Saturday, June 29, 2013

90th Anniversary USAT Merritt

An occasional newsletter from the Museum of Russian Culture in San Francisco has alerted me to a story of which I knew nothing, the impending 90th Anniversary of the arrival of a group of Russian refugees into San Francisco.

July 1st, 2013 - Anniversary at the Immigration Station on Angel Island
Maria Sakovich, Eugenia Bailey 
Ninety years ago, on 1 July 1923, a special group of refugees on the American transport U.S. Army Transport Merritt arrived at San Francisco. These 526 Russian men, women, and children had been part of a flotilla of some twenty Russian vessels (under the command of Rear Admiral Yu. K. Stark) which left Vladivostok at the end October 1922 when the city fell to the Bolsheviks. After a harrowing journey plagued by inhospitable governments, poor shipboard conditions, and typhoons which sank two of the not-very-seaworthy vessels and their passengers, a remnant of the original 7,000 refugees managed to make it to Manila in the Philippine Islands, where the American government had guaranteed asylum. Consultation by Governor General Leonard Wood with President Harding and the Secretaries of War and Labor enabled the homeless and stateless Russians to come to the United States under the terms of the recently enacted quota law. The American Red Cross helped to finance the trip.Because the group was so large (the only one to come with American assistance), Angel Island immigration officials held and processed the refugees at Fort McDowell, an army installation on the west side of the island. Although great care had been taken to make sure that all were eligible to enter the country, under the immigration laws, nineteen (possibly twenty-one) were excluded. Those who appealed the order had to wait at the immigration station until final decisions were made in Washington, D.C. Ultimately four persons were deported back to the Philippines.Among the passengers were fifty families (forty-three of the children were under fifteen years of age), naval and army officers, engineers, two doctors, and a chaplain. The parents of one of the writers of this article, Paul and Maria Nikonenko, were among the refugees. Most, however, were young men, sailors and farmers, including a nineteen-year-old seaman, Prince A. Chegodaieff. After the dangers and uncertainties of the preceding months, the emigrants had found safety. Several became movers and shakers of the newly emerging Russian community in San Francisco.
For more information and details of contacts or how to get to the service at Angel Island on July 1, see Museum of Russian Culture news and an image on Flickr of USAT Merritt here.

When many countries around the world are sweating and bickering over what to do with immigrants and refugees, this serves to remind all of us who live under secure and democratic governments that we still have our role to play in rescuing and giving shelter to those trying to escape from brutal regimes.

It is sobering to think that only a remnant 526 people made it to America out of 7,000 original refugees. What happened to the rest of them? Has anyone documented their story? Or are they just another group of unwanted people who have fallen through the cracks of history ?

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Samuel Laman Blanchard

My final post in this series from that single column of The Carlisle Journal in 1845, is an obituary that is so dramatic and effusive that one begins to suspect the person described is just too good to be true until you reach the last comment and it makes you feel guilty for having such thoughts.

It is our most painful duty to announce the sudden death of Mr. Laman Blanchard. He died about half-past one'clock this (Saturday) morning and has left four orphan children to lament his loss. Mr. Blanchard is well known in periodical literature. His graceful verses, his lively stories, his wit that never had a touch of malice, are known to many readers. There, perhaps, never was a man who had a readier pen. A poem, an essay, a witty paragraph seemed to spring spontaneously from his brain. There was an amenity in everything he did; and, indeed, how could it be otherwise, seeing that he himself was the very impersonation of kindness and goodness of heart. Mr. Blanchard was long in the service of literature. He was a member of the press in various ways, for more than twenty years; beginning young, and fighting an upward fight throughout – bravely, independently, without envy or uncharitableness – until he reached the age of 42, when he died. We may fearlessly assert that no man ever ran the same career, in the same circumstances, who left so few enemies, and so many, many friends. These few facts are addressed to strangers. His independence, his perseverance, his untiring kindness, and his many sterling and admirable qualities need no demonstration to his acquaintance or his friends.- Examiner. [Mr. Blanchard committed suicide after his wife became insane.]

Samuel Laman Blanchard was born in 1803 and had started out as an actor but later became a poet, journalist and editor. When one reads a list of his friends that includes such famous individuals as Edward Bulwer-Lytton, William Harrison Ainsworth, Charles Dickens, Leigh Hunt, Robert Browning and William Makepeace Thackery, all of whom sprang to help his orphaned children, there is no doubt the fulsome obituary was genuine and he was much loved in literary circles. 
One of two images of Blanchard at National Portrait Gallery London

Depression was obviously the direct cause of his death, and here is the sad relevant extract from his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of Biography:
In February 1844 Ann Blanchard was struck with what was described at the time as ‘paralysis’, and after a protracted period of suffering died on 16 December. Distracted by his wife's illness and death, by the pressures of periodical journalism, and by concern for his four children, Blanchard entered an acute depressive state during which symptoms of his wife's paralysis were repeated in him. On 14 February 1845 he committed suicide by cutting his throat with a razor at his home at 11 Union Place, Lambeth Road, London. A coroner's inquest decreed that he was of unsound mind at the time. He was interred the following month at Norwood cemetery.
Unlike his more famous contemporaries, there is not much to be found on Blanchard's writing although here are a few links.

Wikipedia Quotes


Sonnets here 

Some personal memories of him by George Patmore