Sailing the Ocean – Crossing the Pond

This model of the transatlantic ocean liner, Mauretania, is on display in the Water Transportation exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum of American History, in Washington DC. The Mauretania belonged to the British Cunard line and provided transatlantic passenger service primarily between New York City and England, usually porting at Southampton. The Mauretania held the speed record, the Blue Riband, for round trip transatlantic crossing for twenty years – 1909-1929.

Mauretania model at Smithsonian

Mauretania model at Smithsonian

With the ease of transatlantic or transpacific flights today, travel by ocean liner across the Atlantic for 4 days 22 hours seems difficult to imagine. Today’s Piatt County resident can drive to Chicago, catch a flight and arrive in London a short eight hours later.

In 1906, it took Robert Allerton about a week of non-leisure travel to reach Europe. The crossing took nearly five days, plus two day’s train travel from Chicago and another day’s travel by train from Monticello.IMG_9765

Unlike today’s air traveler with the choice of departure city, airline, class, price and time schedule. The choice for transatlantic travel in 1913, for example, rested primarily upon three passenger lines: Cunard, White Star and either Hamburg-America or North German Lloyd. Each line offered one Atlantic crossing per week using three ships for weekly service; a total of nine ocean liners making the weekly crossing. Three travel classes were offered. Each ship could carry 2,000 or more passengers. 6,000 people per week traveling from New York to England in 1913 seems like a big number for its time. Some well known transatlantic ships included Mauretania, Luisitania, Britannic, Olympic, Titanic, Cedric, Adriatic to name a few.

The New York Times newspaper reported scheduled ocean liner arrivals and departures, along with prominently name passengers, Robert Allerton included. In April, 1911, five ships from the Hamburg-America line docking in port in New York City at the same time made front page of the Times.

On-line searchable Ship Passenger Manifests provide a wealth of information. The manifests corroborate anecdotal or third party story and accurately document other claims. On-line demographic databases, such as Ancestry and FamilySearch, can factually dispute urban legends.

According to an on-line manifest database, Robert crossed the Atlantic at least five times on the Luisitania, sunk by a German U Boat in 1915. Ship manifests confirm Robert’s travel around the world with Charles Russell Hewlett in 1905.

Ship manifests document Robert traveled almost yearly, or twice, to Europe. The manifests support Robert’s reported practice of leaving the Farms during the winter months, returning home in March.

In 1909, Robert sailed to England in January aboard the ill-fated Luisitania, and home in March on the German ship, Kaiser Wilhelm II. Robert sailed to Europe round trip, again on the Luisitania, in 1911, leaving in January and returning in April. In January 1912, Robert sailed to England again on the Luisitania. According to a blurb in the Oakland Tribune in February 1913, Robert Allerton was the guest of Roger Quilter in South Mayfair, London. Robert returned to the US in April on the Mauretania.

New  print of Vintage photo. Found at resale store in Champaign. Dated 1912 in pencil on back. Four stacks identifies this class of ship. Mauretania was a ship of this class and similar markings.

New print of Vintage photo. Found at resale store in Champaign. Dated 1912 in pencil on back. Four stacks identifies this class of ship. Mauretania was a ship of this class and similar markings.

WWI slowed international travel, but the market quickly rebounded after the war. The White Star line lost the Titanic in 1912 to an iceberg collision. The Cunard line Luisitania was sunk by a German U-boat in 1915. The Brittanic was also sunk by enemy mines. By 1920, Robert had resumed his frequent travels abroad. Robert and friend, Frederic Clay Bartlett, sailed round trip in 1925 on the Barengaria, porting in Cherburg, France. The two men spent two February and March abroad on an art collecting trip for the Art Institute of Chicago, purchasing pieces that would become the Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection. Robert would return to Europe in July, 1925 aboard the Mauretania.

Ship manifests also confirm that Robert and John Gregg sailed together to England or Germany in 1927, 1930 and twice in 1932. Ship manifest of the German liner, the Bremen puts Robert and John Gregg aboard in January, 1932, returning home in March on sister-ship Europa. The Bremen had captured the Blue Riband from Mauretania in 1929. Evidently a second trip was taken to Germany, because the couple sailed home from Southampton to New York on the Europa in early November, 1932.P1040153

The two Bronze (Sea) Maidens that flank the entry into the Brick Garden have roots with ocean liner travel. Most likely during the Allerton’s 1932 travels, the couple commissioned a reversed pair of the statue that stood atop the ticket kiosk for the German Hamburg-Amerika line. The original statue held a Viking ship. For the Monticello Farms, the maidens hold bowls of grain in harmony with their agricultural placement. The original kiosk statue, according to a German blogger, remains in storage in the Hapag-Lloyd warehouse in Hamburg, Germany.

Will there be an on-line archive for our distant relatives or curious to search our travels on passenger lists? The digitalized passenger lists of ship manifests of the early 1900’s have a ‘tangible’ feel. The subscriber views digitalized photos of the original fountain pen scrawled or typed passenger manifests of ocean liner archives.The passenger lists include details like nationality, birth place, home address, occupation, purpose of travel. As a digitalized archive, the document is searchable by word. What a research innovation! The searchable database constantly expands as documents are entered. Early hand-written census records, ship passenger lists, immigration entry records, and signed passport applications with photographs offer post-modern tangibility to research.

In 1933 and thereafter, the Robert and John’s chose destinations with tropical climates like Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Cambodia, Thailand and China. It was at the end of one such cruise during a stopover in Honolulu en route home that Robert and John visited the island of Kauai to see some real estate for sale.

And Allerton Park and Retreat is the rest of the story.

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