The Adventures of Frank Steed: WWI Service Remembered Through Tourism

Tags: Manuscript Journals of Frank R. Steed

By Helen Gassman

Frank Steed, an American, traveled through Western Europe from 1918-1919. A theater enthusiast, he attended many famous operas, plays, and ballets. Steed immersed himself in cities like Brussels, Paris, and London, already rich in history in the early 20th century. He collected playbills, ticket stubs, and tour guides and saved them in two scrapbooks to remember his journey. But Frank Steed was not traveling for leisure. He was entangled in the Great War.

Steed, an Army Field Clerk in the US Army, was stationed in France during World War I. He was part of the Casualty Division of the American Expeditionary Forces, which had the primary role of keeping casualty records. Steed’s scrapbooks, however, barely reflect this grim assignment. He saved some documents, memos, and photos that document his wartime experience. However, the better part of what he saved seem like the souvenirs of a tourist. As Steed traveled throughout Western Europe, he saw operas, plays, and silent films, and collected a variety of items – tour guides, postcards, ticket stubs, and public transit maps – that reflected the local culture.

This map tracks some of Frank Steed’s travels for the purpose of tourism. These travels were interpreted by the documents he chose to save in his scrapbook. Not every location connected to one of Steed’s artifacts was mapped. Only mementos dealing with sites of cultural significance were considered. “Sites of cultural significance” were defined as theaters, historic sites, museums, civic buildings, public parks, and architecturally prominent buildings. Steed’s scrapbooks were analyzed for common themes that were able to be accurately and feasibly mapped. Four categories emerged: theaters, Brussels, Paris, and London.

The map is layered so all the points can be viewed at once, or they can be broken down into sections. Select and un-select layers on the sidebar.

Description of Layers

Theaters: View Steed’s travels based on the locations of theaters in England, France, and Belgium that he visited. Click on the points for more information on the show he saw there. Scroll through the photos to view the program pages he included in his scrapbooks.

Tour Guides: Click the points for general information about the three major tour guides that Steed saved in his scrapbooks.

Guide to Bruxelles: See the locations of the major cultural sites of Brussels included in the Anglo-Belge YMCA’s tour guide, which Steed saved and brought back to the States with him in his scrapbooks. Click the points for a brief description of the site and images of the guide pages.

Miniature Paris: Steed kept this small book for his scrapbook, which features 24 illustrations of culturally important Parisian buildings. These included museums, civic buildings, and historic sites. Learn more about the sites and view the illustrations by clicking the points.

Half Day Tours Around London for Men on Leave: Published by the London Underground, this pamphlet suggests tourist destinations and offers directions via public transit. Steed kept this pamphlet in his scrapbook. View the locations of the tours, and click the points for more information on the site and images of the pamphlet.

This map serves as a starting point for further research about the experiences of WWI soldiers who may have also acted as tourists during their time in Europe. It also provokes thought about the relationship between memory and reality. Analyzing and mapping Steed’s tourism travels raises multiple research questions about service, tourism, and memory during WWI.

Key Questions

Was Steed’s experience common?
This map tracks a selection of Steed’s trips in France, Belgium, and England. His scrapbook reflects even wider travels. Why was Steed able to travel so freely? Was this a perk of his position or are there other factors? Why was Steed able to buy opera tickets so frequently? Was he wealthy or did he seek out obscure, inexpensive performances? In fact, most of his playbills are from shows that were enjoying popularity in the early 20th century. Steed seems to have been on trend with the popular culture if his day. Are his travels representative of a significant group or did he have a unique experience?

Why might Steed have saved certain playbills and tour guides?

While there are pages in Steed’s scrapbooks that reflect his service experience, there are many more that document his experiences at theaters, museums, and tourist sites. Why was Steed motivated to save these types of artifacts? Did they elicit the best memories for him? Were playbills and tour guides the most pleasant papers to bring home? Did his scrapbooks develop from a natural process or was he strategic in creating them? There is no way to know the motivations of a person who is long gone, but it is worthwhile to muse about how and why a WWI officer might construct the physical record of their war experiences in a certain way.

What role did cultural events play in how soldiers remembered their experience?
From his scrapbooks, it is evident that Steed spent a good portion of his time in Europe visiting cultural sites. His cultural experiences changed the way he memorialized his wartime experience. In what specific ways might the opportunity to travel, attend shows, and visit cultural sites have impacted Steed’s memory of his general WWI experience? How may his memory have been different if it was devoid of these opportunities?

How closely do Steed’s scrapbooks reflect reality?
It’s hard to say for sure. We know that Steed acquired the Guide to Bruxelles, and that he valued it enough to keep it. However, this is the only evidence the guide provides. There’s no way to know if he actually used the guide. It’s unclear how many of the locations in the guide Steed visited in reality. In the same way, just because Steed kept playbills in his scrapbooks doesn’t mean he saw each play. A friend may have passed them along, or he might have picked them up in his travels without actually attending the shows. Consider how your own scrapbooks, photo albums, personal collections, and social media records may be interpreted in the future. What might a person who has never met you assume about you based on what you have saved?

We may not know with certainty whether Steed visited all the cultural sites represented in his scrapbook. What his scrapbooks do tell us is that, to Steed, these playbills and pamphlets were worth remembering.

(All images used on the map are from Frank Steed’s manuscripts, courtesy of Villanova University’s Falvey Memorial Library. They have been digitized by the Special Collections staff.)