Postcard history book author makes local stops

Last year, Erik Johnson’s postcard history book, Rockford: 1900 to WWI, gave locals a look at what this town was built on, what downtown used to look like, and the kinds of people who made the foundations for today’s city. In his latest release, Johnson explores the last 80 or so years of urban and industrial development, the rise and fall of downtown, the Great Depression, and many other bits in our history that explain why we are what we are today.

Rockford 1920 features 28 pages of postcards depicting images of the social and work environments of the period, hotels and restaurants, schools, transportation, Camp Grant, parks, recreation and tourism. In a June 18 interview, Johnson commented that it was more difficult collecting postcards for this current book as postcards were not as hot of a collector’s item as they were prior to 1920, although he noted that there was a mild comeback in the 1950s. However, he compiled an extensive and educational mass of such postcards for this volume that show the rapid and exciting changes that occurred in our city in the last century, making it a must-have book.

What assisted Johnson this time around was the fact that there are still people alive today who witnessed some of the important moments in the development of Rockford, and could relate their stories. However, if my review of his last book seemed a little tragic as to the stark comparisons of the architecture of Rockford then and now, his recent collection adds more depression.

Flipping through it quickly, one notices caption after caption of buildings that no longer exist, the drastic difference between past and present downtown, and the subsequent fall of that particular area.

Even Johnson had to darkly comment about I-90’s devastating effects on downtown: “You can’t tell me no one envisioned what was going to happen…there’s some things in there that maybe you didn’t want to see happen.”

On a lighter note, however, Rockford 1920 does display the best of the best, including some fairly snazzy photos of the old Blackhawk Park Zoo, Kiddieland amusement park, aerial shots of businesses and interior shots of bars and restaurants. Honestly, you can’t call yourself a local if you don’t own this book, and no historian within a 70-mile radius should go without it.

One of my favorite bits of history is the shot of the old Stardust A-Go-Go Lounge, which is what we now know as Leisure Tyme. Back in 1964 through 1973, though, it wasn’t the billiard tables that were the main attraction, rather the bikini-clad cocktail waitresses.

A Milwaukee native, Johnson fell in love with Rockford when he met his wife, one of our own. Since then, he has been compiling old postcards of our town (to add to his extensive collection of other towns), and has given his “gift of love” to us for being the town he “came of age” in. Johnson will hold a book signing at Borders Thursday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m., and will have a stall at On the Waterfront in the World Marketplace on E. State St., between Madison and First streets. He will be on hand Friday, Sept. 3 from 5 p.m.-midnight, Saturday, Sept. 4 from 11:30 a.m.-midnight, and Sunday, Sept. 5, from 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.

Rockford 1920 and Beyond is available at most local bookstores and independent retailers, as well as by going to the Arcadia Publishing’s Web site,

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