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In early September 1946, LIFE magazine published a cover story that, in words and especially in pictures, perfectly captured the unique, sweet, melancholy feel of summer vacation’s end. That the article focused, as LIFE put it, on “the first postwar summer vacation” of the 1940s somehow added—if only in retrospect—a quiet intensity to the story. All these years later, the pictures and the story itself remind us of just how fleeting the peaceful, hot days and long, cool nights of late summer really are.
As LIFE put it in that long-ago article:
Finally, note that most of the Cornell Capa photos in the gallery above never ran in LIFE. A dozen or so photos at the end of the gallery are those that appeared in the magazine in 1946.