An urge to keep local people from forgetting physical heritage has prompted Dr. Kevin L. Jones of Fort Smith, assistant professor of English and rhetoric at University of Arkansas - Fort Smith, to prepare a book about the history of Fort Smith.
“This is a city that loves its history,” Jones said. “But it also destroys or ignores a large amount of its cultural and historical past, too. My interest in local history spurred me to prepare ‘Fort Smith,’ in the postcard history series of Arcadia Publishing because so much of its bricks and mortar past is gone.”
Jones’ book depicts the history of the city through nearly 200 postcard views of people, places, events and businesses of the city.
Postcards, according to Jones, were the “instant messages” or “texting” of the late 1800s and early 1900s until the Information Age changed how contemporary people communicate. He said he found it fascinating to read about merchants and travelers who wrote cards about business and pleasure trips from other cities or from people visiting or passing Fort Smith.
“Fort Smith has been and will remain a major transportation hub,” Jones said. “The unique history of the area is an added benefit for visitors and they expressed their appreciation by purchasing and sending cards about the city and its people.”
Postcards also helped advertise local businesses, maintain local morale and, of course, offered visitors a chance to send a quick laugh or "wish you were here" kind of message in a special way. Jones said postcards are still popular today, but the Information Age has diminished their glory somewhat.
“It’s still fun to see what regional jokes, pictures or graphics catch the eye as one peruses postcards in a pharmacy or gas station, for example,” Jones said.
Jones said he started his initial serious research and compiling of the postcards for the book project in March 2011 and put in four or five hours each day until he was ready to contact the publisher.
“The detective work was the fun part of the book,” Jones said. “I wanted to locate interesting postcards which I thought people would want to see and which told a good overall narrative. Then I would research each card as much as possible, regarding not only addressees and authors, but also information about what was on the card, whether it be an advertisement, a photo card of a unique event, or a novelty.”
Jones said that researching the cards themselves and selecting which cards to use was both difficult and fun.
He began his search at the UAFS Library, which offered a handful of postcards from the special collections housed in the Pebley Center, Jones said. Then he found postcards the main branch of the Fort Smith Public Library's genealogy department, the Fort Smith
Musuem of History's collection and the archivist and researcher at the Fort Smith National Historic Site.
Jones said one of the most fortunate incidents in tracking down cards was when he walked into the Fort Smith Holiday Inn and met Stan Kujawa.
“Mr. Kujawa is a postcard collector and self-published author,” Jones said. “He was in the lobby of the Holiday Inn showcasing his many postcard books and his extensive collection of antique postcards dating back to the 1800s.”
Kujawa gave Jones permission to scan his postcards while he was in the lobby of the Holiday Inn that day.
“I worked quickly to scan as many as I could with my small trusty HP 750 printer/copier/scanner,” Jones said. “I can’t recall the exact number, but I think I was able to acquire 60 cards from Mr. Kujawa's fantastic collection.”
Jones said Arcadia Publishing assigned a “great” editor, Simone Monet-Williams, to the project who, Jones said, kept him on track with deadlines and suggestions for improvement throughout the process. Tim Sumerel, a final proofing editor, helped make everything shipshape at the end.
Books may be purchased for $21.99 at www.arcadiapublishing.com or by calling 888-313-2665.