Monday, July 28, 2014

Postmark: July 28, 1938

Postmarked 4 p.m., July 28, 1938.

It's a remnant of one July day in Depression-era Kansas City, perhaps the brief record of a boy's summer vacation, written on the back of a postcard view of the Liberty Memorial to family members in Salina, Kansas, postmarked 4 p.m. A Thursday.

It begins ...

Dear Mom, Dad and Jerry,
Having a fine time. Auntie Guss and Tom were at the station ...

The  names and address on the postcard and a bit of archival research can provide a skeletal set of facts about these people. Mom is a 36-year-old housewife. Dad, 38, is a popular butcher at a Salina market. Jerry is baby brother, age 3. (There's another brother, Dorman, who is 7 and unmentioned on the postcard. Perhaps he's also along on this summertime journey.) Auntie Guss is Mom's older sister,  Augusta, and Tom is a young cousin, age 6. They live in a rented five-room bungalow in the 3700 block of Bales Avenue on Kansas City's east side with U[ncle] Con, who works at the Sheffield steel plant. The writer is 10-year-old Bob.

The station is most likely Union Station, meaning Bob came from Salina by train, possibly aboard the Union Pacific Railroad's City of Salina. Perhaps it's a first trip to the big city without parents.

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It's a Thursday afternoon. The front page of The Kansas City Star calls for temperatures near 90 degrees and a chance for thunderstorms.

Inside, The Star carries an ad for the City of Salina. The streamliner runs back and forth each day between Salina and Kansas City, making ten stops along the 180 or so miles. It's air-conditioned, a buffet breakfast is served, and the ad assures "deep-cushioned comfort." Depart Salina at 7 a.m. and arrive at Union Station at 10:30 a.m.

This morning about 10 o'clock, according to the front page of The Star, the eastbound City of Salina rounded a curve in Leavenworth County and hit a farm truck driven by a 14-year-old boy. He was killed.

Elsewhere on the front page, a 17-year-old boy is under arrest in Indianapolis after riding from New York City lying face down atop the arched roof of another streamlined passenger train, the City of St. Louis. And a young man, 23, is here today in General Hospital with a crushed foot suffered when he slipped while riding on the coupling between boxcars of a Missouri Pacific freight train. He's been drifting around the country from job to job, most recently at an airplane factory in California.

In fact, the front-page news seems to be themed: Two car accidents have taken three lives;  one small plane, thought lost, has landed safely in the Yukon Territory of Canada, but another has crashed in France, killing five French aviators; four men in rafts have successfully navigated the turbulent Colorado River; the trans-Atlantic flier Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan is returning from Ireland to the U.S. aboard the luxury liner Manhattan; and President Roosevelt is fishing the Pacific Ocean from the Navy cruiser USS Houston somewhere near the Galapagos Islands.

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The page-one events of July 28, 1938, suggest a time when travel had a newsworthiness based on wonder and danger and the many varieties of modern transportation.

We don't know whether young Bob's journey to visit his Kansas City relatives came aboard that deathly morning run of the City of Salina. He doesn't mention it in his message. But he seems to have caught the wonder of the day. And that's what he wants to share with the folks back home in Salina. His postcard concludes (with his hesitant closing) ...

... I rode on a street-car. U. Con took us to the TWA field and we saw 4 planes land and six planes take-off.
With my sincere love,

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