Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Would you Travel the World in 1909?

Would you Travel the World in 1909?
Written by Lisa Begin-Kruysman

What kind of adventure would you have chosen in 1909?
In the summer of 1909, a fiery and intrepid New Jersey anvil industrialist named Harriet White Fisher set her sights on experiencing the world in a motor car. She purchased a state-of-the art Locomobile and embarked on an incredible journey accompanied by her driver, Harold Brooks, British butler Albert, Italian maid Maria, and a young Boston bull terrier named Honk-Honk.

During the course of their 13-month long, 22,000 mile voyage, they explored remote corners of the earth where no man, woman or domesticated house pet had ever ventured. Whether camping in the wilds of India, or relaxing in the posh palaces owned by royal dignitaries, this brave band of unlikely travelers met new challenges during each leg of their trip. Called the Anvil Queen, Woman Ironmaster, Princess from the Land of Promise, A Lady of Great Consequence, and the Female Napoleon, wherever Harriet went, she and her loyal entourage captured the curiosity and imagination of a fascinated public, attracting legions of fans and friends and opening the minds, hearts and highways on four continents. This remarkable story is chronicled in my latest title Around the World in 1909: Harriet White Fisher and Her Locomobile (American History Press, 2014).

Photo courtesy of Rebecca Urban)
An Excerpt from Around the World in 1909: Harriet White Fisher and Her Locomobile

On To Delhi
On the morning of February fourth, the tanks of the Locomobile were topped with petrol and oil as Harriet prepared for passage to Delhi, a city that stood about one hundred and thirty-three miles from Agra.

“Before heading off we received our mail. I had to reprimand Mr. Brooks when he objected to me snatching his mail right out of his hands before he could read it,” Harriet said, laughing. “I heard him remark to someone that Mrs. F could be so difficult!”

But fifty-five miles later, things were a little more restful as the party stopped in the ancient town of Aligarh. “We lunched under the shade of a beautiful spreading tree. The odor of the straw in the rice fields reminded us of harvest time in America.”

Just outside the city of Delhi, the Locomobile waited for its turn to pass over a newly constructed one-way bridge. As they idled, they were approached by a uniformed officer on horseback.

“I said to Mr. Brooks, ‘Look at that odd man.’ He was trying to salaam, but his horse was being spooked by our car. The Locomobile must have looked like a two-eyed monster to that poor horse!”

The agitated man jerked around in the saddle, struggling to bow while remaining on his mount. He finally calmed the agitated animal, and halted traffic so as to allow the motorcar to pass before all others.

“I marveled at a parade of men who walked alongside us carting huge mounds of long grass and sugar cane on their backs. Under the weight of their cargo, I could only see their brown legs. It would be a load for any ordinary horse to carry.”

At the Great Mosque in Delhi, Harriet observed thousands of people praying on the bare stone floor. “They looked toward the sun and praised Allah with a chant that stayed in my memory for years. Then, they all disappeared and were almost immediately replaced with people selling all kinds of wares.”

At this point Maria returned to us at our spot under the tree, bearing a welcome pitcher of lemonade and two cups on a tray.

“Thank you Maria!” Harriet said. “Maria, do you remember how I bought those perfectly tamed little birds at the bazaar at Delhi?”

Maria smiled and nodded. “Yes, I do. You and your pets.” She headed back toward the house with a funny little nod and a dismissive swish of her hand as if to indicate that there was a humorous inside story about these birds.

“After I purchased those birds, a small boy showed me how to attach a string to each of their tails so I could get them to the hotel until we could find a proper cage,” Harriet explained.

But Harriet wasn’t the only one intrigued with the local wildlife. Wherever they drove, packs of curious red and black squirrels and chipmunks crowded the Indian roadways by the thousands. They entertained the humans, but for “vicious hunter” Honk Honk, they proved to be easy prey.

And then there were the monkeys.

“Throughout our travels in India, monkeys were always on both sides of the road, chattering away in their monkey jargon, and giving forth weird screeches. Antonio informed us that the natives of India cherish monkeys. Antonio captured the nation’s deep affection for these animals by sharing a story that had been told to him by soldiers who had been camping along a river filled with hungry alligators. The soldiers relayed how a baby monkey, while playing happily among the trees, had fallen from a bough into the river below him. As the alligators swarmed around the unfortunate baby, hoping for a fresh meal, a squad of monkeys had responded to the distress call of its mother.”

