After the Fall

The Filson has several collections that have accounts of Kentuckians traveling in Europe.  Recently, we accessioned a scrapbook from Laura Woodson Callis Stewart and her trip to Europe in 1948. Laura and her husband David left the United States in March of 1948 to travel to Belgium for training as missionaries in Africa. While in training the couple traveled to England, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland and Germany and collected memorabilia preserved in the scrapbook. At that time, Europe was trying to recover from the devastation of the war and many of the images in the scrapbook are of burned out buildings and rubble, but also postcards from museums with great art. In the scrapbook’s margins, Laura Stewart commented upon many of the images of destruction and the art she witnessed while traveling.

The scrapbook has many contrasting images.There are images of bomb damage at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London on the same pages as a program for the basketball finals at the 1948 London Olympics.  Later, a program from a 1948 Industrial Fair in Brussels is found near postcards of battlefields.  Images of pastoral beauty from Switzerland contrast sharply with postcards showing war-torn buildings in Bastogne. Europe was in turmoil after the fall of the Nazis but it was being rebuilt and the images do reflect this change.

Typed copies of Laura’s letters home also reflect the new Europe being built. She discussed the monetary changes happening in France and how it was bringing stability to the economy. She discussed picking up a hitchhiker in Germany dressed in an old German uniform. The man was a war veteran working to remove unexploded bombs and landmines. It was not until the rider reached his destination that Stewart realized his right hand was artificial, lost while performing his job. This same letter then described spending the Christmas holiday with friends in Germany. Their time on the German Autobahn was marred by the slowness of traffic crossing the temporary bridges built by the military to replace those destroyed by the war. The Autobahn was still lined with the burned and rusting wreckage of trucks and tanks of both sides of the war, yet the couple comment on the advantage these modern roads once were and may be again.

The Laura Woodson Callis Stewart scrapbook gives the researcher a unique view of post-war Europe. It shows the devastation, but also the hope of the new beginning.

Mike Veach

Leave Comment