Did the Indiana Toll Road really need this post card?


The instant captured by John Penrod on this sunny day in Indiana, three cars were tooling down the highway. We don’t know who they were or why they were traveling this particular stretch of pristine asphalt but by God we know where they were – right there, in Indiana, on apparently one of the state’s highlights.

John Penrod, the photographer died last year in Michigan. The 86-year-old’s legacy stems from his company, Penrod-Hiawatha, Michigan’s largest postcard distributor. For years, he had traveled Michigan and obviously parts of Indiana making photographs of natural and manmade sights that ended up on postcard racks in tourist haunts and hotels.

In Penrod’s day, postcards were still the primary way to send back quick snapshots to your pals or family members. Sorry, sucker, we’re seeing the sights and you’re not. We’re seeing the giant balls of twine and spotless ribbons of highway, not you. We’re overeating at the Snotty Pines Restaurant in Weaselville, Pennsylvania, and enjoying every gas-producing bite while we’re on vacation, ha.

Obviously, Facebook and the rest of the “social” sites have taken a hefty bite of the postcard market. Sad for the industry but it does put them in more of a historical and ethnographic context now. You’re right, postcards will not be elevated to the level of cave paintings or Egyptian hieroglyphics; well, maybe not just yet.

We’re recently picked up several hundred postcards from the 1930s and 1940s. The colors are largely over-saturated and there has been some creative editing and clean up but those penny postcards are now what we have to remember what we were and what we did. These are not the scribblings of Founding Fathers but of our own fathers and mothers and grandparents who picked up a batch of postcards at the Stuckeys and then wrote them out while knocking back that bologna sandwich.

The images of early Florida, New York, Arizona, and all the other places where we dared to travel without Google Maps were adventures captured on those little rectangles of paper. Even Mr. Penrod’s photograph of that lonely stretch of Indiana highway means that we will always know exactly what it looked like that day, in that time.

Thanks, John, for doing that for us.

If you get a chance, stop by our Ebay shop. We will be listing this post card and hundreds more.


The AP story regarding Mr. Penrod’s passing.

September 2015

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. (AP) – John Penrod, a prolific photographer whose pictures of Michigan have been displayed in calendars and on postcards, has died. He was 86.

Starks Family Funeral Homes says Penrod died Saturday at a hospital in St. Joseph in southwestern Michigan. He lived nearby in Berrien Center.

The Herald-Palladium reports that Penrod’s company, Penrod-Hiawatha, grew to become the largest Michigan-based postcard distributor. He took pictures of lighthouses, waterfalls, sunsets, parks, rainbows, rivers and other natural features.

Penrod told the newspaper that his favorite photo showed lightning over the Mackinac Bridge.

In 1995, he shrugged off questions about retirement, saying: “How can you retire when you don’t work? It’s a job people would almost pay to do.”


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