By Tim Hollis
Now that spring has come and summer is approaching, some of us who are “of a certain age” generally indulge in a few moments of nostalgia about family vacations. Remember getting up at 3:00 a.m. for the long drive in the cool of the night? The only air conditioning in the car was the good old 4-60 system: four windows rolled down at sixty miles an hour. Come to think of it, a lot of the cars didn’t have seat belts, either. Heaven knows how we lived to grow up. We kids stood on the seats and climbed around in the car, craning our necks to see roadside attractions like the giant dinosaur at a Sinclair Oil service station, the teepees of a Wigwam Village Motel—“Travel the Wigwam Way”—or yet another barn roof encouraging us to See Rock City. On some of the older state highways you might even spot the remains of a Burma-Shave sign.
Tim Hollis has captured all the nostalgia of the pre-Interstate Highway era in Dixie Before Disney: 100 Years of Roadside Fun. Hollis begins with a chapter exploring the origins of the Deep South as a vacation spot, before the automobile even existed as the travel vehicle of choice:
. . . it was actually the railroad, not the automobile, that first established the South as a popular vacation destination. The 1880s saw many of the era’s Northern millionaires discovering that the South was a comparatively warm and balmy alternative to shivering away the winter months in their frozen native habitat . . . When the automobile came down the road in the early years of the twentieth century, all of a sudden highway travel became something of a fad.It is this fad with all its manifestations, from the ludicrous to the lovely, that Hollis examines with deep affection and a refreshing lack of condescension. As he notes, the driving force behind many of the roadside attractions was money, but the alligator farms, amusement parks, museums of oddities—remember Ripley’s Believe It or Not?—themed restaurants and giant neon signs left those of us who grew up traveling in that era with memories that money just can’t buy. If there’s any downside to this book, it’s that it may cause you to sigh and shake your head, sorry that those days are gone and troubled by a craving for some Stuckey’s candy. Fortunately, Stuckey’s is still with us. As for all the tourist spots that no longer exist save as fond memories, we can still revisit them in Dixie Before Disney. Thanks, Tim.
For more nostalgia:
Gulf Shores (pre-condo era)
Fifties Web (Take a look at Vintage Cars for some serious tailfins and chrome)
Mary Anne Ellis
Southern History Department