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Harvey Girls documentary premieres Friday at the National Archives

Updated: 2013-06-20T04:47:47Z

By MATT CAMPBELL

The Kansas City Star

A documentary capturing first-person accounts of the famous Harvey Girls will premiere Friday at the National Archives in Kansas City in conjunction with an ongoing exhibit there.

The free film, “The Harvey Girls: Opportunity Bound,” will be followed by a panel discussion by the film’s producers and other scholars.

Beginning in Topeka in 1876, Fred Harvey transformed the way genteel Americans came to know the western frontier. Harvey’s lasting impact was to create eating and lodging establishments of reliable quality from the Midwest to California along the spine of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad.

Harvey employed women in uniform to make each stop as pleasant as possible.

“It captured my imagination because it was really one of the few ways that single women could move west and remain independent,” said filmmaker Katrina Parks. “The Harvey Girls not only helped to open the west to women but it opened the workplace to women.”

Parks interviewed about 25 former Harvey Girls for her project, beginning in 2001. One of them, Hilda Velarde Salas, worked at the Harvey House in Albuquerque, N.M., during World War II and is traveling to Kansas City for the premiere.

Another subject in the film was Kansas City’s own Rosine Gary, who became a Harvey Girl and eventually worked for the company at the Grand Canyon.

The 6:30 p.m. screening at the National Archives, 400 W. Pershing Road, is free, but reservations are required. A reception begins at 6 p.m. Call 816-268-8010 or email kansascity.educate@nara.gov. The film will also be shown beginning next week along with the free exhibit at the archives titled “Fred Harvey: The Man, the Brand, and the American West.”

The exhibit, which runs through Jan. 4, includes documents from the archives as well as objects on loan from other collections, including dishware and silver from the Harvey House restaurants. It also includes actual bar stools and a track-side sign from the Harvey House in Clovis, N.M.

“The Harvey House restaurants would serve a four-course meal in less than 30 minutes,” said Dee Harris, exhibit curator for the National Archives. The menus, many of which are included in the exhibit, reflected fine dining that included steaks and seafood, which Harvey was able to ship ahead free in refrigerated cars on the ATSF.

The Harvey Girls were immortalized in the 1946 Hollywood movie of the same name. Some film memorabilia, including script pages and a copyright lawsuit, are part of the exhibit.

Documents also include papers from an 1884 lawsuit against the California Insurance Co. after a fire at the Clifton Hotel in Florence, Kan. Harvey won a judgment of $869.63.

The exhibit also has interactive elements, including a lunch counter with Harvey House menus and order pads.

To reach Matt Campbell, call 816-234-4902 or send email to mcampbell@kcstar.com.

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