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100 Years Ago: July 1921


This is the seventy-eighth post in my series of short reviews of one-hundred-year-old National Geographic Magazines.



The first article in this month’s issue is entitled “Life on the Grand Banks” and was written by Frederick William Wallace.  The article contains twenty-nine black-and-white photographs taken by the author.  Seven of those photographs are full-page in size.

The author began his tale aboard a large liner.  He was steaming home from Havre and it had been storming for two days.  The liner was still far out to sea when a Bank fisherman from Gloucester or Lunenburg passed by, heading home, in a little 100-ton schooner.  Passengers on the liner were amazed at how well the “yacht” handle that hard December gale.  In a minute or two, she vanished in a flurry of snow.  In his age of steel hulls and steam/motor propulsion, Mr. Wallace felt the need to differentiate between “sailor” and “seaman”.  A sailor knew how to steer, equip, repair, and handle the canvas of a sailing craft under sea conditions.  All others were deck-hands and seamen.  The author had sailed and steamed the oceans in many kinds of craft; from clipper ship to oil-burning greyhound; and from fishing schooner to steam-trawler, but he believed that the only true sailors in that mechanical age were the Grand Bank fishermen of North America’s Atlantic coast.  Those sailors were the crews of the fishing schooners that sailed out of fishing ports of Newfoundland, the Maritime Provinces of Canada and the New England states of America.  The largest of those ports were Lunenburg, in Nova Scotia, and Gloucester and Boston, in Massachusetts.  Those deep-sea fishermen were of a hardy stock from Highland Scotch, Hanoverian German, West Country English, and West Irish, who settled in Newfoundland, eastern Canada, Maine, and Massachusetts when America was young.  Landing on the shores of a new land, they farmed, cut timber, and fished.  To reach their markets they had to use the sea, and they built their own vessels to transport their goods.  The succeeding generations of men were, therefore, farmers, fishermen, wood-workers, and sailors.  In the New England States, that type succumbed to the development of other industries.  The seaside farms were deserted and they went west or into the cities, where life was less arduous.  The American sailing marine of 1800 to 1862 had disappeared, their places had been filled by those of their breed who had resisted the allure of industries and the cities.  Those later were the Nova Scotians and Newfoundlanders.  They formed the greater part of the crews of the Bank fishermen, with a sprinkling of Scandinavian, Portuguese, and native-born Americans.  Thus, when a Gloucester fishing schooner was lost, mothers and widows from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia mourned the majority of the vessel’s dead.

Physically, American deep-sea fishermen were strong-muscled and able to endure hardships.  They were mainly raised in sea-coast villages of the Canadian Provinces and Newfoundland.  At an early age they learned to handle an axe, to work the land, and to rig and bait fishing gear.  The sea was before their eyes from infancy.  Clean air, wholesome foods, and hard work created a sturdy, hard-muscled youth who usually broke away to the sea in a Bank fishing vessel before town lads were through grammar school.  When he knew enough to “hold his end up”, he made his way to Boston or Gloucester, attracted by the good money made in American vessels and the broader allurements of shore recreation in large ports.  Some married and settled down in America, but most kept in touch with their birthplaces, journeyed home once or twice a year.  Ashore, the Bank fisherman was not conspicuous.  He talked, acted, and spoke pretty much as any other class of American worker.  The average deep-sea fisherman was a healthy, level-headed, intelligent class of skilled worker.  Much like the farmer, his livelihood depended upon the weather.  It was at sea where the Bank fisherman manifested his distinctness, showing many qualities – daring, initiative, skill in seamanship, and the ability to endure long hours of heavy labor.  He sailed in small vessels in the varying weather conditions of the North Atlantic.  The European fisherman, on the other hand, had practically outgrown sail, and worked on powerful steam-trawlers.  All the work was done on board.  In the North American fisheries, the fast-sailing schooner remained the prime means of producing fish from the Western Atlantic banks, and the greater part of the fishing was done from small boats, known as dories, which were carried by the schooner and launched upon the fishing grounds. It was that dory fishing which made the American fisherman a distinct type from his colleagues in other countries.  The North American fisherman had stood out longest against modern innovations in fishing methods and equipment.  The trawler, constructed of steel and powered by steam or motor, had only been used in American fisheries recently.  There were about sixty of them on this side of the Atlantic compared to the thousands in Europe.  In refusing to modernize, American fishermen had evolved a type of sailing schooner which was the last word in weatherly qualities and speed under sail.  The men who manned those vessels were the only real sailors in that age of steam.

There were three distinct fisheries in which the schooner fleets of the Western North Atlantic were employed, namely, fresh fishing, salt fishing, and halibut fishing.  Mackerel seining also employed a schooner fleet during the season, but that was not a Bank fishery in the accepted sense of the term.  The Banks were vast areas of shoal water lying at various distances off the eastern coasts of the United States and Canada, and south and east of Newfoundland.  Upon those banks, in depths ranging from 15 to 200 fathoms, tremendous numbers of fish were found at various seasons.  Cod was the commonest variety caught; haddock ranked second; while hake, pollock, cusk, halibut, whiting, catfish, wolf-fish, monk-fish, and lumpfish were also marketed.  Only on steam trawlers were fish caught in nets.  On the schooners, the fishermen used the long-line, which ranged from 2,100 to 2.400 feet in length.  It was made of thin, but incredibly strong, tarred cotton.  Into that “ground line” were spliced thinner lines called “snoods” at thirty- to forty-inch intervals.  Those snoods were usually twenty to thirty inches long with a strong steel hook attached to each.  Thus, there were from 600 to 800 snoods and hooks on each long-line.  Each long line was coiled down a wooden tub, and each hook was baited before the “gear” was set.  Halibut fishing used a much heavier line and hook, and the snoods were spaced further apart, thus fewer hooks on a coil of halibut gear.  On every Banks fishing-schooner, except hand-liners on which fishing was done on deck, a number of flat-bottomed, high-sided boats, called dories, were carried.  Those dories were from 18 to 22 feet long and their thwarts were removable to permit them to be stacked, or “nested” on the schooner’s deck when not in use.  Each schooner carried six to twelve dories; and it was from those dories the fishing was done.

The author felt the Bank fishing-schooners were the handsomest commercial sailing craft afloat.  They were built of wood and ranged from 100 to 150 feet in length, with a tonnage of from 80 to 175 tons.  They were designed for speed, but also the weather.  They seldom shipped any heavy water on deck in a “blow”, unless capsized by a squall or irregular wave.  The orthodox Bank schooner was two-masted – there had been three-masters – and the sailed carried were mainsail, foresail, forestaysail, and jib.  Those were known as the four “lowers”.  In summer, when the topmasts were up, light sails were set, consisting of fore- and main gaff-topsails, a rectangular main-topmast-staysail, and a balloon-jib or jib-topsail.  The two latter were often of great size.  When a Banker had her light sails set, she was a veritable cloud of canvas.  In winter fishing, the light sails were left ashore and the topmasts were also discarded.  In heavy weather, when reefed mainsails can’t be set, a small triangular piece of canvas, known as a “riding sail”, or storm trysail, was hoisted on the mainmast.  That sail was also set to steady a vessel while lying to an anchor.  Every Bank fishing schooner was a sort of seafaring democracy.  The crew worked the ship on a cooperative basis, with the skipper as sailing and fishing “boss”.  On the craft in which Mr. Wallace sailed, the gang were shipped on the share system – they got an equal share of the proceeds after the bill for victualing, ice, salt, bait, cook’s wages, and other incidentals had been paid.  The schooner took a quarter or a fifth of the gross, and this repaid her owner for the hire of the vessel.  Out of that share came the cost of insurance and upkeep.  In 1914, many schooners paid for their construction in twelve months.  In those days, a Banker could be built for $12,000, but in 1921 they cost $50,000.  The share system varied from vessel to vessel.  On some it was “even shares”, while on others it was “by the count”.  The lucky dory which caught the most fish was called the “high dory”; and the lightest catch was the “low dory”.  On some schooners, if a pair of fishermen came in “low dory” too often they were fired.  Both of those systems had drawbacks, and new methods of dividing the proceeds had been instituted on some vessels.  On some vessels, a wage is guaranteed and augmented by a share; in others, the owner provided the food and gear.  The author had been on voyages where the men drew $70 each for a week’s work, and on others where they made but $45 in two months.  The Goddess of Luck had something to do with the fisherman’s remunerations.

The crew, or “gang”, of a Banker ran from sixteen to twenty-five men.  A schooner “running ten dories” would have a crew sufficient to man ten dories with two fishermen each.  In addition to those twenty men, there were the skipper, the cook, a deck-hand, and, if the vessel was an auxiliary, an engineer.  Some vessels carried neither a deck-hand nor an engineer.  All navigation was done by the skipper.  The men were primarily fishermen, but were under the skipper’s orders and helped to sail the vessel, to steer and keep a lookout, and to set and furl sail.  On passage to and from the Banks, the fishermen took regular turns in standing watch at wheel and lookout.  With a gang of twenty and two men to a watch, that period was not very long.  That was fortunate in winter, when the cold limited a man to ten minutes on the wheel to avoid fingers and toes freezing.  When sail had to be set, it was all hand on deck; no exceptions.  Even if the job only required three people, the whole crew showed up.  This way, there were no favorites, and no one could complain of being imposed upon.  During the run-off to the “grounds” the fishermen were busy overhauling the fishing gear.  Each man had his dory-mate and his particular dory.  They divided the work between them, and had to have their lines in good shape and their dory properly equipped when the skipper sang out “Bait up!”  Six to eight tubs of gear had to be kept in order and baited by the two dory-mates.  The passage to the Banks was a run from fifty to five hundred miles, and was usually made as quickly as possible.  When the vessel had run her distance, the “spot” the skipper had been making for was found by the sounding lead.  While many captains navigated by solar and stellar observations, the majority found their way about by dead-reckoning, using compass, chart, log, and lead.  Their accuracy was startling.  The sample of the bottom brought up by the tallow on the lead and the depth of the water gave most skippers an exact position after two casts.

If the gear was baited and the weather was favorable, the skipper sang out “Dories over!”  The dory-mates for the top two dories on the port and starboard “nests” prepared their boats.  Oars, pen-boards, bailer, water-jar, bait-knife, gurdy-winch, bucket, gaff, sail and mast, and other boat and fishing implements were placed in each craft, and it was swung up out of the nest and overside by means of tackles.  Two fishermen secured their tubs of baited lines and jumped into the dory, which was allowed to drift astern.  The dory was towed by the schooner.  As the other dories were launched, they were made fast to each other and towed.  When all the dories were overside, the skipper determined the direction to set his line.  The dories were let go, one at a time, as the vessel sailed along.  The dories were distributed at equal distances along a four- or five-mile line.  Number One dory was often out of sight from the position of Number Ten.  When the last dory had been dropped, the skipper would either “jog” down the line again or remained hove-to near the weather dory while the men fished.  In the dories, one man rowed in the direction ordered while the other prepared the gear for “setting”.  The end of the line was attached to a light anchor.  Another stout line, with a buoy, was also tied to the anchor. The anchor was thrown over and the buoy released.  As the dory was rowed along, the long-line was fed out of the tub using a stick.  The line was stretched out along the bottom.  Two or three tubs had their ends tied together, and the other end had another anchor and buoy attached.  The anchors at each end kept the line from drifting or snaring on the bottom.  The fishermen either hung onto the last anchor line until it was time to haul the gear, or mark the buoy-kegs at each end with flags to help locate the line again.

The line was “set” for anywhere from thirty minutes to half a day.  In the later case, the dory was towed back to its gear by the schooner and cast adrift when its buoy markers were spotted.  The fishermen inserted a lignum-vitae roller in the gunwale of the dory and pulled up the anchor.  The end of the long-line was detached from the anchor.  One man pulled up the line while the other was behind him coiling the line back into its tub after knocking off any untouched bait.  The first man would remove the fish caught with a twist of the arm.  Any fish that got by him, would be detached by his dory-mate before he coiled the line back in the tub.  Unmarketable species – sculpins, skate, dogfish, etc. – were knocked off into the sea by a vicious slat against the dory’s gunwale.  There was no more disheartening sound than to hear a volley of “slats” coming from the line of dories.  It meant that the dogfish were swarming.  When the line had been hauled, the fishermen rowed or sailed down to the schooner.  The dory rounded up alongside the vessel and secured.  After handing up their tubs of long-lines, the two fishermen pitched out their fish upon the schooner’s deck.  Certain sections of the deck had been penned off for reception of the catch, which prevented the fish from sliding when the schooner rolled.  At the end of the day, when all hands were aboard, the work of “dressing down” the catch commenced. The fish were split and gutted, and some species were beheaded, by the fishermen at tables rigged on the deck.  The dressed fish were washed in tubs of salt water and consigned to the hold, where they were packed away on chopped ice.  If the vessel was salt-fishing, the fish were piled upon each other in the hold-pens and liberally covered with coarse salt.  After the catch had been cleaned and stowed away, the men baited up their gear for the morror’s “set”.  When the catch was heavy, the day was long.  When the vessel was “on fish” for several days, with barely an hour’s sleep each night, the fishermen were glad when a gale would blow up, and allow them some rest.

The above description was that of life on a market, or fresh-fishing” schooner running her catches to port for consumption in a fresh or smoked state.  The “marketmen” seldom stayed at sea longer than ten days, but life aboard was demanding.  They wasted no time in getting to the Banks, the dories were hoisted before dawn, and the men often fished all night, with torches aflare on the dory gunwales.  They went over the side in rough weather, and remained out until the last minute in the face of fog and squalls.  In summer, fog was the fisherman’s worst enemy.  Dories were strung out when it was fine and clear, but before they could be picked up again, they were blanketed from view in a wet, sight-defying mist.  The skippers were clever at locating the hidden dories, but sometimes some could not be found.  There were not many casualties, however, considering the frequency of fog.  Fog inspired fear in fishermen by reason of the danger of being run down by steamers.  Many schooners had been sent to the bottom thus.  The roar of a steamer’s siren close aboard in foggy weather would have a crowd of fishermen out of their bunks quicker than anything the author knew.  One could never tell from which direction she was coming, and the fishermen, blew horns, lit torches, fired guns, and rang bells when the dreaded blast was heard.  During the winter months, the Banksmen fishing for market endured some strenuous times.  Chilling cold, strong wind, rough seas, and ice and snow made dory-fishing at that season a risky and arduous occupation.  The schooner was stripped for heavy weather, topmasts and light sails were left ashore, and fishing was carried out during lulls in the squalls.  Time was valuable on market Bankers, and only a steady gale would keep the fishermen aboard the schooner.  If the weather was intermittently squally, the dories went overside and make “one-tub sets”, coming back aboard when it got too snowy and blowy.  Dories became so heavily encased in ice that they risked foundering.  Schooners would ice up as well, and ran the same danger, and would stay away from shore and in the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream.

When on the Banks, fishing vessels did not run to port every time the barometer foretold a gale.  They hove-to, instead, and rode out a mountainous sea, and seldom took on any water.  But life on a schooner in such weather was by no means pleasant.  The leaps and plunges made it impossible to walk without hanging on to something.  Muscles became strained and sore with the jolting and swinging.  It was difficult to eat and sleep under such conditions.  The living quarters in a fishing schooner were in the forecastle and cabin.  Those compartments were lined with bunks, up to sixteen forward, and four or six doubles in the aft.  The galley was located in the after part of the forecastle, and the mess-table was fitted between the foremast and the windlass-pawl-post.  All hands ate their meals in the forecastle.  The skipper lived aft, in the cabin.  In some schooners, he had a little room to himself, but in a good many, he slept on a bunk with the crew.  The galley stove kept the forecastle warm, and a small base-burner heated the cabin.  As the fishermen were always wet, the stoves are kept fired to dry out sodden clothes.  Life was hard, but there were compensations.  The cooks were master chefs and the men were fed well.  The fishermen were always hungry; besides three square meals each day, they would “mug-up” between times from the “shack locker”, a cupboard in the forecastle.  Tea and coffee were always on the stove.  With stoves going, it was always warm and pleasant in the cabin and forecastle.  The fisherman’s bunk had a thick quilt and a straw mattress, and made a snug sleeping place.  The cabin and forecastle were clean and well kept.  The men obeyed the skipper’s orders without question.  It was he who found the fishing grounds.  A hard-driving, hard-working skipper could always find a crew.

Then there was the sailing.  A smart vessel was a fisherman’s pride.  He believed in carrying his canvas to the last minute, just for the fun of seeing her go.  In a fleet of Banksmen “swinging off” for market in a stiff breeze, Mr. Wallace thought that the American fisherman was the finest sailors of his time.  Fourteen to sixteen knots an hour were often reached.  Some skippers refused to reduce sail until the lee-rail was under water.  The fishermen were pretty good helmsmen, and could steer those schooners “through the eye of a needle”.  They even sailed in heavy weather, running before the wind and sea.  The Atlantic Bank fishing skipper was in a class by himself.  He was usually a fisherman with ambition, who came out of the dory, and made a bid for the company vessel.  It was a profession that was not overcrowded.  Many a man took charge of a fishing craft and failed to make good.  There was no coming back for him.  Even if an owner trusted him with a vessel, it was doubtful his could get a crew.  Fishermen did not sail with doubtful skippers or known failures.  The ability to sail and navigate a vessel was secondary to the ability to find and secure fish.  Some skippers were lucky, but hard work told the story of success.  The “high-line” skippers were “hustlers”.  They hustled out to the Banks, hustled the dories over the side, and kept the men hustling as long as weather allowed.  Even if they were not lucky, that hustling policy paid off in the long run.  They lost no opportunity to get lines in the water and bring up some fish every day.  After a week to ten days of work, they would hustle off to port with a paying catch.  The successful Bank skipper was a smart vessel-handler, to inspire confidence in his gang.  They preferred to go out in the dories secure in the knowledge that the skipper could pick them up again if the weather got bad.  The skipper was an optimist and a diplomat, to handle the independent crowd who sailed with him.  He could show no fear, and was every ready to do the right thing at the right moment.  He was also something of a businessman, and kept the expenses of the trip down as much as possible.  He was expected to know where bait could be procured at certain seasons, and purchase it at the lowest price, and without the loss of too much time.  He was at once a navigator, a sailor, a fisherman, a diplomat, and a businessman, making the American Bank fishing skipper an outstanding type.

