Addendum to ‘his story’ of Transpac
It might make an old college professor of mine pleased to know that after all these years I still remember at least one of his pearls of wisdom.
"Always understand," he would caution his students, "history is actually two words: 'his story'."
By that he meant that the memory and personal perspective of the chronicler of any event can cause some distortion of the facts.
I thought of this recently, as I was doing some research on the biennial Transpacific Yacht Race that will be finishing off Diamond Head this July. After all, when an event is more than 100 years old, its early days often become somewhat clouded.
For instance, for many years I have relied on two texts for descriptions of the events leading up to the very first race: "Transpac -- A History of the Great Race to Honolulu," written by Jack Smock, and "Transpacific Ocean Races," by Dr. Albert Soiland.
Both accounts agree that kamaaina businessman Clarence W. Macfarlane sailed his 48-foot schooner La Paloma from Honolulu to San Francisco in the spring of 1906 to rendezvous with other yachtsmen for a race back to Honolulu.
And both books depend on a letter written by Macfarlane to Soiland in 1937 for a description of Macfarlane's experience of sailing into San Francisco Bay some 25 days after the city's great earthquake and fire.
But, it has always seemed odd to me that the only thing Macfarlane mentioned in his letter that was strange about sailing into the bay to anchor was that the usual fishing boats were not around and, "as it was Sunday, not a yacht came out to greet me."
How was it possible he didn't notice that much of San Francisco lay in ruins until the port doctor came aboard to point this out to him?
Recently, I think I found a possible answer to that question in the on-line archives of Time Magazine, which runs from 1923 to the present.
In his letter to the editor, dated Aug. 31, 1936, in reference to an earlier story about Transpac, E.X. Vax Bergen's memories were quite different from what Macfarlane remembered in his letter to Soiland.
According to Bergen, he had boarded La Paloma from his boat outside of the Golden Gate and piloted her into the bay, while at the same time explaining to Macfarlane what had happened in San Francisco.
"As we sailed farther into the harbor he could see what was left of the beautiful city," Bergen wrote. "I shall never forget the expression on his face. He looked, hardly believing what he saw, while the tears ran down his face."
So here we have two letters describing the same event written more than 30 years after it occurred. As there is little reason for either man to lie, which should we consider history?
Fortunately, as both letters are merely footnotes in Transpac's more closely documented past, as my professor said, we can call it "his story."