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WE LEARN a lot about our country through foreign eyes. And the views are particularly striking when written more than a century ago. Thus it is with one of the Baedeker guidebooks in my collection. (See http://wp.me/p2ETap-ki for a celebration of the genre.)
Baedeker observes that “the vast extent and rapidly changing conditions of the United States make the production of a satisfactory guidebook a particularly difficult task.” The guide opens with general comments including Hotels and Restaurants, Climate and Climatic Resorts, and Aborigines and Aboriginal Remains. These are followed by geographical sections based on railway tours of The Middle States; New England; The Middle West; The Far West California; Southern States; Mexico; Cuba, Porto Rico; and Alaska.
Thirty-three maps are included, among them several for environs of New York City, New Haven (with a Yale University inset), Minneapolis/St. Paul, Colorado Springs and San Francisco.
Brooklyn, notes the Baedeker, “was formerly the fourth city of the United States in size and industrial interest, but now forms one of the boroughs of Greater New York…. It is popularly known as the ‘City of Churches.’ ”
The train trip out to Montauk, Long Island, 116 miles from Brooklyn, fare $3.45, includes Easthampton, “one of the quaintest villages in the state.” Recommended lodging: the Maidstone Inn, $4. It’s still there; www.themaidstone.com. (The Baedeker rate may no longer be valid.)
Heading west via the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, the Baedeker traveler is advised that “the wonderful Grand Canyon of the Colorado is most easily reached from Williams (6725 ft., Grand Canyon Hotel, $2 1/2).”
Having arrived west, the traveler learns that Los Angeles was “of no great importance till after 1880 [note: only 29 years prior to the Baedeker’s 1909 publication], when it underwent an almost unprecedentedly rapid increase in wealth and population.”
The city is noted for “its perpetual bloom and fruitage, where semi-tropical fruits mature in perfection, and the most delicate flowers dazzle the eye with color the winter through.”
Some things, thankfully, never change.
Worthy of visits in the area in 1909 were “a genuine Chinatown,” the Sonora Town “unchanged since Fremont hoisted the flag in 1846,” and “an excellent view of the city obtained from the tower at ‘Angel’s Flight.’” Also recommended is “the oil belt, with its curious pumps.”
John D. Rockefeller’s dream of his Standard Oil Company controlling the world’s petroleum was destined to evaporate by 1911. That year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Standard Oil of New Jersey violated the Sherman Antitrust Act.
Travelers in the U.S. in 1909 didn’t have to worry about this, though. As long as they carried their trusty Baedeker’s United States. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014