The salt fisherman’s life was easier.  The fishing was carried on from dories in a similar manner.  The season for salt fishing extended from March to October, and the schooners made from two to four trips during that period.  The schooner usually anchored on the Bank, and the dories rowed away from the vessel, and set the gear.  If fishing was good, the lines were left in the water and “under-ran” – the fish were taken off and the hooks immediately bated again without hauling up the whole line and taking it aboard the schooner.  When the fishing began to thin out, the schooner made sail for another fishing ground.  Halibut fishing was possibly the most exciting of all.  Cod, haddock, and similar species were quiet fish, but the halibut was a fighter, and had to be clubbed by the dory-men before being taken into the dory.  In the summer months, when the fish were inshore in shoal water, the halibut was a troublesome fellow to land.  The writhing and squirming of a hundred-pounder would give a fisherman all he could manage in getting him into the dory.  Sometimes they had to be cut and let go to avoid being capsized.  A clubbed fish sometimes woke up in the dory and thrashed about, knocking oars and gear into the water.  Seasoned halibuters lashed the halibut’s tail to the rising-strip of the boat to avoid any unpleasantness.  In deep water, the halibut were not so wild.  The long pull from the bottom exhausted the fish and they were more easily handled.

In addition to long-lining from dories, a few vessels fished by means of hand lines from dories.  Hand-line dories were smaller with one man fished from them.  The hand-line was equipped with two or three hooks and a lead sinker.  The fisherman operated several lines at a time.  Cod and haddock caught by hand-line were conceded to be superior to long-line-caught fish, and this method was employed by both fresh and salt Bank fishing.  The age of the clipper ship and the seamen who sailed them were gone, but in the American Banksmen, the author found the smartest sailormen afloat in his time.  But the steam and motor trawlers were coming into the American fisheries, and many of the tall-sparred schooners were having their sails and masts cut down and internal-combustion engines installed.  The author felt that in a few years, the schooner fleet would give way to power and the sailor-fisherman would evolve into sea-mechanics.




The second item listed on this month’s cover is entitled “Scenes from France” and has no byline.  It is not an article, but a set of sixteen full-page black-and-white photographs of post-war France.  The only text in this spread is in the captions to the photos.  Ten of the photographs are credited to Crete’ Ltd.  Four aerial photographs of Paris were taken by the U. S. Army Air Service.  The remaining two images are credited to L. Boulanger and to the Keystone Viewing Company.

A listing of the caption headings is as follows:

Two Breton M’selles

Where the Humble Sardine Reigns Supreme

Drying Sardines in Brittany

Brittany Is a Land of Legend

Inside a Breton Home

Ups and Downs in Brittany

Identifying Features of the City of Le Puy, in Southern France

The Center of Modern Paris

The Ile de la Cite’ and the Cathedral of Norte Dame: Paris

The Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe: Paris

The Place de la Concorde and the Madeleine: Paris

A Peasant Girl of Normandy

The Meije, in the Dauphiny Alps

Man’s Highest Tower

A Woman of Auvergne

Another Rebekah at the Well, This One a Breton




The second article in this issue is entitled “The Geography of Japan”, and was written by Walter Weston, the author of such articles as “Mountaineering and Exploration in the Japanese Alps” and “The Playground of the Far East”.  The article has the internal subtitle “With Special Reference to Its Influence on the Character of the Japanese People”.  Of its “39 Illustration” documented on the cover, sixteen are full-page colorized photographs: the “Sixteen Pages of Japanese Scenes in Full Color” mentioned on the cover above the article list.  The remaining twenty-three illustration are black-and-white photographs, of which eight are full-page in size.

The islands of the Japanese Archipelago had been likened by poets to a garland of flowers or a girdle of jewels adorning the western margin of those far Eastern Seas.  In prosaic fact, they really formed the summit ridge of a stupendous mountain chain that reared itself from the ocean depths.  The main features of that mass of land clearly showed similarities to the Asian mainland.  Japan formed the advanced frontier of eastern Asia.  [See: “Map of Asia” (size 28 x 36 inches), May 1921, National Geographic.]  The bed of the ocean between Japan and Korea, near the Tsushima Straits, was so shallow that the slightest upheaval could create a land bridge between them.  From Sakhalin Island, in the north, the mainland was so close it could be reached by canoe.  That fact was important in understanding the flora of the Japanese Alpine regions and the northern plant forms.  They migrated there by migration from Kamchatka and eastern Siberia, and then were carried southward by monsoons and currents, and finally driven up the mountains by valley winds.  There were many points of similarity between Japan and the British Isles.  Just as Britain was close enough to the Continent of Europe, ready to receive its civilization and religion while maintaining its independent characteristics of an island race, so it had been with Japan.  It was from the Asiatic mainland that Japan had derived all its ancient arts, religion, and civilization – chiefly from China, either directly or by way of Korea.  The only thing in Japanese life not derived from China, was the people’s love of cleanliness.  Every Japanese, whenever possible, had a hot bath at the end of his day’s toil.  The Chinese rarely got into hot water, if he could avoid it.  Both in area and population, Japan somewhat exceeds the British Isles – 150,000 square miles against 121,000, and 57,000,000 inhabitants compared with 45,000,000.

