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Postcards from Mecca

Postcards from Mecca

Here’s a recent arrival to the Stoll bookshelf: Postcards from Mecca: The California Desert Photographs of Susie Keef Smith and Lula Mae Graves 1916-1936. Edited by Ann Japenga and Warner V. Graves III, published 2019 by the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association, Tales of the Mojave Road Number 31, available from Amazon or from the MDHC website for $20.00 plus tax and shipping.

From the title and jacket blurb, you might think this book is about Susie Keef Smith, former postmistress of Mecca, California, who, with her cousin Lula Mae (Johnson) Graves, explored the desert around Mecca taking photographs in the 1920s and 1930s. And we do get some snips of information about Susie’s unhappy childhood and Lula Mae’s as well, just enough to keep the narrative moving through the years. Far more satisfying, however, are the photos themselves which eloquently speak of early 

days among the palms, cholla and chuckwallas. Those of us DEers who’ve spent time at Corn Springs, for example, will happily recognize the vegetation and petroglyphs Susie photgraphed there. This book provides a unique glimpse of two young women in the 1930s enjoying true freedom while wandering the California desert alone, camping and exploring as the whim drove them, meeting prospectors and surveyors, peering into mine shafts and tunnels, catching horned toads, riding burros and driving a Model T. How many girls in this day of “liberation” would dare hope for such experiences!

But this is not the only entertaining story told in the book. Be sure to read Ron May’s tale in Chapter Four of how he rescued Susie’s photos from the dumpster behind the San Diego County Public Administrator’s offices in 1988. I have had the pleasure of knowing Ron as an archaeologist for over 30 years and I laughed long and hard at the mental image of this man, who at the time was quite large, jumping in and landing “amidst stacks of rotting food and smeared newspapers” to salvage photos, correspondence and even paintings from the “sticky mess.” Thank heaven he did it – otherwise we would have lost some bona fide desert treasures. And thank goodness Chris Ervin added the 1954 Norton Allen maps for orientation (though I wished they had been inserted closer to the front instead of buried on pg. 158). A book written by SEVEN authors can make for a rather disjointed read but
the photos shine throughout this classic and make the
 journey worthwhile. ~ Anne Stoll