Thursday, October 08, 2020

Sam Hill: Citizen Diplomat

Students following my place based curriculum may have followed me up the Columbia Gorge, where landscape photography was pioneered, before the data centers, to Maryhill Museum aka "Castle Nowhere".  Sam Hill conspired with Loie Fuller and Queen Marie of Romania, to make Maryhill a museum long before he died.  He thought ahead, in terms of after death, building monuments, and most of all, public roads along the Columbia.

Situate Sam Hill against the backdrop of Theodore Roosevelt, whom Sam had a low opinion of based on the latter's racism towards his touring Japanese troupe of jujitsu artists. Sam had been to Japan, to Russia, to points all over, having married, had kids, and "retired" to the hard work of private enterprise and travel. He'd made his fortune in Seattle practicing law and investing in the emerging phone business.

Now separated from his Catholic wife (with no talk of divorce of course) his main mistress, Mona Bell, was one of those out there amazing new kind of women, who rode bareback for the wild west show, and swam across an icy cold channel, as was the fad in those days.  From humble beginnings, this Minnesota girl had leveraged her vivacious beauty towards becoming a socialite and minor celeb, although she could pass for a cowboy too (she'd disguised herself for the rodeo in an early chapter).  She and Sam met in San Francisco.  

Situate Sam as a contemporary of Homer Davenport of Silverton, Oregon and oft time political cartoonist for the Hearst Empire and its Spanish-American war.  

Picture Mark Twain and the anti-imperialist league.

The idea of a "public road" goes to the heart of democracy. Some would "own" it and put toll booths. Others would close it temporarily so the royal entourage could enjoy exclusive use thereof.  That's anything but public.  

Queen Marie of Romania had been impressed by the Emersonian dream of co-equality and self reliance.  She toured the new nation (the United States) by train, in an entourage of cars (donated by the railroads, in exchange for publicity), determined to rub shoulders with "everyman" i.e. her technical co-equals in this brave new land.  Sam Hill's place was to be her destination. The train was crammed with paintings, furniture, all things Romanian. 

She was married, the King sick with cancer. Sam would have loved if she could have stayed I bet. He had a serious crush on her. The dedication of Maryhill Museum was lovely, although Loie Fuller (Marie's best friend) stayed in the train, thinking herself too low class and a possible source of embarrassment.  Old reflexes die hard.

The public roads, like the museum, came to be, as did the easing of royals into the life of celebs.  Queen Marie had been hoping to go to Hollywood, but those railroads weren't into taking her around for free.  

She might have been a movie star herself, as she already was on the world stage, in the newsreels.

Quakers haven't done a lot on their side to bring Sam Hill into the fold. That Quakers didn't move to desolate, windswept, rather dry farmland, was testament to their good sense as farmers, but ideologically Sam was anti-slavery, pro equality and I'd say a pacifist. His Quaker family had escaped persecution back east, as had many Friends, due to their abolitionist mentality, moving to the midwest, part of a larger refugee migration pattern.

True, later in life he obsessed about the Soviet menace, and earlier shared in the demonization of Germans when it mattered. He was not such a contrarian as to not fit in.  

But his Peace Arch on the border with Canada, along with Stonehenge, were meant to keep us looking back on war, grateful for the more peaceful road ahead. That the world would stay so uncivilized was not his doing.  On the contrary, he was a positive futurist, and his own projects were prescient.

I, for one, will be welcoming citizen diplomat Sam Hill into the fold of great Quakers, weighty Friends.  I have no trouble thinking of him as a friend of Jesus, whether or not he found the time to sit in Meetings for Worship.