waving from “Paris Futur” here and here

The black-and-white postcards are somewhat more “realistic” than the ones above. …Somewhat. It’s interesting that they all envision subway service from their modest burgs to New York or Boston. But the emphasis seems to be on air travel — and, man, I fear for the safety of those airborne commuters manning the controls of the various aircraft cluttering up the sky.

First up, Stoneham, Mass.

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Revere, Mass.

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Grafton, Mass.

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South Lancaster, Mass.

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And, my favorite, Townsend, Mass.

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From other series of wondering-what-things-will-be-like-in-the-future postcards, these two color images seem more like straight-forward illustrations than bizarre collages. Revere Beach in the future:

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And, somewhat anticlimactically, a rather dull Boston, where there are a few problems with linear perspective:

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I love these imagined views of the future. Personally, I’d rather get from here to there in a dirigible than in a self-driving car. For me, the future of today is not nearly as interesting as the future of yesterday.

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Sources & Notes

The top image of the “Baldwinville, Mass. In Future” postcard is from Flickr, here. This particular card was mailed from Baldwinville on Nov. 27, 1908 with the following message: “Dear Susie, I got home at night but it was awful dark and was in the hotel at half past seven. They say that this is the way Baldwinville is going to look in a few years, I guess it will be quite a few years too, see the beer barrel going right up from the hotel. Ha Ha – Walter.”

Most of the other images were found on eBay, but several were found on the Flickr page of Steve Shook — see the rest of his collection of these gently futuristic postcards here.

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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