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All of the Postcards From National Lampoon's Vacation Opening Title Sequence

Summertime is always fun, and we've had some fun this year for sure.  Around here, though, the days are a bit cooler, and the leaves are already turning colors and falling down.  It's not quite Labor Day, but... here we are.  

It seems like, mentally, most of us are already in Fall mode.  Stores are putting out the Halloween candy, some kids have returned to school, and we collector nerds are on the hunt for the special limited edition Halloween items.  

We've even had our first taste of New England's apple cider donuts, and my wife has picked up a few new autumn decorations.  Even my daughter is excited for "Hallah-bean" this year, thanks to youTube's algorithm pushing the Halloween Mickey Mouse special episodes.

But, as we look ahead to fall, we press on with the final days of summer.  

The final entry into our YesterYear Summer of 2022 is meant to remind us that summer and summer vacations are lifelong memories.  

I cherish my summer vacation memories, as I'm sure you do.  The good, bad, ugly, or indifferent, I wouldn't trade them for the world.  I mean, it's not like we went on an around-the-world cruise on a private yacht with a gold toilet, but... that'll never happen.  To be totally honest, I wouldn't trade my summers in New York and Maine as a kid for that kind of trip, either.  

In order to honor the memories of summer vacation, what better way to take a look back at the best summer vacation movie of all time... National Lampoon's Vacation, of course!

National Lampoon's Vacation, often referred to as simply "Vacation," is the 1983 road trip comedy starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Randy Quaid, and John Candy.  Supermodel Christie Brinkley makes her acting debut, with special appearances by Eugene Levy and Brian Doyle-Murray.  The film was directed by 80s comedy icon Harold Ramis and written by fellow 80s movie legend John Hughes.  The story is based on Hughes' original short story titled Vacation '58, which had appeared years earlier in National Lampoon Magazine.  

National Lampoon's Vacation was successful immediately, with a low budget of $15 million, the film earned $60 million during its first run of theaters in the United States  Based on this success, five sequels have been produced, although most fans only consider three to be actual sequels.  

European Vacation was released in 1985, followed in 1989 by Christmas Vacation, the most successful film of the franchise.  Vegas Vacation followed nearly a decade later in 1997, but lacked the comedic style of the previous two.  This was likely because it was rated PG compared to PG-13 of the two other sequels or the R rating of the original Vacation.  

Following these two was the made-for-tv "Christmas Vacation 2," which barely included any original cast members.  In 2015, a "reboot/sequel" starring Ed Helms and Christina Applegate was released to moderate success.  Chevy Chase and Beverley D'Angelo reprise their roles of Clark and Ellen Griswold in the reboot.  

By the way, if you're looking for a great video of "filming locations" based on the 1983 movie, check out the video made by YouTuber "Adam the Woo."  He has an eclectic collection of videos from filming locations, Disney World, roadside attractions, and even baseball games.  You can see his video below, and I'll add it to the Video Drive-In. 

Wanting to spend more time with his wife Ellen and children Rusty and Audrey, Clark decides to lead the family on a cross-country road trip from the suburbs of Chicago to a southern California amusement park Walley World, a spoof of Disneyland.  Ellen wants to fly, but Clark insists on driving to have more time to bond with his family.  He has ordered a new car for the trip, but after a "mixup" at the dealership, he is forced to buy the "Wagon Queen Family Truckster," a large, ugly green station wagon.  The car becomes a sort of character itself throughout the movie.

During the road trip, the family experiences numerous mishaps.  From being targeted by vandals in St. Louis to being shot at by bartenders in Dodge City, the most memorable event in the film is Clark's repeated encounters with a beautiful young woman driving a flashy red Ferrari 308GTS (Christie Brinkley.)

After stopping at Ellen's cousin Catherine and her husband Eddie's farm in Kansas, the family is forced to take cranky old Aunt Edna home to her son Norman in Phoenix.  Along the way, Ellen loses her purse, including her cash and credit cards.

During a drive between Utah and Arizona, the car crashes while Clark and Ellen argue and become stranded in the desert near Monument Valley.  Clark sets off alone to seek help and is eventually reunited with his family after spending several hours walking through the hot desert.  His family had been rescued hours earlier by mechanics who fixed the Griswold's car.  The mechanic extorts Clark for all of his remaining cash and leaves the car barely operational.  

