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Time Travel: Nostalgic Glimpses Into Decades Past

“In the early hours of a smoky morning as we sat reading in the cabin of a ferry, a sudden shriek from our whistle, followed by a succession of piercing toots brought us to our feet to see what disaster was pending, when behold, close at hand lay the Japan steamer, Oceanic, with a tug at her side receiving on board a small piece of woman-hood which then sped away for the Oakland mole, where a special train awaited the arrival of Nelly [sic] Bly.”
—Susie Champney Clark, The Round Trip from the Hub to the Golden Gate (1890)

I’ve just stumbled across one of the best pieces of alternative ‘armchair travel’ I’ve encountered in a long time. The Library of Congress’ American Memory archives posts a “Today in History” section with historical facts, images, and bits of narrative text. Combined, they offer a daily, often-nostalgic glimpse into the sights, sounds, and travels of decades past — today’s entry, for example, follows the 1889–1890 round-the-world journey of young reporter Nellie Bly.

International travel was very much a luxury for most Americans at the turn of the 20th century, when such excursions were a privilege available only to the elite. The everyday person would have considered travel a distant dream — a feeling to which many of us can relate these days. I imagine the stories and photographs published in newspapers serving a similar purpose as something like the Travel Channel does now, giving us a window out of our own everyday, and the hope of faraway adventures to come.

Grainy vintage photo of a sailboat on the ocean with land visible in the distance.
distant view of harbor approach, William Henry Jackson, photographer, 1843–1942. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.