Midwinter Strawberries and Roses

Caroline C. Morris

In 1927, La Crosse resident Marian Dorset struck out for the sunny West Coast, taking a train for “4 days & 4 nights” before arriving at Alameda, California. She was so delighted by what she found that she sent home a postcard of “Midwinter Strawberries and Roses in California.”

California was the land of dreams for many Americans in the early twentieth century, and particularly for those Americans who lived in cold winter climates. By the 1920s, Hollywood had introduced Americans to California’s sunshine, glamor, and endless opportunities for re-invention. But the Golden State promised something even more alluring: happiness.

For a Wisconsinite, strawberries and roses were the perfect illustration of “happiness.” Wisconsin winters are long and dark, but fresh fruit and flowers abound in California year-round. Pasadena’s civic boosters understood the powerful appeal of fresh roses in winter, which is why they began staging the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day in 1890, a tradition that continues today. What better way to show off California’s paradise than parading aromatic flowers down the street in January? California’s strawberry industry grew by leaps and bounds in the 1920s as non-Californians developed a taste (and had the disposable income) for fresh produce in winter. After several months of eating root vegetables and sauerkraut, no wonder Americans from northern states went wild for California strawberries.

Not all were content with tasting California from afar; some, like Marian Dorset, wanted to experience it first-hand. Trains regularly brought thousands of visitors to the state, hoping to enjoy a bit of the “California Dream” for themselves. Marian Dorset took the Oriental Limited on the Great Northern Burlington Route, which ran from St. Paul to Seattle, then down the Pacific Coast to California. On the way, she enjoyed watching sunsets out of the back of the Observation Car and saw “some most wonderful sights.”[1] Once in Alameda, she rented an apartment and had access to the Pacific Ocean, the San Francisco Bay, and all the strawberries and roses she could get her hands on. If she was looking for happiness, one presumes that she found it.

This article was originally featured in the La Crosse Tribune.