Category Archives: Vintage Travel

History and Mythology

On my recent trip to north Georgia, I passed through the little town of Ringgold. I’d never given Ringgold much thought, but it turns out a lot happened there in 1863 and 1864. If you know a bit of American Civil War history, you might recall that after Confederate forces were forced to retreat south of Chattanooga, the Union army then set its sights on Atlanta. Ringgold was on the railroad line between the two cities, and as a result, was the scene of a small battle.

The town’s sturdy railroad depot played a part, as it was used by the Union army as a protective barrier when planning their attack. The battle then took place, with the Confederates holding on long enough to evacuate equipment and supplies. But the battle did nothing to stop the tide of the war, and of  Generals Grant, Hooker,  and Sherman’s trek to Atlanta.

General Hooker used the depot as his headquarters for the three or so days he was in Ringgold. When he and his men left, they attempted to blow up the structure, but while it was severely damaged, most of it remained standing. You can clearly see the repaired sections due to the difference in rocks used.

A few hundred yards away stands this house. It was the home of Ringgold merchant William Whitman and his family. The family stood at the windows and watched the battle. Afterwards it was commandeered by General Grant as his headquarters.

The Whitman House is still privately owned, but there is a historical marker in the yard. Erected in 1955, it’s not a reliable historical record. First of all, the house was built in 1857, not 1863 as seen on the marker. But what’s really interesting is the story about Mrs. Whitman and General Grant. She refused his money, he paid her a compliment, and his men cheered her. Or, as the marker reads, “Grant is said to have remarked…”

The problem with this story is there is no proof it ever happened. Much of what is known about the house’s history comes from an account written by the Whitman’s granddaughter many years later. She was not born until years after the Civil War. Written accounts of Union soldiers do not mention the exchange.

But there it is, big as life, on a bronze marker on the lawn of the house. How many Ringgold citizens learned the story as children? How many continue to believe this romanticized account of the proud Southern woman defying the great general?

I’ve met many Northerners who marvel at the long memory of the Confederate South. What they don’t realize is how there are daily reminders of the invasion of the South by the Union forces. Everyone who passes this house on her way to town sees a reminder of how a brave Southern woman defied the great Grant.

I was born in 1955. Jim Crow was still an active force in the South. Southerners were still  being educated in the mythology of the Lost Cause. Is there any wonder some Southerners cling to this mythology?

The way to the truth is education. Unfortunately the way to the mythology of the Lost Cause was also through education – bad education. Only we can set the record straight. This is not rewriting history; it is reclaiming the truth.

 

 

 

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Motoring Goggles

One of the questions I get asked most often is how do I know the age of an item, especially if it is not a fashion item with all sorts of clues. The short answer to that question is that I do a lot of research in the manner of studying catalogs and magazines from the past. So many times it just comes down to good luck in spotting an item for which I have been searching.

One thing I’ve had on my list of things to buy was a pair of motoring goggles. Back before cars had enclosed seating, the driver, and sometimes even passengers, wore goggles to protect the eyes from the dust and dirt of the road. Sometimes even dogs wore them.

These belonged to Bud, who accompanied Nelson Jackson and Sewall Crocker in 1903 on the first auto trek across the US.

Since seeing Bud’s goggles at the National Museum of American History several years ago, I’ve wanted to add a pair to my collection. The problem has been with identification. I’ve looked at hundreds of pairs online, but mainly what is being sold as motoring goggles are actually industrial goggles.  Starting out I did not know the difference myself, and it has been only through careful study of period photographs and drawings that I knew what I was actually looking at.

Still, when I ran across this pair recently, I wasn’t sure. I left them in the flea market stall where I spotted them, and then came to my senses, went back for them, and got lucky that they were still there.  Still, I had doubts. They looked so flimsy, almost as if they were a toy version of goggles. But they were adult sized, so I took a chance on them.

They are made from a leather piece with glass lenses set into aluminum frames. The outside of the leather is made sturdy by a wire encased in the binding. An elastic string holds the goggles on the face.

