Obituary: Bob Petley created Arizona jackalopeby Angela Cara Pancrazio on Jul. 18, 2006, under Local
Postcard photographer’s works still sold
Bob Petley’s life was postcards.
Millions of people around the world saw Arizona for the first time across Petley’s cards: Monument Valley, the red rocks of Sedona and fiery desert sunsets.
That is why so many people moved to Arizona, joked one of his admirers at Petley’s funeral last week. After falling and breaking his hip, Petley’s health declined and he died at 93 in Scottsdale.
Armchair travelers during the mid-20th century and beyond witnessed Southwestern beauty through Petley’s eyes.
Petley began snapping his picture-perfect cards by trolling the state with his camera and a station wagon in 1945, eventually favoring a Lincoln Continental.
For decades, his office was the road. He was a one-man tourism office, snapping the state and hawking his Petley Postcards to souvenir shops along the way.
He chronicled Arizona’s landscape for decades. Even after he sold his postcard business, he couldn’t let go of the camera and his sense of humor.
Arizona wasn’t all sunsets for Petley.
He seemed to have a knack for an innocent kitschy sort of creativity.
Petley invented the Arizona jackalope.
Even though the jackalope was fairly common to humorous postcards, Petley engineered his version with an Arizona twist.
After spotting a stuffed rabbit that had been topped with antlers in a souvenir shop, the postcard man put together his own jackalope. He bought a jackrabbit from a taxidermist, topped the rabbit with a pair of antlers and plopped it on top of one of the Papago Buttes.
Voila! With Petley’s darkroom magic, the hare with horns looked as if the beast was ready to swallow the desert whole.
Petley sold his postcard business in 1984 to Bruce Finchum.
Finchum, owner of Smith-Southwestern Inc., sells souvenirs and postcards. At least a half dozen of his cards are Petley’s.
With e-mail, postcards are a harder sell, Finchum says.
“There’s still reason to buy jackalopes,” he said. “It’s the uniqueness, the novelty of it.”
Finchum sells more of Petley’s jackalope postcards than any other card; last year he sold 38,000 jackalope cards.
“It just looks real. There’s people that swear it’s real,” he said. “But it’s not.”
Even though Bob Petley did not invent the rabbit with antlers, he created one that was decidedly Arizona.
There’s a reason the card is still a bestseller.
The card’s staying power is its kitsch.
So it doesn’t hurt to know a little jackalope trivia.
Douglas, Wyo., claims to be the “jackalope capital of America” because two brothers, both taxidermists, went hunting in the 1930s and pitched a rabbit into their taxidermy shop. The rabbit landed next to a pair of antlers.
The brothers mounted the rabbit-antler combination. Over the years, the two sold tens of thousands of mounted jackalopes.
Other names for the jackalope are an Aunt Benny, horny bunny and anteabbit.
Jackalopes showed up on postcards beginning in the 1930s.
Still, European naturalists illustrated horned hares in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. These works were most likely inspired by papillomavirus-infected rabbits: rabbits with antlerlike tumors on their heads.
Former President Reagan hung a rabbit head with antlers on a wall at his California ranch.
In the animated TV series “Jackie Chan Adventures,” a football team’s mascot was a rabbit with fake horns.