Fifty-Five Years Later, A Rising Senior’s Vacation Souvenirs Tell a Terrific Story about New York and the Value of Scrapbook Ephemera

My mother deserves a prize for suggesting that we take the “Roosevelt Ride” last Saturday. Her idea to leave New York City behind and venture north to Hyde Park was the result of a trip she and my great-grandmother took to New York 55 years ago.

Well-preserved ephemera from that trip prove that souvenirs tell a terrific story not only about travel destinations, but also of the historical value of keeping scrapbooks.

On June 17, 1957, the rising St. Joseph Academy senior and her Riverlea-resident grandmother checked into the Hotel New Yorker for a three-day stay. Their hotel room cost $11.00 a night, plus 55 cents tax.

During their stay, the pair ate at the Promenade Café in Rockefeller Plaza.

They also obtained visitor’s passes to look around on the RMS Queen Mary.

They saw Adlai Stevenson at the United Nations, and they spotted Audrey Hepburn signing the first class register before she set sail for Europe on the USS Constitution.

The travelers also took a 10-hour steamer-bus tour up the Hudson River to Bear Mountain, West Point, and Hyde Park.  The Hudson River Dayliner’s brochure described the excursion in this way:

“This 160-mile grand cruise-tour of the Hudson River with a side trip to the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site starts from the Hudson River Day Line Pier 81, foot of West 41st Street each morning except Mondays at 10:00. A reserved area aboard the steamer is set aside for tour passengers and a Day Line guide-lecturer escorts the tour throughout the trip. Forty miles up the river at Bear Mountain, passengers transfer from the steamer to special buses for the trip northward through the Hudson Highlands. At West Point, you will see the historic buildings and grounds of the United States Military Academy. The tour then follows the magnificent Storm King Highway along the west bank of the river, through Newburgh and over the Mid-Hudson Bridge to Poughkeepsie and Hyde Park. At the Roosevelt Memorial a visit is made to the grave, home and library of the late President. The tour returns south along the east bank of the Hudson and along the base of Mt. Beacon, towering 1602 feet high. It passes through Cold Spring and Garrison, affording magnificent views of the West Point ramparts and the Hudson Highlands. Thence over the Bear Mountain Bridge to the Day Line steamer for the return sail to New York.”

 The excursion cost $8.95 per person. Admission to the Roosevelt Library was 25 cents.

While sightseeing fashions and prices have changed, the sites seen on both trips look much the same.

Potted palms still adorn Springwood’s entrance.

FDR’s smoking jacket still rests at the food of his bed.

And you can still recognize the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum’s distinctive Dutch colonial architectural style in the background of a photograph taken of the two vacationers.

Looking at these items reminded me how much I love scrapbooks and the ephemera they contain. It also led me to think about one of the most enjoyable professional development opportunities I’ve experienced: the Midwest Archives Conference’s October 2007 symposium on how to care for, preserve and provide access to scrapbooks.

Scrapbook-curious librarians and archivists gathered at Cranbrook, a National Historic Landmark in Bloomfield, Michigan, to learn how to promote the research value of scrapbooks through programs, exhibitions and digitization projects. As we commiserated about the preservation challenges that the broken bindings, fragile items and torn pages of scrapbooks present, we shared stories about the valuable historical insights that scrapbooks offer. We also soaked up the historic environment of Cranbrook, a community that began in 1904 as an American Arts and Crafts estate and developed into a stunning campus of museums, historic homes and educational institutions. I left Cranbrook with a new appreciation for the campus’s architect, Eliel Saarinen, and a long scrapbook-related reading list that I think I just might have to work my way through again.

Read The Encyclopedia of Ephemera: A Guide to the Fragmentary Documents of Everyday Life for the Collector, Curator, and Historian (Routledge, 2000), and you might never discard any travel souvenirs ever again. This fantastic reference work by Maurice Rickards was edited and completed by Michael Twyman.

If you’d like to learn more about scrapbooks, don’t miss The Scrapbook in American Life, by Susan Tucker, Katherine Ott and Patricia P. Buckler (Temple University Press, 2006) and Jessica Helfand’s Scrapbooks: An American History (Yale University Press, 2008).

Did you know that Thomas Jefferson was a scrapbooker? Read Thomas Jefferson’s Scrapbooks: Poems of Nation, Family, & Romantic Love Collected by America’s Third President (Steerforth Press, 2006), edited by Jonathan Gross.

Ellen Gruber Garvey has also made some insightful contributions about scrapbooks to literature. “Dreaming in Commerce: Advertising Trade Card Scrapbooks” is in Acts of Possession: Collecting in America, edited by Leah Dilworth (Rutgers University Press, 2003). “Readers Read Advertising into Their Lives: The Trade Card Scrapbook” is in The Adman in the Parlor: Magazines and the Gendering of Consumer Culture, 1880s to 1910s (Oxford University Press, 1996), which she edited. And “Scissorizing and Scrapbooks: Nineteenth-Century Reading, Remaking, and Recirculating” appears in New Media, 1740-1915 (MIT Press, 2003), edited by Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey B. Pingree.

To see a couple of digitized scrapbook collections, visit Picturing a Canadian Life: L.M. Montgomery’s Personal Scrapbooks and Book Covers and The Lewis Carroll Scrapbook Collection at the Library of Congress.

Barbara Zucker offers many helpful suggestions in Preservation of Scrapbooks and Albums (Library of Congress, 1991).

If you’re curious about Cranbrook, check out copies of The Campus Guide: Cranbrook, by Kathryn Bishop Eckert (Princeton Architectural Press, 2001); Design in America: The Cranbrook Vision, 1925-1950, by Robert Judson Clark, et al. (Abrams, in association with the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983); and Saarinen House and Garden: A Total Work of Art, edited by Gregory Wittkopp
(Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum, 1995).

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4 Responses to Fifty-Five Years Later, A Rising Senior’s Vacation Souvenirs Tell a Terrific Story about New York and the Value of Scrapbook Ephemera

  1. Cindy Spikowski says:

    Thank you for sharing this heartwarming account. The photographs are wonderful. Also, I appreciate the book suggestions!

  2. I wonderful read and an important reminder that the bits and pieces we save may help those that come behind us understand our lives a bit more. Beautifully told. Thank you.

  3. Cecilia Moore says:

    This is one my favorite posts yet! Marvelous.

  4. Beautiful and beautifully illustrated account of the trip. And thanks for the kind words about my articles. My book, Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance will be officially out in November 2012. http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Scissors-American-Scrapbooks-Renaissance/dp/0199927693/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1349305121&sr=8-1&keywords=writing+with+scissors Looking forward to hearing what you and other archivists and librarians think of it!

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