Thursday, October 29, 2015

Trip Logistics

We’ve been in Michigan the last couple of days, and are on our way to Cleveland. Yesterday I had a fun interview with Cynthia Canty at Michigan Public Radio- you can catch it at this link. Thanks to Patrick McLaughlin of Caldo Communications for setting this up and for hosting us in Ann Arbor.

I’ll post later about our travels in Ohio and Michigan but today I want to share some musings about navigation, communication, and money.

There were rudimentary maps of the Lincoln Highway and the areas in between cities, but floods and route changes were common and I wonder how they found out about those? When Sara and the Swedes blew into an unfamiliar city cold and weary, desperate to get to their hotel or running late for an event, were their street signs or did they have to stop and ask for directions?

When I tell women that the second (and last) man the envoys hired to drive for them got them lost in the desert, they always laugh and nod their heads and say “he must not have been willing to stop and ask for directions.” In his defense I’m not sure how many people there were to ask in that vest and empty space, especially once it got dark. But I wonder whether that stereotype about men was present right from the beginning or whether it evolved over time in the brave new world of automobile transportation?

On this trip we’re navigating almost entirely by GPS, with occasional reference to old-fashioned maps. The flat, electronic voice of the GPS calls out our turns and exits, generally getting it right but not always, as when we were trying to find our B and B in Detroit and it was oblivious to the fact that some streets were completely blocked off due to construction. Most mornings we start our day with Rick asking Siri politely “where’s the nearest coffee shop?” followed by a stream of invective when she tries to direct us to someplace hopelessly inappropriate. It still makes me chuckle, which I guess is a good thing after 5 weeks on the road.  
Letter from Erskine to Sara.

We’re fortunate to be able to communicate with cell phones, email, and texts, not to mention this blog. A hundred years ago they relied on telegrams and good old-fashioned snail-mail. The mail service was only as reliable as the addresses the sender had, and as the envoys’ itinerary evolved sometimes letters would show up after they’d already moved on to the next city and would have to be forwarded. Erskine seemed to have a lot of difficulty keeping up with Sara, as this letter suggests, and he was worried about her. "Where are you?" he asks plaintively.[1]

This telegram from Sara to Erskine illustrates the difficulty of
keeping people informed of their whereabouts. 
Telegrams were like texts, in a way. There was a bit of an art to reading them, as they were usually written in all capital letters without punctuation. "You misunderstood my wire," Sara tells Erskine in this telegram- was that an issue of timing or simply a misinterpretation of what she'd written?[2]

Sometimes telegraph operators would get it wrong and include several nonsensical words- kind of like auto-correct on your cell phone sometimes creates gibberish. In the telegram below Sara says "my thoughts are with Eyrie." [3](?) I'm not sure what that refers to; from the context, it should have read "My thoughts are with you."

Telegram from Sara to Erskine.

Telegrams were also expensive, so they had to balance their convenience with their cost, especially since funds were tight. Much more information could be conveyed in a letter, too. Finally, telegrams weren’t entirely private, so sometimes politically sensitive information could only be hinted at, with a promise of a longer letter forthcoming.
The CU was chronically short of funds and Mable Vernon had definitely drunk the Kool-Aid about keeping the expenses low. But it was costly to hire bands, print literature, book hotel rooms, and cover restaurant meals, not to mention her own and Sara’s salaries (I don't think the Swedes were paid), and as a result Mabel was often out of money and had to move funds from her personal bank account to cover CU expenses. The letters and telegrams back and forth from CU headquarters attempting to resolve this seemed to go astray pretty regularly. Alice Paul would telegram that she’d wired $75 to Denver, for example, but Mabel somehow wouldn’t see it and she’d have to send another telegram about how they were out of funds, and they’d go around again. It was a heck of a way to run a campaign, and must have been very frustrating.

We just go to the cash machine or use our credit cards…Several people have asked me who’s funding my trip, and really it’s my Mom and Dad. They’re both gone now, but they would have loved this trip, and the money I inherited from them made it possible for me to do it without having to spend time looking for sponsors or grants, which is a pretty sweet spot to be in. Thanks Mom & Dad!

My Dad, A. Allen Gass with grandchildren Silas and Emma
My Mom, Anne Bradstreet Whitehouse Gass

 [1] C.E.S. Wood to Sara Bard Field, November 29, 1915, WD Box 276, C.E.S. Wood Papers, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
[2] Sara Bard Field to C.E.S. Wood, October 29, 1915. WD Box 276, C.E.S. Wood Papers, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
[3] Sara Bard Field to C.E.S. Wood, October 31, 1915. WD Box 276, C.E.S. Wood Papers, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

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