“‘Monkeys rushed from all directions to help,’ Antonio went on. ‘They joined paws and formed a monkey chain that let the mother monkey reach her baby. She snatched him from being taken by the jaws of the alligators.’”

 For good measure, the monkeys tossed coconuts at the big scaly creatures until the baby was sprung back into the tree and was once again safe in its mother’s arms. As she held her baby she let out a howl of joy.

“What an interesting story it was!” exclaimed the animal-loving Harriet.

Before setting out for a day of touring the area around Delhi, Harold endured much aggravation in the hot sun while putting a new Dunlop tire on the car. “Poor Mr. Brooks,” Harriet said. “It didn’t help much that I became angry with him after he had spilled some perfectly good coffee in the car that morning.”

Harold’s mood did not improve on the next stretch of the trip. Touring near Delhi, the Locomobile was forced to climb countless ghats. These deep sand-covered steps had continued to be a constant challenge for car and driver.

“At times, it seemed as if the car was fairly holding her breath before her throttle opened up with a renewed conviction to continue on, and with an almost human-like sigh, she struggled to the top of each hill.”

What “drove” me to write about Harriet and her journey?
I discovered Harriet’s story while researching another rebel of the roadway, Alice Huyler Ramsey, the first woman to drive from New York City to San Francisco in 1909. It turned out that Alice and I had a hometown in common, Hackensack, New Jersey, which was very exciting for me (her house still stands). At a workshop presented by the Highlights Foundation, I met an editor who encouraged me to follow-up on Harriet’s story as no one ever had written about her. After the workshop, a fellow-attendee forwarded a newspaper article about Harriet’s history-making trip. That reporter put me in touch with Rebecca Urban, the granddaughter of Harold Brooks, the young man who commandeered the Locomobile. Rebecca generously shared his diary and journals and many photos he had taken during the trek. He was a very talented photographer. It really made the book so authentic. In June of 2013, I attended the opening of an exhibit dedicated to Harriet’s trailblazing journey at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie Mansion in Trenton that was lovingly curated by Rebecca Urban.

Editorial Reviews
“Begin-Kruysman has brought history to life, transporting the reader on a journey like no other. Whether you are a world traveler or just want to live vicariously through one, you will find it hard to tear yourself away from this enchanting and vivid account of a woman who literally drove around the world in 1909.”
-Tara Baukus Mello, automotive journalist

“Begin-Kruysman does a superb job of recreating Harriet White Fisher s journey around the world on the cusp of the 20th Century, not only capturing Harriet s strength of personality, but also in depicting countries and cultures as they were just before becoming part of the automotive age. We can be grateful to the author that the dynamic Harriet White Fisher s place in history has not been lost to time.”
- Don Lynch, noted Titanic author and historian

About the Author
Formerly employed by the entertainment industry in New York City, Lisa Begin-Kruysman is a graduate of the University of Connecticut, studied children’s writing with the Institute of Children’s Literature, attended a Biographers’ Workshop at the Highlights Foundation, and one offered by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). The author of five books: Something’s Lost and Must be Found (a collection of dog-centric short stories inspired by my blog), Full Snow Moon (Young Adult novel), When We Fostered Furley (Grades 3-5), Dog’s Best Friend: Will Judy, Founder of National Dog Week and Dog World Publisher (Biography, McFarland, 2014)) and Around the World in 1909: Harriet White Fisher and Her Locomobile (Biography, American History Press, 2014).

Articles Lisa has written have appeared on the website of The Dodo, and Ruff Drafts, the official publication of the DWAA and she has been covered by many media outlets, including interviews by Tracie Hotchner for the Dog Talk Radio show and by her colleague, Paris Permenter, dog travel expert. Dr. Patrick Mahaney (aka The TeddyHilton Blogger), a notable Los Angeles veterinarian, has also championed her work.

Lisa is represented by Literary Agent Eric Myers of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, who is currently presenting a series for Young Readers, based on the pets that accompanied Harriet Fisher on her global trek, to editors in the children's publishing industry.

As Lisa enters her fifth year as the National Dog Week blogger, she enjoys life by the creek, often found writing or painting in her studio with her foster-to-forever-dog, Teddy at her feet, and her husband, Rich, nearby.

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