After stopping at the Grand Canyon, Clark tries to cash a personal check, but the hotel clerk refuses, so Clark is forced to raid the register behind the clerk's back.  

After leaving the Grand Canyon, Aunt Edna dies in her sleep.  They tie her body to the roof of the car and head for Norman's house but when he isn't home, they leave her in a chair by the back door in the pouring rain with a note pinned to her clothing.  

Overwhelmed by the disasters they have encountered on the trip, Ellen and the children want to turn around and head for home.  Clark has become obsessed about reaching Walley World, and forces them to continue.  

That night, after another argument with Ellen, Clark goes to the hotel bar, where he finally meets the Ferrari-driving blonde.  The two go skinny-dipping in the pool, but they are discovered by the family - and the whole hotel- before anything intimate happens.  Ellen forgives Clark, and they go skinny-dipping themselves.  

Despite the setbacks, they arrive the next day with high spirits to discover that Walley World is closed for repairs.  

Slipping deep into insanity, Clark purchases a realistic-looking BB gun and demands that the park security guard (John Candy) take them through the park and allow them to ride every attraction.  

Eventually, the LAPD SWAT team arrives and arrests the family.  As they are being handcuffed, park owner Roy Walley (a spoof of Walt Disney played by Eddie Bracken) arrives.  Roy understands Clark's desire for the perfect family vacation and decides not to file criminal charges against the Griswolds.  

The closing credits include a photo montage of their trip with the final photo showing that the family flew back to Chicago rather than endure another drive.

The closing credits aren't the only photo montage in the film.  The opening sequence highlights fifty-two different postcards featuring various roadside attractions, major cities, and other Americana.  

In looking to make the final Summer of '22 post special, I thought we'd look at each of the postcards in the most summer-road trip movie I could think of!  

If you were to pop in the DVD of Vacation, Director Harold Ramis mentions that the vintage postcards in the opening title sequence were supplied by photographer John Margolies.  Margolies dedicated much of his life to documenting roadside Americana in books like Roadside America or Signs of Our Time (Amazon Affiliate Links).  Ramis says that when vintage postcards were unavailable, he "created" them from Margolies' original photographs by cropping them and fashioning them into a style akin to an old postcard.  

See the introduction in the video below if you'd like.  Some of the photos fly by pretty fast but don't worry... I've got screenshots of them all for you!

Up first is the "Western Portal of the Kittatinny Tunnel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike." The postcard lists the road as PA-101, but it is now Interstate 76, and the tunnel's western entrance is near Spring Run, Pennsylvania.  The card is from 1949, with multiple copies (as of writing) available on eBay.

The second postcard is "Greetings from Sharon Springs, New York." Sharon Springs is a small village of just over 500 people (as of the 2010 Census) in Schoharie County, about 20 miles west of Albany. 

Next, we head back to Pennsylvania for "Greetings from Kempton, PA." Kempton is another of America's small towns and villages, with just 170 residents as of the last census.  Kempton is located approximately 10 miles west of Allentown, Pennsylvania.

The following features the "Drive Through Tree At Underwood Park on Redwood Highway." The sign on the tree reads "Chandelier Tree," indicating that the photo was of the 276-foot tall redwood in Leggett, California.  You can still drive your car through the Chandelier Tree today.   Check out more info at 

From California, we head inland for what is most likely both my wife's and my favorite spot on earth:  "Mount Rushmore National Memorial in The Black Hills of South Dakota."  Located in Keystone, just minutes from Rapid City, South Dakota, Mount Rushmore features the likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.  The monument was built from 1927 to 1941.   It also appears in one of my all-time favorite movies, North by Northwest, which you can read about HERE.

Following Mount Rushmore is a cute cartoon featuring a young brother and sister making their way to the outhouse to use the bathroom with the "First Night in the Country." A similar postcard was made during this time that features what appears to be Mom and Dad headed to an outhouse late at night as well.  The version featuring adults is much more readily available for purchase online.

Following the humorous trek to the outhouse, the next is a beautiful image of the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.  Located on the appropriately titled Capitol Hill, the building began construction in 1793.   Portions of the current building were completed in 1800 but suffered fire damage when the city was mostly burned to the ground during the War of 1812.  The iconic dome structure was completed just after the Civil War in 1866.

