Have you ever imagined what it was like to travel during the late 1800s and the early 1900s? It was of course nothing like today, where you book a ticket online, pack up a suitcase and set off. No, in those times it was a long process of packing and planning, and an even longer trip, usually by boat, rails, or horse. The Barker family traveled as often as they could during this time period, usually spending the majority of the summer months vacationing in Europe. Of course, the Barkers did not use modern suitcases, but instead used heavy steamer trunks that could be packed full of whatever the family felt was necessary on a long journey. Here at the Mansion, we have a large collection of original steamer trunks belonging to the family that are stored in a third floor room simply known as the Trunk Room. We recently pulled four of these trunks out to display in the Ballroom in a case, along with other traveling items that the Barkers used.Predominately displayed in the case is an open trunk that belonged to John H. Barker. The reason that this trunk was the only one chosen to be opened was because of the brand; It is a c.1905 Louis Vuitton trunk. There is another Vuitton trunk in the case that belonged to Mrs. John H. Barker, which has the original lining still in place. This lining seems to be a type of dyed red fur and it is very poor condition. Some of it is starting to tear away from the trunk while the rest is thin or ripped. To attempt to protect the inside of the trunk, we decided to keep the trunk closed in the case.
Many people believe that Louis Vuitton is a modern label, but the company has been producing trunks since 1858 when they debuted their first trunk: a flat top trunk with a gray canvas called a Trianon Canvas. Many types of trunks were created over the years by Vuitton and his son, Georges L. Vuitton, with each model more extravagant and elegant than the last. The first Vuitton item to bear the well-known Louis Vuitton monogram was a trunk canvas that Georges L. Vuitton designed in 1896 after his father’s death in 1892. The first Monogram Canvas trunk was sold in 1897. The monogram’s symbols and style, as well as the graphic flower and quatrefoil, show the design trend of the late Victorian Era. The LV symbol rounds out one of the most widely known canvas design from the Louis Vuitton brand. Even to this day it is the most used design of the brand.
The Vuitton trunk that belonged to John H. Barker is known as an “Ideal” trunk. It was first introduced in Paris in 1905 and was advertised as a male changing-room trunk that could hold everything one needed for a week-long business trip. Both of the collection’s Vuitton trunks are leather and have the Barker’s initials on both ends. The Louis Vuitton Company made leather trunks from a variety of materials including, but not limited to: natural cowhide, calf, crocodile, alligator, elephant, walrus, lizard, snakes, and seal. The leather was chemically treated before it was added to the trunk by one of the various processes the Vuitton Company used: Grained Leather, Morocco Leather, Nomade Leather, Taiga Leather, and Suhali Leather.
Of course, people did not travel with empty trunks, so in addition to the trunks on display, the exhibit features some of the Barker’s items that they may have taken with them as they traveled.
The above bag is inscribed with “Mrs. John H. Barker” and belonged to Katherine Fitzgerald who got it from the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago only a few short months after her marriage to John H. Barker.
From planes, lightweight suitcases and travel size shampoo, our modern ways to travel may seem like a hassle to us but imagine how people from the Barker’s time would have felt to see the ease with which we can go from one place to another. However, I sometimes feel like there is something missing in our modern travels. Is it the ease with which we can just go when we feel like it, as compared to 100 years ago when travel would be months of planning and execution? Does this ease make traveling to a new and exciting place less exciting because we know we can simply go back if we so wish? Many people during times gone by would travel to an exotic location one time and likely never return. Did this make them appreciate it more than we do today? Or is it simply that charm of days past, the charm of steam boats and fancy rail cars, of steamer trunks and long summers abroad that make us dream of a time where travel of any kind to anywhere was a grand adventure that everyone hoped for. It may have been more difficult to travel then, but think of this the next time you are on vacation and taking picture after picture. Put down the camera or the smart phone and take a moment to imagine what you would have been seeing 100 years ago. Think about how you might have gotten to you current location, and take the time to appreciate both what we have now and the innovations that got us here.
Please come and enjoy our new ballroom exhibit. We hope to see you soon!
Jackie Perkins, Heritage Interpreter