World Traveler: Burton Holmes Part 1

About Burton Holmes the American world traveler, a famous figure who brought back images and movies of never been seen reaches of the world.

BURTON HOLMES (1870-1958). World traveler.

He drove the 1st motorcar in Denmark, and peddled the 1st bicycle ever seen on the island of Corsica. He took the 1st motion pictures inside China and Japan, and rode the trans-Siberian railroad across Russia while they were still laying the track.

For more than 60 years, the brisk little man with the impeccable Van Dyke turned up in some of the oddest places. He was in Rheims for the world's 1st aviation meet. He was in Athens when the 1st modern Olympic games were held in 1896. When the 1st war films were taken (an insurrection in the Philippines, 1899), Holmes was holding the camera. He was also on the scene, cranking his Kodak, during the last great eruption of Mount Vesuvius. And the opening of Yellowstone Park? Queen Victoria's Jubilee? Haile Selassie's coronation? Holmes was always there.

He gave the language a new word: travelogue. In 56 summers abroad he crossed the Atlantic Ocean 30 times, the Pacific 20, and circumnavigated the globe 6 times gathering material for his films and lecture shows.

His grandfather made a bundle introducing the sturdy settlers of early Chicago to the delights of French foods and fine wines. Father didn't do badly either. He loaned George Pullman the capital he needed to convert day coaches to sleeping cars. So, by the time Burton came along, he enjoyed the financial where-withal to indulge his every fancy.

And Burton fancied cameras. He lugged his 1st clumsy box model abroad at 16 to see Europe with his grandmother. He was never good for the sedentary life thereafter. The next year he and Grandma saw California, Cuba, and Europe again. When the Chicago Camera Club, of which he was secretary, needed to boost its treasury, Burton agreed to show travel slides and give a running commentary. He took in $350 for the Camera Club the 1st night and went into business for himself soon afterward.

One of the most remarkable one-man shows in entertainment history had begun. Before it was over, he would earn more than $5 million.

Holmes improved on black-and-white "magic lantern" slides by using glass slides he had hand painted by local artisans while visiting Japan. He was one of the 1st to show movies commercially. He interspersed his travel lectures with jerky, 25-second reels of "The Omaha Fire Department Responds to an Alarm," or "A Police Parade in Chicago," or "Neapolitans Eating Spaghetti." Later he would use talkies, technicolor, radio, and in 1944 television.

For more than a half century he was a man in almost constant motion. He kayaked in the Klondike, rode rickshaws in Rangoon and ponies across the Peloponnesus. He told an interviewer in 1939 his travel expenses averaged 50 cent a day.

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