The Land of Plenty

A couple of weeks ago, my father emailed me a link to an old travel newsreel from the early 1940s highlighting the sites of Chicago. It got me hooked; I wanted to learn more about the short films and the people who created them. While I’ve seen some of these travel pieces before (at times Turner Classic Movies will run them between feature films), those of my father’s generation will remember seeing them on the big screen at the local movie theater as they were often before the main feature film.

A quick Google search led me to an entire trove of videos like the one my father shared. They were created by James A. Fitzpatrick, heralded as the leader of the travelogue format, before the advent of television made them obsolete. He first began his work in the mid-1920s. MGM distributed his short films under the name “Fitzgerald Traveltalks” and “The Voice of the Globe,” while his work for Paramount was called “Visitation Visits.”

Of course, he visited Minnesota too. In “Minnesota: Land of Plenty,” Fitzpatrick highlights the beauty of our state as you would have found it in 1942. It’s fascinating to see what a traveler might have found interesting about our area at that time. Our Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are highlighted, but they weren’t called that in the film. In St. Paul, the Native American mounds are highlighted as a natural wonder, in what can be found today in Indian Mounds Regional Park. (Our Native American heritage is also mentioned in a short section on Grand Portage.) It’s also fun to see footage of downtown St. Paul when The Cathedral of St. Paul and Landmark Center are the two tallest buildings. The Capitol is called “one of the finest government buildings in the world.”

I love some of the statistics that are cited in the film. “More than half the state’s people live on farms.” In Minneapolis, for instance, there exists “one park acre for every 92 of its people.” Duluth is home “to the world’s greatest inland port” where it is “second in total tonnage to the port of New York and this with an average navigation season limited to eight months of the year.” Other interesting sites included in the film only highlight what has changed. For instance, Hastings’ “unusual” spiral bridge “said to be the only one of its kind in the world” was created to bring the end of the bridge to the main street of downtown. I just drove through Hastings a couple of weeks ago to visit an apple orchard, only this time I crossed the river on a brand new bridge, which just opened to traffic in June and is expected to be fully operational with all four lanes of traffic this coming spring.

Other tourism attractions are featured, including Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox of Bemidji, Itasca State Park, and Rochester. But I think my favorite part of the video is that voice itself. Quite an accent. Writing about similar newsreel footage from the era, journalist James Fallows called it not quite faux-British, but “a particular kind of lah-dee-dah American diction that at one time was very familiar and now has vanished.” His research found that it was actually called Mid-Atlantic English, a style that was taught to professional actors and announcers from the time. Check it out and you will see what I mean.