“When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” — Nora Ephron, When Harry Met Sally
My parents Mary and Ted’s two-week honeymoon turned out to be the longest vacation of their lives. During their marriage, vacations consisted of jaunts to Grandma’s lake house in Lake Villa and a trek to Worcester, Mass in 1959 with five kids packed into a ‘56 Mercury. There were other family getaways – the Wisconsin Dells, Springfield, Illinois, and St. Louis, and a trip around Lake Michigan. Their horizons widened a bit when they became empty nesters, but a Caribbean cruise for their twenty-fifth anniversary and one California vacay were their only other big trips.
The opulent LaSalle Hotel at the corner of LaSalle and Madison had been the site of a devastating fire that took place on June 5, 1946. On that terrible night, a fire started in an elevator shaft and raced up the staircases, trapping guests in the 886 rooms and killing 61 people. The hotel reopened in the summer of ’47, equipped with new safety features.
On their wedding night, honeymooners Ted and Mary checked into the newly refurbished LaSalle Hotel for a three night stay. Their bill, taped in Mary’s scrapbook and captioned ”the bad news”, included the room, three restaurant charges and a twelve cent phone call. Total: $49. 96. While in Chicago, Mary and Ted took in a performance of Mister Roberts at the Erlanger Theater on Clark near Randolph. Mary included the ticket stubs for $3.10 balcony seats and a Stagebill in her scrapbook.
Then, it was on to Missouri. Back in the days before Trip Advisor and Google Maps, people had to figure out their vacation destinations by browsing ads in the newspaper and sending for brochures. This is how Ted and Mary discovered The Elms in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, described as “An All-Year Health and Pleasure Resort: The Most Famous Mineral Waters in the World.”
With their wedding money, mostly five dollar gifts but one whoppingly generous twenty dollar bill from Ted’s wealthy cousins Joan and Helen McGillicudy, the couple rented a car. To plan the trip, Ted joined Conoco Touraide and received a hand-prepared book of maps with the best routes highlighted, along with detailed information on what to see and do along the way to the Show Me State. The guidebook included a spot to record gas purchases and Mary, ever the bookkeeper and tracker of funds, logged in fill-ups, like the 8.9 gallons in Newton, Iowa that set them back $2.31.
Perhaps it was their inexperience with vacation travel or their love-struck state of mind, but the tip-off that The Elms was an old-folks resort where the elderly came for restorative waters passed them by, until they arrived at their destination. Sure, the setting was pretty – picturesque hills decked out in fall colors – but there wasn’t much excitement for a couple in their twenties. In the entire resort, there were only three young couples, including Dolly and Bob, bearers of the unfortunate surname Klod and senders of an annual Christmas card later to be mocked by the Dineen offspring.
On Sunday night, the Dineens, the Klods and another young couple barely old enough to drink went to Kansas City and then brought beer back to enjoy in their room. Ted smuggled the bottles through the lobby by packing them into his golf bag, but the “clink-clink-clink” revealed his subversive actions to everyone he passed by. The younger guy bragged about how well he could hold his liquor right up until he went to the bathroom and fell into the tub. The next day, that couple never appeared outside of their room, surely nursing a hangover. Ted and Mary’s one-week stay included a bit of golf, a side trip to see the home of President Truman, some romantic walks, and a bill for $157.21.
After the Elms, the happy couple headed for the Chase Hotel in St. Louis, where two nights cost $22.57 and included parking. While in the Gateway City, they boarded a yacht owned by Mary’s boss Harold Miles and cruised along the Missouri and Illinois Rivers.
Honeymoon over, they headed back to begin their married life in their apartment on Glenwood, but not before they collected some souvenirs. They “forgot” to turn in hotel keys so they could keep them in the scrapbook along with plenty of black-and-white photos.
And one more souvenir came home with them as well – me. I was born nine months later.