Archive for Thursday, November 5, 2009

A trip to remember

November 5, 2009

It was a trip of a lifetime for a 20-year-old central Kansas woman who probably had never been out of McPherson County. It was a journey that she would talk about for the rest of her life, which stretched over seven decades. What she saw was pure magic in a time that was simpler and before when color TV could take us on trips around the world.

My late mother-in-law, Evelyn (Dean) Borth, and her 18-year-old sister Roslyn (Dean) Worley saved their money and went on an adventure to the 1932 World’s Fair in Chicago. There they were exposed to a huge city and the brilliant fair, which featured a variety of exhibits from around the world.

We came across some material among her papers about the trip to the 427-acre site, which was converted into a wonderland extolling the convenience and virtues of the modern world. One of the goals of the fair was to promote enthusiasm and optimism at a time when the entire world had plunged into the abyss of depression. Unemployment was about 25 percent in the United States and many were wondering if, not when, the depression would end. I’m sure to Evelyn and Roslyn it was a view of a world of magic and brightness. They grew up poor, raised by a widowed, single mother who made a meager living. They both graduated from high school and both had jobs that paid well enough to allow them to save for their trip.

Actually, by modern standards, the cost of attending the event was extremely reasonable. Railroads provided special fares from Kansas and other states to Chicago for the event. While I couldn’t document the travel cost from McPherson to Chicago, I believe it was something near $5 round-trip.

Among her papers we found a brochure from Sanger Tours. For example, excluding rail fare, there was a five-day tour package priced at $12. This included four nights at a hotel in a room for two with a shower. There were four 30 cent per day breakfasts at the hotel and coffee shop. They provided two general admission tickets to the fair and a lake sightseeing trip on the U.S. Theodore Roosevelt.

The company also offered an eight-day package, which increased the hotel stay and free breakfasts to seven and provided four fair tickets for $15.95. An additional week was $8 or single days could be purchased for $1.40 each.

The brochure pointed out that hotels used were close to Lake Michigan. The material added that hotels were “far enough away from the fair and Loop to give you a welcome relief from crowds.”

In research, I discovered there are two major reasons given why the Chicago World’s Fair was planned. The one most commonly used is that the city of Chicago was desperately trying to rebuild its image. If you recall, the “roaring 20s” could better be described as the “violent 20s” in Chicago.

A more practical reason was that the world was in the midst of the Depression and Chicago needed jobs and money.

The fair opened on May 27, 1933 and closed on Nov. 12, 1933. However, it was continued for a second season. While the official line was the event’s popularity, I read in one source that it took a second year to pay for the event.

The fair carried out its theme, “A Century of Progress” and gave visitors a glimpse of the world. There were pavilions from around the world including England, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, to name a few. I doubt that many fair visitors would have imagined that in less than a decade, the world would be back at war.

Certainly, it was a real adventure for two young women from central Kansas and it was their first glimpse of a big, bright world. While in coming decades there were other trips, there could never be any question that the trip to Chicago was one they would never forget.

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