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The Transcontinental Excursion of 1912 of the American Geographical Society of New York

Magazine article Focus

The Transcontinental Excursion of 1912 of the American Geographical Society of New York

Article excerpt

The Development of the Transcontinental Excursion of 1912

During the year 1910, I sent a confidential circular letter to a limited number of correspondents, setting forth in outline the plan and value of an international excursion across our country and proposing, provided the necessary funds could be secured, that the excursion should be organized, as far as route and transportation were concerned, by a committee of American geographers, while a committee of European geographers should nominate the additional foreign members. Those who received this ambitious circular were requested to send me word of possible patrons who might be willing to finance the project, but for nearly a year the replies received were for the most part skeptical or playful, and by no means encouraging.

A patron is found

Not till the beginning of 1911 was there any reason to hope that the plan might be realized. Then a letter from one of my correspondents said, in effect, that he thought he knew of a man in New York who might take the matter up, and that I had better go there and see him. A meeting was arranged, at which, after a brief preliminary talk about the general features of the scheme, the possible patron said, with time-saving directness: - "What's the good of it?" I replied that, while the excursion could not be expected to lead to any commercial results, it would certainly increase the knowledge of American geography by Europeans, and it would promote the acquaintance of European geographers with Americans. Will you manage it?" asked the possible patron. "Yes." "Then," said he, "I will give you - thousand dollars and no more." Thus he became the actual patron, a condition of his gift being that the excursion should be made under the name of the American Geographical Society, of which he was a member, and that it should be announced as "The Transcontinental Excursion of 1912," in celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the Society and of the completion and occupancy of its new building. Thus the results of my search confirmed me in the belief that if one has a good project, well worth doing, funds can in time be found for carrying it into execution.

History of the Excursion

The Transcontinental Excursion began at 8:30 o'clock on the morning of Thursday, August 22, at the Grand Central Terminal in New York City. The special train was made up of two standard Pullman cars, two Pullman observation cars, a dining car and a baggage car. The "Circassia" and the "Wildmere," the "Huelma" and the "Oronso," will always be pleasant names to members of the excursion, and to see one of these cars in future travel would be somewhat like a glimpse of a former home. A buffet car of the New York Central Lines accompanied the train to Chicago.

Gaining first-hand knowledge

It would not be easy to define in a single sentence the object and work of the excursion. The main aim, of course, was that every man might get as much first-hand knowledge as possible about the United States. This was attained in many ways. Observations from the car windows were continuous during the hours of daylight. The occasional exception was justified, when, for example, absorbing debate arose over some geographic problem, or when some member dropped into brief slumber through sheer fatigue of body, or when all were responding to the call for afternoon refreshment. Long after nightfall there was straining of eyes from the observation platforms to catch the features of the landscape. One of the joyous car-window experiences was in the early morning when the train toiled up the last curves of the Atlantic slope among granite outcrops, crossed the Continental Divide and brought many of the members for the first time within the domain of the Pacific Ocean. Special stops, sometimes two or three in a single day, gave opportunity for more deliberate observation of the facts of the physical geography.

An entire day was given to the Niagara Falls and gorge, and a special car, stopping at will, gave opportunity for many expert lectures, for taking photographs and for discussions. …

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