It wasn’t until after I took these photos that I decided to get out any catalogs that might have motoring goggles. I got lucky on the first place I consulted, a 1910 Abercrombie & Fitch catalog.

Here are two of the ten styles of goggles Abercrombie & Fitch offered in the catalog. And while I did not find an exact match for my goggles, you can see how mine are a sort of cross between two of the styles in the catalog.  They are close enough that I have satisfied my own curiosity about these.

 

 

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Martha Washington College, now the Martha Washington Inn

I just spent a few days with friends in my favorite type of place – a town full of history.  The town is Abingdon, VA, and more specifically, I’ll be telling about the inn where we stayed, the Martha Washington.  The central part of the inn was built in 1832 as a residence for General Francis Preston and his family.  Much of the original structure is intact, including the family’s parlors, and a lovely oval staircase.

The house was sold in 1858 to the Methodist church, which was in the process of establishing a school of higher learning for girls which was to be named for Martha Washington.  The school actually opened in 1860.  Over the years the building was enlarged and new wings were added on either side.

All the sources I’ve found call the school Martha Washington College, though, especially in the early years, it was really more of a finishing school.  A girl could attend for two years if she had graduated from high school, or for four years if she had completed two years of high school.  By the 1920s the school was in effect, a junior college.

There are a lot of legends and ghost stories surrounding the school, including tragic love stories involving students and Civil War soldiers.  I also found a lot of differing information concerning dates.  This is a topic in search of a good researcher!

What made the stay at the Martha Washington so interesting to me was the presence of many photographs and other memorabilia concerning the school that lined the walls of the main floor of the inn.  Most of it was from around 1895 to 1932, when the Great Depression forced the school to close.

Many of the photos from the Teens and Twenties show the girls in sports uniforms.  Here’s part of the basketball team from 1924.

And here are some basketball players from a few years later.

Students were properly attired for golf in 1924.

Many of the photos showed the girls wearing middy blouses, that most schoolgirl of all garments.

The inn really has taken great pains to remember the heritage of the old building.  Each guest room is identified with a different vintage photo of the school and its students.  One of the parlors is named for First Lady Edith Wilson, who was a student at Martha Washington for a very short time.

After the college closed in 1932 (some sources say 1931) the building stood empty for a few years.  But fortunately for Abingdon, a new enterprise opened across the street – the Barter Theatre.  In 1933, young (and out of work) actor Robert Porterfield got the idea to open a theatre and let people pay their admissions with either 40 cents or an equivalent amount of food.

The theatre was an immediate success, and that created a need for a hotel.  The Martha Washington opened as an inn in 1935.

In 1948 Abingdon was the “Second healthiest town in America.”  I would love to know which town was number one!

 

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The Rest of New York

I was sorting through photo files this afternoon and realized I’d not made a general post about my recent trip to New York City.  My visit this time was a bit different, as my good friend Jill and I went with her twenty-four year old son Austin, who met up with two of his friends in the city.  Much of the time was spent showing her son and his one friend the sights they wanted to see.  It was really a treat, as I taught Austin in fifth grade.  Every teacher ought to be able to spend some time with former students after they become adults!

Actually much of the itinerary was set by Austin, who enjoys history (I wonder how that happened?)  He was in fourth grade when the attacks of 9/11 happened, and top on his list was the 9/11 Memorial and museum.  The last time I was in that area was before the museum opened, so it was a first-time visit for me as well.

There is simply no way to explain the impact of this museum.  Thankfully, there was a section of art, which helped me process it all.

When the above quote from the Aeneid was revealed at the museum, there was a bit of controversy about it having being taken out of context.  Regardless, it was a very moving wall, with the blue tiles that symbolized the way so many have described the blue of that September morning.

There was an entire gallery of art, and I especially loved these two quilted banners.  Reflections by Martha Kotter, and Cutting Off by Noriko Misawa.

We walked part of the way across the Brooklyn Bridge.  It was just too hot to go the entire way, and besides, we were getting hungry.

I never get tired of Chinatown:  the colors and the smells and the people.