The Japanese Islands were remarkable for the length of their coastlines.  For every nine square miles of land, there was one mile of coast.  The ratio for the British Isles was thirteen square miles for every mile of coast.  With such a deeply indented coastline, there were many good natural harbors, although most were confined to the Pacific coast.  The shores abounded in rich supplies of fish of many kinds.  For centuries, the constituted one of the chief articles of the daily food of the Japanese people.  The fishing industries had served to rear a hardy race of seafaring folk.  Yokohama, the chief seaport of the Empire lied at the same latitude as Gibraltar, while the central portion of the great range of the “Japanese Alps” corresponded in latitude and elevation with the Sierra Nevada of Spain.  Japan was a mostly volcanic country and thus had an amazing variety of savage grandeur, appalling destructiveness, and almost heavenly beauty.  From the mountains burst forth volcanic eruptions; from the land came tremblings; from the oceans swept in the dreaded tidal wave; and over it raged the typhoon.  Floods and rain in summer and autumn gave rise to landslides and inundations.  Along the coast, the winds and currents were extremely variable, and sunken and emerging rocks lined the shore.  Those were the darker side of Nature, yet her glory outshone her gloom.  The pomp of a luxurious vegetation, the splendor of the landscape, the clearness of the air, and the variety of the climate served to soothe and enliven the spirits of man.  The majority of the inhabitants rarely saw ice more than an inch thick or snow more than 24 hours old.  The surrounding oceans and the variable winds tempered the climate in summer; the Kuro Shiwo, the Gulf Stream of the Pacific, modified the cold of winter.  Added to the varied and violent contrasts was the fact the majority of the people dwelt in houses mainly built of wood and paper which were subject to sudden and complete destruction by fire.  In spite of, or perhaps because of, those facts, the Japanese were lively, impressionable, and artistic; but also stoical, persevering, and somewhat fatalistic.

The geographical features of Japan had much in common with those of ancient Hellas.  In both there were the same combination of mountain, valley, and plain, and a deeply indented coastline, with its bays, peninsulas, and islands off the coast.  Few places inland, were far removed from the mountains, and not any were really distant from the sea.  In each case, the configuration of the country conduced to the formation of small communities, and to kindle the spirit of independence.  Just as Greece was, in the political sense, not one country, but a multitude of independent states, so, until the immense changes during the last fifty years of intercommunication between inland and coastal provinces of feudal Japan, many of those provinces had their own types of people, with differences of appearance, dialect, customs, and characteristics.  Satsuma, in the extreme south of Japan, resembled Sparta, both in its inaccessibility and in the character of its inhabitants.  Both were stern, dour, unliterary, and somewhat harsh to strangers.  The dullness of the Boeotians found its counterpart in that of some of the remoter peoples of the northern provinces of Japan.  Athens, intensely social, literary, and liberal, had its own parallel in Kyoto, the old Japanese capital in feudal days.  In case of each country, the land was on all sides well protected, and yet open to the sea.  In each case there was free access for commerce and civilization from early times, while the art of navigation was cultivated breeding a race of hardy and capable seafaring folk.  In each case the soil of the country was only moderately fertile.  As a result, the Japanese were industrious and frugal.  For the 1921 Japanese, just as for the ancient Greeks, a study of their natural surroundings afforded a clue to their history.  The Greeks, as per Mr. Freshfield, “eagerly on any striking piece of hill scenery and connected it with a legend or a shrine”.  The highest mountain, Olympus, became the home of the gods; and in the cliffs of Delphi, they found a home for their great oracle and a center for their patriotism.  One only had to substitute names – the far loftier “peerless peak” of Fujisan (Fujiyama); or Ontake, up to whose sacred summit-shrine thousands of pilgrims worshipped; or the still holier far-off Ise in Yamato, where only the Emperor or his representative were allowed to converse with the spirits of the “Divine Ancestors”.

The climate conditions of Japan offered contrasts of a more striking character than any other country of similar size.  While the northernmost islands had subarctic features, in the southernmost one found them subtropical.  Moreover, on the west coast of the main island, one found both of those extremes represented in the same region.  The cold, dry northwesterly winds from Siberia gathered up moisture from the Sea of Japan and deposited it in a snowfall often heavy enough to bury whole villages.  Nevertheless, in that same region the summer was almost tropical in character.  While the western side of the great mountain mass exhibited leaden skies and biting winds, on the east, toward the Pacific coast, winters were nearly always delightfully bright and sunny, and snowfalls were seldom seen.  One of the most disturbing features of the natural phenomena of Japan was the frequency of earthquakes.  There was an average of four quakes a day, but shocks of a very serious kind only occurred once in six or seven years.  The greatest center of activity was on the Pacific coast, near the Bay of Tokyo, and it was there that the tidal waves were most destructive.  Sometimes the loss of life from the combined agencies had amounted to over 27,000.  As many as a quarter of a million homes had been destroyed at once.  Active volcanos, however, provided a safety-valve for the disquieting forces at work below the earth’s crust, and consequently the regions where they were found were seldom harmed by seismic shocks.  Typhoons, unlike earthquakes, were counted upon with much more certainty.  They ushered in the break up of the summer heat, during the second week in September, though occasionally they appeared at other times.  That was counted upon as an absolutely regular fixture.  Their effects were usually more destructive on the coast.  Vessels of considerable size had been deposited high and dry in the back street of a large seaport town.

There were more than 1,000 mineral springs to be found in the mountain regions of Japan.  In their seclusion, they constituted a great asset to the peasantry of those regions, who resorted to them by the thousands, for health and socialization.  Of one of the most noted Sulphur springs, it was maintained that all ailments were curable with the exception of the disease of love.  While some places there were separate compartments for privacy, in the more primitive spots, both sexes bathed together.  An abundant supply of moisture, in all forms, was responsible for the most striking and important features of the Japanese landscape – the flora.  Half the known varieties of vegetation were found in an area only a little larger than the British Isles.  The rivers that flowed down from high mountains through the countless deeply clefted valley would swell, after heavy rains or snow melt, into floods whose deltas opened out into the ocean half a mile or more in width.  Formerly, the River God was honored with a handsome shrine to protect the rice and other crops from early flooding.  By 1921, one of the chief festivals of such a shrine was observed in Kofu, capital of the prefecture of Yamanashi.  In beauty and variety, the waterfalls of Japan were unequalled.  Two examples were the cascade of Kegon at Nikko and of Shiraito.  Kegon formed the outlet of the mountain lake of Chuzenji.  It fell in an unbroken column of water down into its rocky basin 350 feet below.  Shiraito, on the other hand, formed a broad series of cascades falling over a semicircular cliff.  It was comprised of two large and 39 smaller falls, 41 in all.  Wherever any spot of unusual loveliness was found, there rose the appropriate shrine in its honor.  Each great mountain had its titulary divinity, who was worshipped with fear of the evil his volcanic fire could work.

