A Stereoscopic Tour of Adelicia's Travels

After the Civil War, Adelicia and her children took a yearlong tour of Europe.  They would not only bring back the bulk of Belmont Mansion’s art collection, but also stereograph images of their trip.  Stereoscopes are instruments that create an illusion of depth, or a 3D image, in the picture being displayed when held up to the viewers’ eyes.  Stereoscopes became a form of entertainment and a way for people to view places, museums and people they had never seen before.  Passages from both Adelicia’s personal correspondence and her son’s, William Hayes Acklen, later writings accompany the images and make up a narrative to their travels.

Adelicia and three of her children, William, Claude and Pauline, sailed across the Atlantic on the Scotia during the summer of 1865. Their first stop was London when they reached Europe. William Hayes Acklen remembers, “From Liverpool we hastened to London and as we drew near, from the car window under a pall of smoke, were seen the chimney pots row upon row on little houses, all alike. The courier who had preceded us had engaged a suite of rooms in the Langham Hotel overlooking Portland Place.

“Another sight was an afternoon in Hyde Park with its marvelous wealth of flower beds and beautiful green turf. Hundreds of open carriages were in line with fine horses and women in beautiful gowns under gay parasols, the fat coachmen in periwigs and two powdered footmen standing behind like statues on the footboard with their silk stockings and bulging calves.” – William Hayes Acklen, 1865.

After London, the Acklens traveled to Paris. Adelicia loved Paris above all other European cities. She and the children could speak French, and were welcomed to the court of Emperor Napoleon III. Pictured here are one of the many booths that used to line the Champs Elysees. “It is so mild here they (the children) can go out almost every day. Their delight is to go to the ‘Champs Elysees’ where they meet so many little children.” – letter from Adelicia to her mother, dated January 1866.

“The Champs Elysees was a playground for children with its rows of chairs set out under the tall horse chestnut trees which every spring were masses of white blossoms. There were no shops there but little booths where toys and sweets were sold and there were the marionette theaters with their rows of benches full of children with merry and expectant faces.” – William Hayes Acklen.

“…but nothing impressed me so much as the magnificent sunsets seen from the Place de la Concorde looking towards the Arc de Triumph which loomed up like a gateway to the glowing sky beyond.” – William Hayes Acklen, 1866.

“There were few Americans in Paris at this period and the Court had been unreservedly Southern in its sympathies. My mother was graciously received at the Tuileries, and when she attended the balls it was my privilege before going to bed to watch her from the top of the staircase in her beautiful gowns designed by Piugot and her diamond tiara as she disappeared like the vanishing queen in a fairy tale.” – William Hayes Acklen, 1866.

Pictured are the gardens in front of the Tuileries Palace.

When Adelicia was not attending parties at the Tuileries, William Hayes Acklen remembers, “Sometimes at night when my mother had no other engagements I accompanied her and her party for a walk to the Palais Royal, a glorious fairyland of dazzling shop windows.”

Bois de Boulogne was completed by Emperor Napoleon III in 1858. The park is double the size of Central Park in New York and boasts several lakes, gardens, a zoo and a racetrack. It is also the site for the modern day French Open tennis tournament. William Hayes Acklen remembered not only the beautiful gardens, but also the displays of fashion and social status. “In the afternoons we drove in the Bois de Boulogne and made the ronde du lac, a drive from which the proletariat were rigidly excluded.

...The Bois was thronged with the world of fashion, an unbroken line of elegant equipages and fine horses, sleek coachmen in liveries, footmen in knee breeches, powdered lackeys, and in the open carriages beautifully gowned women, some of very doubtful reputation, for the courtesans eclipsed the great ladies of position and virtue by the wealth displayed in their equipages. The most notorious was Cora Pearl.”

Adelicia and the children also took day trips to visit the Palace of Versilles while they were in Paris. “On Sundays I was allowed to visit that marvelous aquatic insurrection at Versailles, the most wonderful of its kind in the world.” – William Hayes Acklen

In February of 1866 the Acklens traveled to Rome. The city did not make a good first impression on William, who later wrote, “At first the Holy City, so different from what I had expected, was a great disappointment. The paving was bad and the lighting was no better. The Papal police were lazy and the papal officials notoriously venal. The streets were swarmed with beggars and fat-bellied monks, whose odor of sanctity was not pleasant to profane nostrils.”

“Although Rome is not at all as handsome city and a very dirty one too yet I have been more interested here than at any place I have been except Paris, and here it is of a different character. The old Ruins, the Palaces, Temples, Arches are historical. I am getting a collection of views of everything to show you all when I get back and they will always be of great interest to me for I have stood upon almost every spot.” – letter from Adelicia to her mother, dated February 25, 1866.

