18. New York to San Francisco

In 1902, it was cheaper to sail south to Panama, ride the train across the isthmus (before the canal), then sail up the coast to San Francisco than pay rail fare across the continent; so Hayes took the sea route despite an ongoing insurgency in Panama.

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Here and There Synopsis:

18.1 Sailing for Panama

May 27, 1902

In 1902 sea travel was less expensive than land travel; accordingly Hayes booked passage on the S.S. Finance headed for Colon, Panama. The canal across the isthmus has not yet been built, but a short train trip will take him across, then another ship up to California. He travels with a number of Chinese immigrants on their way to new lives in Peru and eight others enroute to San Francisco.

“What interests me greatly is the outbreak of a volcano in Martinique in the West Indies.” As the S.S. Finance left New York Harbor, a ship entered, “all burned down one side,” having sailed out of the harbor at St. Pierre, Martinique just ahead of the volcano that, “broke forth with all fury, destroying the city and killing every inhabitant in the place.”

Mt. Pelee, Martinique
”the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th Centruy”

18.2 Among the Bahamas

May 30, 1902

Sailing south past Cape Hattaras, the northern cold gives way to the “balmy sunshine of the tropics.” Now among the “sandy and uninteresting” Bahamas, the ship’s passengers see many small local boats as they sail quite near some of the Islands. “One, Watling’s Island, is said to be the island Columbus landed on when he reached the shores of the American continents.” (In1986, the US National Geographic Society suggested Samana Cay, just southeast of Watlings Island, as the island Columbus named Guanahani.)

“How I would like to see the new volcano!” Unfortunately, the S.S. Finance sails too far west for a look. This is not a sightseeing ship, but “all seems so lazy-like and comfy after the hunger and hard work of the Crown of India, or even the bitter bleakness of the Campania. For no care is taken of immigrants into the U.S.A. They are treated as cattle, or even worse.”

Only the reports they heard in New York of fighting in Panama mar the Caribbean idyll.

18.3 Panama Before the Canal

June 2 , 1902

Hayes starts out describing Colon, Panama in what seem to be glowing terms: “The coast of the South American Littoral is one of luxuriant greenery passing anything I have ever seen.” He goes on about the jungle crowding to the edge of the sea, and bursts of tropical rain. But then the paragraph ends with an abrupt change of tone: “It is sultry, hot, and depressing. The atmosphere is one of death.”

Razor back hogs wallow in the muck beneath huts on pilings, vultures dot the trees, and, “there are soldiers everywhere.” Child soldiers as young as twelve carry muskets and “some of the officers are barefoot and carry cane knives for swords. A towel round his waist completes his uniform.” Hayes seems to be relieved, for his own safety, that these are Columbian troops. He writes no explanation for the insurgency, noting only that the Columbian troops retook Colon and Panama.

Passing by Cuba, Jamaica, and Haiti on the way here, dust from the volcano lit the sunset skies, “The entire heavens were covered with a dull red glare.” But no one in Colon shows any interest; everyone here talks only of the war.

“The canal started by the French enters the Atlantic at this place. It is little more than a muddy ditch, and machinery is rusting away all about the place.” A little desultory work continues but only to keep the French option on the job alive. US work on the canal will begin two years later in 1904. But for now, the failed French attempt only adds to Hayes’ perception of Colon: “Over everything is an air of death and decay.”

18.4 Off Flamenco Island

June 4, 1902

The train carrying Hayes and the others bound for San Francisco moved slowly across the Panama Isthmus guarded by two cars full of soldiers of all ages, “from grey heads to boys not grown.” Along the way the train passes, “much machinery rotting and rusting away where the French have tried to dig the big ditch.” The jungle will soon undo all their efforts unless new vigor arrives.

Disease rages in Panama City, “It is said there are six hundred cases of small pox in the town,” also yellow fever and Changres fever – all this on top of the war. Hayes describes Panama City in terms perhaps even more bleak than Colon.

Safely aboard ship lying off Flamenco Island, the eight passengers headed on to San Francisco on the freighter Leelanaw hope to have escaped the city without contagion. The cruiser Philadelphia lies near them, and in the shallow waters near Flamenco Island, the masts and smokestack of the Chilean passenger ship Lloa, commandeered by the Columbian government and sunk by the insurgents, still protrudes above the calm waters.