We don’t have a train station in our little town, so Grand Central was quite the experience.

And even though visitors generally can only see the ground floor, the Chrysler Building always amazes with the stunning Art Deco details and murals.

The New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham died the week before we visited the city, and already he was remembered as the corner of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue was named in his honor.

Across the street, Bergdorf Goodman decorated a window in his memory.

The next day was devoted to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  Again, this was new to me.  The last few times I’ve been to the city, the islands were closed due to damage from Hurricane Sandy.

I really enjoyed Ellis Island.  It is a site that all Americans need to visit, if for no other reason than to remind us that we are all immigrants.  The only building visitors see is this one, which was the big processing center.

“Immigrant luggage brought through Ellis Island…  One baggage handler said he could recognize the nationality of an immigrant by the style of baggage. ‘I take one look at the baggage,” he said, ‘and I can tell by the way the knots are tied around the bundles…'”

If there are clothes and textiles to be found, you know I’ll find them.  One section of the museum was devoted to some of the belongings brought to America by the newcomers.

In remembrance of John Lennon, in Central Park.

The settings on my camera somehow got messed up, and it produced the filtered photo above.  Taken on the top of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the structure is Psycho Barn, by Cornelia Parker.

And I’ll leave you with this world class view.

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A Diary of Travels Abroad, 1958

There’s something sneaky about reading the journal of another, even if the journal in question is fifty-seven years old.  In 1958 Judy B. went on the “Imperial Tour of Europe.”  It lasted all summer and was surely the trip of a lifetime – the 1950s equivalent of the Victorian Grand Tour.

I first read parts of this journal when Donna of The Vintage Vendeuse started posting entries from the diary at the Vintage Fashion Guild.  She then made a website for the entries, which are now being posted as a day by day entry of what happened fifty-seven years ago.  There is a new site, which is great, with Judy’s entry followed by extra information and photos of the places she mentioned.  You can subscribe to get the daily entry, and I suggest you back up through the old ones to read about the ocean voyage and Judy’s adventures thus far.

If Judy is still alive she is eighty-one years old.  That’s hard to imagine when the diary is so full of the young men she met and the fashionable clothes she wore.  Or maybe not.  I’d like to think she is still traveling, and meeting boys and buying out the stores.

 

 

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Trip Time

It evidently is not cold enough here in North Carolina, because I’ll be traveling north with friends for the next week.  I’ll be in New York City just in time for New York Fashion Week, which I’ll be ignoring, and the Westminster Dog Show, which I may have to trick my friends into attending.  Otherwise it will be nonstop museum hopping and fabric shopping, with a bit of sight-seeing and warm bars and restaurants thrown in for fun.

There will be scheduled posts here while I’m gone, and I’ll try to check in to reply to comments.  I’ll be posting on Instagram as well, so check in for a preview of all the things I’ll find to write about here on The Vintage Traveler.

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1930s Rosebyrd Notebook

Last week had several of those days that it was too cold to even think about leaving my house, and I somehow got involved with cleaning my office.  It was a long overdue straightening and clearing away of clutter, and in the process I found some things that I forgotten that I had.

Hiding under a bookshelf was this 1930s school binder.  I bought it years ago from a retired teacher, and my guess is that it dates from her early teaching days.  It was unused, and I paid a dollar for it at a yard sale her daughter was having for her.  They had cleaned out the attic, and I bought a lot of old teaching things that day, all of which are long gone, except the binder.

In the binder I’d stored some articles I’d taken from sewing magazines and I’m looking forward to revisiting what I thought was important enough to save ten years ago.

The binder itself dates from the mid 1930s.  The plane flying is probably a DC-2, which was first produced in 1934.  Not that I know anything about airplanes; my husband identified it for me.

I kind of wish it had been gently used, or at least had the scheduled penciled in.

I love the ultra-modern train, but I love the traveler’s outfit even more.

Of course, this was back when girls’ sports took a real backseat to those of the boys.  Still it’s a bit disappointing that the artist didn’t at least show a girl basketball player.  In many schools it was the only sport that had a team for girls.

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