PENINSULA PROFILE: Port Angeles woman chronicles an American journey of the past
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Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News
The Langs in their Port Angeles garden.
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Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News
The 1930 journal that inspired "9,000 Miles."
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Pearl MacHenry

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

Nine thousand miles in the palm of her hand: Such was Nancy Lang's discovery when she was given her grandmother's index-card-size black leather journal.

With this as her ticket, Lang took off on a revelatory road trip, a journey across the continent and into the heart of a woman she never knew.

Pearl MacHenry was her grandmother who died before Lang was born — and a woman who lived a big adventure in spring and summer 1930.

Pearl, along with her husband and their four younger children, traveled from Seattle to New York City and back in a Willys-Knight touring car. She kept a diary of the sights: simple as fireflies in Kansas, grandiose as Mount Rushmore, which was just taking shape.

Pearl and family also visited relatives, saw sights and attended the Presbyterian General Assembly in Cincinnati, since her husband, the Rev. Ward Worthington MacHenry, was pastor at Seattle's Woodland Park Presbyterian Church.

In this season of road trips, Lang is feeling grateful for Pearl's modest record, and delighting in the sharing of it.

She's just published 9,000 Miles in a Knight: The 1930 Travel Journal of Pearl Maybelle Hugunin MacHenry, and delivered copies to bookstores and other shops in Port Angeles. The lavishly illustrated book even has its own Facebook page.

Lang had heard about Pearl's travel journal, but never held it in her hands until 1999, when her uncle Paul gave it to her along with a scrapbook from the trip.

“He also gave me his mother, my grandmother Pearl's ring, which I wear on my right hand,” Lang said.

“I'm very grateful for these priceless gifts,” given just before Paul's death in 2000.

In Pearl's journal, Lang found faded pencil entries documenting life in the Great Depression.

As she visited 22 states with her carload — sons Paul and Dick and daughters Esther and Mims — she recorded what things cost: 30 cents for eggs, a dime for milk, a total of $65 for accommodations all the way across America.

So Pearl was a thrifty sojourner, but her diary is no dry record of expenditures. Her cursive writing also reflects her excitement at cresting the high mountains of Washington and Wyoming, and visiting places such as Yellowstone National Park.

Lang and her grandmother are kindred spirits: lovers of the outdoors, women with a strong connection to their mountains. Lang wanted Pearl's story to be known by the rest of her family, so she began the task of transcribing the journal.

As so often happens, Lang's desire expanded. As she embarked on publication of 9,000 Miles, Lang worked with her husband, Larry, who tracked down the 1930 Clason's Touring Atlas of the United States and Canada.

Once they had compiled the pictures and journal entries, the couple went to professional designer Magdalena Bassett of Sequim. Together they produced the 148-page paperback, replete with highway maps of the era, Pearl's photos and postcards collected along the way.

Of course, it was not a straight line to this point.

As she researched the book, Lang underwent chemotherapy — a changing array of drugs — for ovarian cancer.

Back in March 2005, Lang was in the midst of treatment as she dived into her grandmother's journal, searching out the names of the extended family members who appear in it.

At the same time, she and Larry were remodeling their house. Life was not so comfortable.

“The weather was cold and I was bald,” from the chemo, she recalls. “I'd stay in my office and work on my genealogy.”

Today Lang, 73, is still having chemo treatments. But she and Larry walk 3 to 4 miles a day and care for their garden, a wonderland of flowers and evergreens.

The Langs smile at each other like a newlywed couple, only calmer.

“We've only been married 11 years,” Larry says.

Both were fascinated by Pearl's journal, with its entries beginning May 18.

The MacHenrys set out right after Sunday services that day, headed across Washington and Idaho to Wyoming, where they cross the Continental Divide five days later.

“The way she writes, I can just see it. I can see what she sees,” said Lang.

“Great oil fields — gas — oil — coal — cattle — sheep — and thousands of acres of sagebrush miles and miles of desert. Hundreds of miles!,” Pearl writes. “Cold — need 3 heavy blankets to keep warm in back seat of car.”

Next day: “Drove to Medicine Bow, small town
. . . then to Laramie, great oil town. Up! Up! Up! To summit of Rockies,” and the on to “Fort Collins, Colorado, on road to Denver Colorado. Altitude 7500 ft. 1 miles high, standing on top of world! Fort Collins just a beautiful little city.”

The family reaches Fort Riley, Kan. “exact geographical center of U.S.,” then drives to Manhattan, Topeka and St. Louis, Mo. They cross the Wabash River, come through Brazil, Ind., and Vandalia, Ill., and at last to Cincinnati on May 28.

“We are here! 10 days drive! 3,000 miles,” Pearl writes.

During the weeklong Presbyterian General Assembly, they stay in a camp cottage on the Little Miami River for six nights. The bill: $15.

The General Assembly was one purpose of the trip, but Pearl and family don't turn around there. They go on to Washington, D.C., pulling in at 7 p.m. Friday, June 6.

“Room for 500 cars in tourist camp,” Pearl writes.

“[This is] a small city of houses — streets — cute houses, gas stoves, laundry service . . . everything for our convenience and so cheap. $2.25 per day” in the nation's capital.

The MacHenrys visit the Washington Monument and the Library of Congress, drive around the White House and, on Sunday, June 8, go to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. It's Pearl's birthday.

“Here is where Lincoln worshiped. We all sat in Lincoln's pew,” she writes.

Alexandria and Mount Vernon, Va., Philadelphia, Atlantic City and Mountain Lakes, N.J.: The family makes its way north to New York City, where Pearl lists a few sights: “Statue of Liberty — Ellis Island —New York Harbor — Wall Street — Broadway . . . Macy's largest retail store in world.” Grant's Tomb, with its “Let us have peace” inscription, is here.

The family travels through the Berkshires of Connecticut and then to Pittsfield, Mass., where they turn the Willys-Knight west again.

Niagara Falls, with “far the best views” on the Canadian side, are highlights on the way back, along with a visit with family in Mankato, Minn. The MacHenrys stop at Gustavus Adolphus College, where Pearl had studied music.

Then it's on to Aunt Jenni's at Elbow Lake. “So glad we went, they were so glad to see us,” Pearl writes.

Tuesday, July 1, the family arrives in South Dakota, where a “huge mountainside is being carved and when completed will be the largest memorial in the world. 7-times large as Sphinx of Egypt. Sculptor Gutson Borglum — Dedication of first part will be tomorrow,” Pearl writes of the nascent Mount Rushmore.

Her journal entry appears beside a newspaper clipping about the unveiling of George Washington's face in the granite cliff.

It's early July when the MacHenry family arrives in their home state of Washington. They cross the Columbia River and roll on through “miles of wonderful apple orchards. . . .

“Then crossed over the beautiful Cascade Mts. Each range of mountains excel in beauty the last one until they culminate in the most beautiful of all on the extreme western part of U.S. The Olympics.

“We are surely back in the most beautiful country of all … God's Masterpiece.”

When Lang read that, it made perfect sense.

“Wonders prevail in even the tiniest bits of nature,” she writes in the “About the Author” page in the back of 9,000 Miles. “Stories emerge from the smallest scraps of paper.”

Last modified: May 31. 2014 7:16PM
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