Shipboard romances have already begun. Cramped quarters in the freighter push together, a Portuguese family of three, Hayes and two other men, “and two girls, one a Finnish beauty who has a black eye handed her by a passionate steward whom she tempted on the Finance on the way down. The other, Margaret, is a girl of the streets who is making the run from the east coast to the western slope to seek better pastures.” The Finnish beauty tried to “establish more friendly relations” with Hayes but with only $2.50 left to get to San Francisco, he rebuffed her. “One finds only trouble in such transient joys, and I don’t want more than I already have.”

18.5 Slipping up the Central American Coast

June 7, 1902

Calm waters, no work, glimpses of the Central American jungles, sea turtles, the occasional shark – Hayes settles down to shipboard gossip: It looks as though Anna, the girl from Finland, will settle for the “genial bald headed Swede,” who is engineer on the ship. Much ill–will seethes between the two women who must share a berth.

June 10, 1902

More gossip:  the steward separated the women, “to avoid murder, mayhem, assault and battery or whatever is in the offing, perhaps all three.” And “Anna has the steward roped, hogtied and branded.”

Of slightly more interest, Hayes sights a great waterspout caused by a cyclone at sea.

June 16,1902

As often when life is calm, Hayes comments on the wildlife around. Off the Lower California peninsula are: pelicans, cormorants, gulls, gooneys, giant jellyfish “some with long trailing arms thirty feet in length,” countless fish, sea lions and “the ever present porpoises that play about the ship’s forefoot.”

June 20, 1902

Passing Cedros Island, Hayes reflects on the courage of the early European sailors, “who in their tiny caravels explored these barren lands.” How much more trying the adventure must have been for those men even compared to the starvation and abuse Hayes endured on the Crown of India.

June 25, 1902

In fog off the Santa Barbara Islands, the Leelanaw nearly runs aground on what Hayes thinks was Santa Rosa Island. “The skipper knocked the Greek seaman from the wheel and threw it hard over, thus avoiding the crash that would surely have wrecked the ship.” The rough seas have also interrupted the romance of the engineer and the “voluptuous Anna,” who has gone below decks suffering seasickness.

Where to go next? Look for another deepwater ship in San Francisco? That seems like a fool’s game when still weak with scurvy from the last trip . “The $2.50 in my pocket will not take me far, but something will turn up. It always has.”

18.6 Back at the Iron works

June 30, 1902

Mrs. Emslie’s mission and the old job at the iron works provide a temporary safe haven. “The scurvy from the Crown of India lingers, my teeth are loose, my joints seem weak and painful.” But the long, tough voyage around the Horn earns Hayes new respect from the bosses at the iron works; they assign him lighter work until his strength can return. The wealth of fruits and vegetables available in California further speed his recovery.

The union wars, wracking the city when Hayes left to sail south, have now been won by the unions. Their candidate, Eugene Schmitz, a musician, now holds the mayor’s seat. “Then there are a horde of laborers, carpenters and so on who are ignorant, illiterate men, acting as statesmen… Even were they fit, or even honest, then their inexperience in government would make them unfit for the places they hold.” Hayes will not stay long in this town.

July 4, 1902

San Francisco celebrates the national holiday with “firecrackers, parades, and noisemakers.” Perhaps to find something more meaningful, Hayes accompanied a Mr. Paulsell and several missionaries to the Barbary Coast. The locals showed respect, even deference, until one of the missionaries started preaching about their wickedness. Having seen a lot of hard living and the difficulty of rising in the world without self respect, courage, and hope, Hayes remarks that those on the Coast, “Are little, if any, worse than the rest of us.” Perhaps his bible reading teaches him about who should and should not cast stones.

He cannot help but see the slave girls and opium dens of China town, but his revulsion is directed more toward the tourists who “gleefully pay a dollar, or five dollars to guides who take them thru the purlieus.”

All this brings him back to his very dark opinion of humans: “The more I see of men the less I think them worthwhile. The so-called lower animals are exalted by comparison….”

2 Responses to 18. New York to San Francisco

  1. mary martin says:

    Hello, John, sorry my past comments went into outer space. It impresses me that Hayes seems to have no desire for revenge or personal punishment on those who have treated him so cruely. Panama. I was fortunate to travel through the canal via a cruise ship. “The air conditioning broke down and we were all aware of the climate Hayes decribes. This part of his diary made me so aware of the great cost in human endurance that this canal cost. Thanks Mary,

  2. johnmmartin says:

    Thanks Mom, Yes, as I’ve commented to Noel, Hayes was a pretty complicated guy. He’s certainly a trickster but doesn’t seem to have much need for revenge.

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