Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Departures and Arrivals

Remember 1954 - Hoop skirts, Sock Hops, and Hula Hoops. Many rock fans claim Rock Around The Clock (1954) by Bill Haley And The Comets as the first rock and roll song. Gas was 22 cents a gallon and a new car cost $1,700. The average cost of a new house, just over $10,000.

It was a Summer of lasts and firsts. The last time Mary Miles was single, the last time she would travel by ship across the Atlantic, the last time she would visit relatives in Algeria. But, the same could be said for firsts, for it was also the first time Mary had done any of these things. And years later, she would come to Europe again, this time by plane, to visit her daughter, and revisit some of those experiences. On this second occasion, I was in the Army, stationed in Kaiserslautern, Germany. Mary, my wife Robin and I would take a two week trip through France, Spain, and Italy. But this story is not about that time, it is about the first and last time Mary went away from Kansas, a trip with her mother to visit relatives in Paris, France and Bonne, Algeria.

Mary kept a diary of her experiences.

July 21, 1954.

Left Union Station at 9:15 p.m. Charlie, Eleanor & the kids, Joan & Delbert, Dad & Bonnie & Velma saw us off.

In this day of airplane travel everything is rushed. But travel in the 1950's was at a slower pace. It was one of train schedules and waiting rooms, of time to read, and time to sight-see along the way.

Union Station in Wichita is still there. It is an empty relic of another time, awaiting a new life and a new use. But then, it was the center of travel. Of course there was airplane travel, but this was still the early day of the airline industry. Travel by plane was new and expensive.

The railroad was the Atchinson, Topeka, and Santa Fe, more popularly known as the Santa Fe. This amalgam of names was what was left of a thousand start up railroads, of consolidations and bankruptcies. The railroads had opened up western America to homesteaders and made possible the transportation of goods back to the more populous east coast. The name Santa Fe was a misnomer, as the train never made it that far, the tracks ending at the Kansas Colorado border.

View the Passenger Train, 1954 on Youtube.

July 22, 1954.

Arrived in Chicago, 9:00 a.m.. Had to wait 'til 3:00 p.m. to catch the N. Y. Central. Visited Marshall Fields, slept on the train all the way to NYC.

Mary and her mother Maria were traveling to France and Algeria to visit Maria's French relatives. Maria was born Maria Llabres. She was born in 1895. She and her family lived in the small village of Soller, Majorca, where her parents ran a small hotel. Later, the family moved to French Algeria where they farmed. It was in 1920 in Algeria that Maria Llabres would meet a young oilman from El Dorado by the name of Frank Ottley Miles. They were married overseas. Mary's older brother Charlie was, in fact, born in Algeria.  In 1925 the family would return to El Dorado. A daughter Joan would be born nine years after Charlie, and, one year later, Mary.

July 23, 1954

Arrived in New York City at 9:00 a.m.. Had a big day, did lots of sight-seeing. Visited the Empire State Building, Radio City, Chinatown, Wall Street, Skid-row, Saw the Rockettes in a stage show. By evening we were quite tired. Stayed at the Hotel Commodore adjacent to Grand Central Station.
Grand Central Station was and is the largest train station in the world by number of platforms - 44 with 67 tracks alongside. In 1954, the nearby Commodore Hotel was the place to stay. Named for "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt, the founder of the New York Central Railroad the hotel opened its doors in 1918 and contained 2000 rooms. Called the "Most Beautiful Lobby in The World", it was the single largest room of the day with modern low ceilings and a waterfall designed by John B. Smeraldi.

By 1976, the hotel was in decline. Donald Trump bought it for 10 million dollars, restored it, and began his climb to the top.

See what Mary and Maria saw on a Tour of NYC in 1954 via Youtube.

July 24, 1954

Sailed at noon. The ship is rally big. Looked ship over, went to the movies in the evening, then to bed. Really tired.

Mary does not mention the name of the ship, but it is likely that it was one of the sailing ships for the Cunard line which traveled the Atlantic between New York and LeHarve. Today, we know the Cunard Line by the name Carnival.

The unnamed ship could have been the Saxonia, which was launched that same year in February of 1954.

Saxonia, image from Wikipedia.

To be cont'd.

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