Marjorie’s European Tour, 1903-1904
Taken from letters to her mother, Bessie
JUNE 1903 — On board the Deutschland, and Paris
On June 4, 1903, nineteen-year-old Marjorie Van Wickle set sail from New York on board the Hamburg Amerika Line’s luxury ocean liner, Deutschland. Bessie and William McKee were at the dockside to wave goodbye as Marjorie set off on her eleven-month adventure. She was accompanied by Helen Macartnay, a professional chaperone/tour guide, her cousin Dorothy Pardee, and a friend, Gertrude Vaughn. They would tour the capitals of Europe, with a focus on the study of art and history.
The excitement began with the ocean-crossing. Marjorie’s first letter to her mother was written as soon as they set sail, while she still had a view of the New York skyline. She thanked her parents for their patience with her, and for understanding her last-minute nerves. There were gifts of flowers and chocolates in her cabin, and ‘steamer letters’ with good wishes for a ‘bon voyage.’
A week later, Marjorie reported that the crossing had been delightfully peaceful. The sky a perfect blue and the water a ‘deep sea’ blue and smooth as glass. Every comfort was thought of and provided for on-board, and there was constant entertainment, including parties and dances every night, gala dinners, and concerts: “As you see, we are living in the midst of gayety, and the time fairly flies.” They were expecting to see the coast of Ireland that day, and reach their destination, Cherbourg on the north coast of France, the next day.
From Cherbourg they took the train to Paris – a seven-hour journey. They arrived, exhausted, at the Normandie Hotel near the Opera House where they were to spend the next 3 weeks.
Their first impressions were of a busy city where walking was a dangerous activity! “Walking is the most daring and brave thing you can do in this strange land … you get out into the middle of a Rue or Boulevarde and every carriage within hailing distance makes a rush for you … [to see] if they can succeed in running over you – dead or alive, I believe!” They went through the Palais Royal, and shopped for silk and lace shawls; and strolled up the Champs Elysees, past the Louvre to the Place de la Concorde “where the big guillotine was.”
Marjorie’s postcard of Place de la Concorde
Weary from walking, they took a cab to the Arc de Triomphe, and then on to the Bois de Boulogne, a fashionable city park where all the “elites” of Paris strolled on fine afternoons.
The next day, Sunday, they all went to the American Church and then to a small cemetery where victims of the “Terror” were buried – “1306 people who were guillotined at the Place de la Nation nearby. It all seems so peaceful and quiet in the part of Paris now, that it makes it hard to believe that only a hundred years ago such terrible things were happening.” In the afternoon they went to the Vincennes Wood where crowds of Parisians were enjoying their free day — men reading their newspapers and women knitting, while the children took turns on the ‘merry-go-rounds.’ They took a Seine boat and had a delightful sail up the river “showing new surprises every minute and our first view of Notre Dame.”
But for Marjorie, the best part was her first of many visits to the Louvre. It was a defining moment in her life. “Do you remember that I used to say I didn’t like Art Galleries? Well I’ve changed my mind for good and all. I should like to spend weeks in the Louvre. That’s not a bit of an exaggeration either. The great marble statue of the Victory of Samothrace was, I think, my favorite that first day. You can almost smell the ocean breezes as they blow back her draperies.”
Marjorie’s drawing of Victory of Samothrace
The itinerary grew more and more crammed full of wonderful experiences. A performance of Faust at the Opera House; climbing to the roof of the Trocadero to see the ancient carvings and statues; the Luxembourg Palace Art Galerie; the Pantheon; the Madeleine; Notre Dame to attend vespers; and shopping at Les Galeries Lafayette (on Bargain Day!) All interspersed with frequent visits to the Patisseries for cakes and ice cream. The following days were filled with trips further afield, to Touraine, Chartres, Poigny, Blois, Tours, Chambord, Chenonceau, Loches “and all those fascinating places…”
Next month’s “Notes from the Archives” will follow Marjorie and her traveling companions as they cross the Chanel to spend the month of July in London, Oxford, Stratford, Chester, Warwick, and Scotland.