As in Greece, the most characteristic feature of the land in Japan was its mountains.  They spread over the whole country, and formed a chief part of every view.  They had constantly modified the course of historic events, especially of military operations.  They had served to limit communications and trade between communities, in spite of increased railway communication in the plains.  Each province or district was unique because the mountain barriers hemmed them in.  No less than three-quarters of Japan was mountain land, to a great extent uncultivable.  The remaining quarter was cultivated with the greatest care and effort.  In spite of the growth of industrialism and the migration to the towns, more than half the people still lived “on the land”.  In feudal Japan, the tillers of the soil ranked next in social status to the Samurai and above the merchants and mechanics.  Those were days when Japan was secluded from the world and self-supporting.  It was through farming that the Japanese people developed much of their unwearying patience, perseverance, and cheerfulness.  The soldiers recruited from the hillmen made the finest campaigners.  During the Russo-Japanese War in Manchuria, their native mountaineering habits invariably enabled them to select the most accessible line of country.  Through each of the chief islands of Japan there ran a solid backbone of mountains which, taken together, constituted three great mountain systems.  The first, or northern, was the Russian, or Karafuto, system.  Karafuto was the Japanese name for Sakhalin.  Passing through Sakhalin, it traversed Hokkaido and reappeared in the mainland as far as the provinces of Koshu, Shinshu, and Suruga.  The second, or southern, was known as the Chinese, or Kuenlun system.  It originated in the Kuenlun Mountains of the central Asian plateau and ran through central China to reappear in the southern islands of Japan, Kyushu and Shikoku.  That system met the northern system in the broadest and central part of the mainland. There, valleys clefted and mountain summits rose in the ranges known as the “Japanese Alps”.  The conflict of those two systems had resulted in terrific upheaval, and, like a mighty wedge, there ran a fissure, crossing the mainland of Japan from the Sea of Japan to the Pacific Ocean.  It was known as the Fossa Magna, or Fuji Belt.  Volcanos were active throughout its entire length.  There was no evidence of glacial action yet found in the great alpine ranges of central Japan.

Of the 200 volcanoes of Japan some fifty were more or less active.  Their forms were most varied.  Of the beautiful cone-shaped peaks, the best example was the famous Fujisan (Fujiyama).  It rose to a height of 12,400 feet.  It was revered, admired, and loved by millions of people in the cities and the countryside.  It influences were expressed in art and in the religious aspirations of the nation.  Its summit was sought by thousands of white-robed pilgrims every summer.  During the two-month climbing season, they toiled to the topmost of its many sacred shrines for adoration and prayer.  It was, however, in the great Alpine ranges of central Japan that the influence of Nature upon man was most marked.  A day’s journey from the city was a trip into a world of a thousand years ago.  There, the reverence, admiration, and fear the peasants had for their physical surroundings was most marked.  It was when one penetrated into the wild Alpine regions beyond, where the peaks soared to 10,000 feet or more, that the fear was apt to be replaced with love.  The locals believe that wasps were a spirit of vengeance protecting the mountains upon which they lived.  They also felt one could obtain desirable attributes from an animal be eating it.  [For an account of similar superstition among primitive Koreans, see “Exploring Unknown Corners of the Hermit Kingdom”, The Geographic, July, 1914.]  Upon scaling a mountain for its first ascent, Mr. Wallace was begged by his hunters to build a shrine on its summit in honor of the Mountain God.  The author became its first guardian priest.  The author had difficult obtaining the help of the hunters when climbing new peaks, the hunters were afraid the mountain spirit would destroy their crops.  To appease the spirit, the rite of Amagoi was performed.  Usually, it involved lighting bonfires and discharging guns.

Many years prior, the author climbed Fujisan with two Cambridge friends who were visiting Japan.  They climbed the sacred mountain while it was snow-clad in early spring.  The were warned by the village priests and policemen that the anger of the Goddess at such an untimely intrusion would surely make itself felt.  As an actual fact, they had only advanced a short distance when the weather changed.  A typhoon burst upon them and they were trapped for three days, bivouacked half-way up the mountain.  However, after the storm came sunshine, and with it a successful climb.  They did not return to the village on descending, and the villagers thought the worst and an obituary notice was published in the “foreign” newspapers.  There was one outstanding feature of that beautiful and sacred mountain that differentiated it from any other known; for there the twentieth century collided with the tenth.  Almost at the very door of the most sacred shrine on that holy peak was a post office so pilgrims could send postcards commemorating their successful toil.  While the author contemplated the most up-to-date installation of modern meteorology on the craters edge, he turned and held with reverence the shivering limbs and the adoring gaze of some aged pilgrim, whose white-clothed form enshrined the flowing devotion of a primeval worship paid in all sincerity to the splendors of the “Rising Sun”.



The third article this month is entitled “The National Geographic Society Completes Its Gifts of Big Trees”.  It has no byline, being an editorial.  The article has no illustration, photographic or otherwise.

