The court order came through on August 12, 1930. Finally the state of California had given Jane Hall and her brother Dick permission to “visit” their aunt in New York City where “said minors” would pursue their further education. Rosa Sutton bought the tickets on the Panama Pacific Line’s passenger and cargo ship, SS Virginia. She insisted on first class so her grandchildren could be together. (Men and women were separated in tourist.) When the ship sailed through San Pedro Bay toward Central America on Monday, August 25, a despondent Gram* watched as the only children in her immediate family left California.
It did not take long for the two bright and gregarious young passengers to attract notice, and the Captain kept an eye on them. “It is almost uncanny how much they do by machinery,” Jane wrote to one of her friends in Manhattan Beach after the Captain took them up on the bridge to show them how the electric turbine worked. “The steering is done by some kind of a machine which makes it absolutely automatic. It seems as though all they do on the bridge is regulate the speed of the boat and ring so many bells every half-hour.”
She continued: “The Panama Canal is so simple it would astound you. The only machinery is that which opens and shuts the gates of the locks. The water is stored up during the rainy season so no pumps are necessary. Everything is green in the Canal Zone, and we happen to strike it on the coolest day of the journey. Some of the other days made me wonder about the relative humidity of Hell. For the first time the ship ran completely out of beer – the day after leaving Havana.”
She was not a huge ship – 613 feet long with 350 in crew, and space for 184 in First Class and 365 in Tourist. Some passengers in First had the amenity of a private bath– or the privilege of applying to the Bath Steward to use one at a definite time each day. Jane loved the superb food and smooth seas except on the night when they hit the tail end of a hurricane. Even that was not a problem for she wrote, ”Seasickness on this floating hotel is impossible.” She learned how to tell ship’s time and defeated all the chess players on board including a former member of the New York Chess Club. And her flippant tone in the letter to her pal back home belied her natural empathy. “For slums galore go to Panama and Havana . . . due to the heat some of the children wear nothing but coats of tan;” she was quite startled by their one room homes, really “just holes in the wall,” that opened right onto the narrow streets.
The scene was quite different on September 8** as the Virginia approached her final destination. Slowly she made her way through Lower New York Bay into the Narrows — the tidal strait that separates Brooklyn from Staten Island. The low moans of the ship’s horn and the sounds of smaller ocean and river craft crisscrossing New York Harbor added to the excitement of the two travelers as they cruised 18 miles through the Upper Bay into the Hudson River. Long-awaited scenes came into view: the massive pale green figure of Liberty – the tip of her torch reaching 305 feet off the ground and the unforgettable crisp, jagged Manhattan skyline. 432,580 passengers had traveled in and out of the crowded Port of New York in the first six months of 1930. By the summer of 1931, the economic chaos that afflicted the nation and the widespread bankruptcies of its wealthiest citizens would sharply cut American tourist traffic to Europe and other parts of the world.
As the Virginia turned into Pier 61 near west 21st Street, the children of Daysie and Dick Wick Hall leaned over the railing to scan the eager faces that gazed up at arriving passengers. Did they look presentable? Would their Uncle Randolph be disappointed? Jane wore her white skirt with the new blouse that Aunt Rose had sent. She wanted to be first to spot the distinguished older gentleman and his elegant wife who would shape their future. Within moments either she or Dickie called out with great relief – “There they are!”
*Rosa Sutton was not alone when the ship left. Her youngest daughter, the children’s Aunt Louise, was there with her husband Hugh Parker. The very same Hugh Parker who had been married to Rose. (Apparently he wanted to stay in the family.) None of the children’s relatives in Arizona or California wanted them to move east and that would cause friction in the coming years.
**Rose mentions the 8th as the date of the ship’s arrival; Jane had predicted the 8th or 9th when Rosa bought the tickets.
This is post number 14 in the series. Please use the contact tab at the top of the page for any comments or suggestions. For easy access to the entire series so far go to the Blog Tab on the home page, select “Salome to Hollywood” and scroll down to the beginning.