The Seven Wonders of the World, of course, just had to be seen: Philo of Byzantium said so; and as of 225 B.C.E., they were – until, save a pyramid or two, they weren’t. But tourists are a hardy lot, and would go somewhere. By 1869, the Must See was, like Giza’s pyramids, in Egypt. Port Said, a city at the northeastern end of the Mediterranean coast, was suddenly the destination of choice. After all, the Eighth Wonder of the World had just opened there… On a low sandy strip fronting the harbor, the northern end of the newly-completed Suez Canal met the Mediterranean Sea - and so linked it, by way of the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean - creating nothing less wondrous than a passage from Europe to Asia. The Canal was, all agreed, the greatest engineering feat of the nineteenth century; but if that nautical marvel was not enough, there was still another to be seen in Port Said: it’s new 165 foot high concrete lighthouse, whose electric light could be seen for a distance of twenty miles. Anyone who was anyone, traveling to the Levant, had to see both.
The first such worthy to visit, judging by this ledger entitled “Arrivals of Americans at Port Said” for the years 1871-1919, was General William Tecumseh Sherman and his military aide, Lieutenant Frederick Dent Grant who, as his surname indeed hinted, was the son of the sitting President, Ulysses S. Grant. A year later, a New York businessman and philanthropist, one Theodore Roosevelt Sr., taking his family on a tour of the Middle East, stopped in Port Said on his way “from Cairo to Palestine.” With him, on what appeared to be an all-male side trip, were his two sons, 15-year-old Theodore Roosevelt Jr. - who would, some 27 years later, become the 26th President of the United States - and 13 year-old Elliot Roosevelt. (The younger boy was also destined to play a part, albeit biological, in American history: he would, in due time, father future First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.) Theodore Jr., however, was then mostly interested in collecting natural history specimens, and only cursorily recorded in his diary that on February 22, 1873, a steamer brought them to Port Said “to [the] great canal here”; their hotel was “tolerable”; he “Had the Asthma.” When Roosevelt returned to the Canal as the esteemed ex-President, signing the same ledger on April 9, 1909 as the leader of the Smithsonian–Roosevelt African Expedition, he recalled in a letter to his sister that not much had changed. Bird skins from Suez, he wrote her, were “drying in my room at the moment,” just as before. But if natural history was on his mind at the Suez Canal, his name is yet forever associated, in history, with another watery marvel: the Panama Canal. As president, he stepped in to "make dirt fly" and so created to engineered the creation of an American-controlled waterway across the Panamanian isthmus, connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans – and making the United States, overnight, a global power.
The Port Said ledger makes abundantly clear, however, that it wasn’t just American celebrities who went to see the Suez Canal. Ordinary tourists visited as well. One such visitor was a Major Marcus Reno of the 7th Cavalry - though whether his primary purpose was sightseeing, or landing a job with the Khedive of Egypt’s army, is unknown. Easily supposed, however, is had he signed this ledger some 15 months later, there is a fair chance that his name - even in Egypt! – might have raised eyebrows. Vilified as drunk and a coward, Reno was blamed for the epic loss that was Custer’s Last Stand in June 1876.
This ledger also attests to the recently kindled American fire for foreign travel fueled, in no small part, by Mark Twain’s bestseller about his trip to Palestine in 1867, Innocents Abroad. But if Twain felt the need, as did so many other tourists, to “move, move, move”, few enough Americans were yet able to travel to Europe and the Levant: by 1900, less than 2 % of the population had the money to make so expensive a trip.
[Suez Canal at Port Said; T. Roosevelt, M. Reno] Document, accomplished in manuscript, Signed by Theodore Roosevelt and Marcus Reno, being a ledger entitled “Arrival of Americans Port Said”; 4 pages, quarto, Port Said, Egypt, c. 1871-1919.
all pages and transcript
Arrivals of Americans Port Said.
April 1871. C C Sow New Hampshire.
