By Thomas F. Schwartz
Much of the familiarity the Hoovers had with Egypt came from their many journeys through the Suez Canal going to and from Australia. Like train travel where you see landscapes unfold as you travel along the tracks, their understanding of Egypt was initially what they witnessed from the ship traveling through the canal. Among Lou’s papers are scrapbooks of photographs and pamphlets that reveals a vacation in Cairo took place in 1905. A charming photograph shows Herbert Hoover sitting next to a young Herbert Jr. holding a balloon. Lou’s handwritten note explains: “Herbert telling Daddy goodbye at Cairo Railway Station. He and Mother remained another week or two. He was very sad at losing Daddy, but was consoled by a balloon! [Dec. 1905]”
The scrapbook, like most, is a hodgepodge of various images of activities and events lacking an obvious chronological coherence. The latter pages appear to form the core visual and textual narrative about their time in Cairo. It begins with a map showing Cairo and the various pyramids within easy proximity. A business card suggests that Said Ali might have been their guide since it listed his expertise as “dragoman for upper and lower Egypt; courier for the whole of Europe; all arrangements made for shooting parties to Fatoum; speaker several languages; testimonials or application; Shepheard’s Hotel, Cairo.” A pamphlet describing the accommodations at the Mena House Hotel also has a place of prominence in the scrapbook. The hotel boasted a full service dining hall including afternoon tea, access to foreign newspapers and periodicals, a library of 1,200 books, laundry, golf, tennis, croquet, swimming bath, shooting of quail, duck and snipe, horse or donkeys for hire, and two full-sized English billiard tables. The hotel still stands and is now a Marriott property.
Perhaps the most interesting content from the scrapbooks are the photographs that presumably Lou took with her camera. Many show everyday scenes along the Nile. Lou, like most tourists, was captivated by the pyramids and the Ruins of Memphis. An extensive series of photographs provide vivid images that not only documented her travels but are graphic illustrations of the art and architecture of ancient Egypt.