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April 22, 2009 > History: See America First!

History: See America First!

By Diane Curry, Curator

Spring has finally arrived and, I don't know about you, but I'm thinking about vacation already! While I could go just about anywhere my pocketbook allowed, a small scrapbook in the Historical Society's collection gave me a pretty good idea. This small treasure, titled "Seeing America First, 1938" documents a driving tour taken by long-time Hayward resident Cecilia Klee (later Cecilia Van Houten) and her father around the entire U.S. in her 1936 Chevrolet. Cecilia put the scrapbook together after their return home and noted all stops along their journey inserting everything from photos, postcards, brochures, receipts, and business cards to advertisements, newspaper clippings, matchbook covers, empty sugar packets, and used soap wrappers in the pages of the thick, frayed book.

The Klees left Hayward April 24, 1938 and traveled for 26 days stopping at various tourist spots and visiting family members along the way. Cecilia lists the states they passed through in order: California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Southern Province of Ontario, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and back to California. She even included the map they used provided by the Shell [Oil] Company with the route marked in a blue line.

They must have stopped to see everything they could along the way, not only big monuments like the Alamo, Lincoln Memorial and Liberty Bell but also factories. For example, in Mississippi, Cecilia included a small newspaper clipping about a new factory making sweet potato starch used for adhesive on postage stamps and a note saying they toured this factory. At another factory, Cecilia got a sample of "Masonite Presdwood [sic]" which she attached between the pages of the scrapbook. During their visit to New York City they took in a Yankee game at Yankee Ball Park (which is actually the name on the ticket stub) on May 8, 1938. The ticket cost $1.65. Since Cecilia was a volunteer here at the Historical Society for many years, I know what a huge baseball fan she was. I'm sure the thrill of seeing Joe DiMaggio play at Yankee Stadium must have been a huge moment for her. On the same page as the ticket stub is a used sugar wrapper from famous boxer Jack Dempsey's Restaurant.

With the photos and postcards are Cecilia's occasional comments that highlight their experience at various locations or her personal thoughts on a place. Next to a brochure from the Grand Canyon and small snapshots of Boulder Dam, she wrote, "Words can't express this." Her thoughts on Birmingham, Alabama written next to a postcard-"This is a smoky city." With brochures, photos, and a stub for parking the car in the amount of 25 cents at Mount Vernon, she noted "The Most Beautiful Place in the World; Mount Vernon, Virginia." And my favorite comment - a quick, "Very inspiring!!" below a postcard and snapshots of the Statue of Liberty.

In the end, Cecilia notes that they drove a total of 7,718 miles. They averaged 20.8 miles per gallon with a speed of 55 miles per hour. They spent $80.22 on gas and oil. That would be over $1200 in today's market. Additionally she had to purchase two new tires in Grantsville, Utah that cost $25.00. She notes in a letter to her mother and postcards to her future husband, also included in the scrapbook, that they stopped here and there along the way to repair tires, have the car serviced, or help out other motorists who had broken down. Surprisingly she did not include how much they spent on hotel rooms or food throughout the trip.

The scrapbook provides a wonderful glimpse at what the entire country was like while still in the thick of the Great Depression and just on the eve of World War II; a time before multi-lane highways and a 75 mph speed limit. The photos that Cecilia took and the experiences she had could not have been repeated if they had made the trip by plane or train. While making the same trip today would cost quite a bit more in gas than $80, the scrapbook reminds me that taking an old-fashioned road trip can give you an experience like no other!

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