As someone who loves snail mail, I welcome each picture postcard as the best way to escape momentarily to some alluring, faraway place. But a group of 18 scrapbooks acquired with the John Margolies Collection of Travel Ephemera may change my mind. The earliest volume was created in 1906 on a honeymoon in the Adirondacks. The latest was produced in 1964 for a school assignment by a seventh-grader riding from Florida to New York with her grandparents. Perusing the pages of all these albums, I find that each one transports me to a distinct time as well as a particular place in the 20th century United States.
Take, for example, the travel journal of three young women from Macon, Georgia who venture to Lookout Mountain, Tennessee in July 1944. What is it like for them to board a Greyhound bus full of GI’s in the middle of the night? Who shows them the right way to exchange coins for tokens to deposit into a fare box? And how does one react when she finds herself unexpectedly seated next to a member of another race? Their forty-four page typescript, accompanied by black-and-white snapshots and clippings from color guidebooks, captures the unbridled bloom of youth on a summertime lark in the wartime, segregated South.
Travel scrapbooking is a tradition that has been handed down for generations. As a method of preserving one’s personal history, scrapbooking became popular in America during the 19th century with advances in paper-making and printing technologies. In 1900, the Kodak Brownie camera brought photography into the hands of the general public. Soon people were incorporating photographs as well as a strong narrative element into their albums along with the memorabilia. I documented my own maiden voyage on an extended trailer trip with relatives as “Canada or Bust” in 1970. Whether or not this summer season offers another golden opportunity to make a memorable journey, cataloging the Margolies travel scrapbooks strikes me as the next best thing.
Alice Hanes is the Technical Services Librarian at Hagley Museum and Library.