By Nicolas Ricketts
Because the National Museum of Play at the Strong is the only educational institution in the world devoted to the study of play, we often collect material that other museums might overlook. One of my favorite types of object is the personal souvenir. Travel and tourism is a difficult type of play to represent, generally, yet children, adults, and entire families do it all the time. For many adults--think workaholics--a vacation is the only form of play. This is serious play; so how do we exhibit it at the museum?
Our collections include photo albums and scrapbooks that document individual and family trips from the early 20th century to the present--essentially the time of the automobile. And, from even earlier, we have thousands of postcards and letters marked not only for the beautiful vacation spot: "Greetings from Watkins Glen, New York," but also with a heartfelt handwritten message on the reverse: "Having a wonderful time, wish you were here!" Besides these, we also have trinkets and plaques, and hosts of other souvenirs.
In 2002, a gentleman donated his personal collection of souvenir pennants. Born in 1937, he grew up in Michigan, the son of a banker. The family took yearly auto vacations all across the United States and Canada from 1946 to 1956, and the son purchased souvenir pennants at every attraction they visited. His gift to the museum was 150 pennants, which had completely covered the walls of his bedroom as a child.
This gift tells two stories. One is the happy history of a family's yearly vacations all over the country, the roadside attractions and natural wonders they saw, and their memories of all these places. The second story is of the increasing mobility of Americans; the rise of the personal automobile as a means towards recreation, and the increase in leisure time for the middle class. So much information in a collection of souvenir pennants!