In just a little over a month I will be traveling to Estes Park, Colorado for a short vacation. I spent a few days there last year at almost the very same time and it seems to be my family's yearly mini-vacation destination. It is close enough for it to be a reasonably comfortable and quick drive yet enough of a change of scenery to feel like we are actually somewhere entirely different than Nebraska. I am particularly looking forward to this year's visit as it might offer a little relief from the heat. It may also be very warm there, but being so high up in the mountains means less humidity and cooler evenings.
One of my favorite places last year was this wonderful local history museum which has a great little bookstore/gift shop. It is where I found this little gem of a book that I just read to get into the mood (as if I wasn't already) for my upcoming travels. I am not sure if I ever mentioned Rocky Mountain National Park Dining Room Girl: The Summer of 1926 at the Horseshoe Inn by Kay Turnbaugh and Lee Tillotson. It is perhaps geared towards a YA audience but certainly anyone interested in the 1920s, Estes Park, women's diaries, the Rockies or hotel work from that era would find it of great interest. Check all of the above for me, which makes this a most interesting example of the kind of social history I love the most.
This is a nonfiction work made up of mostly diary entries and letters home by Eleanor Parker who had just graduated from college in Fayette, Iowa and spent the summer of 1926 working as a dining room girl at the Horseshoe Inn just at the foot of the Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes. This was the heyday of such rustic lodges, which were peppered all over the area. Eleanor was one of many young people to work in the lodge but she spent her free time exploring, hiking, riding horses (she was an accomplished and avid horseback rider) going to casinos (which were not as we know them today rather they were places where socializing took place and dances were held). The book is made up of Eleanor's own words as well as photographs, postcards and other ephemera collected from the area.
It is an absolutely fascinating look at a place long since gone. There is something very romantic about the idea of her summer there. A description from a brochure reads: "Meals are the best quality and served in a tasty manner. Wholesome things come from our own garden. We have our own cows, chickens, and our private ranch supplies many of the choice foods." To stay at the inn as a vacationer in 1926 the rates ran $25 to $45 per week, American Plan (meaning that the cost of the room and three meals were included--all served by the young people who came to work over the summer months).
I love reading her diary entries and letters home as you get a real taste of her life there. She wrote home nearly every day and her mother transcribed her letters into a notebook, happily for us her experiences have been long preserved. A few teasers:
"Ruth has sent for a one-act play that we're going to work up and put on one of these nights. Later on we will be having a program a week. This morning the boys had a grapefruit tournament. They stand in the kitchen door and throw grapefruit rinds at the garbage pails. The one who gets the most in out of 5 gets a Hershey Bar. It pays quite well to keep out of the way or you're apt to get socked in the head with a grapefruit."
"Friday night I got my first real tip. Five dollars from 15 people for one meal. Everyone was quite amazed, and I most of all. They said no one had every had such a large tip before. The queer part of it all was that I made all sorts of dumb mistakes, gave them salad with dressing salad with dressing when they asked not to have any and green tea instead of orange pekoe. I told them I wasn't really a professional hasher and sometimes made mistakes. They laughed and said I was all right."
"The trail from Odessa to Bear Lake is no tenderfoot trail. Part of the way is nothing but rocks and sheer drop of 500 feet. The horses seemed to know their business, and we got up all right. The view unobstructed by trees was wonderful. We could see off down the valley for miles. The rocky wall opposite quite reminded me of the battlements of an old castle."
I think even today there are a lot of students from all over the world who spend their summers working in Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park, which celebrated its centennial anniversary last year (this year is the centennial for the National Parks all over the US). This is a beautifully produced book, both interesting and informative. I only wish there was even more of it. Eleanor went on to marry and teach and she and her husband (a childhood friend) traveled widely. She passed away in 1988 when she was 84. It sounds as though she had a rich and happy (certainly she seems quite happy in the photographs!) life.
An absolute treat of a book! I have two more books at the ready to read before my vacation: Adventures in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird, which is part of Penguin's Great Journeys series. And Colorado author Sandra Dallas has been a favorite of mine for a long time. I read a number of her books in my pre-blogging days and have collected nearly all her novels. I have The Bride's House to read soon which is set in 1880 Colorado and follows three generations of women "who have lived in the same Victorian home called the Bride's House". Another book I am tempted to start right now, but I will in any case soon be slipping it into my reading pile.