Travel Perspectives – A Virtual Vacation

Thursday, May 14, 2020

North Carolinians are not planning many vacations this spring. But escapism is just what some of us need... With a little imagination and an internet connection, you can travel through time and place in the footsteps of past North Carolinians. The Travel Perspectives Collection ( hosted by the State Archives of North Carolina, is made up of diaries, postcards, scrapbooks, programs, menus and other ephemera from late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century travelers. 

St. Gervais Church and Hotel des Invalides, Paris, after WW1

Atlantic Journeys

At only twenty-two years old, North Carolina native Hobson Pittman (1899-1972) departed from New York City on the RMS Fort Hamilton in the summer of 1921. During the ocean voyage to Bermuda, he chronicled a decadent era of five-course meals, dancing, and promenades on deck. Upon landing in Hamilton, he described the beaches, sunsets, architecture, and local customs. He also collected postcards, menus, and other souvenirs to paste in the leaves of his journal. New Bern native Eleanor Grace Stewart (1899-1927) used a similar scrapbook style—with color postcards and tourist pamphlets pasted within—to document her travels through Quebec and across the Atlantic to England, France, and Italy. Stewart was particularly sensitive to changes brought by the Great War.

Pittman went on to study art and painting after graduating from college. He later traveled through Europe in the summer and fall of 1928 and again in the fall of 1956. His artistic passion evolves in his diaries through time. He details menus, gossip, and sketches on his 1928 transatlantic journey. Upon arriving in Europe, amidst journeys to wilder spots in the Alps and the British Isles, he must visit every museum and architectural spot on the European map. By his 1956 journey, Pittman discards his diary-like entries only to list and evaluate the art he visits in the cultural capitals. 

Around the World

The Travel Perspectives Collection includes earlier, and even more exotic, journeys. Before the Civil War, Wharton and Esther Greene spent a year traveling through Europe and Africa for their honeymoon. Greene went on to serve in the N.C. Troops, C.S.A. From more humble beginnings, Clarence Hamilton Poe (1881-1964) was the son of a cotton farmer and received only one year of high school education. Yet he was intrepid, moving to Raleigh and becoming a newspaper editor, agriculturalist, and then adventurer. Poe embarked on an around-the-world trip in 1910-1911. 

Like Pittman in his later travels, Poe visited foreign places to learn. Without formal education, he used the world as his classroom, visiting botanical gardens, agricultural schools, and farms whenever possible. These professional notes are tucked among observations on daily life, education, religious observances, and general fascination with Japan, Korea, India, Egypt, Italy, and the many lands in between. Many of his diary entries inform articles in Progressive Farmer, the weekly paper he edited for decades. Poe went on to become a well-known North Carolina philanthropist, supporting hospitals, literary and cultural causes. 

Adventure Awaits

The Travel Perspectives Collection reminds us that there is a whole world out there to explore. North Carolinians have spent lifetimes experiencing and learning from other cultures. They gave back by sharing their stories with others for posterity. Check out Hobson Pittman, Clarence Poe, Wharton Jackson Greene, and more adventurers in the NCpedia!

Jessica Efron, Cataloging Librarian