Postcards from the past

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The artesian well, shown in this postcard from April 1915, is a popular piece of McGregor’s history.

This early “mail card” depicts the Marquette (North McGregor) pontoon bridge. The card was double the width of a regular postcard, allowing senders to fold it in half and mail it. It’s one of the 700 postcards in Brian Hedeman’s collection, which he showcases on several Facebook pages.

Sending current, future generations on historical journey

 

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

We’ve all heard the line, “If you put it on the Internet, it’ll be around forever.” Brian Hedeman is banking on that.

The 1977 MarMac grad, now a resident of Eagan, Minn., is using the Internet—specifically Facebook—to share his collection of historic McGregor and Marquette postcards with the world.

Hedeman’s interest in postcards developed two decades ago.

“I was cleaning out my grandfather’s garage 20 years ago and came across some colorful postcards from somebody’s trip to California and back, and wondered if I could find any of McGregor,” he said.

It turns out, there are quite a few. He’s collected 700 postcards in the years since.

The majority were purchased over the Internet for $2 or $3 each, Hedeman said, from places like South Carolina, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania and California.

“Most people are surprised they come from all over the U.S.,” he remarked. “Only one or two are from Marquette or McGregor.”

The postcards, which feature scenery and well-known landmarks and buildings, date as far back as the early 1900s.

“McGregor was in its heyday when postcards first started to appear around 1900,” Hedeman noted.

Most postcards didn’t stay in the area because they were sent by people passing through. They’ve managed to have staying power, Hedeman said, largely thanks to estate sales.

“They were put in collections and books, and those albums find their way to re-sellers,” he said. “The postcards went like birds everywhere, and now I’m bringing them back.” 

When he first began collecting, Hedeman said he attempted to have a broader, more varied collection, “but it kept calling to me to collect only from McGregor and Marquette, to collect so we don’t forget.”

Hedeman is now what postcard enthusiasts call a “narrow collector,” as he focuses on geography and time. He said he’s not the only one.

“There are others who collect postcards of McGregor. It can be quite competitive,” he mentioned.

Hedeman said one of his favorite postcards is by CT Peick, a photographer who lived in McGregor around 1900.

“I’ve collected things he’s done. He’s an artist and captured many postcard views. He was part of the group promoting national parks,” Hedeman said, citing the local movement to create one large national park in the area, encompassing the Yellow River, Paint Creek, Effigy Mounds, the McGregor Heights, Pikes Peak and Sny Magill. Peick even created a brochure depicting Yellowstone and other famous parks; McGregor was included.

“He’s my muse,” Hedeman revealed. “One hundred years later, I’m bringing back his stuff.”

As Hedeman’s collection grew over the years, he said he began considering ways to share it. That’s when he came to the social media website Facebook. 

Not a fan of the Internet’s bevy of regurgitated, unoriginal content, he wanted to do something different.

“It’s a storytelling device,” he stated. “These are pictures of something original. Not only am I putting something out that’s recognizably historical, but I’m using Facebook in a more appealing way.”

First, last fall, he created the page “Friends of the Historic McGregor Heights,” which features a collection of history and narratives, with sources from many town historians. Hedeman also posts his own personal photography, along with some postcards.

“I have a cabin on the Heights. As a kid, I played there. I knew it was a special place,” he said. “We’re lucky to have such rich history. I wanted to focus on the Heights and tell the story of the Heights the best I could. I hope people will be more aware of its historic value.”

Hedeman said he wants to connect the Heights’ famed American School of Wildlife Protection to the current Driftless Area Wetlands Centre in Marquette. According to information from the Iowa State University Library, founded in 1919 and continuing each summer until 1941, the school promoted conservation through lectures and field trips, highlighting Native American history, botany, geology, forestry, entomology and ornithology.

The Wetlands Centre’s goal today is much the same, Hedeman said, noting, “We should support it and hang our hat on that. It’s continuing a legacy a lot of people don’t know about.”

A few months after creating the Heights Facebook page, Hedeman created three separate pages to feature his postcards: “Postcards from the Past—McGregor Iowa,” “Postcards from the Past—Marquette Iowa” and “Postcards from the Past—Pikes Peak State Park.” He tries to post on each page twice per week.

The pages are growing, with one recent post reaching 1,000 people, Hedeman commented. He said he’s glad to drive an interest in the area’s history, while also aiding the museums, Wetlands Centre and the communities themselves.

“I’m so glad people are enjoying it,” he said. “It’s something people grew up with that I’m sharing with them. Postcards tell a story—a picture is worth 1,000 words. People have feelings, emotions and memories of places.”

Hedemen said sharing the postcards, in turn, encourages his own sense of curiosity and allows him to share his love of the area.

“A piece of my heart is still here, like many who have moved away. It’s a labor of love,” he explained. “It connects me to where I grew up and the place that formed me as a kid. I’m a storyteller.”

They are stories Hedeman  hopes will live on for years to come.

“If you put the postcards out there on the Internet, they are there forever. Maybe, 20 years from now, a kid will be doing a report and say ‘Wow, I didn’t know that was there.’ It flips the script,” he marvelled. “I hope it’s forever. I hope the things people see will last a lifetime and will be there for future generations.”

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