My great-grandfather, Harold Steinke, was a collector of postcards. He swapped with fellow postcard enthusiasts across the US and around the world. For the past several months, I’ve been reading, scanning, and sharing one of his postcards daily for “postcard happy hour” on my Snail Mail Superstar Instagram and Twitter accounts. The series of postcards featuring my home city of Seattle are my favorite in the whole collection. I don’t know for sure if my great-grandfather ever visited Seattle (it’s quite unlikely), but his love for postcards and snail mail gave him a connection to the place I call home.
As you can see in the images above, my great-grandfather corresponded in the 1920’s with a letter carrier in Seattle named Ralph W. Ives. The postcards give us only basic information about him: his age, occupation, location, and the fact that he enjoyed postcards featuring images of church buildings and beautiful scenery, but preferred not to receive cards featuring other types of buildings.
We don’t learn too much about life in Seattle from reading Ralph’s messages. We do learn that, of course, it rains in Seattle. The message on the left below does seem to reveal that Mr. Ives has chosen to love Seattle despite the rain, as I have. “We have had some fine rains, the weather cool, and life is worth the living.”
Each time I prepare to share a postcard from the collection, I do a cursory Google search for the person who sent it. I rarely find much, but I keep doing it, just in case. This time, I was surprised. I typed “Ralph W. Ives” letter carrier Seattle into the search box, and the first result answered questions I didn’t know I had. The result in question was a small article in the pages of The Daily Missoulian, a newspaper in Missoula, Montana, from September 11, 1914.
I read the article with an ache in my stomach and tears in my eyes. It may seem a little silly to be so affected by this. Both the sender and receiver of these postcards are long gone from this world. I’ve never met either man face to face. But grief and loss are real and palpable, even after 105 years.
In the 1920’s, my great-grandfather was a young man, exploring the world through postcards. In 2018, I dove deep into the familiar comfort of snail mail after the loss of a dear friend. I wonder if Mr. Ives was doing the same? His days would have been filled with delivering mail to the city of Seattle. Did he spend his evenings reaching out into the world for some small sense of connection and comfort to ease the pain of the loss of his son, if only for a moment?
These are just the imaginings of a sentimental soul, 100 years removed from this interaction between a mail carrier in Seattle, WA and my great-grandfather in Woodstock, IL. Few of us make ripples in history large enough to be remembered (or Googled) 100 years later. It’s heartbreaking that the worst day of Ralph Ives’ life is what history remembers. So today, I share these beautiful postcards with you, to add one more ripple. I hope you received all the peaceful churches your heart desired, Ralph. Thank you for reaching out into the world and leaving behind this beautiful legacy of the place I call home.
With just a bit more internet sleuthing, I’ve discovered that Ralph’s son, Almon, was laid to rest just a mile and a half away from my shop. I wonder how long it’s been since someone remembered him or laid flowers on his grave? I can do that for you, Ralph. You and your son aren’t forgotten.
I drove to Mount Pleasant Cemetery on a cold Seattle weekday morning. I brought flowers, one of Ralph’s postcards, and one of my own postcards. I parked my car and started to walk toward the cemetery entrance. I heard footsteps down the street and turned to watch a mail carrier going about his route. I couldn’t help but think of Ralph.
I entered the cemetery and wandered the rows for awhile reading names on headstones. Blaine, Mercer, Bell…many of the people laid to rest at Mount Pleasant were pioneers who settled in the area and founded the city. As I wandered, I realized how incredibly difficult it would be to read every stone and find the one single marker I was looking for. I needed help.
After a few wrong turns and incorrect buildings, I found the Mount Pleasant office. Upon opening the door, I was greeting by the familiar sound of zebra finches, flitting about inside their cage, singing to each other. I asked the woman at the desk for help finding a specific grave. I half expected to be turned away, but she was very kind and helpful. I told her the name I was looking for (Ralph Almon Ives) and the year of his death (1914). She said something along the lines of, “Oh, that’s an old one.” Regardless of the age, she was able to pull out a large three ring binder and find the name I was looking for. The information beside the name gave her a location, which she marked for me on a map of the cemetery.
