Weekend 200.1

Box Car IFound a pamphlet from the 1948 Chicago Railroad Fair at the Housatonic Model Railroad Club / Fairfield Historical Society train show this morning.

From the pamphlet

Retracing The Growth of a Nation
As American railroading has grown so has the nation. Steel rails have been the veritable backbone of our country in its development from a loosely-knit federation of infant states on the eastern seaboard to a thoroughly united empire.

The B & O’s initial efforts shortly after the War of 1812 making American railroading a practical reality for the first time…the history-making debuts shortly later of such famed early trains as the old DeWitt Clinton in upper New York…the Pioneer puffing its way out of Chicago on its maiden trip only a century ago to open up the plains of the West…and the great streamlined mammoths of recent years have all played their part in American destiny.

In Chicago this summer, the Chicago Railroad Fair graphically retraces this parallel history of railroading and the nation to give America its first great outdoor exposition since the war.

1948 Chicago Railroad Fair: Connection to Walt Disney
“Walt mused that Ward Kimball, a railroad enthusiast himself, always seemed relaxed, so he called Kimball and asked if he wanted to accompany him. They took the Super Chief from Pasadena…The president of the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, Lenox Lohr, who hosted the fair, let Walt and Kimball backstage at a pageant called Wheels a Rolling, presented on a 450-foot platform off Lake Michigan embedded with tracks for historic locomotives. Walt was even allowed to run several of the old engines and appeared briefly in the show…In addition to the show, the fair featured exhibits—”lands,” one observer called them: a replica of the New Orleans French quarter erected by the Illinois Central Railroad; a dude ranch; a generic national park with a geyser that erupted every fifteen minutes, sponsored by several of the western railroads; and an Indian village set up by Santa Fe…But for all the fun and diversion Walt enjoyed at the fair, it was, like the trip to Goderich the previous summer, a journey into the past as well—a journey to rediscover himself and to rekindle his passions…Once they were in Chicago, Kimball, a musician, wanted to visit some jazz clubs. Walt refused. Instead, one night Walt coaxed Kimball into riding the elevated train with him as Walt, looking out the window, described the scenes of his youth in the city.”

Excerpt from Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler

Historical Context
“Hansen’s economics were part of a broader return to the frontier in the 1930s. Richard Slotkin has written of the revival of the Hollywood Western in 1939 as a renewed engagement with the idea of the frontier at precisely that moment when the United States had to negotiate its role in the new war in Europe. The frontier, as a myth about expansion, boundaries, borders, or more generally about national identity understood in terms of territory, provided a fertile trope for filmmakers to editorialize on the politics of the day. The frontier, as an inherently American experience, provided a conceptual border between Old World Europe and native traditions. As Slotkin argues, repetition over time conventionalized the frontier myth, creating a “deeply encoded and resonant set of symbols, ‘icons,’keywords,’ or historical cliches. In this form, myth becomes a basic constituent of linguistic meaning and of the processes of both personal and social remembering…The home front turned to the frontier as a persuasive keyword that helped “Americanize” planning by couching it as a modern, urban descendant of manifest destiny, the next stage in the development of “American Civilization.” Linking planning to the frontier connoted expansion, progress, freedom, and rugged individualism, all of which posed important counterpoints to the Depression and to the totalitarian associations of of fascist or communist planning. Frontier rhetoric also fed American desires to frame their experience as exceptional, rooted in the character of the land itself and therefore inevitable.”

Excerpt from 194X: Architecture, Planning, and Consumer Culture on the American Home Front by Andrew M. Shanken

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