Named not in hubris but in honor and memory of Austin M. Wright, who taught me critical thinking, and his teacher, Wayne Booth, who coined the phrase.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The SS President Arthur: The Zionist Mayflower Part VIII: High Hopes, Low Results

The second voyage of the President Arthur attracted much less attention. This time, only two dozen passengers were important enough to be listed in the New York Times on May 11, 1925.[i] Again its departure was delayed, the paper reported the next day, but this time for the loading of freight; the biggest story was that Hemda Ben-Yehuda was on board, returning to Palestine:  “President Arthur Carries Widow of Compiler of the Modern Hebrew Dictionary.”[ii]

The Palestine Bulletin carried a small, significant, but hardly noticeable, brief: “We are requested to state, that notwithstanding the differences among the officers of the American-Palestine Line, Inc. and the arrest of one of the Line’s officials . . . the schedule of sailing has not been affected in any way.”[iii] Confirmation appeared in three large display ads, on May 17, May 22, and May 28 announcing the schedule of the second voyage, then underway.[iv] Jacob Strahl continued to spin, announcing in New York, “the first voyage . . . was so successful” that he was negotiating to buy two additional ships:  “Within a few months I expect that we will have at least one more steamer plying between New York and Haifa, flying the American and Judean flags.”[v]

First-class Suite
Second-class "Stateroom"
The shipping line published a 30-page brochure announcing the next two departures, May 11 and July 9, 1925, “And Every Sixty Days Thereafter . . . Via the Sunshine Route.”  The first half of the brochure emphasizes the safety features of the ship, the comfort and luxury of the suites, the dining room, the card room that “produces the spirit of an old English Inn,” the promenade deck, the music room, the social hall, the swimming pool, children’s dining room, and numerous other special facilities on the newly refurbished ship.  Two pages are devoted to photos of the “thousands” who thronged the first departure. 

The second half of the brochure – also heavily laden with photos – is devoted to describing the sights of the Holy Land (as well as a possible side trip to Egypt) that the steamship line offered for an additional price.  This concept of Holy Land tourism was not new.  For the middle- and upper-class Europeans or English, in particular, travel in Palestine, Egypt, and other parts of the Oriental world had been popular throughout the 19th century, but for Jews such travel was quite a novelty.
David Bomberg, "Jerusalem, Looking Toward Mount Scopus," 1925, Tate Gallery

While the President Arthur was back on the high seas, however, there was more bad news, again from Naples. Edward Turner, a 59-year-old retired policeman who lived on Staten Island, was responsible for keeping the crew from “bringing liquor on board the ship at foreign ports,” according to the Associated Press dispatch published in the New York Times on June 24, “and this may have been the cause of [a] quarrel”[vi] in which he was killed. John Wiffere, the accused steward, was later acquitted by the Italian court.[vii] 

The first sign of a genuine setback to the shipping line appeared on August 2, 1925, when the New York Times published a brief story about the Mount Clay of the United American Lines, which had been
chartered for the Floating University World cruise. . . . The announcement caused a little surprise in shipping circles, as about two weeks ago Jacob Strahl . . . had announced that his company was going to purchase the Mount Clay for the New York-Haifa service, and that the name of the steamship would be changed to Nathan Straus.[viii]

Strahl was reportedly on his way to Europe to “confer.” Significantly, he was not on the President Arthur though by then it was on its third voyage to Haifa; he already had left on the Resolute. [ix] In August (while the President Arthur was running later and later behind schedule), in September (after an onboard fire), and even into October (though the company had been put into receivership in September), ads continued to appear in the Palestine Bulletin advertising fall and winter departure dates through January 1926.[x]

[i]  “Liner Sails Today for the Holy Land,” New York Times, May 11, 1925, Amusements Hotels and Restaurants section, 21. The Chicago Daily Jewish Courier earlier had reported that “Jewish bankers” had reservations for the second voyage, according to Jacob Strahl, and represented banks that had assets “in the neighborhood of a billion dollars.” April 28, 1925.
[ii]  “Zionist Ship Sails After Delay in River,” New York Times, May 12, 1925, Sports section, 25.
[iii] “S.S. ‘President Arthur,’” Palestine Bulletin, May 15, 1925.
[iv]  “’President Arthur’” Big fast steamer of 21000 tons displacement . . .” Palestine Bulletin, May 17, 22, 28, 1925.
[v]  “More Ships to Holy Land,” New York Times, June 5, 1925, Wholesale Market section, 21.
[vi]  “Kills Master-at-Arms on President Arthur,” New York Times, June 24, 1925, 2.
[vii]  “Acquits American Sailor,” New York Times, February 14, 1926, 25.
[viii]  “Steamer to Circle Globe.” New York Times, August 2, 1925, 26.
[ix]  Ibid.
[x]  “Build Up Your National Home and Be Patriots,” Palestine Bulletin, August 6, 11, 14, 18, 20, 25, 27; September 1, 3, 8, 10, 24, 29; October 6, 13, 20, 27, 1925.

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