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A HISTORY OF TALL-TALE POSTCARDS

A HISTORY OF TALL-TALE POSTCARDSTall-Tale Postcards

The Seymour Community Historical Society has a large collection of area postcards. A number of these are humorous and are the result of the work of Alfred Stanley Johnson, Jr., (1863-1932), a photographer from Waupun. He specialized in tall-tale postcards featuring oversized produce, animals and unusual scenes featuring automobiles. Staging his family and friends to pantomime story lines, Johnson added enlarged images of fruits, vegetables, and animals to fit in the set-up background. The tall-tale postcard was intended to extol the superiority of Wisconsin soils, attributing the giant crops and animals to the ingenuity of local communities.

The basic process for creating a tall-tale, postcard is simple: a photographer would take two prints, one a background landscape and another a close-up of an object, carefully cut out the second and superimpose it onto the first, and re-shoot the combination to create a final composition.

The most common subjects were food resources specific to the region — vegetables, fruits, or fish. Successful tall-tale postcard artists were those not only skilled enough to seamlessly join together two images, but also those able to envision and create dynamic compositions, often involving people mid-action. Though difficult to perfect, the resultant product was compelling, evoking a documentary snapshot. It seems the main intent of the creative photographer was to generate a profit even if it meant stretching the truth. The card showing the huge fish attacking the angler implies there is great fishing in Seymour. The same thing could be said about the huge watermelons causing the farm wagon to break down.

As automobile travel increased in popularity, the photographer’s attention turned to humorous scenes on the highway. In the postcard saying, “We Never Stop” A man is driving an old-fashioned car with three women passengers on a road littered with cows. The driver has hit a cow with the car, causing it to fly into the air. The cow in midair appears to be a drawn element, not from a photographed source. Text in the upper portion bears the inscription, "Scene on the road near Seymour, Wis."

The creative photographer printed thousands of the cards simply changing the name of the city. Even though the cards were meant to be humorous, they do portray the history of the area. The cards, from 1915-1921 illustrate that cows often obstructed the roads and that the dirt roads needed maintenance as indicated by reference to “Beware of the water wagon,” and the steamroller. Perhaps the most important message conveyed by the postcards is that humor has always been an important part of American life.

If you have any postcards, pictures, papers, or items of historical significance, and would like them preserved for future generations to appreciate, contact a member of the Seymour Community Historical Society.

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