Secret Stories

Posted February 25th, 2010 by Candice


I wasn’t going to go to the Big Flea this past weekend, but I had a raging case of cabin fever.  Friday night I packed my special antiquing purse with the essentials:  keys, chapstick, credit card, and some cash.  On Saturday I arrived at the Expo Center 30 minutes before it opened so I could score an optimum parking spot and also be one of the first inside.  That way I could cruise the 300 booths without jostling crowds in the way. 


At the first booth, I picked up two compacts and spent half my cash.  I took my time wandering around until I found the Booth of My Dreams, all tricked out in red and blue transfer print tablecloths and red handled utinsels and tin lunch boxes.  So charming I could have moved in.  Best of all, the booth owner was a kindred soul who completely understood my love for all things vintage.  I picked up a felt pillow top, souvenir from the "Century of Progress" World’s Fair held in Chicago in 1933.  My husband was born that year and I have a few things from the Fair–a set of souvenir spoons, a train brochure.


Then the booth woman showed me her prize–a scrapbook from the Fair, intact.  Sad to say, most photograph albums and scrapbooks are pillaged, pictures and cards ripped out and sold piecemeal.  I had to have the scrapbook and the pillow top.  However, she didn’t take credit cards and I didn’t have enough cash.  My checkbook was home, miles away.  She said she’d hold the items for me and the show was also open Sunday.  I left, thinking I’d go back the next day.  But as I pulled out of my primo parking spot, I realized I couldn’t let the scrapbook get away.  So I drove all the way back home, grabbed my checkbook and drove back.  By now the road was jammed with other cabin-feverish people.  I had to park in another zip code and the Expo Center was so crowded I couldn’t find the woman’s booth!


Hot and wild-eyed, I finally located the booth.  The woman told me the instant I left, a man came up wanting Century of Progress memorabilia.  She kept my bag under her chair.  I bought the goodies (plus some others) and went home.  After antiquing junkets, I often have to clean things.  One of the compacts I bought was filthy inside–grease from the lipstick mingled with the powder and rouge in a thick layer.  As I was polishing it, I noticed the mirror opened.  Tucked behind was a tiny card:  "To Harriett On My Lucky Day, Al." 


I was instantly enchanted.  Who was Harriett?  Who was Al?  Was the day he met her his lucky day?  All of the objects I have hide stories but this one provided a clue.  I could write a story just from that secret message.


That night I leafed through the scrapbook.  It’s amazingly detailed.  Inside the cover is a typed itinerary.  The scrapbook-keeper, a young woman, vacationed with two girlfriends.  They took the train from Plymouth, MA, to Albany.  Then they booked a steamship to Niagra Falls, up Lake Huron, and down Lake Michigan.  They spent some time at the fair, then took the train back home. 


The scrapbook is filled with charming bits:  tickets, lunch menu, and even a soap wrapper from their stateroom. 


Not too crazy about their lunch, though.  Boiled onions, beef tongue . . . bleeech.


Here they are at Niagra Falls, wearing their slickers.  The "Misty Maidens."   Aren’t they cute?

The bulk of the scrapbook consists of neatly pasted souvenir photos (about 1 1/2 x 2 inches) and their own photos.  At the end is another set of photographs from the 1939 New York World’s Fair.  They were travelin’ gal pals!  

As I studied the photos, the telegram sent from the Western Union exhibit at the Fair, and souvenir brochures, I felt I was with those young women, wearing a cloche hat, a print dress, silk stockings, and chunky-heeled pumps.   If I read between the maps and photographs, I could experience the trip.  It would be a story–no, an entire novel.  Like the compact, the scrapbook will give up its secrets to me.  

Stories are everywhere.  Sometimes they drop into your hands.  Other times you have to go to a bit of trouble . . .