Collecting Memories


“It’s so nice to go trav’ling, but it’s oh so nice to come home.” — Frank Sinatra


One of the privileges of having a home is the ability to collect things.

And in case you missed this week’s essays relating to property, here they are:

Other People's Property

Creating a Home

 

And this is partially a generational thing — younger generations being satisfied with spending their money on experiences rather than things.

There are a number of things that I collect, either intentionally or inadvertently: books, bow ties, fountain pens, matchbooks, and hotel stationery.

For today’s “Off the Clock,” I thought it would be fun to take a peek into the stationery.

Back when I traveled (REMEMBER THAT??) before the pandemic, I made sure to grab a sheet of stationery and an accompanying envelope at the nicer hotels where I stayed.

Of course, years before the pandemic hit, hotels were already cutting back on expenses, and stationery was an easy mark. With business trips being quick affairs, who stays at a hotel long enough to write anymore? And who hand-writes letters anymore?

I keep my collected stationery in a big three-ring binder, with individual pieces in plastic sheets. They’re arranged alphabetically by country (in the international section) and alphabetically by state (in the U.S. section).

There’s the Grand Hyatt Sao Paulo, the Intercontinental Shanghai, the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, The Goring in London, The London in West Hollywood, Martis Camp in Truckee, Dinah’s Garden Hotel in Palo Alto (the tale of which is too long to share here), the Four Seasons San Francisco, The Broadmoor, The Breakers, and so many stays at The Algonquin that I’ve accumulated almost as many stationery variations as they’ve had owners in the last 20 years.

Why Collect Things When Traveling?

These are wonderful relics to have — physical proof that I’ve been places and tactile memories that evoke long-forgotten moments, smells, sounds, and conversations.

More than any digital photo or Instagram entry can accomplish, these pieces of paper are incontrovertible evidence of belonging.

Isn’t that what souvenirs are? Small, seemingly inconsequential and inexpensive items we pick up in our travels: magnets, pens, spoons, shot glasses, postcards — tchotchkes that later act as memory ticklers and conversation pieces.

Because that’s the gift we get from travel: stories.

Someone returns from a trip, and they regale us with stories. It could be your work colleague who was impressed with a city, a spouse who was harangued by travel snafus, or your great aunt with her 120 slides of photos from Old Faithful. We all want to share where we’ve been.

And what better way to remember our trips than by physical artifacts?

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Someone Else’s Story

One of the curses of being a collector was best summed up by Senator Phil Gramm, who collected guns. When asked how many he had, he uttered what any good collector would:

“More than I need, but fewer than I want.”

So occasionally I look on eBay for interesting stationery. And once, I found an auction of someone who was even more serious about this than I was.

My Spidey sense tingled when the collection was housed in an envelope called “Hotel Stationery.”

I figured that was a pretty good sign.

Then, inside, I found an itinerary that chronicled a cross-country road trip consisting of seven hotels “on way over” and seven hotels “on way home.”

The itinerary itself tells a story: from Pittsburg to Toledo, Chicago to Cheyenne, then Salt Lake City, Boise, and Pendleton, OR. On the way back, it was Los Angeles, Phoenix, El Paso, San Antonio, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and Memphis.

Our itinerant stenographer noted the name of each hotel and how much it cost. And she collected stationery from each stop. Well, every stop except the last. I expect she was delighted to be near home again and too distracted to grab the paper.

And clearly willing to spend a little more on her stay — perhaps she was pinching her pennies throughout her sojourn and found herself flush at the end, so she decided to pamper herself.

Why did our mysterious traveler choose these cities? Was she visiting relatives? Was she alone on her trip? (It seems likely, based on prices.)

When did she make this journey?

I can only speculate, but thanks to clues left behind in the stationery and a little internet sleuthing, it seems clear that it was some time in the mid-1930s.

The Paper Trail

The evidence is apparent, thanks to hotel stationery at the time that not only listed the number of rooms (a handy reference for hotels that later expanded), but also the names of the managers or proprietors.

In short, these little bits of paper contain a wealth of useful information. Some overall observations:

  • The addresses contain neither the two-letter state abbreviation nor ZIP codes, which began in 1963.

  • None of the hotels has an area code for its phone number — a convention that began in 1947.

Harry K. Miles is listed as the manager of the Peery Hotel; according to Wikipedia, he leased the hotel in 1933 and renamed it the Miles Hotel in 1947. This confirms the timeframe was pre-1947.

The Morrison Hotel in Chicago has “Chicago World’s Fair 1933” imprinted on the footer; it is likely that they didn’t continue using this into the 1940s.

According to a story in East Oregonian, Isaiah Ulysses Temple had purchased the Martin Building in 1920, and the adjacent St. George Hotel in 1922. He added three floors in 1927 and another three in 1937, before changing the name from the Hotel Dorion to the Temple Hotel.

Therefore, the year of our traveling collector’s adventure falls somewhere between 1933 and 1937.

 

The rest of the stationery gives us information about the three options that Fate had for hotels from that era: renovations and eventual acquisition, National Historic Register, or demolition.

Of note:

  • The Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles was well-regarded, although by the late 1940s, it became part of Skid Row and was infamous for suicides.

  • The Jefferson Hotel in Phoenix would become famous later for its role in the opening scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

  • And the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans is now a luxury hotel that is also a literary landmark, featuring in works by Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Stephen Ambrose, Eudora Welty, Truman Capote, and Erle Stanley Gardner.

What a much richer source for stories than an Instagram Reel.

And now that I look at the things I collect in sum, it’s clear that I was destined to write a newsletter like Timeless & Timely

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Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.