Rarer than a Blue Moon: Postcards of the Witching Hour
Out of nearly 25,000 vintage postcards scanned by the Boston Public Library
, fewer than 400 depict night scenes. These ultra-rare specimens are invariably intriguing for their auras of mystery. While moonlight gets good press by the romantics amongst us, the truth is that dark waters hide who-knows-what (serpents, at the very least), and shadowy corners of shrubbery may conceal skulduggery. And so a sense of foreboding precedes our curation of postcards of the night.
Why are fewer than 2% of postcards moonlit?
Simply put, the ancients avoided what we might call "lunacy triggers." Even a painted depiction of a full moon reflects light, just like its heavenly counterpart, and therefore was credited with the ability to engender madness (whether full-fledged mental illness, an eccentric variety of "mad genius," or mere foolishness).* So as to decrease culpability, postcard manufacturers of old perhaps went overboard in avoiding moonlit scenes. Surely 99% sunlight is an over-reaction to a fear of lunacy? And yet the fear was not unfounded, due to the fact that printer's ink is subject to lunar gravitational pulls. "It is not just the oceans that submit to the tides of the Moon. Anything liquid ... is subject to the effects of the Moon" (D. G. Farnsworth, Superstar Passage: The Reincarnation of Karen Carpenter
, 2009). Hence, the microcosm of the postcard "closely connects with the larger world ... or cosmos of the universe" (ibid.).
*"The image of the moon ... gives rise symbolically to a double meaning of both lunacy (in its Western connotation) and enlightenment (in its Chinese etymological implication)" (Tina Ilgo, "The Moon as a Symbol and Central Motif in Lu Xun's Short Stories," Modernisation of Chinese Culture: Continuity and Change
Why is every moon in postcards at its fullest phase?
Even when the moon is not visible in a postcard of the night, the scene is nearly always illuminated by full-moonlight. Artist Marcia Milner-Brage
explains the phenomenon: "I'll never tire of trying to capture the night. And a full moon is irresistible." In two incredibly rare exceptions, there appears to be not a crescent moon so much as a lunar eclipse:
Why is every moon in postcards yellow-to-orange in color?
We presume that the postcard artists did not consciously much less collectively decide to eschew the moon's standard silvery-white. The predominant orange color suggests the harvest moon, which recalls pagan festivals. That's because "the lure of paganism will never die. ... [I]ts attraction is fixed in man's psyche. ... And it will recur, often in the most intellectual of times, till the end-of-time!" (Lawrence Murray, The Guardians
, 2002). Modern societies continue to embrace Halloween, evidence that paganism has left its mark and indeed "will endure for many more millennia just the way it is currently" (Jeff Pierce & Frank Muller, "Paganism Vs. Christianity," 2012).
Nothing reflects moonlight like the Great White Sands:
A moonbow -- a rare phenomenon:
Searchlights in the sky:
The eerie night-bloom cactus of Florida:
From night trains to night waterfalls to the pagodas of Pennsylvania:
An evening star, of sorts:
Out of the darkness into mysterious depths:
A Jersey toll plaza -- if this is a novelty postcard, it's presented deadpan:
A light in the tower:
The road to the moon:
Fire meets water: the night fountains:
A solarium at night:
Sometimes postcards wish to be moonlit when they aren't:
If our journey through the night has given you the heebie-jeebies, repeat to yourself that "It's only a movie":
Here's the rest of the collection of postcards of the night: