By Barbara Del Piano
Some of you may even ask, “Who’s Alexander Hume Ford?” Well, in addition to being the founder of the Outrigger Canoe Club, Ford is probably one of the most adventurous and well-traveled individuals that ever lived.
A small booklet titled World Wanderings was recently discovered in the rare book collection of Hamilton Library at the University of Hawaii. Written by Ford in his later years while living on Maui, he recounts the incredible journeys he took during his life, traveling to the four corners of the earth. The circumstances he encountered, the people he met, the famous people he knew throughout the world boggle the mind.
But wherever he went, from Algiers to Yugoslavia, from Albania to Yap, from Arabia to Wales, no place in the world could compare in beauty with his beloved Hawaiian Islands, although he did admit that Madeira and Capri came close. As for cities, he ranks Rio de Janeiro a distant second to Honolulu.
Born in South Carolina on a large rice plantation looted by Northern troops during the Civil War, Ford first fell in love with Hawaii when, around the age of eight, he found in his geography book a picture of Sandwich Islanders riding surfboards.
“Then and there” he vowed, “I made up my mind to make these Islands my home and surf riding my one and only sport.”
After two years of college, Ford left the South and headed for New York where, through family connections, he hobnobbed with magnates such as J. Pierpont Morgan and Jay Gould. He worked as a newspaper reporter and wrote and produced plays, including some by Mark Twain by whom he was highly acclaimed.
His first venture outside the U. S. was in 1899 when he traveled to Russia to write articles on the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. He spent a year traveling throughout Russia, Manchuria and China before returning to the east coast. On the way he made his first stop in Hawaii where it was love at first sight.
During the years he later spent in Hawaii, in addition to founding the Outrigger, he also established the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club, Mid-Pacific Magazine, Hands Around the Pacific, and the Pan American Union; he was influential in designating Haleakala as a National Park.
When forming the Pan Pacific Union, a union of Pacific rim nations, much like APEC is today, Ford traveled to Washington where he convinced President Warren G. Harding, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Prince Iyesato Tokugawa (Japanese Delegate) of the importance of such an organization and garnered their unfailing support.
Ford recalls meeting Sun Yat Sen in China in 1921, and of the lasting friendship that evolved. An inscribed photograph that the Chinese hero gave to Ford saved his life some years later when he visited Amoy. The city was in the throes of a revolution and Ford, along with a group of foreigners, was being mobbed by a hoard of insurgents. He might have been killed, or at the least, badly injured, had he not produced the photo. So revered was Sun Yat Sen, that Ford himself immediately became a hero.
He speaks of a bus trip from Peking to Paris that he made on a bet, and while traveling through the Kyber pass, colliding with a pack of camels. In Afghanistan he was attacked by a knife wielding waiter in the restaurant where he was dining for being an unbeliever.
When leaving the country, he was thrown into an underground cell as a prisoner for not having his passport properly documented. Fortunately, the American Minister to Persia was able to arrange for his release. Ford was royally feted by Chiang Kai-shek who invited him on a travel tour where he unknowingly dined on cobra meat.
For an uncomplimentary article he wrote while in St. Petersburg, he was exiled from Russia, but before leaving, he stopped off at Nijni Novgorod, reputed to have the greatest annual fair in the world, except for Maui’s, he adds.
How many people have spent the same Easter Sunday in countries thousands of miles apart? Nothing, it seems, was impossible for the inimitable Alexander H. Ford.
In 1899 he traveled by train from New York City to San Francisco where he boarded the S. S. China. On the way to Yokohama, the ship stopped in Honolulu on Easter where he attended both the funeral service of Princess Kaiulani and Easter services at St. Andrew’s Cathedral.
From Yokohama, he traveled by train to Tokyo where he came upon a parade in which thousands of children were hauling a great Buddhist temple wagon over streets awash in pink cherry blossoms. A few days later he was on his way by steamer to Port Arthur, arriving on Easter Sunday. As Manchuria was part of Russia at the time, the Gregorian calendar was used, placing Easter a full month later than the rest of the world.
Other adventures took Ford to Vladivostok and the Azalia Mountains where the largest tigers in Asia lived. Said to be descendants of the saber-tooth of pre-historic days, these man-eating beasts often came down into the city at night and woe be to anyone wandering the streets in the wee hours. Ford made sure he was indoors after dark.
Oshima Island in Tokyo Bay, a volcanic crater where young disappointed lovers went to dramatically end their lives (somewhat like jumping off the Pali) was also known as Suicide Island. Enticed by a White Russian Boy Scout, Ford and the young boy boarded a boat to the island, then hiked several miles up the mountainside and across a great, wide lava plain before they reached the crater’s edge to join a host of other spectators. Sure enough, before long a young couple came along, and holding hands, leaped into the clouds of yellow smoke billowing up from the flaming pit. The escapade was not one of Ford’s favorite memories.
When sailing to the Lord Howe Islands in the Tasman Sea, a 70-mile-an-hour gale blew the ship dangerously close to the high, precipitous cliffs. For two days the ship headed outward, full steam ahead, expecting at any moment to be dashed against the cliffs. Somehow they managed to escape and later Ford tells of being lowered by ropes over this same cliff with a group of youngsters to gather bird eggs from the narrow ledges.
Perhaps his most exciting venture was to the Cannibal Island of Malekoola where his dinner, wrapped in a banana leaf, was a boiled human hand. “Will you have salt and pepper with that?” the Captain asked Ford, who admits he was already outside leaning over the bulwarks. He tells of returning some former inhabitants to the island only to learn that a few hours later they were clubbed to death and prepared for the boiling pot.
Back in New York, Ford talks about his friendships with such legendary stars of the theater as Sarah Bernhart, Lillian Russell, and Ethel Barrymore. As a child of eight, Mae West, dressed in a Fauntleroy costume, sat in his lap. He was in the company of the famous poetess, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, when she wrote one of her most famous poems, “Salvator Won.”
Ford introduced surfing to Australian Percy Hunter, the head of the New South Wales Immigration and Tourism Bureau. By 1910, when he visited Australia, Ford noted that there were already several surfboards stashed at Manly Beach. This was a full four and a half years before Duke Kahanamoku visited Australia.
A life more filled with drama, action, and excitement is hard to imagine. These brief excerpts of Alexander Hume Ford’s many adventures throughout the world, at a time when travel was difficult and often dangerous, epitomize the man he was and give the reader a sense of his true character. It’s difficult for the few of us who remember the man in his latter years, to imagine “Pop Ford” as the daring young man portrayed in World Wanderings. Our memories are mostly of a small, slightly hunched, gray-bearded man in a blue blazer, gravy-stained tie, with hands behind his back, strolling around the Club. Yet, we regarded him as someone special, to be admired and respected.