David Bruce: Travel Anecdotes

In 1888, a dog entered the Albany, New York, post office and fell asleep on a mail bag. When the postal workers found the dog, they decided to adopt him and they named him Ownley. Ownley was a traveler. He followed the post office workers on their rounds, and he even started getting on board the mail cars on railroads and going where they went. On his first train trip, he went to New York City, then returned to Albany. Afraid that their dog might get lost, the post office workers made a tag for him to wear on his collar. The tag read, “Ownley, Post Office, Albany, New York.” Ownley traveled frequently and far, and people who took care of him often attached tags to his collar to show where he had been. Eventually he had so many tags and medals (for Most-Traveled Dog) that John Wanamaker, the Postmaster General of the United States, had a harness made for him so he could wear all the tags and medals. Ownley traveled to Canada, and perhaps Mexico, and on August 19, 1895, while in Tacoma, Washington, he walked up the gangplank of the steamship Victoria, where Captain Panton took care of him. In Yokohama, Japanese potentates saw his many medals and treated him respectfully. Ownley kept following the mail—to Foochow in China, back to Japan, and then to Hong Kong, Singapore, Suez, Algiers, and the Azores. The Port Philips carried him back to New York. Post office workers in Albany arranged for Ownley to go back to Tacoma, Washington, where on December 29, 1895, he completed his 132-day round-the-world journey.

Pat Sullivan and Rachel Cox are part of the sextet who make up the Brooklyn indie hard-touring band Oakley Hall. Pat’s Irish grandfather loved music, and he listened to it 18 hours a day—from the time he woke up to the time he went to sleep. He even had speakers rigged up in the trees and all over his property so he could listen to Irish music all day long. Pat, of course, spent time with him, and today he says, “It’s weird—now when I hear the Clancy Brothers, I know every single word and I have not listened to them in 25 or 30 years.” The members of Oakley Hall are not wealthy in financial terms, and perhaps they never will be wealthy in financial terms; however, Mr. Sullivan recognizes that different kinds of currency exist. For example, he and Ms. Cox well remember playing in Ireland. Mr. Sullivan says, “We played at a small fishing community called Myrtleville in Cork, and it was just this bed-and-breakfast where we played to a packed house by a fireplace, and everyone had Guinness Stout, and we had all these old fishermen just enraptured.” (And Ms. Cox remembers the snooker tables.) Halfway through their set, Mr. Sullivan realized that “it is music that has brought me here to this spot, to this moment.”

Near the end of his life, John Steinbeck and his pet poodle, Charley, traveled throughout the continental United States in a truck equipped with a camper, a journey he wrote about in Travels with Charley in Search of America. At the end of his journey, he drove into New York City, then pulled the truck over at the side of the street and started laughing. When a police officer asked if anything was wrong, Mr. Steinbeck replied, “I’ve driven this thing all over the country—mountains, plains, deserts. And now I’m back in my own town, where I live—and I’m lost.”

Children’s book author Jean Fritz works hard to write at least one book per year, but she also takes three weeks off each winter to go to a Caribbean island called Virgin Gorda. Of course, this often necessitates leaving an unfinished manuscript at her home. Because she worries about such tragedies as her house burning down while she is on vacation, she places her unfinished manuscript in the very safest place that she can think of—her refrigerator.

Being young and ignorant has its advantages. At the very beginning of her career, in 1928, modern dance pioneer May O’Donnell crossed the Atlantic in a ship. A very bad storm—which she called “one of the worst storms in the century”—occurred, and because she and the other young dancers did not realize in how much danger they were, they thought the rolling of the ship in the storm was fun.

Theatrical guru Danny Newman long ago brought 50 Blackfeet Native Americans to Chicago. Two of the Native Americans had been educated at college and were familiar with such technology as telephones and elevator; however, these things were new and exciting to the other Blackfeet, who stayed up all night calling each other on the telephones and riding up and down in the elevators.

As a painter in New York City, Hugh Troy was hired to help paint the huge globe of the world that revolved in the lobby of the Daily News building. Among other things, he painted a group of islands called the “Troy Islands.” He’s not sure that there are any islands at that particular place in the world, but if there are, he’s sure that they are named the Troy Islands.

Many homosexuals don’t want to come out of the closet, but it can have advantages. For example, when lesbian comedian Kate Clinton wants a little privacy, she will sometimes come out to her neighbors on a fairly crowded airplane so she doesn’t have any neighbors.

Melissa Hayden, a ballerina with the New York City Ballet, used to travel with a special circular bag which held a flattened tutu. Stewardesses often wondered what was in it, and Billy Weslow, a funny but sometimes crude NYCB dancer, often yelled, “It’s her diaphragm!”

Being a ballet dancer does not necessarily mean leading a glamorous life. Alicia Markova, one of the greats, remembers while travelling with the Ballet Russe walking through a train and seeing a “forest of legs”—48 pairs of pink tights hanging up to dry.

While dancing in Nairobi, ballerina Alicia Markova had to keep a cat in her dressing room to catch all the mice and keep them from living in her costume baskets.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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