Thursday, July 23, 2015

Postmark: July 23,1917

It's a Monday, hot. Mid 90s by noon. Circus Day.

The Ringling Brothers big top is set up on the grounds at 16th and Indiana, hard by the Belt Line railroad tracks. 1250 Actors. 300 Dancing Girls. 100 Musicians. Five Great Trains of Circus Marvels Including Scores of Foreign Features Never Before Seen in America. Childhood's Golden Dreams Come True. Half a mile back toward downtown the Blues and the Columbus Senators are taking batting practice at Association Park, trackside near 20th and Prospect.

Two miles further west, at Union Station, a slender, brown-haired youth from rural Kansas is waiting for a train east. In the Fred Harvey restaurant he buys a postcard.

The great station is now three years old. Its lobby, pictured in the postcard, provides an ever changing scene for the voyeuristic traveler.  Just this month, Russian envoys touring America. Amateur baseball teams. A man seeking to trade his Steinway piano for a small car. Female job seekers entering Room 252 – Fred Harvey headquarters – hoping to become Harvey Girls in some distant western hotel. A mustachioed Kaiser Wilhelm lookalike in military handcuffs. A middle-aged woman meeting her much older pen-pal romance for the first time. Coroners accompanying a body, the 18-year-old victim of a self-administered version of what polite society refers to as "a criminal operation" – an abortion. Heat-stressed vacationers heeding the Secretary of the Interior's advice: It is even more important now than in time of peace that the health and vitality of the nation's citizenship be conserved. Rest and recreation must materially assist in this conservation ... New Army draftees, fresh from crash courses in French language, bound for training camps and French battlefields.

The young Kansan watches. He takes out his fountain pen and addresses his postcard to Rural Route 3, McLouth, Kansas. He writes:

Miss Elma Jones
Dear friend. Will drop you a card & let you know that I am still alive but am a long way off. I am in KC now but will go to Mt. Leonard, Mo., in about 3 hours so good bye from 
Ray Roark
Malta Bend, Mo
that is where I am staying
will write more next time dear.

Later his Chicago & Alton train pulls east, rolling past the Blues and Senators and the grandstand at Association Park, and then the circus grounds and the sidetracked Ringling Brothers trains with their elephants and marvels, their dancing girls and their childhood dreams. Ray Roark is just 17, ineligible for the draft until next year. A full year to dream about dancing girls and French battlefields.

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