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Postcard Jack, a man’s identity revealed

Published: 1/21/2015
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Before Postcard Jack, the horse, there was Postcard Jack, the man.

Read about Postcard Jack, the horse.

This Maine Press Association Story of the Year was originally published in The Morning Sentinel on January 10, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

By Doug Harlow

MADISON — Postcard Jack, the enigmatic world traveler who sent thousands of postcards to a Main Street restaurant over the span of three decades, and inspired the name of the winningest, standardbred racehorse in Maine history, has died.

John "Jack" Garbarino, died Dec. 15 in New York City. He was 67.

"He was magic. He was my best friend. He was my brother," Bill Garbarino of Newtown, Conn., said in a recent telephone interview. "Light a candle for Postcard Jack."

Jack died of complications from diabetes and kidney failure.

Postcard Jack, a management consultant with ITT, Dun & Bradstreet and McKinsey & Co., sent an estimated 8,000-9,000 postcards from all over the world to the Oasis Restaurant — sometimes posting 100 cards in a single month.

He grew up in the Bronx, N.Y., and attended Fordham University under the ROTC program. Jack received his law degree from Yale University, served in the U.S. Army and later graduated from Harvard Business School, according to his obituary.

Although he visited the restaurant, now called River's Edge, several times over the years, he never revealed his identity.

The mystery of Postcard Jack remained just that — a mystery — for more than 30 years.

Until now.

Madison Town Manager Norman Dean, who was a selectman in the 1980s and '90s and head of the science department at Madison High School, said he remembers hundreds of postcards displayed by Oasis owner, the late Mary Dwelley.

"I remember they had a bunch of them on the beam and above the bar and every once in a while at the time, Mary Dwelley, she would say 'Oh, we got another card from Postcard Jack' and she was always questioning why and where he came from and trying to guess who it was that was sending them. There were quite a few she had accumulated over the years."

Leslie Drew, president of the Madison Historical Society, said interest in Postcard Jack has persisted since the first hundred or so postcards began arriving in 1979 and 1980.

"Everybody had a curiosity about him because they wanted to know who he was, but nobody ever knew — it was just kind of a big game type thing that went on in Madison — who was Postcard Jack?" Drew said. "Somebody'd come into the restaurant and they'd say 'Well, I wonder if he'sPostcard Jack' and nobody ever knew.

"It ends an age of Madison history. To hear this guy has finally passed on, there will be no more postcards, but it's interesting to know who he was and where he was from."

There was always speculation in Madison that it was someone connected with Madison Paper Industries, located across the street, but that was not the case, Bill Garbarino said.

"My father made his first trip up to Hancock Pond in North New Portland in the year 1926," Garbarino, 61, said. "We grew up in the Bronx — there were eight of us kids — and every summer we would pile into the car and drive up to the cabin in Maine."

As the family grew older, he said, the boys sometimes would grow restless and would drive to Madison.

"We'd go to the big town to have a couple of drinks," he said. "In the fall of 1979 ... I went up with my brother Jack and one night we drove to the Oasis and we were sitting at the bar and just chatting. Around the mirror of the bar there were postcards — Boston, Portland, Rhode Island, mainly local.

"It all started on a bet. We decided we were going to have a contest."

The idea behind the contest was to see which brother could send the most postcards to the Oasis, with a strict set of rules, including keeping a record of the postcards that were sent.

Jack won the bet and kept sending postcards, right up until August 2009. At one point he even had a rubber stamp made with the Oasis' address on it. He could not pass a post office without sending off a postcard, his brother said.

"I think at one point we sat down, just casually one evening, just counting them up, the ones he would verify, and it was something in the range of 8,000-9,000 — it was an insane number," Bill said. "At the height of his lunacy — which I say, obviously, tongue-in-cheek — he was probably sending a couple of thousand a year."

Jack's son Michael Garbarino said in Legacy.com, an online tribute site for recent obituaries, that his father's alter ego as Postcard Jack allowed him to indulge his "impish streak."

"The serious human resources executive and erudite college professor took a backseat to the rogue adventurer, part Zorro, part Riddler," Michael wrote. "Like the master criminal in a movie thriller taunting the chief of police, Postcard Jack would send postcards to the Oasis from every town along the Kennebec — Waterville, Skowhegan, Anson, North Anson, North New Portland. After a meal in the Oasis, during which we were all sworn to a conspiratorial silence, Dad would round the corner, and send a postcard from Madison itself — the perfect crime, once again!"

Bert LaRose, the current owner of River's Edge, said he has received about 30 postcards from Jack in the three years he and his wife Linda have owned the place. On a vertical post in the restaurant, LaRose has some of those postcards on display. They are postmarked Tampa, New York, Chicago, Sugarloaf, Texas — even Stockholm, Sweden.

"We knew very little about Postcard Jack when we took over the restaurant — just that he sent those cards," LaRose said. "All those postcards are in a bedroom where Mary lived, in boxes and boxes, here in Madison."

Rodney Kilkenny, whose wife Sheila was Mary Dwelley's daughter, said Mary lived with them for 10 years until she died in Oct. 2004. She kept all of Postcard Jack's postcards, he said, and never knew who it was.

"We could never catch him," Kilkenny said. "I know Mary, before she passed away, that was her goal in life, to try to find out who that man was — she never got the chance."

Walter Hight of Skowhegan said he and his partner Tom Dillon of Anson bought a harness racehorse in 1990 and decided to name it Postcard Jack during dinner one night at the Oasis.

The horse is boarded at a farm on River Road in Norridgewock after retiring in 2005 as the top horse in Maine history, with the most sub-two-minute finishes and the most wins at 77.

"It makes me sad that the whole episode of Postcard Jack has ended," LaRose said. "I hope that his brother would continue it somehow; that would really be nice."

Jack's son Michael wrote in his Web posting on Legacy.com:

"Dad worked on his last day — he attended a meeting of the Mercy College business school staff, and he passed away in the home in which he grew up," Michael Garbarino wrote. "I have no doubt that he stopped by every mailbox between the Bronx and heaven."

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