Mar 1872 -- LB Merrick & Wife New York
May ‘ [text is crossed out] M C & Seward niece & adopted daughter --
May 1872 Revd Wallace […]
Mr. Ch. Missionary to […]
Miss Finsley , […] Miss Ashley
Revd Mr [sic] Judd and wife
Gill & […] (niece after Newman --
March 1, 1872 Genl. W. T. Sherman U.S.A. & Aide,
April 72 Revd Geo M Adams “ }
“ W W Scudder DD_ } Am Mission
“ S D Scudder M. D. } Bombay --
“ H Hasen }
July -- H Spalding […] to Marseilles
Sept -- CH Spear, Mars - publishers Agent
[text is crossed out]Sept _ W O Clark - Sacramento - to Hong Kong. by Agamemnon__”
1871 -- Francis Colton Genl Passenger Agent
July -- 1872 Union Pacific R. R. - Galesburg Ill --
Nov. 25 -- W. O. Masely Proston }
“ W O Masely Jr “ } Mich
“ Revd S Graves -- Grand Rapids } jaffa
“ George C Hurtes Boston } […]
July 22 Theodore Roosevelt Jr New York
Elliott Roosevelt from Cairo to Palestine
J Edwin Dodge
Feby 26th D W Thomas, Missionary from India
“ “ P.T. Wilson Dd “ Dd
Returning to America
March 5” Alanson A. Haines Hamburg New Jersey
Mrs Magee _
March 5. John D. Perry & Wife } President Kansas Pacific
Mrs Perry } R R _
“ Jennie Perry } Saint Louis
Sept by “ Anne Pullian } Mo
Russian “ Jennie Bartholow }
Steamer M. W. Pend Boston.
6th for Wm. R. Ban New York.
Jaffa- D P Clapp New York
with F. G. Kendall New York.
G H P -- F. Gridley &wife [sic] Buffalo N. Y.
C. C. Gridley “ “
J. M. B. Dwight New Haven, Ct
Coll Ch’ Todd -- St Louis Mo
Miss Fanny Todd -- “ “
Mrs Clapp -- Cleveland
8th GW Heacock Buffalo N.Y.
[…] for Wilson Phraner Sing Sing N.Y.
Jaffa Ralph Wells New York
8th March. Sasker H. Marvin Brooklyn N.Y. USA
Thomas S. Adams New York
R H. Seeley Massachusetts
Willard Wolf Hodge. Buffalo, N. Y. U. S. A.
Geo. Thompson Brooklyn America
B D Gibb London.
Revd Josiah Viney London_
Mr & Mrs Frank L. Runals Lawrence America
Mrs A. H. Patton New-York - U. S. A.
J. C. Fle[…] Naples
Calvin Fletcher Indianapolis Ind
Mrs Calvin Fletcher “
Sarah H. Fletcher “
Harry S. New. “
Edward Schelsinger Oxford England Syria
Laura Fletcher Indianapolis. Ind.
S. A Fletcher Jr. “ “ “ “
Mrs C. A. Bradstreet Boston [text is crossed out]
A. B. Bradstreet “ [text is crossed out]
Miss J. P. Hoyt Newbryport [sic] [text is crossed out]
Rus [sic] Steamer
[…]ar 12 Isaac G. Bliss Constantinople Turkey
Victor C. Bassinger & wife Alexandria. Mar 17
March 17. 1875 for Russian Steamer --
R. S. Milton Boston “ (Major Milton)
[…]t: Gen M. A. Reno. Major 7th Cavalry: U.S. Army
J Francis Evans New York } Drummond } Port
, Dispatch }
Mr Hyier [sic], 51 Pearsdale Villa, High St Kensington
March 21. Mr & Mrs. F W Upham _ N York Austrian - for Jaffa
E. Lord Weeks.
J. […] Boston U. S.
Andrew. McCartney. (Rus) Nebraska City. Nebraska. For Syria
William Peck Herkimer Co [text is crossed out] New York Farmer
Settler Falls. Herkimer NY -- returns 11th April To […] by Russian […]
April 9th 1909
F. Munroe Endicott
April 9, 1909.
April 9, 1909.