Friday, 7 January 2011

Postcards from the past

I never get tired of old postcards. They offer a sudden, clear glimpse to the past - not the kind where you look over your shoulder and see a hazy collection of memories and imaginary moving picture, but the kind that is still, sharp and analytical. Old postcards are what they wanted us to see from that place, that time. "Dream of this!", they ask, and the end result is never a dream, but a prettied-up picture of what once was, for real.

My relatively small collection of asylum postcards received two new arrivals on Christmas. The colourful one was sent in 1916. The black-and-white one is not stamped, but the window format was patented in 1905. Behind the small flap on the postcard, a collection of Binghamton sights and sceneries opens up. The Stone Opera House is now closed, its windows boarded. The horse carriages in front of the Press Building have been replaced by wandering drunks and restless youth. The City Hall moved to an ugly, dirty-gray 1970s building complex. The Lackawanna Railroad Station no longer serves passanger traffic. The towers of the State Hospital crumbled down years ago. The hospital is currently being developed into a facility to be used by the university; the renovation will cost millions of dollars.

I never get tired of old postcards, and I never get tired of asking "what happened here?". Binghamton used to be a stunningly beautiful, lively town. Then the money went elsewhere. People stopped caring. It looks like it is on its last breath now, dying slowly but surely.


Anonymous said...

Oh, I do remember that you wrote about postcards from asylmus. It seemed (still does) something completely new to me. I was never aware there was anything like a "postcard from an asylum". Did I miss something? or are they simply nonexistant in my country? (I need to check this one out one day)
I personally don't like old postacards but the weird fact is that it's for the same reason you never tire of them. They show the past in its exact shape; clear edges of things that once were and now are gone. And it always pains me to see those gaping holes, those things lost forever. I prefer my memory and memory of others as memories are susceptible to various influences, to lies even. Memories create a third world; they're a mixture of the real past and our present hindsight, forming something extraordinary. I prefer this soft material to the sharp outline separating things which are from things which never will be again.

Charlotte said...

The sad fate of many a northeastern industrial town. Pennsylvania is full of them. At least the university is renovating the old building. So often they're torn down & the cost-effective eyesores go up in their places.

I love old postcards, too. I have some of cotton mills in the south--they seem so delicate, given what they depict!