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100 Years Ago: May 1922


This is the 88th entry in my series of reviews of National Geographic Magazines as they reach the one hundredth anniversary of them being published.



The first article in this month’s issue is entitled “Where Mountains Walked” and was written by Upton Close and Elsie McCormick.  It has an internal subtitle reading “An Account of the Recent Earthquake in Kansu Province, China, Which Destroyed 100,000 Lives”.  The article contains twenty-three black-and-white photographs by the Hayes-Hall Earthquake Relief Expedition.  Three of those photos are full-page in size.  The article also contains a sketch map of Kansu Province with an inset of Northern China on page 448.

Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere

Mountains that moved in the night, landslides the eddied like waterfalls, crevasses that swallowed houses and camel trains, and villages that were swept away under a rising sea of loose earth, were a few of the subsidiary occurrences that made the earthquake in Kansu one of the most appalling catastrophes in history.  Though the tremendous shaking-up occurred in December 1920, the story was only beginning to come out in 1922.  It was, perhaps, the most poorly advertised calamity that had occurred in modern times.  Mr. Josef W. Hall (Upton Close), who visited the earthquake area under the auspices of the International Famine Relief Committee, had brought back one of the first accounts of the devastated country and the strange things that happened when the earth turned into a contortionist.  The area of destruction, 100 by 300 miles in extent, contained ten large cities, besides numerous villages.  In it was the heart of the loess country, where the soil was a mixture of clay and powdered quartz.  A narrower region comprised the landslide district, where the loose earth cascaded through the alleys and buried every object in its path.  Three-fifths of the dead were Moslem.  One of the most dramatic episodes of the disaster was the burial of Ma the Benevolent and 300 of his followers, just as they met in conclave to proclaim a holy war.  The cave in which they had gathered was sealed by a terrific avalanche, while the group knelt on their prayer-mats.  By some miracle, the watchman at the entrance to the cave escaped with his life, but the others were buried so deep that, despite months of digging, the Moslems had failed to recover the bodies of their leaders.  In another district, Mr. Hall and his party found that a whole mountain topped by a temple had slid into a valley.  A little beyond, they found that a road bordered by poplar trees had ridded the crest of the slide for three-quarters of a mile without apparent damage to the trees or even the birds nesting in their branches.

In another village, the only people left alive were a couple over seventy years old.  They had been saved from death only by the fact that their children sent them to live in a house on the outskirts of the clan village which was buried by an avalanche.  In the city of Tsingning, the chief magistrate was found living in a canvas tent over his demolished yamen.  In the same city, two American missionaries were dwelling in a hovel with earthen floor and a mat-shed roof.  The most appalling sight of all was the Valley of the Dead, where seven great slides crashed into a gap in the hills three miles long, killing every living thing in the area except three men and two dogs.  The survivors were carried across the valley on the crest of the avalanche, caught in the crosscurrent of two other slides, whirled in a gigantic vortex, and catapulted to the slopes of another hill.  With them went house, orchard, and threshing floor, and the farmer had since placidly begun to till the new location to which he was so unceremoniously transported.  In a small town on the highway, two strangers had put up at the inn on the evening of the disaster.  In the terror and confusion following the earthquake, the landlord forgot his two guests.  It was not until several days later that he remembered them, and when, after digging them out, alive and well, charged them for their entire stay.  One of the districts that suffered the most was the tableland to the north.  The soil was unyieldingly alkali, which cracked appallingly.  In one town, with a normal population of several hundred, the investigators found only twenty or thirty survivors.  The loss of nearly two hundred thousand lives and the total destruction of hundreds of towns and cities called for reconstruction work on a staggering scale.  Seven thousand men had been employed by the United International Famine Relief Society in releasing dammed streams and thus preventing disastrous overflows.  Fortunately, there was no orphan problem, as children in the devastated districts were so much in demand that they were promptly adopted by the survivors.  In Kansu, men were in so much in the majority that women were highly valued.  The usual price for a wife ranged from 100 to 300 taels, and, as a result, girl babies were adopted as eagerly as boys.

Of the most remarkable string of seismic disturbances which occurred throughout the world in November and December of 1920, the most phenomenal was undoubtedly the great Kansu earthquake of the evening of December 16.  Owing to the unusual character of the loess, under the immense deposits of which the rockslip occurred, fantastic effects were produced upon the surface of the earth which gave the observer the weird feeling that he was on some planet still in its formation stage.  The subterranean dragon of Chinese cosmology who, according to northwest Chinese tradition, waggled his tail every three hundred years, played havoc such as was never before recorded.  Likely, no other earthquake in scientific annals ever changed the physical geography of the affected region to the extent of the Kansu cataclysm.  The region was seismically active, but the local archives, registering the events of the past four thousand years, recorded only two earthquakes as destructive as the 1920 event.  One was in the Tang dynasty, 1,200 years ago, in the north of Shensi Province; and the other under the Mings, three hundred years ago, from the Kansu border to Sianfu.  The area most heavily affected was an oblong lying between the Wei and Yellow rivers, 170 miles long and 150 miles wide.  It comprised two distinct types of geological formation, at least on the surface.  The southern half of the oval was, with the exception of the mountain range cutting it from north to south not far from its eastern edge, a part of the great loess region which stretched from central Honan almost to Tibet.  It was in the loess area that the immense slides out of the terraced hills occurred, burying or carrying away villages, covering valley floors, damming streambeds turning valley into lakes, and creating what the natives named the “footsteps of the gods”.  The Chinese vernacular was devoid of technical terms, so to describe what happened during a landslide, they would say “the mountain walked”.  The northern half of the oval was a rolling alkali plateau of clay and gravel formation, part of the steppes stretching north to Siberia and west to Turkestan.  In that district the soil, being of brittle but firmer texture than loess, did not slide, but cracked into intricate fissures. 

The summits of high Six-Plate (Liu Pan) range consisted of volcanic rock protruding several thousand feet above the loess deposits on either side.  Although in the heart of the earthquake belt, those mountains were not shaken seriously.  The slip apparently occurred in the rock-bed underlying the hard plateau and the loess.  Due to the remoteness of the district, the Kansu disaster was news in 1922, while the earthquakes in Chile and Salvador, the tidal wave of Yap, and the eruption of Mt. Asama, Japan, were all history.  What actually happened in that frontier province of China was only coming out at the time this article was written, through reports of the relief investigation expedition, of which Mr. Hall was a member, being made known in any comprehensive way, even in China’s capital and port cities.  Kansu lied to the west of Shensi, and northwest of Szechwan, pinched between the Ordos and southern Outer Mongolia on the north and east and the Kokonor region of Tibet and Sinkiang province of Chinese Turkestan on the south and west.  The country was a mixing place of Buddhist Tibetans and Mongolians, Mohammedan Chinese containing a Caucasian strain, and the ordinary Chinese.  Had the quake struck several hundred miles to the north, west, or south, the loss of life would have been negligible.  As it happened, it destroyed the agriculturally rich, terraced loess country of the southern half of the affected area, the most populous portion of the province; and to the north, although that part was principally uninhabited grazing land, several of the largest Mohammedan Chinese cities, which were leveled.  Although having a population density one-tenth than that of the East China plain, the loss of life from landslides, collapsed cave homes, falling buildings, together with the deaths from exposure of the unsheltered in midwinter in that high altitude, was, according to official figures, 200,000.  The estimate of the foreign investigators was more than half that number.

