The Brittinghams’ great wealth is evidenced by the wide scope of their travels, both nationally and around the world. In 1897 they traveled to Montana, California, Oregon, and Alaska. The next year they took a cruise to Eastern Asia; the Alumni Magazine reports that Mary Brittingham spent a year traveling in Japan. Over the next two decades the Brittinghams visited at least 32 countries and 22 states.
It is important to note that the information presented here regarding the Brittinghams’ travels is derived almost exclusively from a collection of lantern slides acquired by the university. The number of photographs and/or trips that do not appear in the collection is unknowable. What is certain is that the collection does not represent the entirety of the Brittingham’s travels. The most recent international photograph in the collection was taken on March 14, 1917, just a few weeks before the United States’ entry into World War I. We know that the Brittinghams continued to travel after that, however, because Thomas died on the return voyage of a trip to South America in 1924.
Although such extensive travel was undoubtedly more unusual in their time than it is in ours, much about the endeavor has remained unchanged. In fact, as one examines their travel photographs, the Brittinghams often seem to typify contemporary tourism. They visited the standard historical sites—the Louvre and Versailles in France; the pyramids in Egypt; the Parthenon in Greece; Williamsburg, the White House, and Ford’s Theatre in the United States—taking pictures all the while. Many of their activities, too, are familiar: hiking up and swimming in the Dunn River Falls in Jamaica, mounting horses for the descent into the Grand Canyon, and embarking on guided camping excursions in national parks (though campers today are probably less likely to sleep in tepees or on the ground).
The Brittingham lantern slide collection provides a fascinating glimpse into several cultures from the turn-of-the-century tourist’s point of view. Though they diligently photographed the historic buildings around them and took the required scenic pictures, the Brittinghams also attempted to capture something of the spirit of the places they visited. In shots they referred to as “street scenes,” they often pointed the camera at random down a city street. The result is a series of revealing photographs of everyday life in Shanghai, Alexandria, Havana, Trinidad—photographs whose subjects are not fixed and singular, but that consist of the energy and movement of a particular place.
By means of circumstance as well as design, the collection also offers a survey of modes of transportation at the time, including the horse and carriage, automobile, train, cruise ship, sedan chair, “aeroplane,” rickshaw, and camel. There is even a photograph of the Lusitania less than 2 months before it was sunk in 1915.
Although they were not above sleeping on the ground, as they did in the Grand Canyon in 1898, the Brittinghams often traveled in style: on ocean liners and in lavish hotels. Oddly enough, they did not seem to vary their wardrobe greatly depending on their activities. The women’s clothing seems particularly ill-suited to hiking and other outdoor activities. The senior Brittinghams traveled most often without their children, who were likely away at school during many of those years. The most obvious exception is a summer the family spent together in the American West (though there is no evidence of Harold on this trip); their time was divided between Eaton’s Ranch in Wyoming and camping in Glacier Park.
Thomas and Mary’s final trip together was a months-long journey to South America in 1924, on the return voyage of which Thomas died.