AFTER 9/11, THE TWIN TOWERS WERE GONE, BUT THE POSTCARDS DEPICTING THEM WERE NOT
By ADAM BUCKMAN
NEW YORK, Sept 6, 2016 — In the days immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, when Times Square was largely deserted, I went there in search of postcards of the World Trade Center.
I had long collected New York City postcards, focusing mainly on the ones displayed on racks outside the souvenir stores — from Times Square to Greenwich Village.
The racks had handwritten signs on them offering as many as eight postcards for a dollar. I theorized the storekeepers placed these low-priced postcards outside their shops as a way of drawing the tourists inside, where they hoped they would spend more money.
So it was with a deep sense of satisfaction that I would choose my cards, walk inside, hand the cashier a dollar and then leave, foiling their plot to induce me to spend more.
The postcards on the outdoor racks were generally the oldest ones in the store’s inventory, obsolete and out-of-date, which is why I liked them. In the 1980s — the decade in which I arrived in New York City — I made an informal collection of postcards from these racks, targeting only the postcards with images from before the 1980s.
The pictures they were printed with were from bygone decades — from the 1970s, ’60s and ’50s.
In those days, I was drawn to postcards that struck me as odd, such as the one below showing the Port Authority Bus Terminal on Eighth Avenue. What were you supposed to write on this one to your friend or loved one? Wish you were here, at Port Authority?Occasionally, I’d find some that were just beautiful, such as these two, below.
OLD POSTCARDS IN DESERTED SOUVENIR SHOPS
With the Times Square souvenir shops and their postcard racks in mind, I hatched the idea of browsing there for World Trade Center postcards a few days after 9/11.
Perhaps I wished to find in the old postcards something to grab onto from the era which had fallen away mere days ago — the era before the World Trade Center became known as “Ground Zero.”
The idea came to me as I was seated in my cubicle at work, halfheartedly watching the TV coverage of the aftermath of the attacks.
Unable to fix my attention on the news coverage for very long, I contemplated the bare walls above my cubicle divider (I had never formed the habit of decorating my workspaces). I wondered if tacking up a few World Trade Center postcards there would be an appropriate thing to do.
The office where I worked was one block east of Times Square, on Sixth Avenue between 47th and 48th streets. So at midday, off I went to the fabled “crossroads of the world” — a place that should have been crowded at that time of year with hordes of tourists.
This year, however, they had all gone home. It was so quiet you could hear the revolving postcard racks creak as you turned them. Inside the normally bustling souvenir shops, there were now no customers. The store managers and cashiers looked morose, shell-shocked.
As I expected, postcards of the World Trade Center were still abundant — depicting the buildings in contexts that were both humorous and majestic.
The postcard at the top at this blog post — with the title “Skyline With an Attitude” printed on the reverse — was purchased at around the same time as the King Kong postcard, above. This “middle-finger” postcard was widely available for several years before the attacks, but it seems even more timely and appropriate after them.
I found postcards of the World Trade Center photographed from a variety of viewpoints — from New Jersey and Brooklyn, from the air and from the water.
There were views of the buildings at all times of day.
The ubiquitous towers were seen everywhere, even in the backgrounds of other postcards. Looking at the postcards today reminds me of what we used to say about the Twin Towers in the West Village, where we then lived and where the towers loomed from every angle. “Everywhere you look, they’re not there,” we would say in the days following the attacks.
They’re even seen in this vintage postcard from long before 9/11, sent to me by a friend in 1981.
One of the postcards I found in Times Square was a work of art.
AFTER THE ATTACKS, THE TOWERS CAME DRAPED IN RED, WHITE & BLUE
It wasn’t long before the new postcards appeared — the ones with the Statue of Liberty crying, or the Twin Towers draped in elongated flags.
The stars and stripes began to appear everywhere, even standing in for the very sky against which the Twin Towers once stood, as in these four postcards.
Postcard designers cleverly incorporated the fluttering flags and their stars and stripes in a variety of ways.
Some postcards took up the theme of the World Trade Center’s lifespan — 1973-2001 — as if the buildings were a person who had just died. Well, maybe they did “live,” in a sense …
It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since the Towers fell. What more is there to say? Greetings from Ground Zero, wish you were here?
Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com