By Louisa Finn, fourth generation Smiley family member
Episode #7: A Wider View: The Smileys’ world travels – Part I
Daniel Smiley was only 25 years old when his elder half-brother Albert invited him to Mohonk as a manager in 1881. Daniel was an avid traveler, both for pleasure and business. His longest and most ambitious trip was taken with his wife Effie and their traveling companion Borghild Fossum in 1928, when Daniel was 73 years old. This was truly the trip of a lifetime. They took an Around the World Cruise on the Dollar Steamship Line, leaving Los Angeles in late February 1928, and arriving in New York mid-May 1928. This 85-day cruise landed at fourteen points: San Francisco, Honolulu, Kobe, Shanghai, Hongkong, Manila, Singapore, Penang, Columbo, Suez, Alexandria, Naples, Genoa, and Marseilles, before returning home.
Daniel, ever the fastidious chronicler of data, kept careful records of the mileage between each port, the conditions of the seas, weather, and ship functions, as well as his observations about his experiences both on-board and off. He sent twenty-four letters to his children detailing his daily notes, and had them copied for the Mohonk archives. In these letters, Daniel’s great appetite for experience is observed, as well as his admiration for the artistry, work ethic, and ingenuity of other cultures. It is clear that he appreciated people of all stripes, including the staff of the cruise ship, from Captain down to their Chinese “room boy.” One is also treated to his distaste for some climates and environments, and the clear sense of customary privilege at being treated well wherever he went.
Daniel’s letters contain poetic notes, with frequent references to home as well as ardent appreciation for his wife and traveling companion:
”Monday 9:15 am, ships time retarded 20 minutes last night. Sea smooth as a mill pond, light mist with sun breaking through, mild air like an early June morning at Mohonk.”
“Mother is brilliant. She was awake and up this morning long before I was and before the first gong sitting before our wide-open window breathing in deeply the ozone of mid-ocean air. She skipped down to breakfast with me cheerful and enthusiastic as a school-girl. She is always a dear. Never more so than now. Borghild is a treasure and of infinite help to us. She keeps us in touch with all going on in the ship, steers us away from trouble and gives pleasant things a slant in our direction. She has done an infinite amount of running about for us in the various ports and made practically all our purchases of junk to take home. She developed a surprising amount of gall and of pungent loquacity to efficiently fight chauffeurs, rickshaw men, and other grafters.”
Daniel’s passion for self-education and awareness of world concerns is expressed in his reading choices and conversations with fellow passengers aboard the ship (some of whom had been guests at Mohonk, evidence of the “even smaller world”of 100 years ago):
“I am reading up on ancient history in Asia, particularly India, also brushing up my French with Victor Hugo and Moliere, and being posted on modern conditions in the Far East by the American Consul to Teheran.”
Amongst all his letters, the last one he writes is a succinct summary of the voyage, highlighting “the best ofs” in underlined print: “The pleasantest spot” (Honolulu), the “most delightful scenery from the ship” (the Inland and China seas from Kobe to Shanghai), “most enchanting shore drive” (Island of Hong Kong by rickshaw), “greatest historical interest” (Cairo), and even “best hotel” (Shepheard’s in Cairo). He also hands out awards to the “most pleasant people” (Malaysians), “most ingenious” (Japanese), and “most industrious and dependable” (Chinese).
Perhaps most touching to this reader is this effusive paragraph in Daniel’s last letter of reflection as they make their way toward New York after 30,000 miles of journeying. A greater expression of homesickness I don’t think I’ve ever read. Daniel was only to live another two years following this journey, and this passage reveals what he treasures most in all the world.
“But first and most impressive of all are the increasing sensations of happiness, the elation and the deep emotions which quiver through every fiber of one’s being with the lively and intense sensation that at last we are nearing home. Most sweet and beautiful is the acute anticipation of meeting family and friends, of looking once more on the beloved home surroundings, and of living again in our own country and among our own people. Never in all our lives have the Shawangunk mountains so thrilled our senses with dreams of perennial delight. Mohonk appears in our vision as the “shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” It will require most severe repression to avoid being over-demonstrative when we are privileged to see you all again face to face and to dwell again “beneath our own vine and fig tree.” Home is home as nothing else can be and America with all its faults is the land we love. All these days from Marseilles home I am living intensely in mind with you children in the loved atmosphere of Mohonk.”
Louisa Finn is a fourth generation Smiley family member. She is Secretary for Mohonk Consultations, Speech/Language Therapist, and poet. Her mother, Patricia Smiley Guralnik, directed the Festival of the Arts at Mohonk following the death of her husband, pianist Robert Guralnik. As a child, Louisa spent many days visiting her grandmother, Rachel Orcutt Smiley, who, in her later years, lived in Mohonk’s tower room 271. Currently, Louisa enjoys spending time in the Mohonk Archives, and reading the letters of her ancestors. Their words help to confirm her strong sense of the value of place, and inspire her to share the way past voices can instruct the present, and the future.