“After a month in Rome, my mother decided upon a week in Naples. Naples in those days was a cesspool of poverty, a city of ‘a thousand and one clamorous odors.’ Never have I seen such abject poverty. If the beggars were annoying in Rome, they were aggressive in Naples and yet the Neapolitan was amusing and fascinating withal, talking with his hands as well as his tongue. At one moment ready to weep, at another to laugh, a creature of the most astonishing impulses.” – William Hayes Acklen

Adelicia was accumulating artwork as she and her children traveled through Europe. While in Italy they visited several artists studios as well as visiting major musuems like this one in Florence.

“We returned to Rome and went thence to Florence. My recollections of Florence were of a picturesque old bridge across the Arno, slim old palaces, beautiful villas on the hills at Fiesole, the Boboli gardens with statues and terraces, and shrubs cut in fantastic shapes, but probably the strongest impression that remained with me was a visit to the studio of Hiram Powers, the American sculptor whose fame rested on his greatly admired state, ‘The Greek Slave.’” – William Hayes Acklen

“From Florence we went to Venice. To arrive in Venice towards sunset and to look at the long bridge which spans the lagoon and to see Venice with its spires and domes is a scene never to be forgotten – the gondolas gracefully passing from one side of the tortuous Grand Canal to the other and the little fishing boats with red orange sails set seawards...

...My first impression as we glided by beautiful old palaces was the pervading stillness of Venice and the second impression was the ill odor of its canals.” – William Hayes Acklen

“Our next stopping place was Milan – a prosperous city but not especially interesting except for its wonderful but too ornate Cathedral which the guide will tell you is the eighth wonder of the world. From its roof the panorama of the Alps is worth the fatiguing climb, and which Emerson thought the most impressive scene he had beheld.” – William Hayes Acklen

Before their European tour was over, Adelicia and the children traveled to Switzerland. “The weather now was growing very warm and we made an excursion into Switzerland. The first stop was Basel. We visited Geneva, not so well known then as today, but our longest stay was at Verney which my mother liked on account of the beautiful view from her drawing room windows at the Hotel Three Crowns.” – William Hayes Acklen

Adelicia did not only travel through Europe. She traveled extensively throuhgout America as well. In 1879 Adelicia made a trip to Saratoga Springs, stopping in Boston on the way. Trinity church was new to Boston and revolutionary in its design.

“The drives around Boston are lovely. I could not but often think while there that I was upon the soil of my forefathers. My thoughts were often with my dear old Father while my steps pressed his native soil. We visited the Churches – Trinity, a new church, is magnificent.” – letter from Adelicia to her sister, dated August 6, 1879.

After returning to Paris for a short while, the Acklens sailed back to New York on the Scotia. They stayed at the Fifth Avenue Hotel which was still new, having only opened seven years prior in 1859. When it opened it was considered the largest hotel in the world. “On our arrival in New York, our friends were surprised that my mother had chosen the Fifth Avenue Hotel which was ‘so far up town.’...

...Our drawing room windows overlooked Madison Square, quite rural, with its shrubs and flower beds surrounded by a tall iron fence. In those days there were no electric lights, no skyscrapers, no subways, no shopping on cross streets above 14th, no Brooklyn Bridge. Horse cars and buses were the only public conveyances. Ladies with wide flounced skirts, tight bodices, and fascinating bonnets lent charm and color to Fifth Avenue which was still then a street of residences.” – William Hayes Acklen

“We stopped a day at Newport on our way to Narragansett. I was very much pleased with Narragansett in some respects – the Hotels are comfortable and at our Hotel the fare was good and the company very pleasant. The beach is the finest I have ever seen for bathing but the sea air was too damp for me.

...When the wind blew it was too cool & when it was warm it was foggy & damp, which gave me neuralgia – and as the air did not suit me I concluded I had better change.” – letter from Adelicia to her sister, dated August 6, 1879.

Adelicia stayed at the Grand Union Hotel upon arriving in Saratoga. “A Lady from New York whose acquaintance I made at Narragansett came over a day or two before we did and secured for us a very nice room overlooking the beautiful Lawn or Court which is laid out in walks & beds filled with flowers – fountains playing all the time, and the most delightful Music.” – letter from Adelicia to her sister, dated August 6, 1879.

The dining hall of the Grand Union Hotel was the largest in the world. Adelicia made several trips to Saratoga and the Grand Union Hotel over the years. The following link shows the menu of the dinner Adelicia had the last night of her last visit.

Many tourists traveled to Saratoga Springs to drink the waters, which were thought to improve health. Adelicia evidentially thought they were beneficial. She wrote her sister, “I am surprised at the quiet of the place. I have rested more here than anywhere and enjoyed this place more than any. I drink the water regularly and think it is benefitting me.” – August 6, 1879.

The Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York continued to be Adelicia’s favorite place to stay whenever she was in town. The installation of the first elevator made it famous. In May of 1887 she arrived in New York City to shop for the furniture that would go in her new house in Washington D.C. She died in her hotel room on May 4, 1887.