Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Great American Road Trip, Circa 1936: Part 2

This Friday, Nik Wallenda, a professional tightrope walker descended from the famous Flying Wallendas high-wire act, will attempt an 1,800-foot tightrope walk across Niagara Falls, so I figured what better time than now to have a Niagara Falls-themed post?

In the last post, I told you the story of how Gen and Corinne took a road trip to New York City in the summer of 1936 with two of their teacher friends. I believe they took the southern route in one direction and the northern route in the other, and though I have no evidence to verify this, I suspect that upon leaving New York City, they drove north.

Their next stop would have been Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls itself was having an interesting year. In February of 1936, the water flow on the American side of the Falls had reduced drastically due to ice jams further upriver. The reduced water flow allowed the falls to freeze over, and they froze solid for almost 15 days in February. (This has only happened a handful of times in history, and is unlikely to ever happen again due to modern technology and conservation.)

Photographer unknown, photo courtesy of the Niagara Falls Public Library.

Gen and Corinne would have arrived there in the end of June or beginning of July, long after the ice went out.

According to his essay, "A 'New Deal' for Leisure" from the book Being Elsewhere: Tourism, Consumer Culture and Identity in Modern Europe and North America, Michael Berkowitz explains that tourism expenditures continued to rise six years into the Great Depression and that "tourism appeared more integral to the economy of the 1930s than it had been during the previous decade." In other words, these were good years for places like Niagara Falls. Since the early 1800s, Niagara Falls had been a prime North American tourist destination, and by the time Gen and Corinne visited, it was well established as the "Honeymoon Capital" of the country.

Probably aping that reputation, the road trippers took a hilarious picture of themselves swooning at the top of the Falls:

Corinne (left) and Gen (second from right) impersonate happy honeymooners at Niagara Falls in 1936.

They also took a traditional shot:

I imagine the Falls themselves haven't changed much in 200 years.

Gen's snpashot of the Falls.

It looks like they went on a boat ride in Niagara Falls, possibly on the famous Maid of the Mist, which has been operating since 1845:

The teacher friends on a boat in Niagara Falls, 1936.

And of course, they visited the famous lookout points:

Next up, we come to a few photos I can't quite place. I can't tell if this is still Niagara Falls, or possibly a rest stop along the way. (Is it Pennsylvania? Canada?)

Corinne (standing) and Gen (forefront) with their travel buddies and an unidentified fifth friend. Where was this taken?

It seems to have been taken at the same time as this one:

Speaking of Pennsylvania, I should have included this photo with the last batch. It looks like they drove to New York City by way of Philadelphia, stopping long enough to take this one photo, at least. (It took me a while to identify the location, hence the delay. Ultimately it was the partially obscured Public Ledger ad in the background that solved the mystery.)

From Niagara Falls, so far at least, the record is silent. (I always hold out hope that I will stumble across more brochures or photos in a box or folder I haven't looked at yet.) I assume they drove home through London, Ontario and Detroit, though I suppose they also might have come down through Erie, Pennsylvania and Cleveland. I don't know exactly when they made it home to Wisconsin, either. Probably mid- to late-July, in time to start preparing for the new school year.

I imagine they brought home with them memories that lasted their lifetimes. When I was in high school, overachieving and following every rule ever laid down in front of me, I went to visit Gen one day in the nursing home. We chatted a bit, as we always did, but at the end of my visit, she said something that has stayed with me since that day. After listening to my stories about grades and after-school activities and achievements, she turned suddenly more serious than usual, looked right at me and said, "Make sure you have some fun in life, too."

I wonder if she was thinking of this trip as she said it.

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