A Scrapbook Story of a Steamboat and Mom

Cruising through the summer of 1945

By Eric Peterschmidt

Even with war happening on other continents, in the summer of 1945 here in the US, the SS North American was cruising the Great Lakes, and my mom and her sister, my aunt, were part of her crew that summer.

We had heard stories about that summer every now and then – brief anecdotes brought to mind by a song or a show.  I think we were always curious, always wondering what that summer must have been like.

As I’ve shared with you before, when our parents passed away, we (my siblings and I) found ourselves with boxes and boxes of old family photos. And while I talk frequently about what happened with those photos (they now live online in TightKnit story albums and are shared with the entire family), I’ve never shared this:

We STILL haven’t made it through all of the boxes.

It wasn’t until many years later (early 2022) that my brother found two photo albums that we didn’t even know we had, both carefully curated by our mother.

One of the albums was a scrapbook all about that summer of 1945, when Mom and Aunt Betty were crew members on the SS North American.

What a fun discovery!

Of course there were pictures, many of which appear to have been professionally shot by the cruise ship’s photographer. And there were other pieces of memorabilia, like programs, and even articles clipped from area papers. The scrapbook did a wonderful job of laying out the chronology of that summer – the pages all nicely arranged in the sequence that things occurred.

Fortunately, the scrapbook was also fully “narrated” by our mother – in her own penmanship – with comments on every page.

What a gift. We learned so much that we hadn’t heard before.

For example, Mom and Aunt Betty were part of a group of college women from various schools who were hired to work on the ship. They were waitresses who also entertained – performing dance numbers from popular stage shows, backed by a live 5-piece swing band. Fun!

But what to do with this wonderful treasure?

How to preserve it for future generations – and how to SHARE it with the members of Mom’s family – her descendants but also her siblings and their families?

We knew that the most effective way to share with all who would be interested would be to create a TightKnit story album that they could all access. But we felt like we would lose something by taking every picture out of the album and scanning it. We’d lose the flavor, and perhaps the order, and, most importantly, we’d lose Mom’s personal narrative to accompany this journey through that summer.

So I decided to take photos of each page as a whole. I put a lighting source on the table and carefully captured each page within a frame and snapped the picture. It was physically a big book – 12×14 – so my iPhone was up to the task and did a great job. And the finished TightKnit story album made the time investment so worthwhile. We now have this amazing piece of family history, preserved exactly as our mother intended, and shared online with her entire family.

And we no longer have to imagine what that summer must have been like. We know. We can hear it in Mom’s voice whenever we read her comments on each digitally preserved page.

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