This is quite possibly the most beautiful advertising booklet issued by any American railroad. While the illustrations that fill the booklet are almost pure fantasy, anyone who could afford to take the Golden State Limited to Arizona or Southern California in the 1930s would find the scenery there to be just as amazing in its own way as the pictures shown here. Rock Island published three versions of this booklet, and I’ll present all three over the next three days.
The booklet consists almost entirely of brightly colored paintings by Richard Fayerweather Babcock, who was born in Iowa in 1883 and who lived most of his adult life in Chicago. The 1930 edition contains a few words of text with each painting plus one full page of text in the back. The page in the back notes that “Four leaflets describing in detail the attractions of various sections of the Great Southwest, have been published as supplements to this booklet.” We’ll find out tomorrow what was in those leaflets.
Today I want to write a bit about Babcock, whose gorgeous illustrations are what make the booklet special. Having studied art in New York, Munich, and Chicago, he probably made most of his income illustrating encyclopedias, and those illustrations were no doubt mainly in black and white.
World War I gave Babcock an opportunity to do some color posters. This Red Cross poster tugged at people’s hearts, but the colors are mostly fairly drab.
Some have said that this Navy recruiting poster inspired the scene of Slim Pickens riding the bomb in Dr. Strangelove. Whether or not that is true, like the Garden of Allah paintings, it is certainly brightly colored.
This poster is undated, but the soldiers on the left suggest it was also made during World War I.
In 1919, Babcock illustrated a series of ads for the Shearer pen company. Unlike the Navy poster, these tended to be dark.
Babcock also did a few murals. The picture below is a detail from a 1934 mural showing Father Marquette and Native Americans that is in the Legler Branch of the Chicago Public Library.
Although a couple of the World War I posters are bright, none of these illustrations show the saturated colors found in the Garden of Allah booklet. Sometime between 1910 and 1913, Babcock did a mural for the U.S. Grant Hotel in San Diego titled “Russians Outside Port Arthur.” While I can’t find an image of this mural on line, like the illustrations above it was probably in a more muted style than the Rock Island booklet. However, this trip to Southern California may have inspired Babcock when he was later asked to paint the Garden of Allah.