The woman explained to me that most graves from 100 years past were marked with a simple concrete headstone. Families with wealth could afford marble, granite or bronze headstones and markers, but most families could not. As time and nature march on, the concrete markers become covered in dirt and moss and grass. The cemetery staff let them be covered, because when nestled under a blanket of earth, the markers are safe from corrosion.
Once I had the map in my hand and a location to head to, I was ready to go find Almon, or at least get close. I expected, once again, to be sent off alone. Instead, the woman at the desk sent a message to another woman who works at the cemetery to meet me out at the spot and help me find the specific grave I was looking for. I went back for my car and drove slowly through the length of the cemetery to its farthest boundary.
The area of the cemetery marked on the map for Almon’s grave was quiet and beautiful. Huge trees grew up between scattered, moss-covered grave stones. I imagined the rows of unseen grave markers, safe and warm beneath the earth. I walked slowly, trying to decipher words from the corners of smooth, worn stones peeking out from under grass. A soft rain began to fall.
“We have had some fine rains, the weather cool, and life is worth the living.”
After taking a few slow laps around the area, I assumed Almon’s stone was buried, and this would be the end of the road. I sat for several minutes in quiet contemplation on a large tree stump. I thought of Ralph and Almon and Steinke. I thought of all my grandparents, laid to rest far away. I thought of my friend Chelsa, her life cut too short, like Almon’s life was.
I heard footsteps, and shook myself from the fog of my thoughts. A woman walked toward me, and asked if I was looking for the Ives grave. I’d stopped a few hundred feet short. She’d found the grave for me, and uncovered it. I followed her with careful steps, weaving between stones and markers, until I saw the little mound of dirt and freshly uncovered stone.
Ralph A. Ives
Sept. 6, 1914
Age 15 Years
Ralph Almon Ives was laid to rest in Mount Pleasant Cemetery by his father, Ralph Waldo Ives and his mother, Louella Sumwalt Ives. 105 years later, I knelt by his grave and softly outlined the A of his middle name with my finger. I left flowers of remembrance. When I left the cemetery to return to my life in the present, the young woman who helped me find the stone, covered it up with earth again. It will rest there, safe for another 100 years.
I added images to Almon’s Find A Grave listing in the hopes that someone in his family will find them if they’re looking.
More info about Mount Pleasant Cemetery can be found here, here, and here.
You can find more info about my great-grandfather Steinke’s postcard collection here.
While doing additional research about the Ives family, I discovered the obituary for Ralph W. Ives’ wife, Louella. The story of her difficult and beautiful life was an encouragement to me today, and so I will share it with you.
“Louella Sumwalt was born on April 17, 1864. While she was only a little girl her mother died, and not long afterwards her father also died, and she and her four brothers were left orphans to battle with the world. She early came to a realization of her responsibility, and at the beginning of her useful life, while still a young girl, she was baptized into Christ, and followed him closely until the end. At the age of thirty-two she became the wife of Ralph W. Ives, whose life for thirty-one years she constantly encouraged and strengthened, and it was through her encouragement and influence that Brother Ives, under trying circumstances and difficulties, shunned not to preach the gospel of Christ. To this union there were born two boys, only one of which, Jesse, remains to mourn wither husband and her four brothers. She was an exceptionally good wife and loving mother. She took great interest in the development and the training of her home. She was quiet, retiring, and exclusively modest, a disposition which caused her to gain friends slowly, but which made for her the best friends, whose love and respect she forever retained. She was not demonstrative in her affection, but loved intensely, and considered no sacrifice too great for those she loved. She went to sleep in Jesus, March 19, 1928. In the last months of her life her suffering was intense, but her faith in Christ did not waver, and she passed over death'’s river in the triumph of a Christian faith.”
J. W. Maddox. - Gospel Advocate, May 17, 1928, page 479.