Friday, March 8, 2013

On Safari With George Eastman: Part 4

The Eastman Party was the largest motor safari to leave Nairobi up to that time. It had, at one time, 13 cars, 80 natives, 28 camels and 5 mules. It would split into smaller expeditions and spend intervals in Nairobi, as much for constant car and truck repair as for refreshment. The group traveled approximately 4,000 miles, which, considering the terrain and the cars of that time, was a lot of ground.

The complete party (but not all of the natives are pictured)
The months fell into a routine of breakfast at dawn, early morning hunting and lunch at noon, followed by a siesta. Hunting resumed at 4:00 and until 7:00, then allowing for a bath and Scotch highballs before dinner at 7:30 or 8:00. George Eastman slept on an air bed and said it was the best night's sleep he'd had in 20 years.

Dr. Audley Stewart's presence was of great importance, not just because he treated wounds (sometimes with the "new" antiseptic, Mercurochrome), but also because he was treating everyone for malaria with six grains of quinine every night.

Dr. Audley Stewart
Osa Johnson with a nest of ostrich eggs
As one reads George Eastman's own recounting of the safari, the one personality that really shines through is that of Osa Johnson. Osa was a full partner in the adventures and documentary-making of Martin Johnson. She comes across as vivacious, fun, spunky and helpful — a can-do spirit. I imagine that she'd be a fine addition to that proverbial dinner party where one could invite anyone from any time period. When George Eastman didn't like the food prepared by the camp cook, Osa was quick to set up a separate cook tent and get Eastman to join her in the cooking. Soon Eastman was making pastry shells in saucers and lemon meringue pies, and blowing ostrich eggs with Osa — he reported that they tasted like the hen eggs from home.

But Osa was out on the hunts, too, and helping Martin with the filming of the hunt, which was of special interest to Eastman.

Martin's "new" car, one he outfitted for filming
The safari hunted everything in sight, bagging more than 100 specimens. They shot topi, rhinos, impalas, eland, wart hogs, jackals, wildebeest, gazelles, cheetahs and lions — to name a few. Even though they would see herds numbering in the thousands, even by the 1920s, the African governments were putting restrictions on certain animals. The limit for lions was five per person! And George Eastman shot five lions, one of which was nine feet long. He desperately wanted to shoot an elephant as well, but he never got close enough to one deemed worthy.

By August of 1926, the party was in agreement that they had bagged enough trophies, and that the rest of the trip should focus on filming.

At that time, there were three African tribes that still hunted lions by spear — the Lumbwa and their allies, the Naudi and the Masai. These tribes hunted lions to protect their livestock, and Eastman, Akeley and the Johnsons realized that it was a way of life that would be gone within a generation. They wanted to record a lion hunt, and Johnson especially wanted good footage of a lion charging towards his auto. That was not an easy task because lions, particularly those in danger, want to stick to the thick cover of the donga (a donga is a shallow gulch that consists of thick brush and high grass).

Is it dead yet?
Celebrating the killed lion
As the safari came to a close, George Eastman celebrated with a dinner that consisted of hors-d'oeuvres, stuffed eggs, fruit cocktails, cream of tomato soup, gazelle chops (breaded and garnished with fresh vegetables), sweet potatoes, corn and cold beets, individual mince pies, pecans, almonds, ripe olives and coffee.

Osa and Martin Johnson stayed in Africa after George Eastman went home, and they made many more visits to Africa, shooting documentaries. They both learned to fly, and one of their documentaries became the first in-flight movie. Osa wrote I Married Adventure, which was the biggest selling non-fiction book of 1940. Today you can visit the Martin and Osa Safari Museum in Chanute, Kansas, Osa's hometown.

Carl Akeley, the famous sculptor and taxidermist, was in an accident during the safari that ripped his chest muscles. He died later the same year in the Congo, from a fever.

Daniel E. Pomeroy donated his trophies to the American Museum of Natural History, of which he was a big supporter.

On March 14, 1932,  Dr. Audley D. Stewart made the announcement that George Eastman had committed suicide. In the six years after the safari, Eastman's health had declined radically.



  1. Hi Mark, I agree with you about Osa Johnson. That photo of her is such an incredible portrait, revealing her sense of fun and that the African wilds are not going to get the better of her.

    The odd sense of scale evoked by the ostrich eggs reminds me of a scene in which Joan Davis had to stave off hunger by preparing a single turtle egg in a giant frying pan.
    --Road to Parnassus

    1. Hi, Jim,

      The photo of Osa shows her at a nest of 24 ostrich eggs. Eastman was big on measuring everything, and the largest egg of that nest was nine inches.

      The Eastman party did not lack for cooking condiments. They traveled with two "chop boxes" (what I would call foot lockers) that essentially were their pantry.

  2. Dear Mark - your final chapter of the African safari highlights the dangers to the participants health whilst travelling. I wonder if they actually realised the risks that they were taking? - I am always surprised at how adventuresome many Victorian and Edwardian men and women were.
    Osa Johnson does come over as having a magnetic, attractive personality, and full of fun. This being particularly highlighted by the picture of her with the ostrich eggs.

    1. Dear Rosemary,

      The safari experienced its share of excitement and danger. One native was mauled by a lion, and numerous animals charged the autos. And as I mentioned, malaria was a very real concern. I don't think it was serendipity or purely a sense of comradely that caused George Eastman to bring his personal physician with him.

  3. Thanks Mark for telling us this amazing adventure, Lemon meringue pie! how extraordinary , I doubt I could whip one up from scratch in a modern kitchen

    1. It was an extraordinary thing to bake in the middle of Kenya, wasn't it? And I suppose it indicates that the safari had a cookbook on hand.

  4. Mark,
    Your series on George Eastman has been a joy. I appreciate your inclusion of Osa and Martin Johnson. What fascinating times those were! I would have enjoyed being aboard the Snark with Martin and Jack London!
    Thank you for a delightful view of the spirit of exploration!

  5. Dear Mark,
    I have certainly enjoyed being on Safari with Mr. Eastman and party. How stylish to be eating lemon meringue pie in the middle of the African savannah. I like that.
    And while the shooting of the animals, stealing the ostrich's eggs, and photographing a lion being speared to death is not exactly my cup of tea, I appreciate that these were different times and that those people were living a life of dangerous adventure that for us is a thing of the past.
    Finally it was very interesting to read the epilogue: a 'whatever happened to' section. I found myself shocked that Mr. Eastman had committed suicide. I felt I had come to know him a little while on the trip and it affected me as if I had actually known him in person.
    Bye for now

    1. Dear Kirk,

      In reading this book, I came to know that George Eastman was very aware that he was experiencing the end of an era, and that not everyone would approve of his actions. He was so immersed in the technology of his time (Martin Johnson was of course using Ciné-Kodak film) that the safari was the complete antithesis of his Rochester life, and possibly a release on many levels. In any event, he certainly took pride in having organized it.

      George Eastman was devoted to his mother, who had endured a very slow and painful death, and as his own health declined, he simply decided to make a quicker exit.

  6. Hello Mark,
    Utterly enjoyed it - fascinating times and people. I heard that illegal hunting safaris are still going on, not your run of the mill poaching, but hunts that are financed by super rich megalo-maniacs. Pour creatures. At least it's no longer an accepted sport in the general popular conscience.

    1. Hello, Anyes,

      I was listening just last week to a PBS report that said that the so-called "forest elephant" (which I believe resides in India) is near extinction. I think I'd get much satisfaction from just going on a photgraphic safari.