Cultural institutions in San Francisco continually search for new acquisitions. Alexis Coe brings you the most important, often wondrous, sometimes bizarre, and occasionally downright vexing finds every other Friday.
"I love Marin, but there's no public transportation," said almost everyone in San Francisco at some point. Cry me a river, right? Or, more specifically, accept this "Commuter's Crying Towel." This figurative towel was issued to passengers on the last very last run of the electric train service in Marin. On February 28, 1941, the automobile, expansion of Highway 101, and the Golden Gate Bridge rendered the inter-urban trains in Marin obsolete.
"Issued as an ephemeral souvenir, it now represents the end of an era where journey by train for work or pleasure was commonplace," explained Carol Acquaviva, a librarian in the Anne T. Kent California Room of the Marin County Free Library. "Gone are not only the trains, but the lifestyle of train travel that was once commonplace in Marin."
The 1920s expression "crying towel" was almost always used sarcastically, but Acquaviva knows that paltry public transportation is nothing to sneer at. She gratefully accepted the towel as a part of a larger donation by Kenneth and Geraldine Reichard, professional photographers who moved to Corte Madera in the mid-1950s.
Their donation not only depicts the evolution of Corte Madera and Marin County during the second half of the 20th century, but also their many affiliations. "They were active in local affairs and great outdoor enthusiasts," Acquaviva said.The Reichards belonged to the Audubon Society, the Whirlaways Folk Dancing Club, the Marin Canoe Club, the Marin Conservation League, and the Corte Madera Historical Society, of which they were founding members.
The "Commuter's Crying Towel" is just one part of a large collection of railroad and ferry boat resources in the California Room. To meet visitor demand, Acquaviva and her colleagues created a pathfinder detailing related books, maps, newsletters, films, oral histories, and newspaper and pamphlet files. The towel fits in well with their existing collection of related ephemera, including tickets, timetables, promotional material and pictorial brochures. Their digital collection can be viewed online.
As with most public archives, the California Room is open to dilettante and credentialed researchers alike, and the "Commuter's Crying Towel" is available to patrons upon request. "We hear from people who recall the heyday of train travel in Marin, and examining this item certainly grounds that experience in reality," said Aquaviva.
Can't make it to Marin on account of the public transportation problem? The California Room has made their "Railroads in Marin" and "Mt. Tamalpais & Muir Woods Railway" digital collections accessible from home.