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Review of “Coast to Coast: Vintage Travel in North America”

August 9th, 2014 | by Travel Bliss

The cover shows Pulpit Rock in Utah’s Echo Canyon, in a photochrom by William Henry Jackson.

The strong economy by the end of the 19th century, when North America was fully settled, led to affordable popular tourism. Not only wealthy people had the means to travel. Also the less well-off set out to discover the continent — via canal barge, rail, steamboat, automobile, and even horseback.

Coast to Coast: Vintage Travel in North America by Anthony Shugaar, Catherine Donzel and Marc Valter depicts these extraordinary trans-continental journeys and offers a panorama of the North American continent. Excellently researched, the book records a bygone era of travel with fascinating illustrations and engaging prose, as in the introductory chapter “Transcontinental”. The following sections — “Eastern Seaboard”, “Midwest and the Mississippi”, “Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, and the Southwest”, “Pacific Coast” and “Canada and Alaska” — are accompanied by full-page maps (five in total).

I asked myself, how can I make Coast to Coast justice? Rather than writing a review in the traditional sense, I would like to share my favorite quotations from the distinctive personalities and travelers who so vividly described the places featured in the book.

Paul Morand on New York, 1930:

Unlike London and Paris, New York does not possess a number of good old hotels. The old Fifth Avenue Hotel, for instance was replaced by the Waldorf, which was in turn dethroned by the Plaza and the Ritz… About the middle of the nineteenth century, New York replaced its family boarding houses with the Astor House, and then in 1856 came the Fifth Avenue Hotel, a place of gas-lit luxury, boasting its six floors of white marble and the first elevators; there followed the Commodore, the Brevoort, and finally the Waldorf-Astoria, the opening of which made no less of a sensation that than of the Grand Hôtel in Paris…

The Plaza Hotel, seen from the Grand Army.
The Plaza Hotel, seen from the Grand Army.

F. Scott Fitzgerald on New York, 1925:

(I)f the night was mellow I strolled down Madison Avenue past the old Murray Hill Hotel and over Thirty-third Street to the Pennsylvania Station.

I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye. I liked to walk up Fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women from the crowd and imagine that in a few minutes I was going to enter into their lives…

Herbert Russell on Atlantic City, 1947:

Just what people do in Atlantic City is a mystery to anyone who comes here to observe. Some undoubtedly come to rest and enjoy the wide beach and the Boardwalk and the sunshine, and to sleep to the sound of surf. Visitors are old and middle-aged and young. To watch their mass comings and goings is like watching a swarm of bees, or rather ants, for they are perpetually restless, and they are everywhere.

Morrie Ryskind on Palm Beach, 1929:

Florida, folks! Sunshine, sunshine! Perpetual sunshine all the year around! Let’s get the auction started before we get a tornado.

beach
Girl on the beach.

Baron de Hübner on Chicago, 1871:

I find myself in a great avenue on the banks of the lake, with a row of magnificent buildings on the other side. This is the celebrated Michigan Avenue, the quarter of the plutocracy of Chicago. In these splendid mansions, all of wood, but plastered over, and built in every imaginable style, Italian, Classic, Gothic, Roman, or Elizabethan, each and all surrounded by pretty gardens bright with flowers, liv the families and men who, in a few years, have realized millions…

Charles Dickens on Cincinnati, 1842:

I have not often seen a place that commends itself so favourably and pleasantly to a stranger at the first glance as this does: with its clean houses of red and white, its well-paved roads, and foot-ways of bright tile. Nor does it become less prepossessing on a closer acquaintance.

Kate Chopin on St. Louis, 1980:

After a day of close and intense September heat, it had rained during the night. And now the morning had followed chill and crisp, yet with possibilities of a genial sunshine breaking through the mist that had risen at dawn from the great sluggish river and spread itself through the mazes of the city…

William Henry Jackson on Yellowstone National Park, 1871:

We were to enter the Yellowstone from the North, then the easiest route. On the way through upper Utah and across Idaho I took a few pictures. Up in Montana I made a few more picture… From Virginia City and its tired-looking Chinamen patiently reworking old gravel we moved over through Fort Ellis and established our base camp at Botelers’ Ranch on the Yellowstone River…

George Bird Grinnell on Glacier National Park, 1901:

Far away in northwestern Montana, hidden from view by clustering mountain-peaks, lies an unmapped corner — the Crown of the Continent. The water from the crusted snowdrift which caps the peak of a lofty mountain there trickles into tiny rills, which hurry along north, south, east, and west, and growing to rivers, at last pour their currents into three seas.

