I moved to New York City in the late 80’s to pursue a career in Theatre. Fresh out of college and reeking of Sheltered Suburban Upbringing, I was a magnet for misdeed and misadventure. The pre-Disney Manhattan of the 70’s and 80’s was nothing like the effusive urban playground of today. Grimy and unsparing, New York City in the 80’s was the backdrop for my coming of age as an adult and subsequent innumerable calamities.
I recently struck up a friendship with a young artist studying at NYU. While swapping New York stories, I recounted my tales of subway stalkers, pickpockets and gropers, ATM scams, burglaries, verbal assaults, and collective indifference, to which he replied,
“Ooh…you lived in SCARY New York!”
I suddenly felt really old, but oddly revered: The redevelopment of New York’s midtown in the last 20 years has turned SCARY New York of the 70’s and 80’s into a Folkloric abstraction. I was now a Tribal Elder and Survivor, propagating the legend!
I recently found several Curt Teich linen vintage postcards of New York City at a local Antique dealer. I am not any kind of authority on the subject of vintage postcards, but I loved these images so much – with their vivid colors and bold rendering, I did a bit of research on their origin: From 1898 to 1978, Curt Teich & Company was the world’s largest printer of “view and advertising” postcards. Apparently, post cards published by Curt Teich (later known as Curteich) from the mid-1930s through the 1950s have an easy-to-understand built-in dating system. I haven’t looked into those details yet, a far more compelling and obvious time stamp would be the actual postmark: 1954, 1934, and 1925! The messages on the back of these cards were as rosy as the gleaming skyscrapers and shimmering bridges they depicted:
April 20th, 1954: “Dear Mother & Dad, It’s 10:30 Tues. am – waiting to go through U.N bldg. … Mon. – Statue of Liberty, rode subway – (elevated), ate at Automat, saw TV show “On Your Account” – went to Radio City Music Hall last night – Easter Show gorgeous, Love – …”
And this one:
August 7th, 1925: “We are having a fine time in N.Y.C. We are going to sail for Europe at 12:00 tonight…”
This was New York of a different Zeitgeist…this was the city I fell in love with while watching Ann Marie and Holly Golightly scurry across wide pristine avenues, enrapturing strangers and passersby…all from the toasty vantage point of my foot pajamas. A New York City with a sense of wonder – or was that my six year-old self? These postcards are gifts from the past – a touchstone for the innocence and optimism in me that prevails, but is kept hidden.
I was so inspired by these images; I retouched some of my own photographs to mimic their dewy-cheeked vintage style. Here is the result:
Oh, and for anyone who wants to know the outcome of my New York theatrical pursuits: I left New York in 1995, to join the German company of CATS, which was enjoying a long run in the sumptuous city of Hamburg Germany, where I lived VERY happily for the next 11 years!