Sunday, May 31, 2015

Picture Postcards from Des Moines to Peru

In late December 1910, Joe Becker set out from Peru, Indiana, aboard the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, bound for Des Moines, Iowa, and a job with the Jewel Tea Company. Married earlier that year to young Marie Silberman, he would leave her behind for awhile for work in a faraway city. Within days of his arrival--maybe even on the day of his arrival--he began sending postcards back home. This was during the picture postcard craze of the early 1900s. The difference between Joe's cards and thousands of others flying through the mail every day is that his were hand-drawn and hand-colored. Joe Becker himself was the artist, and his postcards offer a charming view of life in 1910 and 1911. They also give us an idea of the love and devotion Joe Becker felt for his young wife.

Joseph H. Becker was born in 1881 in Indiana. On April 11, 1910 (her obituary says 1911), he married Marie I. Silberman, who, in January, had reached age twenty-one. The newlyweds enjoyed their first eight months together. By Christmas they had a home at 85 East Eighth Street in Peru, a squarish wooden frame house, painted green, with a swing on the porch and a dog in the yard. On Christmas evening, the Beckers held a party at their house. Joe played the fiddle and called the dance while Marie looked on from beside the Christmas tree. Gertrude and Mary shared a place at the upright piano, and Papa danced with Mrs. Mulcahy. Rose, dressed in Christmas colors, had Jess as her partner. Helen and Fred danced together, too, but Mayme and Graham were the ones who really kicked up their heels.

Sometime between Christmas and December 29, Joe got on the train to Des Moines. For the next couple of months, he batched it in an Iowa rooming house, faithfully sending back to Marie his postcards, sometimes two in one day. I have twenty-three of them in all, but there must have been more. The first is from December 29, the last from April 1. The first four cards are quick sketches in ink that has become sepia-toned with age. The card from January 3 is the first in color. Joe let his beard get a little scruffy in Des Moines. His home habits might have suffered a little, too. One highlight of his time away was a trip to the Palace Skating Rink, one that ended in "tradegy" when he fell from his wheeled feet.

I don't know when Joe Becker returned to Peru and to his Marie. As their first anniversary approached, Joe drew the last of the cards I have in my possession. The card is not postmarked but instead dated April 1--April Fool's Day. Joe and Marie lived most of their lives in their hometown of Peru, where they reared two sons and a daughter. The postcards I have presumably came down through their daughter, thence presumably to her own children or grandchildren, thence to a fellow parishioner. After she passed away, they went to her husband, a longtime photographer in Peru. From him they came into our family.

Joe Becker the artist died in 1945. Marie Becker, the recipient of those long-ago postcards, followed him to the grave in 1964. Both are buried in St. Charles Catholic Cemetery in Peru.

Text and captions copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

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