The reverend John D. Hayes and Mr. Hall left the Kwanyintang, Honan, railhead on March 6, 1921.  They took the ancient royal highway through Shensi to Kansu, crossing the Kansu border near Kingchow and proceeding directly to Pingliang, the great trade mart of the western half of the province.  The first damage noticed was not far beyond the Honan border.  In Sianfu, the capital of Shensi, some damage was done to the houses, but no loss of life.  Lesser destruction was wrought in spots between Sianfu and Pingliang.  In the vicinity of Tsingning, cave-dwellings in the loess cliffs collapsed, causing great loss of life.  Cattle, horses, and herds, stabled in caves, were buried alive.  Beyond Pingliang, the investigators found themselves in the belt of complete destruction, where cities as well as villages suffered heavy loss of life and all buildings were leveled.  At Wating, where the highway forked, one road going north to Kuyuan and the other west to Lanchowfu, they obtained their first photographs of a ruined city.  Taking the road to Lanchowfu, the provincial capital, they soon ascended the Six-Plate Mountains.  With elevation, evidence of seismic disturbance grew less, to become again when the loess foothills of the west descent were reached.  Two of the hardest hit cities, Lungteh and Tsingning were passed, and then they visited the district where “the mountain walked”.  Following the Sianfu-Lanchowfu-Turkistan highway they ascended a small valley of steep grade directly west of Tsingning.  Suddenly, the highroad for a length of a quarter of a mile dropped out of sight.  It had been cut off as if with an axe, leaving poplars and cottonwoods with which it was lined partly uprooted upon the edge of the sixty-foot gully which occupied the position of the road.  The roadside water supply of a nearby village had disappeared down that same gully.  The natives were carrying their water from a new lake a mile to the south, in the center of the valley.

He made his way to that lake, which had been formed by the damming up of the valley stream by a two-mouthed slide from the hills on the opposite bank.  The short valleys in that section joined one another like links in a chain.  Riding to the summit of the divide which separated that from the next link, they were amazed by the panorama of a valley filled with the loess dust and clouds of seven tremendous landslips which had come out of the hills on either side.  That little nook in the hills had become in verity the climax of desolation.  Hardly enough valley-floor land remained uncovered for a good kitchen garden; several peasant villages laid buried beneath the debris; one “village of the dead”, containing not a single survivor, laid in ruins.  The only survivors of that valley were a husbandman and his two young sons, whose farmstead, instead of being buried, was caught upon the back of one of the slides, carried half a mile down the valley to where it was diverted by two streams of earth coming from the other direction, and was pushed another quarter of a mile up a small draw.  All the survivors in the slide zone were unaware of the nature of the disaster which had overtaken them until the following morning.  The earthquake occurred in Kansu on December 16, between 9:30 and 10 o’clock sun time, when all persons and animals were housed.  A bitter cold wind and dust storm raged at the time.  The survivors said they heard a tremendous underground roar and felt the shock, consisting of a swing to the northeast and a violent jerk back to the southwest, lasting about a half a minute.  Between successive tremors following the main shock, they huddled back in the ruins of their homes to await morning.  Not until day dawned and they crawled out to find neighboring villages obliterated, farmlands carried away or buried, streams blocked, and hills of earth towering above their compound, did they apprehend that the “hills had walked”.

It was in that Valley of the Dead where two sections of the ancient highway, accompanied by the tall trees which bordered it, were cut from the line of the road, swept hundreds of yards over a streambed, and set, intact, upon an angle on top of a heap of loose loess.  It took weeks to reestablish communications over those breakages – to rebuild telegraph lines and to repair roads.  The valley of destruction opened at its western end into a wider, more gradual valley of horseshoe shape, which they examined on their return to Tsingning.  At the junction of the valleys stood Swen Family Gap, a town of several thousand souls, in which one-tenth were killed by collapse of buildings; and nine-tenths were saved by the miraculous stoppage of two bodies of earth from the mother hill and left hanging above the village.  A third avalanche, having flowed from the hills on the opposite side of the valley across the valley floor and streambed, was piled up in a young mountain near enough to the village to overshadow the wall.  Their route through that large valley led them past three lakes formed through the blocking of the stream by five enormous slides.  Some of the scooped-out places left by those slides were half a mile in width at the mouth, extended back into the hills for a mile, and furnished enough dirt to cover several squared miles of valley floor.  In each case the earth which came down bore the appearance of having shaken loose and then cascaded like water, forming vortices, swirls, and all the convolutions into which a torrent might shape itself.  One of those slides pouring down upon a village had buried every building except one inhabited by the old progenitors of the clan.  That lone patriarchal home stood on the outskirts and was half covered.  On the opposite side of that slide a threshing-floor carrying several sacks, and an apricot orchard, had come intact.

Two slides causing the lowest of those blockades buried a village of several hundred persons and created several miles of lake out of rich valley farmland.  The local authorities realized the danger of destructive washouts if those blockades were not opened before the late summer torrents but were unable to release the dammed water.  That task was added to the work of the relief societies upon the recommendation of the expedition.  Conditions in a score of small valleys in the Tsingning and Hweining neighborhoods were similar to those in the three described.  Within a half-circle of twenty miles’ diameter, they counted seventeen immense landslides.  A hundred miles farther west, near Hweining, a bad slide district existed, and some sixty miles north of Tsingning three bad slides occurred, one of which was responsible for the burial of Ma the Benevolent, the radical Mohammedan leader, who was in the midst of planning a jihad against the non-Muslim Chinese.  It was that incident which gave the Chinese cause to rate the earthquake as a blessing.  The damage done to the Mohammedan settlements was, in general, more severe than that suffered by the Chinese farther south.  Leaving the Tsingning area, they traveled many miles north to Kuyuan, the largest of the ruined cities, beyond which they trekked through the hardest shaken sections of all.  There, the friable loess gave way to the brittle clay-gravel-alkali bunch-grass country, which was too solid to slide, but which cracked like a porcelain dish.  Cave dwellings, without exception, gave way, not one mud brick remained upon another.  Even city walls collapsed, as in Heh Cheng-tze and Hai-cheng.  In one cave-village of eighty inhabitants, sixty were entombed, but half were dug out alive by the remaining twenty.  In another town, Yang Loh-chwang, 80% of the residents perished.  At the time of their visit, three months later, carcasses of human and animals still laid together in the street. Such were the scenes of desolation until they emerged upon the banks of the Yellow River.  There the evidence of the disaster vanished as abruptly as they had appeared at the Kansu border.



The second title listed on the cover of this month’s issue is “In the Land of Kublai Khan” and has Stephane Passet listed on the byline.  This item is not an article, but is “Sixteen Illustrations in Full Color, Autochromes” with Mr. Passet as the photographer.  These sixteen true color photographs appear on eight plates, two per page, numbered in Roman numerals from I to VIII, and representing pages 465 through 472 in the issue.  One of the photographs is the iconic image of a Mongolian woman condemned to die.

