Scrapbooking is a hobby that dates back to the early fifteenth century and has gone through several transitions in popularity. Though the art of scrapbooking has been modified with the rise of social media, crafters would argue that scrapbooking is making a come-back, reflected in an increase in popularity and sales over the last few years. Nowadays, it is so easy to snap a picture and caption it on Instagram, to be saved forever in the “cloud” of the All Mighty Internet.
While virtual scrapbooking saves a lot of space, there is something to be said for the physical artifacts saved from another time and place far removed from one’s own. Upon finding a scrapbook from a Ms. Eva D. Lother, we are taken back to the summer of 1932 as she embarks on a trans-Atlantic journey with her friends while they explore six European countries in about one month.
Eva Lother comes from Lakeport, New Hampshire. Though her age is never specifically mentioned in her scrapbook, it is likely she is a young woman perhaps in her mid to late twenties. At the time of Eva’s departure in 1932, the Great Depression was devastating the country; Eva’s ability to go on such a trip may means she came from a wealthy family. In fact, she makes no mention of the Depression in any of her letters.
Eva begins her journey by arriving to New York on July 1, 1932 to board the tourist steamer S. S Westward for a ten day excursion across the Atlantic, obtaining a ticket for about $250.00 (according to Dave Manuel’s inflation calculator, this would be about $4,300 in 2015). In her first letter to her mother, Eva describes the mob of people boarding the ship and family members waving goodbye in the steaming heat of a July afternoon, “The lady on the statue of Liberty waved bye to us and we were off!”
According to the pamphlet tucked away in the pages of Eva’s scrapbook, the S.S Westward belonged to the Red Star Line travelling “to and from England, France, and Belgium.” The S. S Westward was a tourist steamer that offered American’s passage to visit Europe and provided information on the various attractions they were likely to see.
On the page outlining Deck A is a hand-drawn square around rooms A-39-35, presumably where Eva and her friends stayed. This is considered the first class deck. In fact, Eva makes a comment about how she and her friends snuck behind a divider that separated the third class from the first and “quickly decided [they] were better off up here.” Since Eva and her friends were first class passengers, their room looked similar to the one below, complete with a private bath and access to a private deck.
Since Eva and company were aboard the ship during Independence Day, the ship had a festive dinner planned equipped with themed entrees such as “Thomas Jefferson Poached Haddock.” Eva saved the menus from most places she ate at during her trip, making an interesting glimpse into the foods across the world and through time. The dinner conversation seems to have been particularly light and even sarcastic, as she captured little snippets on the side of the page:
Alice: Eva, you’re like an Italian. You ask a question then answer it yourself.
Eva: Sure, because I want an intelligent answer.
There is a newspaper printed just for the steamer called Ocean Times. The newspaper mostly contains advertisements for hairdressers, dressmakers, smoke shops, tailors, and other businesses that might be of interest to an American tourist upon landing in France, the first stop of their journey. There is also a section in the paper that has news highlights from the various countries the tourists will visit.
Aside from newspapers and sneaking into third class quarters, Eva and her friends kept themselves entertained by attending fake horseraces that included wooden horses moved along according to numbers rolled on dice. Writing letters and sending telegrams also kept passengers occupied. In fact, a newer technology for sending messages began around the same time as Eva was travelling. Wireless Ocean Letters were new among steamers such as the S.S Westward. As the description pamphlet explains, “Ships at sea are now linked with the telegraph and cable systems… providing telegraphic contact with those ashore.” The first time this type of communication was introduced to the sea was in 1912 but only a privileged few steamers got ahold of one. By 1932, “most of the larger steamers [could] handle several hundreds of these letters in the course of a voyage.”
Eva and her friends arrived in France on July 10. Before entering the country the passengers had to show their passports and buy a permit to enter the city as a tourist. It was in Paris that Eva and company met up with a Mr. Gately who was to be the chauffer through all the countries the women would visit.
Eva’s first encounter with a French man was not exactly pleasant. She ran into a bit of trouble with a customs officer needing to inspect her bag but since she did not understand his language, she thought he was trying to put her bags on the coming train. In her bag was a camera and film, possibly a Kodak Brownie folding model which appears in a picture of the all the girls on the deck of the ship. These cameras were quite cheap and popular for Eva’s time.
From the boat onto the train through the countryside of France, Eva draws comparisons to her New England home, “the country looked much like our own; rolling hills and fields… they all have such wonderful gardens.” After her ride through the countryside, she hopped on taxi heading into Paris where she would stay at Hotel Commodore.
Aside from noticing the differences and similarities between the French countryside and New Hampshire, Eva also makes note of how nice the hotel room is, “It is as good as the Statler in Boston,” how well-dressed the man was that showed her the room, “he wore grey striped pants and a black cutaway coat,” and how delicious the food is, “very good indeed, but more like American than French.”
During the daytime, the girls took a walk around Paris to do some shopping. Eva notes that shops do not open on Mondays in Paris until two o’clock: “I guess everyone is sobering up after the week-end.” She also notes that the only things worth buying in Paris were gloves and pocket books and each were “terribly expensive,” a reputation for which France is still known.
Eva also seems to be fairly talented at mathematics, for she figures out how to convert dollars into francs quite easily and quickly— “just multiply everything by four.” She teaches her friends how to convert money and upon seeing a cop with the number 125 on his badge, Alice quickly figures “the cop is worth $5.00.”
If the Paris shops did nothing for Eva, the night clubs did even less. While her friends wanted to explore the infamous Parisian cafés at night, Eva was highly uncomfortable in the “dim cellar with the air full of heavy smoke and the odor of drinks.” The place intimidated her and she left without her friends in a taxi back to the hotel.
The next day was filled with attractions that suited Eva’s style better. She and her friends visited the Arc du Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower (from the outside), the Louvre (from the outside), Notre Dame, and he Pantheon. Later that night the girls went to see the Follies, which was a cross between a Broadway musical and a variety show featuring women dressed in elaborate but silly costumes, singing, and dancing that “every American coming to France wants to see.” The girls were warned to “check [their] modesty at the door.” Eva does not mention if she had a particularly good time watching girls wearing “a smile and a string of beads” but she did not say anything bad about the show either.
Their trip through Paris concluded on Thursday, July 14 and by mid-afternoon on the 15th, they were in Switzerland.