The next photo is "Portland Head Light, Casco Bay, Maine."  I've seen this image countless times in my life.  My Mom went through a phase where images of Portland Head decorated our home, thanks partly to our many vacations in Maine and the popularity of Thomas Kinkade in the early 90s.  Completed in 1791, it's the oldest lighthouse in Maine.  It also has the honor of being the most photographed lighthouse in America.  

Back West we go, as our next postcard depicts "Yuccas in bloom in California."  Yucca plants are native to Southern California and Mexico and are known for their sharp sword-like leaves and large arms of white flowers.

A colorfully painted cartoon of a woman rubbing her behind is next, titled "Having No End of Fun!" There's not much to go on, but the postcard is available on eBay, and the back reads "A ColourPicture Publication, Boston 15 Massachusetts, USA."  

Next is a painted image of a "Texas Longhorn (Steer), Width of Horns 9 ft 6 inches." Obviously, from Texas, a copy of this postcard is currently available on eBay HERE.   Interestingly, the writing on the back is the sender letting his parents know he has joined the Army.   The card is hand-written and dated November 14, 1941, postmarked the following day.  

The following picture postcard depicts "The Maid of the Mist - Niagara Falls." The card isn't dated, but the card is available online.   The back of the postcard reads, "Seeing Niagara Falls from Maid of the Mist.   One of the most interesting experiences of a visit to Niagara is a trip under the Falls by means of the Steamer 'Maid of the Mist.'  Voyagers are swathed in oil skins as a defense from the saturating spray and the spectacle of the mighty volume of water, passing over the precipice 160 feet above, to fall in thunder on the rocks below is as magnificent as it is impressive."  

Our next card returns slightly south to the "George Washington Bridge and Hudson River, New York City."  This postcard can be seen a few times online, postmarked in 1943, placing it in the same era as many of the previous cards.   The back of the card reads, "One of the main highways between New York and New Jersey.   The bridge was completed in 1932 at the cost of over $60,000,000.  The main span is 3500 feet long.  It enters Manhattan at 178th Street and connects with ramps to beautiful Riverside Drive."

We head south to Florida to an artist's rendering of the "Whitehall Hotel, Palm Beach, Florida." The image contains the original sender's handwriting, "Our Suite," with a line pointing to its location.  Whitehall was a 55-room mansion built by Henry Flagler in 1901 as a wedding present for his wife, Mary.  It was later sold to investors in 1925 and served as a luxury hotel from 1925 to 1959.  It was then acquired in 1959 by the Flagler Museum and entered into the National Historic Landmarks Program in 2000.  

The next is another comic image from the 1940s, titled "Wonderful Hotel... Running Water in Every Room!" A cute play on words.  

I nearly skipped over the next "God Bless America" postcard because the film's title images are placed over the top of it!   It's fitting that the movie about the all-American road trip is set over such American imagery as the Statue of Liberty and the American flag.

In another play on words, the next card is the funny "Having a Wonderful Time, But, My Ass is Tired!" featuring a cowboy and his stubborn mule. 

The next one is a bit of an odd one   A little boy stands next to two clearly fake oranges on a platform train in a card titled "1883 - A Carload of Mammoth Naval Oranges From _____" The bottom reads Copywritten 1909 by Edward K. Mitchell - San Francisco.  

The next must be in the same series as it again features a gigantically large food item and a train car.  This time it features a "Potato - The Kind We Raise in Maine."  Idaho may be best known for potatoes, but Maine is also somewhat famous for the little spuds.   Grown mainly in Aroostook County, the northernmost point of Maine, potatoes remain a significant element of Maine's agricultural sector.

Another strange entry into the food-and-train series is "A California Watermelon." It must have been a thing back then, but I don't get it.

We finally get off the weirdo food train and return to the classic cartoon postcards, this time featuring a trailer towing an outhouse.  The caption made me laugh "We took along something to make us feel at home   (When you gotta go - you gotta go)."

Trips along America's highways, especially in the glory days of Route 66, road trips meant roadside motels featuring great neon signage.  While Route 66 didn't run through Tuscon, the "Linger Longer Court, South Tuscon, Arizona," was home to a sign that belonged on the Mother Road.   The back of the card reads, "2545 South 6th Ave, US 80, Tuscon, Arizona.   22 STRICTLY modern cottages   Furnished or unfurnished, reasonable rates.   Amusement grounds and fine modern laundry.   Where Tourists Linger Longer."