And this is a list of the Cation Titles:

  • “A General View of Urga, Capital of Mongolia”
  • “Mongols Awaiting the Arrival of a Living Buddha”
  • “A Lama Official Wearing a Cape Introduced into Mongolia by French Missionaries”
  • “A Gateway of Kufu, the Village where China’s Greatest Teacher, Confucius, Was Born”
  • “A Mongolian Shrine on the Outskirts of the City of Urga”
  • “A Lama Servant of Ugga, the Holy City of the Mongols”
  • “A Japanese Flower Garden in Peking”
  • “Guardian Gods in the Summer Palace Near Peking”
  • “A Khalka Woman of Northern Mongolia”
  • “A Grand Lama’s Minister of War and His Staff: Urga”
  • “The Upper Pavilion of the Summer Palace Near Peking”
  • “Women of Peking, One of Whom Wears a Manchu Head-Dress”
  • “A Corner in the Chinese Park at Tsinanfu”
  • “The Gateway to the Hall of Classics in Peking”
  • “A Mongolian Woman Condemned to Die of Starvation”
  • “A Lama in Chains in a Mongolian Prison”



The second article listed on this month’s issue is entitled “Through the Heart of England in a Canadian Canoe” and was written by R. J. Evans.  It contains twenty-six black-and-white photographs, of which six are full-page in size.  The article also contains a sketch map of the canoeist’s river trip, with an inset of England showing its location in the country, on page 475.

Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere

Water had always fascinated the author, and many of his holidays had been spent camping on the waterways of England.  This article is an account of his most successful trip.  He and his companion would start from Oxford, up the Oxford Canal, due north, to Warwick, where they would embark upon the Avon.  Except in the neighborhood of Stratford, that river was little known.  They would follow the Avon to Tewkesbury, where they would entrain to Cricklade and start the second half of their voyage.  The Thames needed little introduction.  The monuments of the past, the placid and prosperous life of the present, the quiet pastoral beauty of meadow, woodland, and stream, were seen there, and all at their best.  Preparations for the voyage were so made.  A large Canadian canoe was selected as the easiest craft to work, with the plus of being both roomy and portable.  A light gypsy tent was carried for camping, and they had no problems doing so throughout the whole trip.  Leaving Oxford on a sunny August morning, they paddled slowly north to Banbury.  The whole of that stretch was rich farming country.  The canal wound quietly through waving wheatfields and low-lying meadows, with cattle standing knee-deep in pasturage.  Around a bend carried them past woodlands where the trees met overhead and formed a canopy through which the sun’s rays scarcely penetrated.  At intervals they came to tiny villages, usually clustered around an old gray church.  More frequently, they came to a lock, which afforded them a welcome break to the pleasure-boat.  It was only sixty-five miles from Oxford to Warwick, but there were sixty-three locks, and the time spent negotiating them was one of the chief reasons the canals did not prosper.  Twenty-seven miles from Oxford was Banbury, famous for its cakes and its nursery rhyme of the Lady upon a White Horse.  In 1922, it was a prosperous, sleepy market-town.

Four miles farther on was the village Cropredy, where, on June 29, 1644, a fierce battle was fought between the Royalist under Charles I and the Parliamentarians.  Near Cropredy, they met a barge, almost the only one they had seen, though farther north they were more common.  They grew fewer in number every year.  The author thought that it was a pity, for there were few more picturesque sights than a gaily painted canal-barge towed quietly along by an old horse, with a small boy in attendance, and steered by a stout old lady wearing either a bonnet or a cap.  Near Fenny Compton they discovered an old windmill.  It was built entirely of wood, on a central pivot, so that by means of a long lever the whole structure could be swung round to suit the wind.  For the next few miles, the canal ran in a cutting, and locks were so numerous (23 in 14 miles) that it became a burden; so that it was with relief that they paddled hastily through the outskirts of Leamington and embarked upon the Avon about three-quarters of a mile above Warwick.  Warwick was one of the most interesting towns in England, its history going back more than a thousand years, to the founding of the castle by Ethelfleda, the famous daughter of King Alfred.  The present building dated from the 13th century.  The town itself was full of medieval associations.  In the center of High Street was the Leycester Hospital, founded in the 16th century.  The Church of St. Mary had, alas, been “restored”, but the wonderful Beauchamp Chapel remained untouched.  From Warwick, the Avon wound away toward Stratford through the grounds of the castle, and there they realized to the full the extraordinary charm of the English parkland.  The low-lying fields, covered with lush grass and dotted with buttercups and daisies, stretched away on either side, broken by the trees.  There, was a group of oaks which were saplings when the Armada sailed.  Merds of deer moved lazily along, while from all around came the calls of innumerable wild-fowl.

On leaving the park, their course became more difficult, and great care had to be taken to avoid shallows and rocks.  Fortunately, no mishaps occurred, and by nightfall they were safely encamped at Stratford, the home of Shakespeare.  They were lucky enough to arrive during the annual Shakespeare festival and found the town crowded with visitors, by far, the greater number hailed from America.  The whole town and neighborhood were given up to the cult of Shakespeare.  They first climbed the tower of the Memorial Theater and looked around.  The Avon flowed past the very foot of the building, and close by was crossed by the two ancient bridges, with their many arches, while in the distance was the smiling Midland plain.  The town itself was like many English towns – quiet, dignified, and peaceful.  Shakespeare’s house lied in a by-street.  It was a typical, 16th-century middleclass house.  In High Street was the old Grammar School where the poet learnt his “little Latin and less Greek”.  A little farther on was New Place, where Shakespeare spent his last years; in 1922, it was a garden.  Nearby was the church where the poet was buried, surrounded by his kinfolk.  The next morning, they walked over to the little village of Shottery, a mile and a half away.  It was the home of Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway.  Returning down the High Street, they visited the Harvard House, home of the founder of Harvard University.  We stayed four days in Stratford, and left with regret.  Formerly, the Avon was an important waterway, but the railroad killed its prosperity.  In 1922, the river was no longer looked after and was slipping back to its unimproved condition.  Some locks and weirs had been partially removed, and shallows, some dangerous, had been created.  They were frequently hindered by weeds and rushes, which in places stretched from bank to bank.  With plenty of time, those difficulties only added to their enjoyment.

The twenty-mile stretch to Evesham was full of interest.  There were no towns, and few villages.  The author got the impression of remoteness; the obstacles they had to surmount only added to that impression.  It was hard to believe that, within a few miles, there were manufacturing towns, full of people.  Evesham had a fine position in a loop of the river, and it was famous for its orchards.  Lying in a sheltered district called the “Golden Valley”, its fruit rivaled that of Kent.  Historically, it was the scene of the decisive battle in which the parliamentarian leader, Simon de Montfort was killed.  The victor, Prince Edward, went on to be the great statesman-warrior, Edward I.  The town itself was disappointing.  There were two churches sharing one churchyard.  They had been “restored”, and robbed of much of their charm.  Below Evesham the river widened, but it still kept its quietness.  They paddled down reach after reach, all remote from man, beautiful English meadowlands and woods.  The locks below Evesham had not been taken away, taxing their patience and ingenuity.  They struggled with the lock at Chadbury, and couldn’t make the one at Fladbury to work at all.  They were compelled to portage the canoe to a spot nearly half a mile below.  That done, they soon arrived at Pershore, where they spent a few hours exploring the little town, before tackling the Pershore lock.  Fortunately, it was in good condition, so they were able to push on to Tewkesbury without much delay.  The last few miles were through monotonous country.  A strong headwind taxed their temper and delayed their progress.  Tewkesbury stood at the junction of the Avon and Severn, and so had always been an important route town.  The greatest day in its history was May 4, 1471, when King Edward IV defeated Queen Margaret and her son Edward, both of whom were captured.  Tradition pointed to the spot on the old Avon bridge where Richard Crookback, brother of the king, slew the prince in cold blood after the battle.  The town had many interesting old houses, including the Hop Pole Inn.  The old Norman Abbey Church was one of the stateliest buildings in the West Country, and contained the tombs of many great men.

