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How I Met Robert Parks
by Jim Potter
Most people, including museum curators, have never heard of reward, or wanted, postcards. Yet, I have hundreds in my collection.
Reward cards are best described as miniature wanted posters. They usually announce the amount of the reward being offered, inform the reader what crime has been committed, then give a detailed description of the stolen property and/or suspected criminal, if known. At the bottom of the card is the name of the contact person, usually the local sheriff.
I met Robert Parks online when I observed his photograph on a postcard for sale. When I noticed a $25 reward being offered, I wondered if he had robbed a bank or escaped from jail. I soon learned; he had not broken any law. He had merely left home without informing his parents. His concerned elders contacted McPherson County Sheriff O. M. Knowles to see if the lawman could locate their boy, or young man, and check on his welfare.
The card didn’t give the age of Robert Parks, so I did a quick calculation. Since the card was postmarked in 1915, by the year 2023, Robert was dead and gone.
I began looking for clues to further my investigation of his disappearance. Fortunately, the reward card was a goldmine of information. The photograph of Robert was a big plus; a minute percentage of reward postcards include a picture of the wanted person. Secondly, Robert’s description included his height, weight, eye color, and that he might be found around garages or tractor engines. As a bonus, I had the date Robert left home: October 21, 1915.
On the reverse side of the card, I saw that it had been postmarked on October 25 and sent to the chief of police of San Francisco, California. The location, hundreds of miles away from McPherson, Kansas, confirmed to me that Robert’s parents had taken his disappearance seriously.
I considered the possible outcomes of the Parks family’s dramatic, century-old event. Was Robert ever found? Did he return home? Or, could he have vanished forever, without a paper trail for anyone to follow? If the later, I would never learn his fate.
Until next time, happy researching and writing,
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