The "Ahwahnee Motel, Denver, Colorado" neon sign is another beautiful example of roadside motel signage.  The Ahwahnee Motel was found at 8500 East Colfax Ave in Denver and is currently undergoing renovation to return the motor lodge to better days.

The "Court Florida, Pensacola, Florida" is another beautiful neon sign for a motor lodge located on U.S. 90 West in Pensacola, Florida.  According to the back of the postcard, the Court Florida Motel was "located 3 miles west of Pensacola with 14 well-furnished rooms.   All have air conditioning, panel ray heat, tubs, and showers.   Also television.   Restaurant nearby.   Owned and operated by people who travel and know what travelers want.  Mrs. Oliver P. Weindell, Mgr." 

Another motor lodge marks the halfway point in the opening credits, "Dick's Motor Inn, Banning, California," featured "refrigerated air, TV, private garages, kitchens, clean rooms, and truck and boat parking in the rear."  

The following postcard depicts the "Fairyland Cottages, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota." The Fairyland was built in 1938 by Art and Beatrice Shipton, who modeled the cottages after the movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which was released the previous year.  Their daughters chose to name each of the twelve cottages after a character in the popular movie.   

One more motel, and one that I'd go out of my way to stay in, is the "Wigwam Village Motel #7, Rialto, California." The Wigwam Motels, also known as the "Wigwam Villages," is a motel chain in the United States built during the 1930s and 1940s.   It originally had seven different locations:  two locations in Kentucky and one each in Alabama, Florida, Arizona, Louisiana, and California.   There are three surviving motels, Holbrook, Arizona, San Bernadino, California, and Cave City, Kentucky. 

From the best I can tell, the following is just a pretty picture of a "Shady Country Lane."

The next is labeled a generic "On the Road" but depicts the stretch of road around Monument Valley, which extends between Utah and Arizona, made famous by the movie Forrest Gump.  

"Back Road in Scenic Washington" is a pretty picture of the rural countryside in Washington.

The plainly labeled "Covered Bridge - New Hampshire" shows a serene countryside river and a covered bridge painted bright red.   After a few minutes on Google, it turned up that this bridge was the Saco Bridge in Conway, New Hampshire.  

The 33rd photo in the opening sequence, "Sunset in Vermont," is a serene photo of a farm in Vermont that could pass for a Bob Ross painting.

"Scenic Bridge on Highway 1, California" is the iconic Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, California.   Completed in 1932 for just over $200,000, the concrete span, one of the highest bridges of its kind in the world, soars 260 feet above the bottom of a steep canyon carved by Bixby Creek.

In the next postcard, another scenic shot of rural America, "Mountains and Plains in Beautiful Montana," shows how rapidly the landscape can change in lovely Montana.

The following postcard features "Santa's Workshop, Cascade, Colorado." Now known as The North Pole, this "enchanting vintage amusement park is nestled at the foot of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, Colorado.   Home to Santa's Village and the jolly man himself –  the spirit of Christmas lives on all year long."

Our next postcard, titled "Gatorland Billboard, St. Augustine, Florida," highlights a billboard advertising the former Gatorland of St. Augustine (now called the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoo.)  This is often confused with the Gatorland in Kissimmee, Florida, which appears below.

"The Hats N' Boots Gas Station, Seattle, Washington" is an interesting story of an outlandish advertising style that doesn't exist today.  In 1953, businessman Buford Seals began building a Western-themed shopping center named Frontier Village in Seattle.  Buford wanted something "really, really different" and had the shopping center's gas station designed as the giant hat and cowboy boots.  The station's office was built under the hat, and the boots were restrooms (the powder blue boot was for women, the dark blue for men.)  The station opened under the name "Premium Tex" because it sold Texaco gas, and when you purchased gasoline, you earned a "premium item" like a drinking glass or other memorabilia.  The gas station closed in 1988, and in 2005 local residents organized a fundraiser and had the hat and boots moved to a local park, where they were refurbished and can still be enjoyed today.

