Real life heroes on postcards

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Gandhi is shown lying in state in 1948. His non-violent resistance to British rule has made him a hero for the ages.

Recognizing superheroes on postcards is easy. They sport bright tights and possess special powers. It’s much harder to put together a collection of real life heroes, mainly because everyone’s list of deserving people is different.

There are heroic leaders, military heroes, health heroes, explorers, adventurers and ordinary people who perform amazing feats of courage and self-sacrifice. (Note that “hero” as used here includes both genders.) As a postcard topic, real life heroes can be both illuminating and inspiring.

If postcard collectors have one thing in common, it’s a desire to keep learning. The person who looks for hometown views constantly gathers new bits of information. The fan of artist-signed cards wants to know about the background of favorites. Ask anyone what he or she collects, and you’ll find a person devoted to expanding knowledge as well as finding new images.

There are two ways to go in putting together a collection of real life heroes. The first is to look for famous people and decide later whether the person qualifies as a “hero.” With information so easily available on the Internet and in public libraries, this can lead to some really interesting research.

Take Charles Lindbergh, for example. In 1927 he was credited with making the first non-stop solo flight from New York to Paris. The country went wild over their “hero,” an aviator who had been working as an airmail pilot on the St. Louis-Chicago run. His triumph turned to tragedy when his infant son was kidnapped and murdered and the family retreated to Europe. His plane, the “Spirit of St. Louis,” can still be seen at the Smithsonian.

Lindbergh postcards can be found without great difficulty, but it’s an individual decision whether to include the flyer in a modern-day collection of heroes. (Check out his politics.)

A more focused approach is to make a list of most-admired people and choose one or a few as subjects in a comprehensive collection.
Everyone’s choices will be different. Presidents, war heroes and social activists like the early abolitionists are popular today. Yesterday’s adventurers like the early polar explorers and the first astronauts have great appeal, but tracing more obscure heroes can be wonderfully challenging too.

For better or worse, I’ve always followed the first method: collect first, then see what I have. But even this hit-and-miss approach has helped me focus on a few most-admired heroes. As a child I had a lot of “pen pals.” One in India sent me five memorial cards made after the death of Mahatma (the Great Soul) Gandhi in 1948, which I still consider among the most valuable in my collection.

Postcards relating to Martin Luther are relatively easy to find but invaluable when they lead to a study of his role in the Protestant Reformation. I augmented my Luther collection by creating a few maximum cards (postcard with related cancel and stamp) when the U.S. issued a stamp honoring him in 1983.

Jeanne d’Arc, the French peasant girl who led an army, is endlessly fascinating, and her life is well commemorated on French cards. Another woman who belongs in the hero (heroine) category is Florence Nightingale. Her postcards aren’t common, even though she was the first to establish a training school for nurses – a lasting contribution to society.

Pick a real life hero, and endless possibilities open up. Besides portraits reproduced on postcards, there are birthplaces, relatives, statues, residences, monuments and cards related to accomplishments.

Biographies open endless possibilities. The best postcard of all would be one actually written by a hero. Finding an autographed one is a big thrill too. (I may have a genuine Jimmy Doolittle autograph on a postcard of his plane, but it hasn’t been authenticated by an autograph expert.)

Real life heroes offer an engrossing way to collect, and better still, inspire our own lives.

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More Images:

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Charles Lindbergh, one of America's great heroes. Photo courtesy of www.oldpostcards.com
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A real photo from Monroe, Mich., shows how time changes our concept of what a hero is. This is a real photo scene of the 1910 unveiling of a Custer statue. He was a hero in the Civil War, but, by modern standards, covered himself with shame as an Indian fighter.
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Robert E. Peary's status as a hero has slipped since J. I. Austen Co. Chicago made this 1910 era postcard. Their long series featured the most admired people at the time and includes some people still considered real life heroes.

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