(To listen to the audio of this blog post, use the purple play button.)
· John O. Siemsen
Framed by F. D. Conard in Garden City, Kansas ·
Last month I had my socks knocked off by a surprise email sent to my website as a comment to a blog/podcast I’d posted two months earlier. A person can’t prepare for unbelievable.
My earlier post, “EXAGGERATION Postcards: Tall Tales from the Great Plains,” https://jimpotterauthor.com/exaggeration-postcards/ gave an abbreviated history of the cards, including an appreciation for Frank D. “Pop” Conard, a creative and well-known Kansas photographer who opened a Garden City photographer’s studio in 1914.
Conard is remembered by postcard enthusiasts for his Great Depression era photos of the deadly western Kansas dust storms (#1-#24) and for his exaggeration postcards (beginning at #25). After a 1935 grasshopper invasion of Garden City, “Pop” Conard decided to have fun and hopefully, make money. Soon, the country was saturated with postcards of gigantic grasshoppers and enormous rabbits.
Here’s my favorite quote of Conard explaining his reasoning behind the imaginative cards. “I didn’t do it for adverse impressions of Kansas, but as an exaggerated joke.”
And here’s the message I received from John Siemsen about his father, John O. Siemsen:
“I am John Siemsen. My father is the man with the grasshopper on his truck. His name is John O. Siemsen. That picture was taken at the corner of Main and Railroad Ave, Garden City, KS. The building in the background is still standing.”
“Wow!” I thought. I immediately located the postcard in my album and studied it, acknowledging that it was one of my favorites. I also wondered how old John O. was at the time the photo was taken.
The card’s title was “HAULIN EM OUT”, referring to the lone, colossal grasshopper that encompassed the truck’s flatbed. Conard, the photographer, was credited on the front of the card, along with an identifier “#27”.
I checked my collection and quickly discovered that a Conard card labeled #28, another giant grasshopper, (this one being hauled away in an open railroad car) showed 1936 as its copyright year. Calculating in my head, 2019 minus 1936, meant the photo was 83 years old. Reality set in. John O. had seen his last grasshopper. Then I wondered about the age of his son, another John, the person who had contacted me.
Soon, we talked.
I learned that John O. had died back in 1968 and that John (who used to be called Junior), was 71 years old, living in Florida, not Kansas. Soon I discovered that John never knew Conard, “When I was young, he was old,” he recalled. A little disappointed, I found out John didn’t collect postcards, but at an early age he knew his father had been in the exaggeration grasshopper-truck photo.
John recalled that one of Conard’s employee’s went to the same church as the Siemsen family. One day when John was about four years-old, she showed him the postcard titled “HAULIN EM OUT.” The lady, who everyone called Sister Rose, pointed to the man standing in the street next to the truck and said, “Do you know who this guy is?” John immediately replied, “Yeah, that’s my dad.” She was surprised he knew.
A few years ago, John (Jr.), who lived most his life in Garden City, was flying from Orlando to Wichita when he struck up a conversation with the passenger sitting next to him. She (Cynthia Elyce Rubin) said she was off to Wichita for its annual postcard show. https://www.facebook.com/wichitapostcardclub/ It wasn’t long before John revealed his postcard story about his father. The lady was excited to meet the son of the man in the exaggerated Conard postcard.
John was invited to the show and was treated as royalty. He even purchased “HAULIN EM OUT” from a dealer ($10), since his sister, Beverly, had the original.
John didn’t know if the truck in the photo postcard was his dad’s or a company truck. There’s no identifier on the visible door.
In the 1940 census, John O’s occupation was listed as a “drayman” or freight hauler, employed by the Santa Fe Railway. Years later, his duties were referred to as “check clerk”.
In 1942 John O. enlisted in the U.S. Army. He married Evelyn Felkner in December 1944 in Dodge City.
The 1960 city census listed the Siemsen family living at 302 W 12th and the residents as: John Sr., 52; Lela Evelyn, 40; Connie, 14; John, 12, and Beverly Sue, 1.
Frank D. Conard, 81, died in 1966. John O. Siemsen, 61, followed him two years later in 1968. Both are buried in Garden City’s Valley View Cemetery.
Until next time, happy writing and reading!
Thanks to John Siemsen for contacting me about his father’s participation in one of Conard’s first exaggeration postcards.
My appreciation of Morgan Williams continues for his willingness to share, not guard, his remarkable knowledge of exaggeration postcards. The book he co-authored with Cynthia Elyce Rubin, Larger Than Life: The American Postcard, 1905-1915 (1990), is always a delight to browse.
Thanks to Laurie Oshel, Finney County Historical Society’s Museum for locating John O. Siemsen’s WWII photo in War Memorial Album of World War II, Finney County, KS. (Garden City, KS: Telegram Publishing Co., 1946). The book misspells John’s surname. It’s Siemsen, not Siemson.
In September, 2019, I learned that the passenger who invited John to the Wichita Postcard Show was Cynthia Elyce Rubin. She was the club’s prized guest speaker.
Some of my past blogs/podcasts about exaggeration postcards can be found at these links: https://jimpotterauthor.com/creative-writing/