Vintage Photos Capture Lives on the Road

Randy Garbin recently reported on his Roadside Online about an amazing collection of roadtrip photos titled Lighting Out for the Territory. They’re on Square America, named for the common shape of old candid photos, and “dedicated to preserving and displaying vintage snapshots from the first 3/4s of the 20th Century” Collector/curator Nicholas Osborn says, “For the last eight years or so I’ve spent countless hours digging through boxes of old snapshots at flea markets (mostly here in Chicago and in NYC) and too much money buying photos on eBay. The site is my attempt to create some kind of organizational framework, however idiosyncratic, for the sprawling mess my collecting has created.” Here are two from “Lighting Out,” with his permission:


Above: Looking west on the Lincoln Highway east of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, early 1970s.

And here’s his description:
“From the late 1950s through the early 1970s, Martin C. Johnson took a number of road trips criss-crossing the country from his home in Suburban Chicago to both coasts and all points in between. For each trip he put together a slide show to document his travels. Judging from these shows, he (and his wife who must be responsible for at least some of the photographs) was far more interested in the road itself than wherever his final destination might have been. For every photograph of Mount Rushmore or The Grand Canyon there were three or four shots of the empty (or not so empty) road taken through the windshield of the car. For every shot of friends and relatives visited, there were two of the motels he stayed in on the way. In doing so Johnson has left behind an invaluable record of the golden age of auto travel – an era when the new interstate highway system had opened up the country but before the development it brought had homogenized it.”

Osborn’s site is filled with countless images from about 1910-1970, grouped into categories. You might also enjoy shots from The Road:


The images are both amazing and invaluable to roadside fans, but also a reminder that the past was not nearly as tidy as we like to remember, or recreate, it.

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One Response to “Vintage Photos Capture Lives on the Road”

  1. RoadDog Says:

    Square America is a great site.

    I was especially interested in the picture of the bridge on page 2. It had a sign with mileage showing 30 to Pittsfield, 106 to Springfield, and 300 to Chicago. Probably a Mississippi River bridge.

    Could also be US-54 as it goes through Pittsfield, although today it ends near Pittsfield. I don’t know if it originally went longer.

    Page three, second picture. What, a baby in the front seat, and without the proper safety measures? How did we survive infancyback then?

    Reckon the bear on page four must be related to the bridge bear.

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