At Tewkesbury, they left the water and journeyed by train to Cricklade, on the Thames, some seven miles downstream from its source.  At Cricklade, the river was little more than a rivulet.  The local people referred to it as “the Brook”.  That name was well deserved.  The first eleven miles to Lechlade was not really navigable water.  For most of the distance they had to walk in the bed of the stream guiding the canoe.  They were also impeded by heavy weeds, which were a formidable obstacle.  At Lechlade the river became navigable, though from there to Oxford traffic was scanty.  It was rare to see anything larger than a rowboat.  The river wound its narrow, tortuous course between long, level meadows or rushy banks.  Cattle waded in the shallows.  They saw the occasional old bridge or riverside inn haunted by anglers, for the river there was full of heron.  A steady, uneventful paddle of fifteen miles brought them to Newbridge which was, ironically, of great antiquity, being the oldest bridge on the river.  On the bank was an old inn bearing the quant sign of “The Rose Revived”.  Its sign-board represented a rose in a glass of beer.  Four miles below was a ferry, and about a mile on the right was the village of Cumnor.  At that point they could see Oxford, but as the river described a great horseshoe curve, it was some time before they approached the outskirts of the city.  The last two miles were covered with railways, warehouses, and gasometers.  On the left, where in 1922 was a cemetery, once stood the great Abbey of Osney, and just below, the old keep of Oxford Castle reared its head from among the litter and lumber of gas-works and railways.  It was the scene of one of the most romantic adventures of the Middle Ages.  In the year 1142, King Stephen was besieging the castle, in which was his rival, Matilda.  In a heavy snowstorm, Matilda stole out a postern gate accompanied by four knights, all dressed in white.  She fled across the frozen river and over the snows to Abingdon, seven long miles away, where help awaited her.

A little farther on, the river divided and passed under the old Grand Pont, or Folly Bridge, the center of Oxford’s aquatic life.  Oxford was a living link with whatever was or had been best in English life through the ages.  The “High” was a noble street.  There was a view from Carfax down St. Aldates to the tower of Christ Church.   The chapel of Christ Church was also a cathedral – a unique distinction.  Another attraction was the sun-dial at Oriel.  The author regretted not having enough time to see everything in Oxford.  From Oxford, the river ran to Iffley, a little village two miles below.  That stretch was used for college boat racing.  Iffley Mill was probable the most photographed place on the Thames.  Two miles below was Sandford, where from time immemorial, the King’s Arm had been the goal of undergraduate boating parties.  Getting through Sandford lock, they paddled on to Abingdon past the Nuneham woods.  Abingdon had fallen from its high estate.  In bygone days, the abbots of Abingdon dominated the whole district.  Their monastery vanished at the Reformation.  They found little in the town to detain them and paddled on to the little village of Sutton Courtenay.  A mile below they reached Clifton Hampden and pitched their camp in the gardens of the “Barley Mow”, an old thatched inn and one of the quaintest on the river.  Leaving Clifton Hampden after a good night’s rest, they soon reached the Day’s Lock.  A mile away to the left was Dorchester.  In the seventh century it was the scene of the baptism of Cynegil, the first West Saxon king to become Christian.  The next few miles were somewhat lacking in interest.  They paddled through Shillingford, Wallingford, under the Great Western Railway bridge, and then down a straight two-mile reach on which Oxford’s trials were rowed before they rowed against Cambridge.  Halfway down the reach was the Beetle and Wedge Inn, an old hostelry rebuilt about fifteen years prior.

A mile below were the twin villages of Goring and Streatley.  They occupied what was the most beautiful spot on the Thames, but in 1922, alas, were crowded with the houses of the newly rich.  The country round was still unspoiled and the reaches down to Pangbourne full of beauty.  Pangbourne was suffering the same fate as Goring and Streatley.  They photographed the lock before paddling on to Reading, four miles below.  Halfway down that stretch they passed the famous Hardwick house.  They did not stay long in Reading.  It was obviously a creation of the railway rather than the river.  It was a busy, dirty town.  For one who loved the Thames, it was a depressing place.  They hurried through it and paddled away past Sonning to Shiplake, where they camped on the long island by the lock, getting up early the next morning and reaching Henley in good time.  Henley was a quiet little place for fifty-one weeks of the year; but for one week in July, it was the home of the first river regatta in the world.  From the bridge there was a clear view of the course almost down to the starting point.  At other times, the course was only a long open reach, down which they made good progress past Remenham and through the Hambledon Lock, until they came to Medmenham and its ruined Abbey.  It was dissolved at the Reformation, but two centuries later it acquired a new lease on life.  Sir Francis Dashwood made the Abbey the headquarters of his “Society of the Monks of St. Francis”, or the Hell Fire Club as it was called.  A little lower was Bisham, a place with a most eventful history.  Originally a preceptory of the Knights Templar, it became a priory of the Augustinians.  At the Dissolution it passed into the hands of Henry VIII, who gave it to his divorced wife, Anne of Cleves.  Later Bisham served as prison for Queen Elizabeth during the stormy days of her sister Mary.

The Thames now changed its character.  The scenery was still very beautiful, but much of its historic interest had gone, and the towns were now pleasure resorts of modern growth rather than romantic reminders of the past.  They hurried over that final stage of their voyage.  Instead of fields and open parkland, the river was lined with trimmed lawns with flowers and smart houses, while pleasure craft of every description were more plentiful.  Past Marlow and Bourne End, with its wide sailing reach, they paddled quickly, and then drifted slowly down past the glorious Cliveden woods.  At the end of Boulter’s Lock, the most fashionable, and so the most artificial, spot on the Thames.  Below was Maidenhead, in 1922 little more than a weekend residence for wealthy Londoners.  A mile further on they got their first view of Windsor Castle, under the shadow of which they moored their canoe a few hours later – their voyage ended.  Windsor was a fitting goal.  The castle was, perhaps, the most regal building in the world.  Founded by William the Conqueror, it had always been a favorite royal residence.  Nestled under its shadow was the little town, and a few fields away Eton College, the most famous school in England.  There they bade farewell to Father Thames, after a journey of 250 miles through the heart of England, a land full of beauty and possessing a noble history of nearly two thousand years.


At the bottom of the last page of the second article in this issue (Page 497) there is a notice regarding change of address.  If a member wanted the magazine to be mailed somewhere else, the Society needed a month’s notice in advance, starting on the first of the month.  If a member wanted the July issue redirected, the Society needed to know by June first.


The third article in this month’s issue is entitled “The First Alaskan Air Expedition” and was written by Captain St. Clair Streett, USAS, Flight Commander. The article contains thirty-seven black-and-white photographs, of which eight are full-page in size.  One of those full-page photos serves as the frontispiece for this article.  The article also contains a sketch map of the route taken by the first Alaskan Air Expedition from New York to Nome spanning the top halves of pages 500 and 501.

Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere

Of the eagerness and anticipation before that epic flight, the captain compared himself and his pilots to Marco Polo and De Soto.  Like the pioneers who drove their prairie schooners in 1849 westward across unmeasured distances and through constant perils of ambush, so did the pilots come to look at every stretch they passed as an ambush of danger, depending solely on the fidelity and dependability of their Liberty motors to carry them over and beyond.  A spirit of romance and adventure dominated the individual pilots, but beyond, the reason for that expedition had a more fundamental purpose – before, a month was required to reach the Yukon; if the expedition was successful, it could be reached in three days by airplane.  Their airplanes were the well-known army De Havilands, similar to those they used in the war.  They were equipped with the 400 horsepower Liberty motor, capable of propelling them through the air at 115 miles per hour.  Each of the four pilots carried in the rear seat a tried-and-true mechanic, for they were undertaking a flight without parallel in the short annals of aviation.  Reaching Alaska depended upon their ability to make their own repairs enroute.  Nome laid 4,500 miles away, over rough and uncharted country, beyond the Great Divide of the Canadian Rockies.  The consent of the Canadian Government to fly over its territory had been cordially granted.  Maps were studied, weather bureaus were consulted, and reports from cities and towns along the route were gathered.  The planned course was to fly westward from New York to Erie, PA; then to Grand Rapids, Winona and Minneapolis; and west to Fargo and Portal, ND.  From that point they would enter Canada, flying over the wheat fields of Saskatchewan to Edmonton and Jasper in Alberta.  Then would come the fearful jump over the Great Divide, which if successful, would lead them over Wrangell, White Horse, Dawson, and Fairbanks to the Yukon River and Nome.

On July 15, 1920, at midday, they stood at attention before their airplanes on Mitchell Field, New York, and received the parting instructions of General William Mitchell.  The author’s machine was Number 1, with Sgt. Edmund Henriques as mechanic; Lt. Clifford C. Nutt piloted Number 2, with Lt. Erik H. Nelson as navigator/engineer; Lt. C. E. Crumerine flew Number 3, with Sgt. James D. Long as mechanic; and Lt. Ross C. Kirkpatrick at the controls of Number 4, with MSgt. Joseph E. English as mechanic.  At 12:33 PM, their little flight taxied across the field and took off.  They climbed to 1,500 feet, circling the field, and got into formation.  They turned westward and set a course of 298 degrees.  Heading toward their first night’s rest at Erie, they hit rain and fog above the palisades of the Hudson.  The pilots spread apart to avoid collision.  For an hour and twenty minutes, the author flew through the most bitter rainstorm he had ever encountered.  He climbed to 9,000 feet and still there was no top to the storm.  Being pelted by hail, he dropped down below the clouds and looked for a suitable place to land and wait out the storm.  He realized he was just south of Scranton, PA.  He decided to land at a field near Elmhurst, PA.  Five minutes later, he landed his plane but snapped an axle in the mud.  He had no idea how the other planes fared.  Were they in Erie?  Or in a muddy field in the rain like him?  He telegraphed back to Mitchell Field for an axle and it was delivered the following morning.  After three hours of work, it was installed and they were ready to take off.  A runway had been cut across the hayfield, but the gasoline and oil he had ordered from the nearest town had not arrived.  The fuel truck had gotten struck in the mud on a country road nearby.  By the time they had their fuel it was getting dark.  It was necessary to lay over for another night.  Upon arriving in Erie after a four-hour flight, he discovered the other planes had reached Erie the first day, in five and a half hours.

Rain continued for several days in Erie, and the field became a bog.  Finally, on July 20, the storm subsided and they pushed on to Grand Rapids, MI.  Lt. Crumerine, in Number 3, attempted to take of first, but his wheels cut deep into the surface.  A team of horses was required to drag the plane out.  After a day of rolling the field, Lt. Crumeride tried again.  He barely cleared the trees lining of the field.  Unwilling to risk their machines the other pilots decided to stay in Erie one more night.  The next morning, July 21, the field was dry, they took off a 9 o’clock in the morning.  They headed across Lake Erie.  Setting a course by 284 degrees, it took an hour and ten minutes before he saw the Canadian shore.  They reached and crossed the lower end of Lake St. Clair and the author landed for fuel at Selfridge Field, Mt. Clemens, MI, after a flight of two hours and forty minutes.  He again left the ground and after a flight through occasional showers, he spotted Grand Rapids field and the three machines in line awaiting his arrival.  Crumrine had landed the previous afternoon, while Nutt and Kirkpatrick had flown over Selfridge and had dropped down upon Grand Rapids field on schedule.  At 11 o’clock the next morning, they took off at thirty-second intervals.  They climbed to 2,000 feet, set a course of 284 degrees for Winona, MI, and left Grand Rapids behind them.  Twenty minutes later, they found themselves over Grand Haven, on the shores of Lake Michigan.  Ground mist limited viewing to ten miles.  They had reached an altitude of 7,000 feet as they approached the lake.  Four ships were sighted as they crossed.  An hour and ten minutes flying over water brought them above Port Washington, on the western shore of Lake Michigan.  The author noticed that an indicator showed he had no air-pressure.  He used a hand ump to maintain the flow of gas until he reached Winona.  The citizens of Winona insisted upon them staying over to attend a luncheon in their honor.  At 6:10 that evening they left Winona.  They were joined by a Curtiss airplane that had set out from Minneapolis to meet them and escort them in.

While still some distance from the Twin Cities they sighted the racetrack at the Speedway, in the center of which was the airdrome.    It was located four miles south of Minneapolis and four miles west of St. Paul.  For two days severe storms raged over Fargo, ND, which was their next landing place.  At 11:47 AM on July 24, they left the Twin Cities behind and set a course for Fargo, 225 miles distant.  Soon they sighted their destination.  Another public luncheon was held in their honor.  Tomorrow’s flight would be their last hop over Uncle Sam’s territory until Alaska.  Start was made for Portal, ND, next morning, July 25.  As they progressed, the terrain became rolling and, finally, rocky.  Numerous alkaline lakes dotted the landscape.  With a favorable wind, they covered the 290 miles to Portal in three hours and ten minutes, landed at 1 o’clock in the afternoon.  On landing, Lt. Kirkpatrick cut his tires badly, and Lt. Nutt snapped off his tail skid.  All their repairs were completed by 8 o’clock that evening, and everything was ready for their hop-off into Canada the next morning.  On July 26, they flew into Canada at 5,000 feet altitude.  The atmosphere was so astonishingly clear that the view was extensive.  The Canadian Pacific Railroad ran beneath them.  Tyvan, 40 miles east of Regina, they hit squarely, flying by compass.  The terrain was perfectly flat.  They were still 40 miles away from Regina when they saw it distinctly outlined ahead.  As they passed Regina, the houses and ranches were fewer and farther between.  Saskatoon and its river came into view 40 miles distant.  They were greeted by a large white sign that spelled W-E-L-C-O-M-E, near the hanger on the airdrome.  Crowds came to see the planes.  They finished tuning and fueling by 5:30 and accompanied the Saskatoon delegation to the city.  On that first flight into Canada, they had spent four hours and fifteen minutes in the air.  They swam at the YMCA, dined, went to the City Club, and slept at the King George Hotel.

