JOURNEYS: European Tour 1957 (Part I)
“It’s so difficult, isn’t it? To see what’s going on when you’re in the absolute middle of something? It’s only with hindsight we can see things for what they are.” ( S.J. Watson, “And so it is with many of my memories. Whether good or bad, they are made clearer with the passage of time, only then revealing their significance to my life and my place in history.
For a 17-year-old small-town girl in 1957, my first trip overseas was a journey of a lifetime, although only years later did I fully appreciate its impact. My chance to travel was due to a combination of my father’s foresight and the improvements in commercial airline travel since World War II.
By the late 1950s, aircraft manufacturers had introduced a new generation of large, four-engine airliners. These planes soon dominated the U.S. and international air travel and helped lower fares. Lower fares meant increased numbers of passengers and unprecedented profits for the airlines. The new levels of speed, comfort and efficiency brought about tours that combined transportation and accommodations in one package, allowing ordinary people to afford travel abroad.
In my case, such an opportunity was in the form of a group tour of Europe sponsored by WPIC-AM radio and The Sharon Herald newspaper.
I have experienced many kinds of journeys in the 60 years since that first one, including packaged tours, cruises, cross-country car trips and travel-by-the-seat-of-one’s-pants. But the trip I experienced in 1957 was the most life-changing. I began as a rather insular kid with the usual teenage concerns and ended with a far wider perspective on the world I lived in. Just as my dad, who financed the trip, had hoped I would.
It all began when Dad, a faithful reader of The Sharon Herald, happened to see an ad promoting a two-week visit that included sites in six European countries: England, Holland, Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy. Dad had been overseas during WWII and surely must have felt that his wife and daughter would benefit from the same eye-opening experiences that he had.
A large group of average American citizens planning a visit to European countries was a novelty in those days. So much so that U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent each passport recipient a signed letter from the White House, reminding us of our duties as representatives of the United States. His words resonate to this day.
…. Year after year, increasing numbers of our citizens travel to foreign countries. In most of these lands there exist a reservoir of good will for the United States and a knowledge of what we stand for. In some areas, our country and its aspirations are less well understood. To all the varied peoples of these many countries, you, the bearer of an American passport, represent the United States of America….
You represent us all in bringing assurance to the people you meet that the United States is a friendly nation and one dedicated to the search for world peace and to the promotion of the well-being and security of the community of nations.
With our passports, certificates of smallpox vaccinations, suitcases and my Brownie Hawkeye camera in hand, and arrangements made for Grandma to cook for the family left at home, we were ready to travel.
Monday, October 26, 1957, was the departure date and our first destination was the Vienna airport near Youngstown, Ohio, about 12 miles from Sharpsville. (This was possibly today’s Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Vienna Township, Ohio.) There, we met up with other groups who were also on the tour, each group color-coded.
There was much excitement in the air, according to my diary:
A guy from WPIC insisted on interviewing us along with others who were going. I was tongue-tied and didn’t want to say anything anyway, so all I did was say “yeah” to his questions. After our baggage was weighed and checked we boarded the plane and got our pictures taken everywhere we turned. Mike [my younger brother] looked pretty sad when the plane started but everyone was waving.
This was a time, long before TSA security measures, when family and friends could stand on the tarmac not far from the plane to see the travelers off.
The initial article in the Herald’s coverage of our tour was accompanied by a photo of us boarding a red and white Capital Airlines plane. According to Wikipedia, we were about to travel in a British-made four-engine Vickers Viscount, the first passenger turboprop airliner and the first to be used in the U.S. (Capital Airlines merged with United Air Lines in 1960.)
Even as I attempted to appear as a nonchalant teen about it all, I wrote in my diary that I was “thrilled to death” at liftoff. It was my first ride in a large plane and we were finally on our way. The next stop on this grand adventure would be LaGuardia Airport, New York City.
For the rest of the story, go to JOURNEYS: European Tour 1957 (Part II).
– Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ, April 2017