Fantastic harvests of the past

Published 9:40 am Saturday, September 24, 2011

Graphic by Kathy Johnson/Albert Lea Tribune

About a century ago folks could purchase postcards publicizing the super-size vegetables and fruits grown in the Albert Lea area.

Card courtesy Freeborn County Historical Museum

For just a penny postage these cards could be used to inform folks in other parts of the nation about a cucumber which would overfill an old skid or sled, plus strawberries larger than watermelons.

In reality, these cards were actually exaggerations. And that’s the word the late Kevin Savick used when he filed the cards in a special photo album. Now, the odd postcards, plus so much more local material, are in the archives of the Freeborn County Historical Museum Library.

Card courtesy Freeborn County Historical Museum

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During his years of doing research on local life, Savick would purchase any items with connections to the city. These postcards with their motto of “How We Do Things in Albert Lea” certainly met this standard. He purchased these and other items from antique dealers, collectors, area residents and on the Internet.

Card courtesy Freeborn County Historical Museum

A close examination of this group of unusual old cards clearly indicates they were carefully created by A.S. Johnson Jr. from Waupun, Wis. (near Fond Du Lac). The copyright dates on the cards range from 1910 to 1913.

One could assume the postcards in this series were specifically created for sale in Albert Lea. In reality, these manipulated scenes were custom printed for sales in various communities in the region. Its very likely the same scenes highlighting the fantastic crops were also on sale in Austin, Owatonna and many other cities.

Maybe a local person with a sense of humor might send a postcard featuring the giant ears of corn to a friend or relative up north. This other person might in turn send back a postcard with a scene based on huge fish just waiting to be caught. And at this point the local person could recall seeing this very same card for sale in a nearby store indicating the fish were in either Fountain or Albert Lea Lake.

— Cards courtesy Freeborn County Historical Museum

Card courtesy Freeborn County Historical Museum

Photo courtesy Freeborn County Historical Museum