- Historic Sites
The Great African Safari Bust
OR HOW THE BOY SCOUTS CAME TO AMERICA
April 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 3
Boyce wrote or cabled promotion ideas every day. Many English newspapers had entered into contracts to buy the African pictures and stories. The London Daily Mirror , for one, was “immensely interested in your plan for taking Central Africa by storm photographically.”
“You can give out that I received a cable from London today, stating that my agent there has secured the only moving picture artist in the world who has successfully taken moving pictures of dangerous wild beasts—and that with him I got two cameras and 50,000 feet of film as well as developing outfits etc.,” Boyce wrote Dad from the Waldorf Astoria in New York before leaving for England. “Make up any story from this that will show whole expedition for pleasure and preserving actual conditions for scientific purposes. Pictures will live when hides will rot. Pictures now and later will show improvement in the natives.”
Dad added negotiations with moving-picture theatres across the country to all the other things he had to do in only a few weeks.
Boyce kept up a steady stream of orders about buying and shipping equipment. Very often it meant that Dad had to undo something he had already done or change plans completely. Dad in Chicago was a sort of relay station between Boyce in London and one of the few people whose advice he ever asked, a photographer who had retired to a farm in Alberta, Canada, where the mail was only delivered once a week. Dad was finally able to relay to Boyce the Albertan’s advice to buy the silk balloon in France to save money. Boyce, however, vetoed it and ordered Dad not to leave the United States without not just one but, to be on the safe side, two silk balloons. Dad had informed Boyce that balloonists advised him that hot air should be used to lift the balloons. Boyce cabled Dad to buy and bring with him a tank of sulfuric acid and a large amount of iron scraps and filings to make hydrogen gas, which he, Boyce, had been advised was far superior.
Dad also bought two towers and several box kites, back-up camera-lifting equipment just on the off chance that the balloons didn’t do all that was expected of them. He bought wires and flash equipment for night pictures of big game that Lawrence had promised would be almost as sensational as the views from the balloons. There was telephone equipment for communication between tents and from tent to camera location, film, projectors, screens, equipment for recording sound, and an Edison Talking Machine to play it back. Dad bought enough guns for an army—four, including two Mausers, for Boyce—and enough ammunition to wipe out all the game in Africa. He bought khakis, puttees, boots, and pith helmets. He was also supposed to find a doctor who would agree to give up his practice and go to Africa for several months.
Dad showed up in Eaton Rapids on July 31 long enough to say “I do” and hurried back to Chicago with Mother to wrestle with the many muddles that made it touch and go as to whether the expedition would ever pull away from the shores of the United States. Over and over in his letters (which always began “Dear Hughes”) Boyce had ordered Dad to oversee personally the loading of every item that was to go into the ship’s hold. Then Dad learned that the North German Lloyd refused to load either the ammunition or the tank of acid. Wells Fargo came to Dad’s rescue and had the acid shipped from Germany, guaranteeing to have it in Mombasa when the members of the expedition arrived—which it was. Wells Fargo found another way to ship the ammunition and took another load off Dad’s mind by telling him to forget about the iron scraps and filings ; they were plentiful in Africa and would also be awaiting the expedition’s arrival in Mombasa.
In one of his long lists of orders Boyce had sounded a prophetic note and underscored it: “ See that Lawrence gets everything on board ship. ”
As they sailed out of New York Harbor, Lawrence discovered he had left one of his cameras behind. Dad spent the first few days of the voyage sending cables to people suggesting the most likely places to look for it and, when it was found, arranging to have it forwarded.
In addition to Dad, Mother, and her mother, the members of the Balloonograph Expedition on the first leg of the voyage to Africa consisted of Lawrence and his son and another photographer named Caywood. Lawrence attached a camera to a kite and took an aerial shot of the ship. He developed it, and it was spectacular. They were all jubilant.
Boyce, the moving-picture photographer, and three film and sound technicians were waiting in Naples, where Mother disembarked and they came aboard. She stood on the dock and waved good-bye to her bridegroom. It was the latter part of August. She and Dad planned to meet in Paris in December, when my grandmother would go home without them and they would have a few weeks together on the Continent. Whether they would get home for Christmas or not they didn’t know and didn’t care.
In Nairobi Lawrence unpacked the balloons, and everybody gathered to watch the proceedings. The acid and the iron scraps and filings did what they were supposed to do and formed hydrogen gas, which was conducted into the balloon. The balloon went up, and the blacks who were watching said Lawrence was going up to dine with Mngu, the Swahili word for God. Lawrence was ecstatic over the view of the surrounding countryside. The rest of the expedition had to take his word for it, as his pictures didn’t come out.