Travel Posters: Gorgeous Ads for Places We Don't Go Anymore
It's a shifting world, and travel habits shift with it. When political or social winds change, they carry tourists with them, so places that are trendy today may be abandoned tomorrow. The cycle works the other way, too: If you told your great-grandfather you were headed to Las Vegas or Orlando, he'd wonder why you wanted to bother visiting a desert or a swamp. But these gorgeous posters for obsolete tourist destinations are eye-popping artifacts of the way we went when the getting was still good.
Travel posters are a lost art. As the influence of travel agents wanes and airports become more interested in selling wall space to corporate advertising partners, there aren't many places left where a destination or a transportation company can sell their wares through fantasy-inducing imagery. Click the link below each poster if they catch your eye, because many of them are sold on the collector's market.
Before Las Vegas, there was Atlantic City, and its centerpiece was the Steel Pier (left, on a brochure cover), where four theaters, a high-diving horse, and the Miss America pageant dazzled summertime visitors. Crowds of 80,000 weren't unusual on some holidays. It burned down in 1982, long after Atlantic City declined into disrepair, and today's concrete version is a modern replacement.
The poster on the right touts the North African countries of Algeria and Tunisia. Algeria descended into terrorism and factionalism in 1962 after it declared independence from France. It remained under a state of emergency for 19 years, which ended on February 24, 2011 in an effort to appease protesters and stave off revolution. Tunisia, another former French colony with strong Italian ties, remains a popular destination for some Europeans. Its recent, relatively peaceful revolution inspired Egypt to do the same, but Americans aren't partial to it.
Some places aren't popular anymore because they're so war-torn. The antiquities of Baghdad, Iraq, were once connected to London a part of a grand train tour that included the famous Orient-Express to Istanbul.
Today, many Americans think of Palestine for its troubles, but before the establishment of the current state of Israel in 1948, it was the name given to the greater region that we commonly call the Holy Land, which is why this travel poster for the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is not labeled for Israel.
The premise of escaping to Cleveland now seems like such a joke that there's even a Betty White sitcom based on it. But at the turn of the last century, there was a belt of American cities that had profited mightily off the flow of goods from the East Coast. Chicago, for example, rose from that golden age. The cities of St. Louis, Detroit, Buffalo, and Cleveland might be punchlines to some people today, but in that era, they were showplaces of American wealth and pluck. This ad (left) basks in those accomplishments; the Union Terminal (now Tower City Center) was then the tallest American building outside of New York City.
Odessa, too, had its heyday as a Black Sea seaport city for the Soviet Union. Today, it's a somewhat industrial city in Ukraine, and it still attracts Eastern Europeans, if mostly for its accessibility than its sterling amenities.
If there's one thing that scared mid-century Americans, it was communism. That's how Cuba went from the setting of a lighthearted romantic scene in the movie Guys and Dolls (1955) to the mortal enemy and perpetual Boogeyman of the nation (with the Fidel Castro-backed takeover in 1959). Considering Europeans vacation at its resorts already, it's only a matter of time before Americans are allowed to go there freely again.
The poster on the right dates from the optimistic days when Russia emerged from its dark Tsarist days as a new union. Americans who were familiar with the bloody Russian Revolution would no doubt have been heartened to see how the country appeared to be successfully rebuilding itself and its industries. But soon, circumstances darkened and turned it into a Cold War enemy.
When the British left India in the late 1940s, conflicts exploded. Now, three countries (India, Pakistan, and China) each lay claim to portions of the northern region of Kashmir, which floats between periods of relative peace and unpredictable insurgency. Despite the indisputable beauty of its location on the fringe of the Himalayas, most tourists are afraid to go now.
The same goes for Victoria Falls, an African World Heritage Site that straddles the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. The volatile regime of Robert Mugabe has made travel in Zimbabwe a risky and disreputable undertaking for mass tourists. People still visit Zambia to peer over one edge of the falls (this poster depicts the Eastern Cataract, on the Zambian side), but considering that most of the best views are on the Zimbabwe side, and the Zambezi River that flows from it serves as a border between the two countries, the viability of the Falls as a world-class tourism location is on hold until Mugabe falls, and possibly longer.
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