For the first posting of Selections from the Collections, we chose an object that holds special value to the museum: West Made East with the Loss of a Day, a book written and published by our own Mr. Vanderbilt that details his 1931 worldwide expedition.
Visitors are no doubt aware that William K. Vanderbilt II was a seasoned world traveler who conducted maritime expeditions across the globe to collect specimens for his Long Island museum. The 1931 expedition marked a special occasion for Mr. Vanderbilt, as it was the first undertaken in his newest and largest yacht, the Alva. This new ship, constructed in Kiel, Germany, was a remarkable feat of engineering for the time. It even included full onboard facilities in which the staff could preserve, taxidermize, and paint reproductions of the marine specimens. After picking up the Alva at the shipyard, Vanderbilt and his crew stopped by his Florida estate before embarking on an eight-month circumnavigation that would take them through the Caribbean, the Panama Canal, the Pacific Islands and Australia, Indonesia, Egypt and the Mediterranean, and finally back home to Eagle’s Nest here on Long Island.
West Made East offers a revealing insight into the author’s mind. During the expedition, Vanderbilt explored many different parts of the world and met many different peoples. He wrote of his fascination with the sights and people he encountered and included observations on the state of the world. Of course, this was first and foremost a scientific expedition, and Vanderbilt included plenty of information about the fauna he encountered. There were many options from which to choose, and Vanderbilt and his team collected nearly 4,000 marine specimens on this expedition!
The following year, Vanderbilt published West Made East privately. The book comprised a combination of Vanderbilt’s journals from the trip, his crew’s notes, and research by his wife, Rosemond. Mr. Vanderbilt, very proud of his new book, gave several copies to the U.S. Navy, and to his friends as Christmas presents. The book included a hand-drawn color map of the expedition route on both the front and back inside covers, as well as several watercolor paintings of the fish specimens that were collected on the trip. The book is illustrated with 169 photographs, which offer a unique and fascinating glimpse into the world of the early 20th century. Many photographs show people around the world going about their daily lives, and the book draws the reader in through images such as fishermen in outrigger canoes in Polynesia, ritual dancers in Bali, or even just shoppers on busy Cairo streets.
For us at the Vanderbilt Museum, West Made East with the Loss of a Day is a fantastic document that reminds us of why Mr. Vanderbilt created this institution. It demonstrates Vanderbilt’s fascination with the world and those that live in it, and it inspires us to instill that same feeling in the public.
– Killian Taylor is a Curatorial Associate and Dan Johnson is the Social Media Coordinator at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum.