Wandering Wide-Eyed in America, Part 7: The Mid-20th Century

In the seventh installment on his series about seeing America through the eyes of an immigrant, Eric Anderson, MD, explores some of the major landmarks of the early part of the 20th century.

The early and mid-20th century that preceded the arrival in the United States of post-World War II immigrants probably saw their new country’s public esteem and affection at its apogee. The world found America’s industrial and military might had subdued any threats to European stability—twice. It must be hard for mothers to recall why the Great War ended so quickly when the United States came in. According to military historians, the Germans gave up because they had lost almost all their young men as had France and Britain but, when America marched in, it had a balance of 12 million young men available to be enlisted and the writing was on the wall for Germany.

The first half decade of the 1900s was one of America’s most productive eras. The United States was respected and admired—even loved—by the world. It had time for art and sport. Life was lavish. Work was good. Wealth was respected because it was seen to have been earned. People were content. Politicians were popular. It was a halcyon time. Prosperity appeared everywhere. The whole nation seemed gentrified.

Most of the work on Mount Rushmore occurred in the years 1927-1941. Immigrants studying for data on what the Borglums, father and son, created and why those four figures were chosen learn not to ask today’s high school kids for information; apparently many of those queried are of the belief that the four faces are of our Founding Fathers. Borglum had a fascinating life.

Mt Rushmore. Top Image: I talked a local helicopter pilot to remove the right-hand door “for photography,” but it was very windy and even with my seat harness I wished I hadn’t made that request. The night shot with a tripod was easier!

What date would be used for the Birth of Hollywood? America’s Sweetheart, Shirley Temple, was born in 1928 with all the charm that sustained us through a Second World War; Liberace was born in 1918, the year that ended the First World War; and the wonderful Wizard of Oz arrived in 1939, probably the movie kingdom’s best year.

Shirley Temple’s wax figure curtsied for us at the now defunct Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park, CA. The Liberace Museum was photographed in Las Vegas but now its contents have been spread over several locations licensed to show its former artifacts to the public. The Wizard of Oz memorabilia was photographed in the Oz Museum in Wamego, KS.

The Golden Gate Bridge was completed in 1937 bringing a serenity—majesty, even—to a city, San Francisco, and a country still struggling in a world depression; then, as if mocking those who had suffered the vulgarity of poverty, 10 years later Hearst completed San Simeon in 1947 where we photographed one of its swimming pools.

As the United States emerged confident for its major share in defeating the Axis powers, so its people, eyes opened to foreign places, found the satisfaction, the pleasure, of travel. It was easy in some ways; realtors had put returning service men in homes where “every house had a garage.” The great old dames wooden destination resorts built where previously wealthy families had come by rail with steamer trunks and servants to stay for a long summer season now found masses of less grand guests coming by automobile. America had discovered Travel! New Hampshire, my feisty, former New England state offered choices: Wentworth By The Sea to compete with Cape Cod in Massachusetts, and the Mount Washington Resort in the Granite State to compete with nearby Mountain View Grand Resort—a mere 16 miles away. There were plenty of travelers but plenty of beds to go around, Henry Ford had left America with a dream and a legacy.

The Mt. Washington Resort, now an Omni Resort, first saw light in 1902 and later became famous, hosting Thomas Edison, several Rockefellers, a few Vanderbilts, and three US presidents. Later, in 1944, it hosted the Bretton Woods International Monetary Conference that set the gold standard for the world at $35 an ounce.

The peace and prosperity that followed World War II also allowed returning American servicemen and women to return to their home team stadiums or even to their favorite sports Halls of Fame. Visitors to the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio were greeted by a statue of Jim Thorpe in his Canton Bulldog uniform and at the Basketball Hall of Fame now located in Springfield, MA, they could look at the display of rivals Wilt Chamberlain (the first NBA player to score more than 30,000 points in a professional career and the only NBA player to get 100 points in a single game) and Celtic’s Number 6: Bill Russell, who was declared the greatest player in the history of the NBA by the Professional Basketball Writers’ Association of America in 1980. And at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, who would not stop reverently at the plaque for Joseph Paul Di Maggio? Who wouldn’t enjoy Lou Gehrig’s locker key? Or at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, who would not gaze on the original Stanley Cup?

Sports Halls of Fame: NFL Canton Ohio, NBA Springfield, CT, Baseball Cooperstown, NY, Hockey Hall of Fame Toronto, Canada.

The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York has a more limited number of fans maybe because following that sport can be more expensive or it causes more financial reverses. The riding boots of Johnny Loftus and the saddle of Man O’ War and the Miller Memorial Cup of 1920 have, in an adjacent display case, the binoculars, notebook and the “75 year commemorative watch” of James Edward Fitzsimmons. We read about “Sunny Jim.” As a jockey he won 13 Triple Crown races, including the Kentucky Derby three times. As a famous trainer he produced 13 champions and was the leading trainer in purse earnings on five occasions.

Displays at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, NY: riding boots of jockey Johnny Loftus and the saddle of Man O’ War; the Miller Memorial Cup of 1920; Binoculars, notebook and the “75 year commemorative watch” of famous jockey and trainer James Edward Fitzsimmons.

What about other sports? Did they not encourage Americans in their own or sport pastimes? Yes, for sure, in the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI, they could see the cup in of Don Budge whose backhand won so many competitions and whose tennis elbow tendinitis in the late 1930s created such a fertile field for orthopedic surgeons. Americans could study at the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, FL, the trophies won by former presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. JFK was on the first Harvard swim team to beat Yale. Then there’s golf. I much preferred the original World Golf Hall of Fame in Pinehurst, NC, that was created in 1974 to its successor, which was relocated in 1998 to St. Augustine in Florida, but it certainly has more room now. What moved from Pinehurst included President Ford’s golf bag, the clubs used on the moon, and Ben Hogan’s heroic special golf shoes so he could, despite his near fatal car accident, continue to play this magnificent but impossible game.

Don Budge trophy, the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport, RI; the International Swimming Hall of Fame, Fort Lauderdale, FL, World Golf Hall of Fame St Augustine, FL.

Is there an easy way for an immigrant to visualize American history? Well yes, one way is to pay attention to murals in small towns. Do walls have ears? Maybe not, but they often speak to us. From Anacortes in Washington State, (named after the wife of the first post officer) and Harlingen, TX, (once called “Six Shooter Junction”) and Lompoc, CA, (first called that by the Chumash Indians), the interested traveler can find murals of extraordinary pioneer interest on adobe walls of the American West. And it’s rather neat to see an occasional tribute there to a town’s one-time country doctor!

First three images Anacortes in Washington State. Next three Harlingen, TX. Last two images Lompoc, CA.

Photography by the authorThe Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel and cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the New Hampshire Academy of Family Physicians, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.