Our Times

Brian Spangle

Throughout the latter half of the 19th and early in the 20th centuries, Americans of means, whether they be from large cities or smaller communities, used their wealth to undertake extravagant world travel. This was a day, of course, before air travel, so going overseas was by ship and traveling across country meant doing so via train or later by automobile.

Vincennes residents made their way to far-flung locales in those years too. Arguably, the Charles Bierhaus family, of wholesale grocery money, traveled more extensively and to more countries than any others. The family lived in a grand home that still stands at Sixth and Seminary streets.

On Feb. 5, 1900, Bierhaus, his wife, Helen, daughters Ida and Helen, Mrs. Clara Smith of Cincinnati and two Evansville women, Maude Rahm and Emma Schumaker, left on an ambitious sojourn. On that day, the group departed Vincennes on a six-month long trip that would take them to the Middle East and across Europe.

The party caught their train at Union Depot and went to New York, where on Feb. 10 they embarked on the ocean liner SS Furst Bismarck on the Hamburg American line, which would take them across the Atlantic.

In those days, like today, tourist agencies made travel arrangements for people. The Bierhaus family used the well-known Thomas Cook & Son, a travel business founded in London in the mid-19th century. Cook is considered the pioneer of group tourism. The company handled everything from carriages to hotels and supplied chaperones at every stop. Some 300 people were part of the tour.

Eight days after leaving port, the ship arrived at Gibraltar, the first stop on a seemingly nonstop itinerary. From Gibraltar, the group went to Algeria, Genoa and Naples, Italy, and then Alexandria, Egypt and by train to Cairo, followed by a two week-long boat trip down the Nile River.

From Egypt, they crossed the Red Sea and passed through the Suez Canal to the Holy Land. Then it was on to Constantinople, Athens, Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, Geneva, and Paris, where they attended the Paris Exposition. Finally, they visited England, Scotland, and Ireland, then concluded their tour with time spent in Germany, from which the Bierhaus family had originated. There, they saw Berlin, Strasbourg, Cologne, and Hamburg, among other cities.

On Aug. 3, the family sailed from Liverpool and were back in New York on Aug. 11. Nine days later the happy, but tired travelers were home in Vincennes.

While Charles Bierhaus died in 1911, his family’s travels were not at an end. On Feb. 16, 1914, his widow and daughter, Helen, left on a trip over twice the length of their earlier journey. They first took a train to California, from where they sailed to Honolulu in the Hawaiian Islands and then went to Japan, China, and the Philippines. From the Far East, plans had been for the women to continue on to Europe, but the start of the First World War that summer caused them to alter their plans. The pair retraced the route across the Pacific to California, where they took in the Panama-California Exposition at San Diego. They spent time in Chicago for a few weeks on their way home, finally arriving back in Vincennes on March 9, 1915, just over 13-months after departing.

Perhaps ready for a completely different kind of adventure, in June 1923 Helen Bierhaus, her daughter Ida (now Ida Zener), and Ida’s children, Katherine and Clarence, drove across country in their Franklin Touring car, crossing 17 states. Another of Ida’s children, Karl, who was a student, joined the party in Chicago, but returned on his own.

Besides Chicago, the group visited Cleveland, Yellowstone National Park, the Black Hills, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, California’s Imperial Valley, the Mexican border, and Idaho’s Bitterroot Mountains. They even crossed deserts, which at that time had no highways.

Clarence Zener stayed in the West, but a college student in Arizona drove the women back home. In total, the trip covered 17,000 miles and the group was proud to report that they had no accidents and that the Franklin car returned with two of its original tires.

Brian Spangle can be reached at brianrspangle60@outlook.com.

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