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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Ask him about history, he’ll say it’s in the cards

By Maya Rajamani
Posted
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Thomas Casey of the Kingsbridge Historical Society shows his postcard collection. Each post card depicts a time or place with historical or personal significance.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Thomas Casey holds a postcard of Ota Benga, a Congolese pygmy, who was part of a controversial exhibition at the Bronx Zoo in 1906. The zoo exhibited the man alongside animals.
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Thomas Casey was at a hotel in Manhattan looking for the restroom when he stumbled across boxes filled with what he thought were baseball cards. 

When he took a closer look, he discovered they were old postcards. 

The cards, which were part of a postcard show, intrigued him, and his serendipitous find fueled a new interest. Since 1974, the 62-year-old Bronx native and Riverdale resident has amassed a collection of 6,289 postcards with unique images of the Bronx. Over half the cards were postmarked before 1930. 

“I was always interested in history,” said Mr. Casey, who is secretary of the Kingsbridge Historical Society and president of the Huntington Free Library. “When I see an image, I want to know as much as I can about it.”

Using census reports, genealogy records and old newspaper archives, he researches the people and places that grace his postcards.

In 2011, Mr. Casey co-authored a book called Images of America: Northwest Bronx. Among the photos in the book is one of his favorites — a postcard of the Baisley family house, the Fairlawn Residence in Westchester. 

On the back of the card, mailed on Aug. 15, 1910, one Mrs. Baisley wrote to inform a friend about the birth of her daughter. 

‘We have a daughter at Fairlawn,” the card reads. 

One of his most controversial postcards depicts an African pygmy, Ota Benga, who was put on exhibit at the Bronx Zoo in 1906.

“What an uproar that caused, you can imagine,” said Mr. Casey, who has been offered a few hundred dollars for the rare card, which his wife found for a dollar at a post card show in upstate New York. 

Mr. Casey met his wife on Christmas Eve, before a midnight mass he and his friends from camp planned to attend at Fordham. The crew had convened at the Pennywhistle Pub, when Sharon Casey (then Sharon Mahoney) and her two friends walked in. 

Their groups joined for mass and had dinner at Sharon’s parents’ house afterward. When Mr. Casey asked her for her number after dinner, she turned him down. 

But Mr. Casey was persistent. 

“I started calling up all the Mahoney’s in the phone book,” he said. The two wed on April 25, 1979. 

Personal meaning

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