New Haven Museum: “Road Trip!”

Date: Saturday, March 25, 2017
Duration: All Day

114 Whitney Ave. New Haven 203-562-4183


    Tuesday – Friday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
    Saturday – 12 – 5 p.m.
    Free 1st Sundays: 1-4 p.m. We are open to the public every first Sunday of the month free of charge.
    The Whitney Library is not open on Sundays.

Remember the excitement of piling into the car and heading out on the open road with family or friends? Whether you got your kicks on Route 66 or Connecticut clam shacks along Route 1, you’ll enjoy a journey through the New Haven Museum’s new exhibition, “Road Trip!” A celebration of the architecture, food and fun found on the byways and back roads of America, the adventure will run through June 17, 2017.

The “Road Trip!”  exhibition focuses on the joy of trading speed and convenience for the excitement of exploration and discovery of the unexpected. In the early 1900s, Americans took to the road in their cars even before a network of hard-surfaced roads existed. According to guest curator Mary M. Donohue, the fun of the great-American road trip is that the drive is often as important and memorable as the destination. “Road Trip!” includes vintage photos of quirky roadside attractions, souvenirs and mementos crowdsourced from Greater New Haven residents, artifacts from the Connecticut Historical Society, Museum of Connecticut History, the American Diner Museum, and even a 1960s-inspired, turquoise-and-white diner booth, specially built for the exhibit by the New England Seating Company. The exhibition opens to the public on Tuesday, November 22, 2016, and will run through June 17, 2017.

The exhibition is anchored by large-scale photos from Richard Longstreth’s book, “Road Trip: Roadside America, From Custard’s Last Stand to the Wigwam Restaurant,” which served as inspiration for the exhibition. The architectural historian and historic preservationist notes, “My primary concern in photographing the roadside landscape was documentary—to provide a long-term record of places that would soon disappear.” Traveling over 60,000 miles during the 1970s, with the interstate highway system in its final stages of construction, Longstreth raced against time to document the “mom and pop” motels, diners, gas stations and oddball amusements that beckoned along the way. Roadside architecture wasn’t validated as a topic worthy of scholarly study at the time, but he believed that its day would come. His dedication to providing a lasting record of these highway attractions that served motorists from the 1920s to the late 1960s shines through the photographs chosen for this exhibition.

Using objects as diverse as a classic red plaid Thermos, c. 1955, a 1970s, tabletop jukebox, (loaned by Clark’s Dairy and Restaurant, in New Haven), and swizzle sticks, matchbooks, ashtrays and cocktail forks that will either prompt memories or conjure images from “Mad Men,” the exhibition explores how Americans were sustained and entertained while seeking adventure on the open road. Some of the more humorous mementos range from a 1970 Guide to Washington, D.C., to souvenirs from the 1964-65 World’s Fair, including a plastic Michelangelo’s “Pieta” souvenir from the Vatican Pavilion, and a Dinoland drinking glass.

Among the items crowdsourced for the exhibition are those of area residents, creating a treasure trove of 20th-century, road-trip bric-a-brac, including a vintage Howard Johnson bank, a Pennsylvania Turnpike ashtray, and even a Heinz Pickle magnet. Reminiscences of road trips taken by residents of Greater New Haven are included in YouTube videos created for the exhibition.   

“Road Trip!” also includes a look at the 20th-century African American travel experience. Until the late 1960s, African American travelers were never assured that they would be served at restaurants, or allowed to rent rooms at motels. In 1936, Victor H. Green, an African American mailman in New York City, published “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” a travel guide to businesses that would serve Black customers. On the cover was the motto “Carry your GREEN BOOK with you…You may need it.” The “Green Book” ultimately listed an array of businesses: hotels, tourist, night clubs, restaurants, service stations, and beauty parlors. Not restricted to places in the South, the guide covered most states and larger cities, and by 1940 included seven cities in Connecticut. Road Trip! includes related items, including a reproduced copy of a “Green Book,” that the public can leaf through, brochures loaned by a New Haven traveler and a copy of “Ruth and the Green Book,” a children’s book telling the story of an African American family on a road trip from Chicago to Alabama in the 1950s.

Though largely focused on travel during the 20th century, “Road Trip!” also includes objects and video reminiscences from more recent journeys, including a 2012 cross-country road trip with a mother and son; a trip to the southwest in 2012, and a cross-country trip taken by one young couple to raise awareness about military veteran’s needs,

Road Trip! also celebrates the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), legislation enacted in response to growing awareness and concern over the destruction of historic sites caused by building interstates and urban renewal. Unprecedented growth after World War II put historic buildings at great risk from massive public-works projects. Signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on October 15, 1966, the NHPA put in place safeguards and incentives to preserve the nation’s historic places and provide the American people with a sense of place and connectedness. The act formally recognized historic preservation as a governmental concern and encouraged Americans to see historic buildings and neighborhoods across the country as vibrant repositories of our collective history. “

“Road Trip!” is made possible, in part, by the generous support of the Howard Gilman Foundation and the Richard L. English Fund.

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