Time and again

Posted on February 25, 2011


I’ve been scanning little treasures from Betty Beeby’s drawers again.  Sifting through the photos and advertising ephemera and greeting cards is like stepping back in time, right here at the north end of Torch Lake.  Then I saw the postcards.  Not quite a century ago, someone in the Pearl family bought some striking views of New York.  Betty’s father Norton probably. He had a good eye.

Did you ever read Jack Finney’s Time and Again?  I loved that book, a time travel adventure set in New York in 1882 and in The Present (1970).  Looking at these postcards was like reading a sequel.

The artist was Rachael Robinson Elmer, born to a Quaker family in Vermont in 1878.  Her parents recognized her talent early, and encouraged her to develop her full potential.  She studied at the Art Students League in New York, and loved the city, finally moving there to work in 1906.  She designed book covers and illustrated magazines and children’s books, but she’s best known for her fine art postcards. 

In 1914, P.F. Volland & Co. of Chicago (famous for the Raggedy Ann books) published a series of twelve chromolithographs of Elmer’s paintings of New York.  The Art Lovers’ New York — Volland Views series may be the most beautiful postcards I’ve ever seen.  (Click on a thumbnail to see a fullsize version.)


Wouldn’t you like to stroll those streets, in those times?  Of course, even in 1914 there was another side to the city of dreams.  Another horrific war was just beginning, and when it was over, the times would be out of joint.  Rachael, a Red Cross volunteer who spent a lot of time visiting returning soldiers in the hospital, died in the Spanish Influenza epidemic in 1919.   

The Robinsons were quite a remarkable family of farmers, abolitionists, artists and naturalists.  Today, their farm is a National Historic Landmark, and the site of the Rokeby Museum.  Like Betty Beeby and her family of Pearls, they apparently saved everything that was beautiful and useful.  I would love to paw through their drawers of tiny treasures! 

Mostly I would love to have cocktails with Betty Beeby and Rachael Elmer.  I am sure the two artists would have a great deal to say to each other, and I would like to just sit quietly and listen to it all.


(Biographical data on Rachel was gathered from her page on the Rokeby Museum site and from dipping into Deborah Clifford, More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Vermont Women, excerpted on Google books.  Information about Volland is from the Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City with another bit about Elmer herself here.  The New York Public Library displays the Art Lovers’ New York cards in its collection in the NYPL Digital Gallery.  Unsurprisingly, NYPL’s scans are better than mine.  Surprisingly, the library does not appear to own a copy of its own portrait by Elmer, although Betty does!)