October 31, 2007
Happy Halloween to all the ghosts and goblins, witches and faeries! This is our favorite holiday; it’s the one day of the year when it’s okay to revert to childhood, or to take on a new persona.
Here’s a macabre Halloween story. Early 20th c. vintage postcards have great holiday graphics, especially when it comes to Halloween. Seen below is a classic 1909 artist-signed Ellen Clapsaddle (1863-1934) Halloween postcard. Clapsaddle’s work is highly collectible now, although she never really reaped the benefits of her artistic talents when she was alive.
Born in South Columbia, New York in 1863, Ellen Hattie Clapsaddle became one of the most prolific and best-loved postcard artists of the time; she was especially noted for her tender depictions of childhood. After her 1882 graduation from the Richfield Springs (NY) Seminary and further study at the Cooper Institute in New York City, she was retained by a prominent postcard publisher, the International Art Company, soon becoming their premier illustrator. After spending several years in Germany, which was the center of the high-end postcard publishing world, she returned to New York and founded the Wolf Company. It was a daring move; she was the only female postcard artist of the era to do so.
The period from 1898 to about 1915 was the “Golden Age” of postcard publishing and postcard collecting; there seemed to be no limit to the growth potential for the postcard industry, for postcard publishers, or for Clapsaddle. Along with her backers, the Wolf brothers, Clapsaddle invested heavily in German postcard firms. She went back to Germany to work with German engravers.
Everything changed with the outbreak of World War I. Soon she was a displaced person, penniless and alone, with factories destroyed and most of her original artwork lost as well. Most U.S. postcard publishers, including the Wolf Brothers, were now cut off from German suppliers they had depended upon. Many firms went out of business. Ellen couldn’t be found. At the end of the Great War, one of the Wolf brothers went to Europe to find her; she was found six months later, hungry, sick, and homeless. She was only 55, and barley recognized. Mr. Wolf.
Once back in New York, Clapsaddle never recovered from the effects of war. Her health continued to spiral downward, and she was unable to earn a living. Mr. Wolf cared for her as best he could, but he himself died destitute a few years later. Once again, Ellen was alone. She had lost all ability to reason, and was admitted to the Peabody Home in New York City in 1932. There she died two years later, still alone and penniless. Ironically, despite the great affection shown for children in her artwork, she never married and had no children, brothers or sisters to turn to. It appears that she was buried in a potter’s grave. After World War II, she was finally reunited with her parents, having been reinterred at Lakeview Cemetery in Richfield Springs. Her tombstone says only “Ellen.”
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