Saturday, May 19, 2012

Lots of Whisky & Very Few Barber Shops


What does one say to a Kiwanis Club which has extended an invitation to address their luncheon meeting? Apparently, if one is a world-traveled mining engineer speaking to a local group of businessmen at the base of Pike’s Peak, enough to warrant a lengthy newspaper article recapping the entire presentation.

Will Crago seems to have just the right touch at bringing his narrative alive for the folks back home, according to a report in the Colorado Springs Gazette on December 22, 1921. Armed with just enough of that generation’s version of Power Point bells and whistles, he cavalierly tosses those colored maps to the side except for the occasional reference. After all, he wasn’t here for a live version of a documentary. His purpose was—and here he evidently succeeded—to give “an unusually interesting talk.”

He peppered the discussion of his topic with references targeted to connect the foreign with the familiar:
Mr. Crago told of his African experiences while with a copper mining company in the Belgian Congo, stressing the fact that the equatorial forests of that region comprised today “the darkest Africa” referred to in so many novels and historical books.
While piquing the interest of would-be big game hunters among his listeners—mentioning, for instance, that licensing fees meant hunting elephants for ivory “didn’t pay”—Mr. Crago could also insert a twist of dry humor into his observations of hunting. For those not interested in hunting those elephants, he
remarked on the prevalence of “small game,” meaning everything from tste flies, which produce sleeping sickness, to jigger fleas and other crawling and flying insects.
And, of course, there was the obligatory comment on the red ants:
All creatures flee before the red ant…[I] had seen them with a mile and a half front. There is no stopping them and human beings and animals leave when they advance.
I can just imagine him delivering this line with a wry smile:
White men have not been able to live in the equatorial forests…but if they discover gold or copper there, they probably will be able to live in the thickest jungles.
So what is this white man’s take on the totality of his observations in the heart of “darkest Africa”?
“There is lots of whisky in Africa and very few barber shops.”


Photograph: Map of Belgian Congo by cartographer Leon de Moor, published by J. Leb├Ęgue and Company, Brussels, Belgium, in 1896. Notice the inset, bottom right, of Katanga. Courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

7 comments:

  1. Oh what a treasure you have found! What an interesting article...just yesterday I was wishing I could have been there in Colorado Springs to hear that talk about Crago's experinces in Africa. Now I have an idea of just how amazing it was!

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    1. Connie, Will Crago must have been quite a character--with a debonair air about him, of course. I would have loved to hear him speak there, too.

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  2. Jacque,
    Sorry I have fallen behind on commenting and reading the posts. I need to slow down and get caught up on a lot of blogs and blogging. Seems my personal genealogy digging has took over so many hours of my life lately. I am trying to get to that printing stage where I can bind it all in a book.
    Cargos adventures in Africa sounds so exciting! Thank you for sharing this. As always, I love reading everything you post!

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    1. Thanks, Betty. I always love to see your comments. They are so encouraging. But I totally understand...and wish you well in your own research, and in that research-to-book project.

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  3. Fascinating account of an Africa from a very different era and the wry observations of one who went there.

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  4. “There is lots of whisky in Africa and very few barber shops.”

    Now that could have gone on his tombstone!

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