An Amishman Travels the Globe - Part I
by Brad Igou
Most of us think of the Amish as a people that stay close to home, the
family, the community. But there are always those adventurous spirits in a
society that long to travel, to experience new lands and cultures. No
other Amishman has done what Jonathan B. Fisher did. He made two trips to
Europe, and one trip around the world. His is a special and unique story.
In this and the following two articles, we join him on his travels.
Jonathan was born in 1878. He led a fairly "normal" life as a
maker of cheese in Lancaster County. But the "New Holland Cheese
Man" also did some traveling around North America, including Mexico.
In 1908, however, Jonathan made a more ambitious trip, setting his eyes
on Europe. He sailed to Europe and traveled in France, Germany, England,
Switzerland, and other countries. After his return, he described his
adventures in a book published in 1911, A TRIP TO EUROPE AND FACTS GLEANED
ALONG THE WAY.
Around the World
Jonathan married, and several years later decided to make a more
ambitious trip --- around the world. His wife, according to various
sources, said she "elected to stay at home." Once again a book
published after his return described the countries and people he had met.
Let’s join him on this voyage and see what he "gleaned along the
Jonathan begins his trip on February 17, 1934, from New York. First
stop is Havana, Cuba, the "Paris of the Western continent" at
the time. He writes that "by this one may know it is none of the
‘slow’ places - altogether the opposite." We learn that this
means it is a place of much activity and excitement. "But such a
babbling of tongues! I have been in six of the European countries, but
this place has thus far been the limit in the above respect."
Through the Canal
Jonathan meets many interesting people on the ship. Sometimes, his
comments are telling. Of a wealthy merchant, he writes that "this
acquaintance seems to be a very kind hearted person. However, I could not
keep from thinking probably he has his heart too closely attached to his
worldly possessions." His ship passes through the Panama Canal, a
trip as fascinating today as it was back then.
Various stops are made along the California coast. At a naval yard in
San Diego, some of the officers "became interested in me. We had a
lengthy discussion as to the non-resistant’s views of conscientious
objectors." He made mention of Beverly Hills and Hollywood, which he
described as not being "slow places."
Crossing the Pacific
During the long voyage across the Pacific, Jonathan gets to try some
food prepared by the Chinese on board. Of these unusual dishes he notes,
"in some one is at a loss to know which part of the preparation you
eat and which portion is to be left on the plate." Concerning eating
with chopsticks, "the appetite is apt to increase faster than one can
keep it satisfied with these pencil-like sticks."
Sixteen days after leaving the California coast, and 6,000 miles
distant, Jonathan arrives in Yokohama, Japan. He manages to visit Tokyo
and Kyoto, among other cities. Sounding not unlike a modern-day traveler,
he notes that "one may consider oneself safer to travel in Japan than
in many parts of our own country. Will admit it oft times will, however,
prove less convenient. No matter, the thrill and experience will readily
over-balance the inconvenient part. I shall leave Japan with a bright spot
in my heart for the kindly folk."
An Amishman Travels the Globe - Part 2
Following his fascinating stay in Japan after the great earthquake, it
is on to Shanghai, China, then with a population of 3 and 1/2 million. The
swarm of human activity leaves quite an impression on him. "I secured
the services of the ever-present rickshaw, of which they say there are
20,000 in the city. If Japan has these human drawn ‘go carts’ by the
hundreds, they are here in China by the thousands. By the time all my
luggage was piled in, there was no more room for myself."
He finds a teahouse crowded and fascinating, with "a never ceasing
‘wallawalla’ or ‘gabble-gabble’ - whichever you wish - going
on." Stories of river pirates and spectacular gorges mark his trip up
the Yangtse River.
And what of magical Hong Kong? "At first sight, the city much
resembles a giant layer cake with its successive tier after tier of
streets from along the waterfront to the handsome villas and official
residences set above the other rows of streets, perched one after another,
stretching along the mountainside."
New Lands, New Suit
In Singapore, Jonathan has a new Amish suit tailor-made for him at a
cost of $3.50. "I visited a hatter and had my plain straw hat
re-modeled for use in the hot countries. This was done lining the entire
inside with material or red silk, leaving an air space between the lining
and the top of the hat."
He suggests that "if one is interested in learning characteristics
of the country he happens to visit, let him take an extended bus ride and
he will get it a-plenty."
Jonathan was dazzled by the beauty of Java and Sumatra, and describes
in detail his visits to rubber, tea, and tobacco plantations.
On the island of Ceylon, he is amazed by the great numbers of ravens.
"I was told that at night one should avoid walking beneath the shaded
trees in which they roost. This is worthy consideration if one wants to
avoid a laundry bill."
