by Randy Gue, Curator of Modern Political and Historical Collections, MARBL
Let me ask you a question: What did you do on your last vacation? Did you journey to Florida and sit on the beach? Did you play a round or two of golf or take in a baseball game while you were there?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions then your trip bears an uncanny resemblance to a vacation Mrs. C.G. Talcott of Silver Creek, New York took in 1908. Did you realize your vacation was part of a century-long tradition of traveling through the South to Florida for fun and relaxation?
The Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) added a remarkable photograph album from 1908 to our Southern history and African American collections recently. The album documents a 1908 trip from Palm Beach, Florida, Ormond Beach, Florida, St. Augustine, Florida, Camden, South Carolina, to Washington, D.C.
The photographs highlight how important tourism, sports, and leisure activities were to the South and the Southern economy even at this time. Flipping through the pages of the album, there are photographs of tourists swimming at the beach, fishing from the pier in Palm Beach, playing golf, and watching automobile races at Ormond Beach just north of Daytona. There are even photographs of African American women playing baseball.
Tourism, especially in combination with sports and other leisure activities, helped move the South into the national mainstream. Remember, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the South – the “benighted South,” as some folks called it – stood apart from the rest of the country. Only forty years removed from defeat in the Civil War, the South was an overwhelmingly rural and agricultural region in a rapidly urbanizing and industrializing nation. Vacations in the South helped expose Americans to the region and to the region's problems.
Come into MARBL and ask for OBV3 of the African American photograph collection (MSS 958) if you want to see this unique photo album.