"The Mystery Spot, St. Ignace, Michigan," is home to optical illusions and strange physical sensations.  Over the years, thousands of visitors have stopped to experience a place where "gravity does strange things." More accurately, your brain does strange things as it attempts to make sense of contradictory input. 

Back to my favorite locale, "Trout Haven, Black Hills, South Dakota," is a photograph of a billboard on Route 385.   Trout Haven now exists as the Trout Haven Resort and Campgrounds, offering full hookup RV and tent camping nestled in the Black Hills.   The fishing pond on site is stocked seasonally.

As I mentioned above, a rival attraction closer to Orlando, "Gatorland Zoo, Kissimmee, Florida," is home to this alligator head and an iconic tourist photo spot at the entrance to the park.   Somewhere, I believe my parents have photos of us at this spot, although I have no recollection of actually going into the Zoo.  Gatorland opened in 1949.

Another great tourist attraction "The Big Fish Supper Club, Schley, Minnesota," this giant fish sits at 65 feet long, 14 feet wide, and 16 feet tall.   Originally known as "The Big Muskie Drive-In," customers could stop by and get fast food like burgers and hot dogs.   The restaurant changed hands multiple times until it was restored in 2009 by a preservation group and serves as a classic roadside photo stop.

Our 43rd postcard, the "Margate Elephant, Margate City, New Jersey," pictures the oldest surviving roadside tourist attraction in the entire country.   Affectionately called Lucy, the 65-foot tall elephant was built in 1881 in Margate City, just five miles south of Atlantic City, New Jersey.  

"Paul Bunyon's Babe, Bemidji, Minnesota" is our 44th postcard.   Paul and Babe are a pair of giant statues of the American folk hero Paul Bunyan and his ox, located in Bemidji, Minnesota.   This roadside attraction was built in 1937 and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1988.   This pair of statues are said by the Kodak Company to be the "second most photographed statues in the United States," behind Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

Our next postcard contains an error!   "Tower of Pizza, Greenbrook, New York" incorrectly lists Greenbrook as being in New York when it's really in New Jersey.   The author of "A Christmas Story" and famed radio personality Jean Sheperd once said, "There was no better example of the surrealistic road art than The Leaning Tower of Pizza, not far from those other architectural shrines, the Ivory Tower motel, the paint cans on the roof of Siperstein's and Tiko-Taco, the only Mexican restaurant for miles before Taco Bell."

One of my personal bucket list items, our next postcard highlights "The Prehistoric Museum, Cabazon, California."  These dinosaurs are often simply known as the 'Cabazon Dinosaurs.'  The Cabazon Dinosaurs are featured numerous times in pop culture, most famously in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure.  You can read all about The Cabazon Dinosaurs HERE.

The next postcard is an image of the late 1970s or early 1980s "Skyline, Dallas, Texas."

Next is a similar photo featuring the late 70s/early 80s "Skyline, Atlanta, Georgia."

Following those two skylines is "Sailboat Bay, Miami, Florida." Sailboat Bay is part of Biscayne Bay, an area reserved for mooring sailboats.   Offshore of Coconut Grove, it is home to many residents who live on their sailboats.

"Golden Gate Bridge, San Fransisco, California" This suspension bridge spans a one-mile-wide strait connecting San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.  It's been declared one of the Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers and is internationally recognized as a symbol of San Francisco and California.  The Frommer's travel guide describes the Golden Gate Bridge as "possibly the most beautiful and certainly the most photographed bridge in the world."  

Our next to last postcard is a beautiful shot of New York City, aptly titled "New York City, New York." The Brooklyn Bridge, The East River, and World Trade Center buildings are central to the photo.  

The final postcard is the 1980s skyline of "The Windy City," Chicago, Illinois." This last card transitions very smoothly into the first shot of the film.   As the start of Route 66 and the start of the greatest road trip movie of all time, I can't imagine having a more appropriate introduction to the film.


  1. Wow. Thank you for doing all the research and writing this article.

    My family and I are about to go on a cross country trip this summer and watched National Lampoon’s Vacation the other day for fun. Just now I was thinking it would be cool to visit some of the places from the movie or from the opening credit postcards that will be in the vicinity of our route, but couldn’t really find anything about the postcards until I ran into your post.

    It is such an obscure topic that I didn’t really think there would be anything about it, but thanks to you I was able to add on a number of extra stops for our trip. Thank you so much.