Next the Amishman voyages throughout the Red Sea to the Suez Canal.
From his vessel, "in glancing across from either the port side or the
starboard, no more water is to be seen, unless you peer straight down, but
sand, sand, sand! In a sense it produces the effect of the ship moving
along over the land instead of water."
He notes the great distances covered and the various means of
transportation used. "On one occasion a continuous travel of 1,000
miles across the Iraq desert was experienced." He describes the
difference between elephant and camel riding, preferring the elephant.
"A camel will swing and toss the unaccustomed to a tiresome degree.
Some will become ‘camel-sick.’ I was able to hold out in that
respect." Altogether, Jonathan stays several months in Egypt and the
Columbus and Mussolini
Jonathan sailed from Egypt and the Holy Land across the Mediterranean
Sea to Genoa, Italy. There he visits the birthplace of Christopher
Columbus and travels on to spend two weeks in Rome. Here Jonathan hears
Mussolini speaking to a huge crowd. "It was acclaimed the greatest
event that Rome had seen for ages. For the military affair, I had no
inclination, but Mussolini’s ‘talk’ was not missed."
On board ship, he again observes with interest his fellow passengers.
In colorful language he describes a professor who "possesses an
oblong over-sized head and stern countenance set upon a slender and ill
proportioned body, resting upon very long thin legs. Lest we ridicule, one
will admit there are after all ‘worthwhile’ existences in the
peculiarly featured personage. Underneath those extremely thick and long
eyelashes is imbedded an evident storehouse of knowledge."
An Amishman Travels the Globe - Part 3
Stops in Europe
Following his visit to Italy, where he heard the infamous Mussolini
deliver a speech, Jonathan headed for Spain. In Barcelona, he meets up
with a Spaniard who had worked in Baltimore. This man, who married a woman
he had met in England, became his guide around the city. Of the many items
for sale in Barcelona, this plain Amishman writes, "Let the ones who
are inclined to vanity and who have ‘stuffy’ purses patronize the
Casablanca, Lisbon, and Dover are the next ports of call, as Jonathan
works his way through Europe. Eventually he reaches England, and he
travels to London, where he especially enjoys a visit to the nearby grave
of William Penn. Finally, Jonathan sails for home.
Approaching New York, he "becomes desirous to again step on
American soil. Partings are made, and myself and belongings were soon
afoot at the same place from which in a fleeting one and one-half year’s
time the journey was started."
Jonathan wrote home reports of his visits to the various countries as
he traveled, and these were printed regularly in a local publication.
After his arrival, he put his writings into book for, complete with
pictures he had collected. His book is now a rare and much sought-after
The Final Voyage
While you might think that Jonathan’s traveling days were over, he
made a third and final trip abroad in 1952, at the age of 74. He went with
a load of livestock sent by a relief organization to Europe after the war.
While there, he was the only Amishman to attend the Mennonite World
Conference in Switzerland.
"Yonnie," as he was known, died the following year, leaving
his three daughters and a foster son. Neither his diabetic condition, nor
a back injury from "handling a large Swiss cheese which got out of
control," had deterred his travels.
When abroad, he always sent reports and letters home, keeping diaries
and autograph books of people he met. These items, his two lengthy books,
and his 1908 passport are preserved in a local library.
Jonathan B. Fisher’s travels are astonishing even by today’s
standards, perhaps even more so because he was Amish. Many readers,
whether Amish or not, were enthralled by his stories of far-away lands and
peoples. His writings remain fascinating and insightful to this day,
testimony to the quality of his eighth grade education.
Reading his books, you not only "glean" many facts about
foreign cultures, but you also come to know Jonathan himself. How I wish I
could have spent a few hours visiting with him!
Amish Country News
* * *
Jonathan wrote the following for his wife, Sara, a few years before his
long trip around the world…on the occasion of her 42nd
birthday, November 10, 1930…
TO HUSBAND & WIFE:
Preserve sacredly the privacies of your own house, your married state,
and your own heart.
Let no father or mother or sister or brother ever presume to come
between you or share the joys or sorrows that belong to you two alone.
With mutual help build your quiet world, not allowing your dearest
earthly friend to be the confidant of aught [anything] that concerns your
Let moments of alienation, if they occur, be healed at once. Never, no
never, speak of it outside; but to each other confess and all will be
right. Never let the morrow’s sun still find you at variance.
Renew, and renew your vow. It will do you good; and thereby your minds
will grow together contented in that love which is stronger than death,
and you will be truly one.
Nov. 10th, 1930 --- Dedicated to Sara & myself on former’s 42’d
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