The trustees and officers of the National Geographic Society were deeply gratified to announce to members that The Society had been continuing its effort, begun in 1916, to preserve the Big Trees of Sequoia National Park.  By a final purchase in April 1921, of 640 acres, those famous trees, oldest and most massive among all living things, had been saved.  They would not cut down and converted to lumber.  Were a monument of human erection be destroyed, it might be replaced; but had those aborigines of American forests been felled, they would have disappeared forever.  In 1916 Congress appropriated $50,000 for the purchase of certain private holdings in Sequoia National Park, but the owner refuse to sell for less than $70,000.  The Society stepped in and subscribed the remaining $20,000.  [See: “Our Big Trees Saved”, National Geographic Magazine, January, 1917].  Thus, 667 acres were purchase.  The Society’s equity in them was conveyed to the government, and that tract became the property, for all time, of the American people.  In 1920, inspired by the first benefaction, three members of the Society gave The Society $21,330, the price necessary to acquire three more tracts, aggregating 609 acres.  That almost double the original area of Sequoias saved from destruction.  The Society presented the area to the government in June, 1920.  There still remained one other important private holding in Sequoia National Park amounting to 640 acres.  Through that tract ran the road to Giant Forest.  In 1921, The Society and its friends contributed $55,000 with which the tract was purchased.  On April 20, 1921, it was formally tendered in the name of the Society, through Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall, to the American people.  $10,000 of the $55,000 came from a special tax levied by Tulare County, and another $5,000 came out of the Research Fund of The Society.  The remaining monies came from donations by members of The Society.  A breakdown of those donations, as well as the three donations from 1920 are itemized in the article.  Thus, the National Geographic Society had conveyed to the United States Government a total acreage in sequoia National Park of 1,916 acres, purchased at a total cost of $96,330.

It should be noted that gifts were not solicited by The Society.  The Society asked its members for no contributions of any sort.  Its publications and its scientific and educational activities are entirely supported by their dues.  The editor felt that every member should be proud of being a part of that gift of the Sequoias to the nation.  The funds appropriated came from the fraction of the dues of members set aside for such benefactions.  The Director of the National Parks, Mr. Mather, stated that he believed it was proper that the tender be made in the name of the National Geographic Society.  It was through direct gifts by The Society that the Park Service was able to save the Giant Forest, which contains the finest stand of Sequoia Washingtoniana in the Sierra.  Albert B. Fall, Secretary of the Interior, wrote Gilbert Grosvenor, President, National Geographic Society, a thank-you letter (shown in the editorial’s text) stating his surprise and gratitude for the gift, and expressed admiration of the Society for its “substantial expression of a high public spirit”.  To mankind, throughout the ages, trees had been the most human-like, the most companionable, of all inanimate things.  Aristotle thought they must have perceptions and passions.  More and more, Americans would visit Sequoia National Park to gaze upon the majesty of “Nature’s forest masterpieces” in their last stand. National Geographic Society members could be proud that they had a part in preserving for all time those mementoes of a past far beyond the records of written history.


At the bottom of the last page of this two-page editorial (page 86) is a notice with the heading “Index for January-June, 1921, Volume Ready”.  The one-line text of the notice states “Index for Volume XXXIX (January-June, 1921) will be mailed to members upon request.”


The last article in this month’s issue is entitled “Adventures with a Camera in Many Lands”.  It was written by Maynard Owen Williams, the author of such articles as “Russia’s Orphan Races”, “The Descendants of Confucius”, “Syria, the Land Link of History’s Chain”, and “Czechoslovakia, Key-land to Central Europe”.  The article contains twenty-four black-and-white photographs, of which ten are full-page in size.  The article also has a brief, italicized editorial paragraph stating that the author had recently returned to America after a year’s tour of Europe and Asia, and that he was a staff observer for the National Geographic Magazine.  Besides visiting western and central Europe, Mr. Williams traveled to Egypt, Palestine, Ceylon, southern, central, and northern India, Baluchistan, and Burma.

The snap-shot photograph was the magic carpet which added a fairy-tale touch to a routine world.  It satisfied man’s desire to extend his horizon, to reach out into the unknown, and to identify himself a little more closely with the world of which he was a part.  Photographing the common people of foreign lands was a fascinating pastime.  The author felt that it required more patience than fishing and was more satisfying than hunting.  But photographing the world was not frivolous, nor was it merely good sport.  If people and places were worth writing about, they were worth picturing.  Such work was a step in the visualizing of our distant neighbors.  All the world was watching how the rest of the world lived.  Chinese were thought of as Sphinx-like, showing no emotion.  They were that way around strangers, but once they warmed up to a person, they smiled and frowned like anyone else.  When members of a family separated, they exchanged photographs.  The same method was applicable to the building up of international relations.  Photography, with all its faults, was a social art.  It furnished a basis for friendly understanding.  The camera enthusiast often had the same sort of alibi as the fisherman.  The ones that got away were always the best.  The author described one instance in Palestine a few years back, when a fellow enthusiast he was with wanted to photograph a woman carrying water on her head because he had heard that they had a queenly carriage.  Upon arriving in the Holy Land, he saw scores of women but was disappointed.  Around the curve of the road, there was a young woman who fit the description to a tee.  The companion grabbed for his camera and they hurried to the girl, startling her.  She finally agreed to pose and they took their shot.  Later the author’s friend realized he had forgotten to take the dark slide from his camera.  He was greatly disappointed, while the author’s photo appeared in The Geographic several months ago.

One of the vexing problems for the photographer was the matter of tips, or “back-sheesh”.  The author, as a rule, never tipped his subjects unless they were professional beggars, hardened in their vice.  The tourist centers of the world had been ruined by them.  One couldn’t ride a horse or a car and get familiar close-ups of the common folk.  The people of the east were suspicious of those camera hunters who stalked their game from cars.  From Quetta to Sibi, in Baluchistan, Mr. Williams rode the cowcatcher of a locomotive over one of the weirdest scenic routes in the world. A luxurious seat, upholstered in leather, was placed on the front of the engine for him.  The station master he encountered were not sure what to charge him for such a seat.  One station master thought he was surely a lieutenant governor, at least.  A girl at that station was afraid to have her picture taken, and it took some bribery to get her to stop crying and smile for the camera.  Apparently, she had thought the camera was a gun.  Time and again, the author had to show illiterate people what the mysterious black box really was.  The author feared catching a disease, from so many ill-looking people handling his camera.  But one could not get friendship without giving it, and a portrait was not a mechanical thing, but a collaboration between subject and photographer.  “I press the button; you do the rest” was a slogan the author kept in mind when taking pictures of Asiatic peoples.  It was that cooperation with those common folks, who couldn’t speak his language, that gave the author a sense of delight.  Those smiles of brotherhood flashed half way around the world were the symbols of mutual confidence and understanding.

