Saturday, November 1, 2014

Postcard from America to Landis Valley: Mt. St. Helens

Guest blog entry by Shayla Carey

Take a look at the mountain in the picture. It’s a typical snow-capped peak, with a lush forest at its feet and a clear sky above—nothing abnormal.  If the title of the image didn’t state, “Mount St. Helens, Washington,” one would think that it was just another massif looming above the landscape.

According to the USDA Forest Service, on May 18, 1980, at 8:32 in the morning, the vista changed forever as a magnitude 5.1 earthquake caused the most massive landslide in recorded history:  the collapse of the summit and north flank of Mount St. Helens.  Suddenly, superheated groundwater and gas-rich magma within the volcano escaped in a lateral blast, sending a plume of volcanic ash and pumice 15 miles into the atmosphere and melting glaciers that mixed with rock and debris to create a concrete-like slurry that destroyed 230 square miles of forest.

In other words, this picture on this postcard will never be taken again.

It’s another treasure in Landis Valley’s collection of postcards and was published in the early 1900’s by the Edward H. Mitchell Company, out of San Francisco.  It was never sent to anyone, so it is virtually impossible to date it precisely.  It is a divided back card and, because cards with a divided back were not introduced until 1907, this card could not have been produced before then, according to the Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City.  Domestically, the postage rate is 1 cent, which means that it could not have been produced after 1952, but, because Mitchell’s company closed in 1923, it was obviously produced before then.  The postage rate was increased to 2 cents in 1917 (because of a temporary War Tax), then lowered back to 1 cent in 1919, then raised again in 1925 to 2 cents.  All of this means that it was printed sometime either between 1907 and 1917 or from 1919 to 1925.

The vista is still changing today.  According to the Christian Science Monitor article titled, “Mt. St Helens: Is it ready to erupt again?” two lava domes have formed in the crater since the 1980 eruption:  one from 1980 to 1986 and the other from 2004 to 2008.  The US Geological Survey reported in September, 2014 that, five miles down, the volcano’s magma chamber is charging again.  Not to worry, though.  Dome building will resume and the summit may take on a similar shape to the one in the postcard, but this dome won’t be built in a day.

In other words, save the postcards you have now.  The view of this young terrain will change again.