Park City Museum gets its kicks with “America’s Road: The Journey of Route 66.”
“If you ever plan to motor west,
Travel my way, take the highway that is best.
Get your kicks on Route sixty-six..” —
Bobby Troup and Nat King Cole, 1946
The Park City Museum invites the public on a road trip into the past with its new visiting exhibit.
“America’s Road: The Journey of Route 66,” which is owned by NRG! Exhibits, opened a couple of weeks ago and will be up and running through May 6, said Courtney Titus, Park City Museum’s curator of collections and exhibits.
“It is the story about one of the most famous roads in the world – Route 66,” Titus said. “The road passed through eight states — Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, and while the road didn’t go through Utah, it is an emblem of 20th century America and the Westward movement, and I think it fits our museum.”
Titus said people from all over the world visit the museum, and that alone shows they like to travel.
“I bet there are people who stop by that have traveled some parts of Route 66,” she said.
The exhibit spotlights the history and culture behind the iconic road, Titus explained.
“The road was laid out in 1926 and was very popular through the 1950s,” she said. “Its usage declined in the late 1950s and the road was decertified in 1985.”
During its early days, Route 66 was used as a way for people from the Midwest to migrate to California and escape the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression.
“John Steinbeck wrote about it in his novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’ which is about the Joads, a family of Oklahoma farmers who used Route 66,” Titus said.
In the 1940s, the road served as a way for military personnel to get to the different training camps that were stationed out West, she said.
“Then after World War II, families used the road in the 1950s when the rise of the family road trips and vacations became popular,” Titus said.
A series of 30 photographs illustrate Route 66’s mythology as part of the exhibit.
“There are 15 pairs of pictures that allow viewers to compare and contrast what the road looks like today to what it looked like when it was being used,” Titus said.
The recent photographs were taken by Russell Olsen, who researched and wrote about 75 classic Route 66 cafes, motor courts and service stations.
“His photographs that were taken in 1990 are on displayed with old photographs and postcards that were taken from the late 1920s to the mid-1950s,” Titus said. “You can really see the transformation, and some of the scenes are desolate and very striking compared to what the thriving and successful areas they once were.”
The reason for the decline of Route 66 was the advent of the Interstate highway system in the late 1950s.
“As sections of the highways were completed, those roads were used instead of Route 66,” Titus said. “So, many of the towns that were located along Route 66 suffered because they were being bypassed by the highways.
This is referred to in the Pixar movie “Cars,” she said.
“One of the subplots is about the town called Radiator Springs, which is a fictional town, but serves as composite of all the small towns that died when Route 66 stopped being the main thoroughfare to the West,” Titus said.
In addition to the photographs, “America’s Road: The Journey of Route 66” includes authentic Mobil Oil gas pump, a parking meter and a 1965 Ford Mustang.
“The Mustang actually traveled along the surviving areas of Route 66 in 2010,” Titus said. “The car is in many of the photos in this exhibit.”
Another exhibit component is an interactive white board where visitors can jot down their most memorable road trip.
“We encourage everyone who visits the exhibit to write it down, even if the road trip wasn’t on Route 66,” Titus said. “Utah has so many places, including national and state parks, to take road trips to.”
An additional interactive stations of the exhibit include a drive-in movie and an AM radio display.
“People can sit, watch movie advertisements, or they can guess songs and the artists that paid homage to the road,” Titus said. “I hope people enjoy it.”
“America’s Road: The Journey of Route 66” is on exhibit through May 6, at the Park City Museum’s Tozer Gallery, 528 Main St. For information, visit http://www.parkcityhistory.org.
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