The Rawalpindi bazaar was a place of no importance at all.  In its busy street, there was a crude sugar mill, a pile of a thousand suits of cast-off army clothes with a merchant tallying his sales, fruit vendors with their luscious stock on display, and cattle strolling about at will.  Sitting beside the dusty road, a man was so deep in thought that he didn’t notice the author’s camera, or hear its click.  Under a tree, two holy men sat beside a smokeless fire.  Around them sat several novices, one of which had an enormous shock of hair.  His face was most expressive.  Here was a boy whose life no westerner could understand.  As he smiled, over his bare brown shoulder, the author snapped the camera.  The boy went back to his contemplations, while the author went to dinner at the English hotel.  But for a moment, they had an understanding.  It was harder to get a man to pose than a woman.  On the other hand, one could take a man’s picture without asking permission.  It was dangerous to photograph the women of harem or purdah, whether they were veiled or not.  In Cairo, the author asked a Muslim woman if he could take her picture.  She sat still and looked into the camera.  The author offered to send her a copy of the photo, but she refused, says that her husband would beat her if he knew she allowed someone to photograph her.  By the pyramids, two women, gladly let Mr. Williams to take their pictures, both veiled and unveiled.  In Delhi, there was a long sandbar where men and women bathed.  It was like a giant outdoor dressing room.  The author was told not to take pictures, especially of the women.  Women gladly consented to have their photos taken if they thought they were well dressed, but woe to the photographer who attempted to take a picture of a woman in what she considered was not becoming to her.  The author’s motor bus drove down from Shillong to the banks of Brahmaputra, and stopped at the railway station at Gauhati.  Seeing an interesting old woman, he asked if he could take her picture.  She jumped up and ran home, signaling him to wait as she paused in her doorway.  As the bus honked for him to come, the woman emerged proudly bearing up under the greatest weight of jewelry that he had ever seen one woman wear.  He quickly snapped several photos, then dashed to the bus.

Sometimes, a photographer was embarrassed by official kindness.  In Shiraoi, in Hokkaido, the Japanese were trying to teach the Ainu to bathe, and built a new bath-house for that purpose.  The author was the guest of a Japanese official, but a commercial photographer was granted the right to be the official photographer for that event.  The author was not allowed to use his camera during the opening ceremony.  After the ceremony, Mr. Williams was allowed to take as many pictures as he desired.  A smile worked in all languages, and its power of reflection exceeded that of many a mirror.  Sometimes one had to resort to horse-play to get the people in good humor.  One of the greatest prizes to the people of Asia was the tin container from which a film had been removed.  They could be given away where money would have introduced an undesirable element into the relationship.  Usually there were several claimants to the tin tube.  The tiniest baby was always entitled to first chance.  When there were no children, the author employed “eenie, meenie, miny, mo”.  Throughout the Orient, there were innumerable superstitions which made it difficult to secure personal photographs.  Not only were Oriental men jealous of their women folk, but there were few places where the illiterate did not have some fear of the evil eye.  Many feared misfortunes if their picture was taken.  Some Mohammedans had religious objections to being photographed.  When there was a flat-footed refusal, the photographed had to desist.  Most people were shy about having their pictures taken, but that shyness quickly melted before a sincere smile.  Many Moslem men had allowed the author to photograph their women, and one Moslem, in India, whose life had been saved by a Christian doctor, allow Mr. Williams to photograph his wife, without veil, because the author was friends with the doctor.  Throughout the East there was a hearty response to genuine friendliness.  The native was not accustomed to familiarity with the white man and many resented him and refused to be photographed.  More troublesome than those natives were the ubiquitous imps who insisted on being in every picture.  In the spring of 1919, the author took pictures of poppy cultivation in the interior of China at the same time the government was burning millions of dollars’ worth of opium in incinerators at Shanghai.  In Japan, Mr. Williams encountered a fellow photograph who got in trouble for taking a photograph in Nagasaki.  He thought the ban was country-wide.  The truth was that outside a few fortified areas, the camera could be as widely used in Japan as in the U. S.  In Beirut, the author saw a small peep-show with some photos that were racy to the natives, but an American mother would have shown them to her five-year-old.  Throughout Norther India, Kashmiri musicians wandered, usually with a young boy dress in girls’ clothing to dance to their exotic music.  Out in Beirut, Syria, the day came when the author secured “the picture”.  As soon as he snapped it, he knew.  In the dark room, the plate surpassed his fondest hope.    He put it out to dry on the window sill.  The night was muggy, and, in the morning when he went back to the window to gloat, the dream picture was a black smudge on the limestone ledge – the one that got away.


At the bottom of the last page of the last article in this issue (Page 112) 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 August issue redirected, the Society needed to know by July first.



Tom Wilson

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RE: the gift of trees and land:

I always cherished this episode and time period in the Society's history. The whole manner in which the membership was included, that is, made to feel a part of a great endeavor put the "We" and "Us" in the idea of "our Society". This is a prime example of why people felt their National Geographic Magazine /subscription/ was never about a magazine per se, but rather a tangible receipt of being part of something worthy, something that mattered.

This feeling for-and-amongst the membership was cultivated and maintained with great care, even on through the Melville Bell Grosvenor and Gilbert M. Grosvenor eras, but was pretty much abandoned after that. Gary Knell tried to resurrect this aura a bit after 2014 . . .

Back to the trees ---> it was a prescient and a sound investment by the Society and the American public at the time, for as one of my favorite (ancient) Greek Proverbs tells,

“Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

There's something so unselfish about that proverb that I find comforting and hopeful. Ask not what your planet can do for you, but what you can do for your planet, eh?



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