Aurore Eaton's Looking Back: Frederick Smyth and Emma on the Grand TourBY AURORE EATON
Special to The New Hampshire Union Leader
February 18. 2013 7:03PM
Frederick Smyth was a "temperance man," and while governor in 1865-1867 he would not allow the consumption of alcohol at official state functions. He was respected for this decision, and commended for his long list of accomplishments while in office. Among these were the appointment of the first state historian, and the restocking of the state's streams with fish. Smyth could have easily won a third term, but decided instead to dedicate himself to his business interests and to his work on the national effort to create soldiers' homes for Union veterans of the Civil War.
In 1878, President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Smyth as an honorary commissioner to the "Exposition Universelle." It was the largest world's fair held up to that time. The main building alone covered 54 acres in the middle of Paris. The United States' displays included Alexander Graham Bell's telephone and Thomas Edison's phonograph.
Frederick and his wife Emma (Emily) crossed the Atlantic in April on the steamer Russia to Liverpool, England, and then made their way to Paris, stopping at interesting sites along the way. After attending the fair's opening ceremonies and touring the exhibits, they continued on a Grand Tour of Europe and of the Middle East. They first made their way to Marseilles, where they boarded a ship to Alexandria, Egypt.
Frederick wrote several letters en route that were published in the Manchester Mirror and American newspaper. He described landing in Alexandria, "What a scene, what dire confusion! Egyptians, Arabs, Nubians, Tunisians, every color, all styles of dress, and no dress at all! Donkeys, camels, pilgrims, dervishes, all howling, yelling, and in one conglomerate mass rushing upon us! It would have frightened anyone who had not encountered that organized banditti known as the New York hack-drivers." The Smyths were aided by a multi-lingual friend who got them to the custom house and their hotel.
Emma Smyth kept a charming journal as she traveled. She was impressed by the Temples of Philae on the Nile, which were dedicated to the goddess Isis, but the famous waterfalls nearby were of less interest.
"The cataract was not much of a show," she wrote. "The Amoskeag Falls at our door are . more dangerous to shoot, and more vigorous in action." The Temples are now sunk under Lake Nasser due to the damming of the Nile.
From Egypt the Smyths made their way to Jerusalem, and to many other sites of historic and religious importance, traveling most of the time on donkey back. Frederick was a devout Christian. While governor he had established an official state "day of fasting, humiliation and prayer." His deep faith was confirmed and strengthened by his visit to the Holy Land, as would anyone's faith, as he explained, "If one's eyes and mind be open to evidences spread out on every hand." On June 12, 1878 Frederick wrote, "From the top of our hotel, looking east over Mount Calvary, Mount Moriah, the ruins of Solomon's Temple, and the valley of Jehoshaphat, we see the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane."
The Smyths continued their journey through Turkey, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Holland and then back to Paris, England and home. In Athens Frederick and Emma enjoyed purple sunsets from the Acropolis, and witnessed the excavation of an ancient theatre. On July 4, 1879 they stopped at Pompeii where they were among the first to see a finely decorated room of a wealthy family's home that had just been uncovered. While in Rome, they had their busts carved in marble, and in the Alps they climbed Mount Rigi by train and visited the magnificent Grindelwald Glacier. And, wherever they went, the Smyths became the honored guests of U.S. diplomatic officials stationed in the area.
At the journey's end, former Governor Frederick Smyth wrote, "We have not received an unkind word, or one uncivil act, missed a train or boat, or met with any accident worth naming while traveling by rail, steam, carriage, horse, or donkey, nor have seen a person intoxicated since we left home." Smyth would later give talks to groups about his travels.
Next week: The Willows and Governor Smyth's legacy.
Aurore Eaton is the executive director of the Manchester Historic Association. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.