Olympe Audouard on Colorado Springs, 1869:

Colorado has its summer resort for “la high-life”. It is a spa high in the Rocky Mountains, near a hot sulfur spring. As you arrive in these desolate landscapes, having traveled through grim and barren country, you are astonished at the sight of a darling little house, decorated and equipped with a degree of — dare I say it? – luxe.

Robert Sterling Yard on Zion National Park, 1919:

The valleys bloom. Pomegranates, figs, peaches, apricots, melons, walnuts, and almonds reach a rare perfection. Cotton, which Brigham Young started here as an experiment in 1861, is still grown. Lusty cottonwood-trees line the banks of the little rivers. Cedars dot the valleys and cover thickly the lower hills. And everywhere, on every side, the cliffs close in.

Anne O’Hare McCormick on Reno, 1931:

You soon discover that Reno is Reno, wonderfully and singularly itself… It is a throw-back to the hard, tough, roomy epoch of the gold rush and the mining camp. Its free and easy manners belong to its tradition. Gambling is in its blood.

Jack Kerouac on San Francisco, 1950s:

Then up the Sierra Nevada, pines, stars, mountain lodges signifying Frisco romances… I suddenly realized I was in California. Warm, palmy air — air you can kiss — and palms. Along the storied Sacramento River on a superhighway; into the hills again, up, down; and suddenly the vast expanse of bay (it was just before dawn) with the sleepy lights of Frisco festooned across.

Annette Fitch-Brewer on Seattle, 1913:

There are so many fine trips to be taken around Seattle: both by land and by water. Puget Sound, “the inland sea,” with its islands, its inlets, and its canals and bays. I don’t wonder the Scandinavians flock to this country by the thousands for it must make them think of their own country.

Mrs Arthur Spragge on Yoho National Park, 1887:

About half way down the hill a beautiful valley opens out, formed by the north fork of the Kicking Horse River; blue woords recede into purple forests, and these again swell into an amphitheatre of lofty mountains, whose peaks had caught and held the first rays of sunlight, and were glowing in rainbow lines, while all above was mist and shadow.

Arthur Granville Bradley on Vancouver, 1905:

The densely-wooded mountains of the coast range, snow-capped by November and often earlier, rise into the sky, while the leafy slopes and promontories of their foothills relfect their gorgeous colouring in the narrow waters of the fiord… And as one runs slowly into Vancouver and sees the busy city covering the slopes beside the water, the big ships and liners lying off it in the most beautiful harbour in the world, one tries to realise that twenty years ago this whole scene was an obscure wilderness of wood and water.

Other destinations include New Hampshire, Lake George, Niagara Falls, Miami, New Orleans, South Dakota, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Canyon, Salt Lake City, Portland, Los Angeles, and Quebec. You will also find quotations by the New York Times, Franz Kafka, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Jack London.

Travel related ephemera such as photochroms, vintage photographs, posters, travel brochures, inserts of facsimile guidebooks, menus and vintage post-cards with barely recognizable messages follow the quotes from every destination. All in all, the book includes more than 400 color and black-and-white illustrations.

Aerial view of the Banff Springs Hotel.

I particularly enjoyed a photo of turn-of-the-century picknickers at Lake George, Adirondacks, an ad for the new Boulevard Room in the Jefferson Hotel, St. Louis, from the mid-1950s, a picture of Aspen’s The Hotel Jerome, photochromes of Cape Horn on the Columbia River and Oregon’s Mt. Hood, a full-page spread of the Golden Gate Bridge with the San Francisco skyline in the distance, and an aerial view of the Banff Springs Hotel.

Santa Fe railroad conductor amusing his young charges, bound for the Grand Canyon, 1909.
Santa Fe railroad conductor amusing his young charges, bound for the Grand Canyon, 1909.

Richard Moe, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, likens the 320-paged hardcover book to a cherished family photo album. Coast to Coast certainly gives a new meaning to the joyful pursuit of imaginary travel. And when David Owen, in his review, states “I want to travel on those trains, camp in those tents, and spend weeks, if not months, in those hotels. I want to order the crab croquettes at the Hotel Ponce de Leon in 1880, and I want to cross Lake Michigan on the S.S. Christopher Columbus in 1893”, I wholeheartedly agree.

More information:

Read sample pages of Coast to Coast: Vintage Travel in North America at issuu.com and find the book profile at The Vendome Press.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of “Coast to Coast: Vintage Travel in North America” by The Vendome Press.

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