15 June 2011

You never know what you will find...until you look.

I recently found a little box of stationery that my mother kept in her desk. I have always liked the design of the stationery, but I was surprised to find what was inside - a small collection of photographs of a trip taken by my mother Marcia of my grandmother Mildred and a mystery woman - Aunt Margaret. I decided to do a little sleuthing based on the few (usually one or two) words written on the back of the photos, and came up with a remarkable amount of information and a plausible description of their journey.

Well, it wasn't that hard, it turns out. Thanks to Google, Wikipedia, Ancestry.com, The Cunard White Star Line and all the record keepers from New York to Southampton, England, and - of course - my grandmother and mother for jotting down at least a word or two on the reverse of the photographs, I have a pretty good idea of what the trip was like...


It is an interesting time to take a trip abroad for the women.

The Spanish Civil war is in its penultimate year; concentration camps are being built in Austria; Czechoslovakia mobilizes armed forces along the German border; and France has a new prime minister.

The first step was to log onto Ancestry.com and see if there were any passenger records for Mildred and Marcia. Indeed there were... UK Incoming Passenger Lists 1878-1960 (for the departure date), and New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 for the return date). The actual passenger list has entries for Mildred Stoddard and Marcia Stoddard, birthplace and what their intended address is. Once I discovered that Aunt Margaret (Thanks Ann!) might be Margaret Russell, I poured over the passenger list again and found her listed with her husband Frederick.

Mildred Dikeman Stoddard, with her youngest child Marcia, now twenty, embarked on a month's tour of England and Scotland in the company of Margaret Russell, Mildred's close friend. Clifford Stoddard, is busy with his law practice and the boys are off on their own pursuits now, so the women will travel on their own. Margaret's husband, Frederick, also a lawyer, who accompanied them on the voyage, stayed in London while the women went on tour.

The traveling companions arrive in Southampton, England on July 3, 1938 disembarking from the Georgic of the Cunard White Star Line,  http://www.cunard.com/About-Cunard-Line/Cunard-Heritage/The-Fleet/Georgic/.

The image of the RMS Georgic was found on the Google images site. 

Unfortunately I don't know in what order the following landmarks were visited, as no known travel diary was left behind. The handful of photographs do leave clues as to where the group went, and what they experienced. I placed the photographs in order of how I would have made the trip, judging by the means (car and driver) and the geography.

The first stop is at the hotel in London, at 123 Pall Mall, W1. I really don't think they stayed at this particular facility:   http://www.iod.com/home/premises/london---pall-mall/ - but one that would be suitable for two women traveling on their own. The Russells stayed at a different hotel in London upon arriving in England, according to the passenger lists.

Setting out on their journey, the trio is driven out to visit Stonehenge, in Salisbury.  


Traveling in 1938 style. No timetables, 
no worries about driving on the wrong side of the road; 
someone to carry the bags. Sigh - the good old days

Mildred D. Stoddard sitting on a rock at Stonehenge.

You can't get this close to Stonehenge anymore. I last visited Stonehenge in 1970's and was saddened to see that it was carefully roped off, preventing visitors from recreating this particular photo opportunity. The standing stones are HUGE, and it is worth the trip to see them - but I don't think the effect is the same when viewed from afar, rather than walking around and touching the stones that hold the secrets of its creators. 

Ely, Cambridgeshire, England. The driver and Aunt Margaret.

Mildred D. Stoddard with Ely Cathedral in the background.

I don't know how much personal planning went into the trip to England and Scotland. Had Mildred always wanted to see the cathedral of Ely? Or was this just one of many popular tourist destinations they were taken to? That Marcia took this photo of her mother without much of the cathedral showing, made me think that perhaps Marcia wasn't "into" sightseeing as much as her mother was. Cute hat by the way. http://www.elycathedral.org/

Hikers trekking the Honister Pass in the English Lake District
I think this must have intrigued and impressed Marcia. Throughout her life, Mom walked several miles every day for as long as she was able to. She delighted in spotting and identifying wild flowers and local birds, often painting the former and photographing the latter. http://www.visitcumbria.com/cm/honister-pass.htm

Mother and Aunt Margaret walking below the wall.

Two mysteries here. Who the heck is Aunt Margaret? And what wall? It took several emails to my cousins, and a careful search of all the passengers aboard the Georgic to discover "Aunt" Margaret's identity. Though I don't have complete confirmation, I'm going with  Margaret Russell who was a close friend, close enough that Marcia called her "aunt", she quite possibly married into the Russell family. The wall, frankly was easier to identify - once I interpreted the scribble as Linlithgow, http://www.marie-stuart.co.uk/Castles/Linlithgow.htm the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots.

Lochinvar Hotel, ca. 1938
The hotel has not changed all that much... it is located in St. Johns town of Dalry, Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Galloway, DG7 3UP Scotland about 85 miles south of Glasgow.  It is reported to be an excellent stop while cycling the western route from Land's End to John O'Groats and is close to a national forest a favorite place for hikers.  http://www.lochinvarhotel.co.uk/index.htm

Mildred standing outside Robert Burns' cottage, 
Murdoch's Lane, Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland

Of a' the airts the wind can blaw,

I dearly like the west,

For there the bonnie lassie lives,

The lassie I lo'e best:

There wild woods grow, and rivers row,

And monie a hill between;

But day and night may fancy's flight

Is ever wi' my Jean.

I see her in the dewy flowers,

I see her sweet and fair:

I hear her in the tunefu' birds,

I hear her charm the air:

There's not a bonnie flower that springs

By fountain, shaw, or green;

There's not a bonnie bird that sings,

But minds me o' my Jean.

                                                                                                         Robert Burns

You may remember Auld Lang Syne better though...  http://www.ayrshire-arran.com/ttsad/burns/

The gardens at Robert Burns' Cottage.

Chester, England

Located about twenty miles south of Liverpool. I think this must be near the end of the trip... it's a rather ordinary photograph, of a delivery wagon outside an ale house. A sign of sightseeing fatigue? Marcia missing the countryside at home? Where are the photographs of the Cathedral, the River Dee, Chester Castle - or the gorgeous buildings at Eastgate, Northgate or Westgate? http://www.chesterwalls.info/index.html

Mildred and Marcia returned to New York on board the Queen Mary on the 22nd of August. I don't remember Mom saying she sailed on the Queen Mary... that must have been quite an experience! The Queen Mary had been completed in 1936, and was built for speed. A voyage in 1938 was recorded to be the fastest transatlantic crossing yet. The ship made its last commercial voyage in 1940 and went on to carry troops off to war. http://www.cunard.com/About-Cunard-Line/Cunard-Heritage/The-Fleet/Queen-Mary/

It may not have happened quite this way, but the essence of the trip is here. I wish I had been with them.

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