Our story today is about a photograph, but it is also about a city. The photograph tells us something about the city as it was in a time quite a long while ago and how the city wanted to be seen by the rest of the world.

Our story today is about a photograph, but it is also about a city. The photograph tells us something about the city as it was in a time quite a long while ago and how the city wanted to be seen by the rest of the world.

We are looking at a postcard view of Columbus that was mailed sometime in 1910. The postcard had first appeared on the American scene more than 50 years earlier, but this form of communication had really become popular in the decades after the 1890s.

Postcards became quite popular for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that they became increasingly inexpensive. In an era when cameras were trying to capture the public imagination but were still expensive, the postcard was a not-so-costly way to both share a sentiment and show somebody where one had been.

They became extraordinarily popular. People collected them, traded them and even bought and sold them in the public markets of the day.

But the thrill of collecting postcards is not what we are interested in today. Rather, it what has been done with the postcard.

We are looking south on High Street at Broad Street. We can see a number of people moving about and every building is well illuminated, showing a city that never sleeps.

Columbus is the bustling metropolis of central Ohio.

Except it is all something of an illusion. Following an accepted stylistic practice of the day, the German company that printed these cards literally manufactured a new image of the capital city.

The word "manufacture" literally means to "make by hand," and that is precisely what a German artist has done with a photograph of the city's main intersection that was probably taken about 1906.

We know about the 1906 date because there are postcards from that year.

They show this same picture as it was originally made on a nice day in the city. In fact, one can still see traces of the original picture in the colored image of the city at night. Some of the shadows of the trees on the left of the picture of Statehouse Square that were in the original image still appear in the image of the city at night.

If one looks carefully at where the moon is located in the picture, there is no way there could be shadows on the street like the ones shown in the picture.

There is a lesson here. Be careful when examining old pictures. They are not always what they appear to be.

The artist reworking the original photograph to make the city look well-lit at night had the best of motives. He wanted to make the city look busy and active, even in the dead of night.

So he put some clouds and the moon into the picture and then literally lit up every building he could see. The result is a bustling downtown that looks like it is running up an extensive electric bill.

In reality, most of downtown Columbus looked quite different at night than the way it looks here. Missing from the picture are the lights on the arches. In 1910, the arches lit the downtown with electric lights arrayed along the curving metal that also carried the wires to electrify the streetcars below. The buildings especially the older four-story ones like the Deshler Block to the right were built in an earlier time and were largely lit by the soft glow of gaslights. To prevent fire, those lights were extinguished when one left the building, usually at 5 p.m.

The taller new buildings like the Wyandotte, Columbus' first skyscraper to the right of the picture, and the Wheeler Building with its arched windows in the middle were built later and were generally well electrified.

But electricity in this era was distrusted almost as much as gas.

Even though electricity had been readily available for telephones, lighting and other home uses for a number of years, many people still feared the new technology. It was not uncommon as late as 1910 to still find people who kept their electrical outlets covered when not in use to prevent the electricity from "leaking out" into the room. The chances of having all of these buildings lit this well were really rather slim.

So what was the purpose of this postcard? Its purpose was the same as many postcards of the era. They were designed not only to make money but to sell the place, as well, and make the people who lived there feel good about themselves.

The early years of the 20th century were a time of intense urban "boosterism," in which each town presented itself to be the best of the best.

These sorts of "busy night" photographic postcards are certainly not unique to Columbus and central Ohio. They can be found in every part of America and in many foreign countries as well.

And while they are not all that accurate in some respects, the photographs on which they are based do show us the city that once was here.

At the northeast corner of Broad and High streets was the Deshler Block. In had been there since 1844 and would last until 1915. The Deshler family had lived on the second floor facing Broad Street. But most of the building was commercial and held a number of shops, including the Deshler Bank.

One of the Deshler bankers got his start at the building on the corner but then went out on his own. In 1866, he opened his own bank and named it after himself P. W. Huntington and Co. In 1879 he acquired the southwest corner of Broad and High and built his bank on the corner. It looked like a castle but it was home to P.W. and his customers.

Behind the Wheeler Building is the Harrison Building, which will become half of the Huntington Bank building on that site. And beyond the Harrison Building is the Neil House. Founded in 1839, the Neil is in its second incarnation and will be revived once again in 1924. Because Hannah Neil, the wife of founder William "Billy" Neil, insisted on operating a clean, decent hotel, the Neil soon became the place to stay in Columbus.

Through 1974 and three different hotels, it was just that.

Old postcards are a treasure. They can teach us a lot about what a city was and how it wanted to be seen. Cities, like people, have their dreams.

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.