Although they were out early next morning for a 6:30 start, it was almost 10 before they left the ground.  Most of Saskatoon was assembled to wish them good luck.  After circling the field in formation, they headed for Edmonton, in Alberta, flying 269½ degrees on the compass.  Twenty minutes out of Saskatoon they were over the lake district, in which sections of the Indian reservations were situated.  That country, just north of the Saskatchewan River, was practically undeveloped.  The landscape was covered with small lakes, and there were very few settlers and little tilled land.  Going west from Rose Haven, on the spur of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, the land again became clear and well tilled.  Lake Manitou, another beautiful body of water, soon appeared below their wings.  From that lake they followed the valley of Battle River for 50 miles, leaving it when Beaver Hills Lake was sighted.  Enormous and well cultivated fields extended over that entire area, unbroken until some 35 miles from Edmonton, when the ground was again covered with lagoons and small lakes.  Circling the city, they landed on a field in the northeast section of the city, only to find they had picked the wrong field.  Fuel and the city’s fathers awaited them at the other field.  They again took off and landed at the spot prepared for them.  They were invited to a luncheon, but repairs took priority and they settled on a supper at 7:30.  Edmonton was a city of 70,000 population and was the metropolis of the area.  Jasper, their next objective laid 197 miles deeper in the mountainous country.  After four days of hard work on their machines, they bade farewell to the people of Edmonton and set off on the morning of July 31 for the flight to Jasper.  Weather was misty, and a mountain range was behind the clouds they now faced.  They decided to head back to Edmonton, just to be safe.

On August 1 they were away at 9:37 in the morning.  The day was bright and clear.  They flew over the Pembina River country.  The terrain was rough and rocky.  To the right and left, away from the streams, the entire country had been devastated by forest fires.  Reaching Rocky River, they noticed the foothills giving way to the increasingly high and rugged peaks of the Rocky Mountains proper.  Turning north still more, they picked up the Athabaska River.  They passed over the little town of Pocahontas, flying between Jasper Lake and Brides Lake, and swung into the valley of the Athabaska.  The magnificence of the scenery about them was beyond description.  One was overawed by the solemn grandeur of the first sight of the Great Divide.  As they flew along above the river, the valley widened.  Ahead of them, a pair of gigantic buttresses stood shoulder to shoulder.  Passing over the crest of one buttress, they gazed ahead.  A level plain stretched before them, a plain covered with quaking aspen and jack-pine.  At the north end of that flat valley, the Snaring River poured into the Athabaska from the west.  Beside the Snaring River laid their landing field.  Landing was made after a flight of three hours on a surprisingly splendid field.  The people of that remote country had never before seen an airplane.  They greatly enjoyed camping out in those wilds.  They tried swimming and fishing in the mountain creeks, neither of which seemed very satisfactory, as the mosquitoes bit and the fish did not.  They woke at 6 in the morning.  They were still on the eastern slope of the Great Divide.  As they rose from the ground in the morning, they circled the town of Jasper at about 4,000 feet before starting on their way.  Just as they were leaving the town on their course to Prince George, the author noticed smoke issuing from the rear of his engine.  After a failed attempt to put out the fire, it fortunately stopped and he was able to limp back to the field.  The others, following their orders, continued on their way to Prince George.

The problem was fixed, and he took off again shortly after 1 o’clock.  The sky had become overcast.  Along the valley of the Miette, the author and his mechanic were carried by a favoring wing.  They were fast approaching the crest of the Great Divide.  They passed directly over Lake Lucerne, a remarkable little body of water which lied on the very top of the Divide.  In fact, the east end of the lake drained into the Miette, while the west end flowed into a tributary of the Fraser River and eventually reached the Pacific Ocean.  They ran the gantlet of two or three snow and rain storms before reaching the Yellowhead Pass, through which their route led them to the western side of the Divide.  Yellowhead Pass was, perhaps, the lowest pass in the Rocky Mountains.  It lied only 3,400 feet above sea-level.  Down the valley of the Fraser as far as Urling they hastened at 110 miles per hour.  On both sides, the air was filled with smoke from forest fires.  Deep growths of Douglas fir, spruce, and pine covered those magnificent mountains.  Storms seemed to gather and disappear with incredible swiftness.  While three-quarters of an hour away from Prince George, they were compelled to enter the blackness of a storm.  To keep on course, the author flew low to follow the terrain.  He feared he might pass directly over Prince George without seeing it.  And indeed, that nearly happened.  It was raining so hard he could barely see.  He felt that they must have reached the town, so he turned back and there, to his great relief, were houses and a road.  Back and forth they flew, looking for the field.  Finally, a blaze of light to their right indicated a flare had been lit to guide them.  The author made a blind landing.  He hit the edge of the field and smashed his left wing and tore away the whole side of the stabilizer.  The officials and citizens of Prince George treated then royally and gave them every assistance in making repairs.  In the meantime, Lt. Nutt was sent ahead to inspect their next landing field at Hazleton.

Lt. Nutt returned with the disquieting news that he was sure no plane could land at Hazleton.  He had examined the field prepared for them and searched the surrounding area.  The author took the train next morning to Hazleton to search for a site.  Leaving the train at Hazleton station, he procured a Ford car and a guide and proceeded to scour the countryside for miles around.  The only field of adequate size for their purpose was the farm of a Mr. Bierns, but it was covered with three feet of standing oats.  It was either there, or they had to turn back.  The author called on Mr. Bierns and explained the situation.  He immediately offered to cut a runway through the oats and would roll the runway until it was firm enough to give them a smooth surface.  When the author returned to Prince George, he found all repairs were completed.  On August 13, after a delay of eight days, they left Prince George a 9 o’clock in the morning, and after a flight of 3½ hours they landed in the Bierns oat field without accident.  Across that most forbidding landscape they bucked against thirty-mile wind.  Over twisting mountain gorges filled with rushing torrents, over forests of standing timber, over mountain ranges and peaks they flew.  With no place to land, their anxiety vanished only when the landing fields appeared.  Mr. Bierns had done his best to roll his field to a hard surface, but they could not take off until it was packed harder still.  The next day, sightseers, including mountaineers in heavy boots and Indians in moccasins, assembled to see them off.  They marched the crowd up and down the runway most of the forenoon.  That gave them a reasonably dry stretch of about 300 yards.  At 1:30, they decided to start.  All the machines got away safely, but with great difficulty.  They rose to 6,000 feet and headed northwest for Wrangell.  Soon they climbed to 10,000 feet.  Their maps were inadequate and many inaccuracies were noted.  For nearly two hours they flew over that No Man’s Land.

They recognized the Nash River, partly from their maps and partly from the descriptions given at their last stop.  Then came the Stewart arm and they knew Alaska was within sight.  Just south of Stewart, they dropped down to 5,000 feet.  They found village nestled under a 5,000-foot cliff.  The fact that they were again above American soil thrilled them momentarily.  The thrill didn’t last, for more glaciers and more “scenery” laid ahead.  Across the fjord-like arm of Steward Canal, over Bohn Canal; then, ten minutes later, Bradford Canal they flew, and then they sighted Wrangell Island and Wrangell, the town, due north.  A smudge had been lighted to guide them to the field, and that was sighted when ten miles away.  The field appeared to be excellent from the air. They watched Lt. Kirkpatrick make his landing.  What looked like a quantity of sand flew up before his wheels when he touched down.  Descending in their turns, they found that in reality they were landing in a bed of salt marsh grass immersed in over a foot of water in places.  The field was inundated at high tide.  Their host had neglected to inform them of that fact.  Later they learned that Wrangell was at that moment experiencing the highest tide it had known that summer, a tide of 19 feet!  After their ships were put in readiness for the next days flight, they were removed to the island of Wrangell, seven miles distant.  Many of the people of the town, including the mayor, accompanied them in a boat to Wrangell, where they attended a dance in their honor.  Remaining over two days at Wrangell, three of the flights got away on August 16, but the author was compelled to remain behind to repair a propeller.  White Horse was their next objective.  Leaving the next morning at 8 o’clock with a 10-mile-an-hour wind at his back.  He flew low over Stikine River, past Taku Glacier, and above Juneau.  Past Haynes, the White Pass seemed immersed in clouds. Upon reaching the pass he found scarcely 100 feet of clear air between the crest and the clouds.  Through that gap they flew; thence straight on to White Horse.  His companions had all arrived safely and were ready to proceed to Dawson.

The people of White Horse were very enthusiastic over aviation, although the great bulk of them had never before seen an airplane.  The country between White Horse and Carmacks, on the route to Dawson, was as rugged and forbidding as any ever traversed by airplane.  The entire country was bare rock, formerly the bed of a great glacier, which had receded.  Landing a plane in this region was impossible.  From 7,000 feet, the country seemed to have been dug up by a gigantic plow, the furrows running north and south.  From Carmacks to Selkirk, the country became less rough.  At the Yukon Crossing, the valley broadened out.  From Selkirk to Stewart, one followed the White Horse Trail to the Stewart River, and above that river to the Yukon.  All that trip the author made alone [with his mechanic] on the morning of August 18.  Two machines flew away from White Horse at 5 o’clock the preceding evening. Lt. Crumerine blew a tire on takeoff, so, after repairs, he flew over the desolation last, and alone like the author.  Since it would take several days for a tire to be delivered, Lt. Crumerine improvised a wheel.  Flying low over the river’s course from Stewart to Dawson, the author arrived almost without being seen.  Shortly after he arrived, Crumerine roared in and landed grandly on one good wheel and one improvised wheel of rope.  The people of Dawson did everything possible for their comfort and pleasure.  Dawson was but a remnant of its former splendor.  In its days of glory its population numbered 40,000.  In 1920, it had shrunk to not more than 2,000, including whites and natives.  After dinner, they were taken out on the Klondike River, where they viewed the operations of the huge placer dredges.  Caribou and moose provided most of the meat for that community.  Iceboxes were unnecessary in Dawson.  Cellars were built six feet below ground, with an ideal temperature for cold storage.

The next morning, August 19, they were off at an early hour for Fairbanks.  There, spares and supplies were awaiting them.  But their machines had held up wonderfully so far.  With the exception of a new wheel for Lt. Crumerine and one or two other minor parts, they were in need of nothing.  Great was the excitement at Fairbanks when they arrived.  They had become accustomed to the great crowds that gathered to meet them that they took it as a matter of course.  The old “sour-dough” settlers of Fairbanks were amazed that the pilots had covered the distance from New York in only 50 hours [flying time], while it had taken them 18 to 20 months to reach there in the gold-rush days.  Fairbanks and the Tanana Valley were surprising to them by reason of the green verdure, the abundant crops, and the flower gardens in contrast to the bleak and forbidding country they had crossed.  As they flew up the Tanana toward the Yukon, two days later, they saw much of that interesting country from low altitude.  Their maps of the Tanana and Yukon valleys were accurate.  They flew through light rain until Harpers Bend, south of Fort Gibbons, and then they entered the valley of the Yukon.  They overtook a riverboat on the Yukon.  Captain Howard T. Douglas made the arrangements for their landing at Ruby, and was waiting for them on their arrival.  Douglas had cleared a small island, six miles from the town, and there they landed without accident, after a flight of two and three-quarters hours. One more such flight would bring them to the end of their journey.  That last short hop was made on the afternoon of August 24, when they settled down near Nome, on the old parade grounds of Fort Davis, between the Nome River and the Bering Sea.  They had flown just 53 hours and 30 minutes from New York, covering 4,500 miles, without mishap or any serious breakage.  The air route had been proven.  One more short flight of 150 miles would have taken them to Asia, but that was not on the program.  After a few days rest, they retraced their course.  On October 20, the landed at Mitchel Field, NY, completing a round trip of 9,000 miles in just 112 hours of flying.



The fifth item listed on the cover is entitled “The World Viewed from the Air” and has no byline.  It is not an article, but “Sixteen Special Engravings” embedded in the middle of the previous article (pages 521 through 536).  The last image ties into the previous article.  These engravings, formerly known as photogravures, use special ink and paper to create the images via transfer from acid-etched metal plates.  All these images are black-and-white.

And here is a list of the engravings Caption Title:

  • “The Entire Island of Manhattan as Seen from an Airplane 8,000 Feet Above New York Harbor”
  • “The Heart of Washington, Looking East from the Lincoln Memorial”
  • “The Nation’s Capital, Looking West from the Capitol Grounds”
  • “The Heart of London – Trafalgar Square and the Nelson Column”
  • “Monuments of the Prehistoric Past: Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England”
  • “The Palace of Versailles Immediately After the Signing of the Peace Treaty”
  • “The Roman Arena at Nimes, France, During a Bull-Fight”
  • “Gibraltar from the Air”
  • “The Smoking Cone of Popocatepeti, Mexico’s Most Famous Volcano”
  • “The Ruined Mosque and Spiral Tower of Samara, on the Tigris”
  • “The Squares, Streets, Lanes, and Buildings of Ancient Samara, Viewed from the Air”
  • “The First airplane Landing Near the Summit of Mont Blanc”
  • “A Hydroplane Among the Swiss Alps”
  • “Hauling Down a Swiss Captive Balloon at Daylight”
  • “Venetian Landmarks from the Air”
  • “The First Alaskan Air Expedition Arriving at Nome”



The last article in this month’s issue is entitled “The Story of the Ruhr” and was written by Frederick Simpich, author of such article in the National Geographic as “Along Our Side of the Mexican Border”, “Every-day Life in Afghanistan”, “The Geography of Our Foreign Trade”, etc.  The article contains eleven black-and-white photographs, with only one being full-page in size.  The article also contains a sketch map of the Ruhr River valley with an inset with a zoom-out of the region on page 554.

Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere

The author noted that certain places, due to their geographic position, played major roles in history, again and again.  One of those places was the Rhine.  Caesar, Attila, Charlemagne, Napoleon, Barbarossa, Bismarck, Hindenburg, Foch, Haig, Pershing – all had passed that way.  Down the Rhine, below where Caesar bridged it at Andernach, a small, crooked stream flowed in from the east – a stream called the Ruhr.  Merely as a river, that Ruhr, barely 150 miles long, was not important.  But it flowed through and lent its name to a tiny region not equaled anywhere for intensity of industry and potential political importance.  Viewed in the light of events since the war, it seemed safe to predict that the course of life in Europe for the next generation might depend on what was happening along that short, crooked, but busy stream.  The Ruhr, as that famous region was commonly called, was not a political subdivision of Germany; it was merely an industrial district, smaller in area than Rhode Island, but crowded with mines and factories from end to end and settled, in spots, with 1,800 people per square mile.  In normal times, it produced 100,000,000 tons of coal a year, it mined much of the iron ore its many mills consumed, and the steel wares of Solingen had been famous since the Middle Ages.  Geographically, the Ruhr district lied chiefly in the province of Westphalia, bound on the west by the Rhine.  A small section of its area, however, including the city of Essen, flowed over into the Rhine Province.  Physically it formed a part of the great sandy plain of northwest Germany, merging with what geologists called the “Gulf of Cologne”.  Its climate was mildly oceanic, with the heaviest rainfall in July.

Plunging suddenly into that teeming industrial field on the train ride from Cologne to Berlin, and passing through Dusseldorf, where 150 trains a day puffed in and out, the author was amazed at the solid procession of busy towns, at the almost endless forest of chimneys, and the pall of somber smoke that hung over the flat, unattractive country.  In that small but highly mineralized region, where men had dug coal for over 600 years, over 400 concerns operated mines or held concessions for their exploitation.  And the Ruhr industrial region was even larger than the mining area.  It flowed to the southwest and included the famous factory towns of Barmen, Elberfeld, and Solingen.  “Boom” towns of mushroom growth were not peculiar to America, as the startling rise of Essen plainly proved.  Though founded back in the ninth century, it slumbered along for hundreds of years, an obscure, unimportant hamlet.  Even in 1850, it had hardly more than 10,000 people.  Then the Krupp boom – the rise of the greatest machine-shop the world had ever seen – struck it, and in 1922, the city housed half a million.  Set in the heart of the coal-fields the great workshop fairly throbbed with power and energy.  To the 80,000 or more men on his payroll, the name Krupp was above that of kings.  More than a hundred years prior the first Krupp set up his small, crude shop and began to make by hand the tools used by tanners, blacksmiths, and carpenters.  He also made dies used in the government mint.  Within 30 years Krupp tools were known and used as far away as Greece and India.  Then came the great era of mass production in steam engines, hammers, steel railcar wheels, cast steel shafts for steamers, and, finally, guns and armor plate.  The proving grounds in prewar times made the Ruhr the noisiest place on earth.  The Ruhr was still noisy after the war; the great guns were silent, but the big lathes were still noisily making products for the entire world.

Aside from its truly amazing industrial aspects, Essen was only an overgrown German factory town – somber and smoky.  It was the sort of place you’d like to see – once.  At nearby Werden, contrasting the drab dullness of Essen, stood an old Benedictine Abbey, used in 1922 as a penitentiary.  The Ruhr River rose on the north side of Winterberg, in Sauerland, flowed northward past the town of Arnsberg, and then wound down into the mining district around Hagen.  There, after receiving the waters of the Lenne, it twisted on past Witten, Steele, Kettwig, and Mulheim, getting greasier and blacker as it went, until it joined the Rhine at Ruhrort.  From that point, the Ruhr Canal connected it with Duisburg.  From Witten to its mouth, the Ruhr was navigable, with the aid of a dozen locks, but low water often delayed the boats.  Down the Rhine, the trade of the Ruhr moved out to sea.  There, water traffic fairly crowded the stream.  Boats were everywhere.  At Duisburg-Ruhrort was one of the worlds greatest river harbors, a solid line of wharves five miles long.  The Rhine was an artery of Europe; from the Alps to the sea, from Lake Constance down to Rotterdam, that swift stream tumbled along.  Its waters were crowded with over twenty thousand steamers, tugs, and barges – a tonnage of nearly five million.  And up and down the Ruhr move hundreds of light-draft boats and barges carrying coal, ore, and manufactured products.  From Cologne to London, by way of the Rhine, ran a regular line of specially built river-sea steamers, which did away with the cost of unloading and reloading at Rotterdam.  Through all that region, railways paralleled the rivers, crossing and recrossing them, competing with them, but the rivers were used to capacity.  The whole of Germany was covered with a regular network of canals and channeled streams, linking up wherever practicable.  By means of the Rhine-Rhone and the Rhine-Marne canals, the Rhine was connected with a large part of southern France.  Connections to the Danube meant Ruhr products had an all-water route to the Black Sea, thence Russia, Turkey, and Armenia.

Since its great growth began, many busy Ruhr towns had grown up along the rivers and canals, at points nearest to mineral deposits.  Duisburg-Ruhrort was easily the greatest of all the Rhine’s busy ports.  Geographically the adjoining harbors of Alsum, Walsum, Homberg, and Rheinhausen were considered one with that of Duisburg.  There one saw the Rhine working at maximum capacity.  Each year it hauled nearly 85,000,000 tons of freight.  Those Ruhr factory towns included Dusseldorf, Essen, Elberheld, Barmen, Hagen, Mulheim, Solingen, Bochum, Dortmund, and Remscheid, as well as many smaller, but equally busy centers.  Dortmund, the largest city in Westphalia boasted a history dating back a thousand years.  Hard by was the historic hill of Hohen-Syburg, where Charlemagne fought the Saxons.  From its crest, one could view the vast, smoking, seething valley of the Ruhr.  Then there was Oberhausen, site of one of the largest iron and steel mills in all the region.  The Ruhr was preeminently the habitat of labor.  Everybody worked, and nearly everybody worked with their hands.  The population, between 3½ and 4 million, was difficult to determine, because thousands came and went as the tide of trade rose and fell.  Poles and men of Polish birth, probably a hundred thousand of them, figured in the daily life of that industrial region.  That group, though reduced by war, was still conspicuous, but had become largely naturalized.  In the more picturesque and less crowded spots of the Ruhr, the overlords of industry had reared their villas and spacious homes, but a distinctive leisure class was not to be found.  There were hundreds who had retired, but they were aged and pensioned workmen.

There were schools, and higher seats of learning in the cities, and even in the smallest industrial centers there were cafes, parks, beer gardens, and movie theaters; but by 10 o’clock at night, the streets of Essen were empty.  There, too, women workers were numerous, tilling fields between towns, handling trucks and freight, or more to the north, digging and hauling peat from the wet lowlands.  The Ruhr unions and workmen’s councils, the bunds and vereins, were active and influential.  Public meetings, debates, and conferences, though peaceful and orderly, were never ending.  Despite the high cost of paper, the newsstands were piled high in every town. To those Ruhr folk, coal was life.  The talk of the street always came back to coal – coal, the key to Germany’s future.  Life in the mines was dramatic, intense and thrilling.  Every man with a pick was an eager actor.  Every lump moved was that much to Germany’s credit.  Such was the story of the Ruhr.  Under dirty smoke, thousands toiled to help Germany pay her debt.  As she won back her place in world trade, much that she sold overseas came from that productive region – the Ruhr.  Mills in Java and Manchuria, wheels in Canada and the U. S., and farm implements for Argentina all came from there.  And when the tumult in Russia was over, she would buy much of her sorely needed equipment from that same Ruhr, so the author surmised.  A tiny speck on the map was that heated, smoking Ruhr, but big in the world’s eye, a high spot in a region old in history.



Tom Wilson

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