In the first days of WWI, an NAR president’s European tour goes awry

1911 NAR president Samuel Thorpe, depicted in the July 1912 issue of the National Real Estate Journal. (NAR Archives)

1911 NAR president Samuel Thorpe, depicted in the July 1912 issue of the National Real Estate Journal. (NAR Archives)

Summer is a time to slow down, take a break, enjoy the weather, and relax with friends and family.  For many of us, that includes a vacation away from home, and a century ago, Minneapolis REALTOR® Samuel S. Thorpe indulged in the summertime travel tradition with a trip to Europe.

Thorpe, who served as NAR’s president in 1911, toured Germany in July 1914 with another Minneapolis REALTOR®, Douglas A. Fiske.  Their trip coincided with NAR’s national convention in Pittsburgh and so Thorpe, as a past president and member of NAR’s Executive Committee, sent a cable that was read to the opening session of the 1914 convention:

Baden Baden, Europe
July 5, 1914

To President Simpson
National Real Estate Association
Schenley Hotel, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Regret exceedingly absence from convention. Best wishes for you and attending delegates. Trust discussions and papers will advance the great interests we represent, each delegate receiving helpful hints, methods and inspiration for daily work, making him proud and glad he’s in the business. Hope convention will outline and make possible uniform legislation in interest of real estate contracts and taxation. If convention goes to Pacific Coast next year all must stop off at Minneapolis en route.

Affectionately, Samuel S. Thorpe

The summer of 1914, as it turned out, was a less than ideal time to be visiting Europe, as it marked the opening days of World War I.  On July 28,  one month after the assassination in Sarajevo of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.  Within a week, Germany, France, Russia, and Great Britain, had all declared war.

Thorpe’s grand tour was suddenly cut short, and his biggest adventure that summer would be returning home. According to the National Real Estate Journal, he and Fiske were in Berlin on August 1, 1914, the day Germany and Russia declared war on each other. The two Minnesotans reportedly left that night on the very last train to carry out passengers before mobilizing for war.


(Chronicling America – Library of Congress)

At a border crossing, the pair had to change trains, but were unable to gain entry into the packed coaches. Fortunately Fiske discovered an open window, through which they “climbed or crawled,” finding themselves in a dining car with some room to stand.

Reaching a seaport they joined 2,500 others on a crowded ship for passage across the English Channel. At sea the captain of their vessel did not respond quickly enough to the challenge from a warship, and a shot was fired across their bow. Many passengers mistook the shot for the explosion of a mine and donned life preservers, fearing the ship would sink.

Finally Thorpe made it to England and the comfort of a London hotel. Wartime emergencies delayed his return home until August 27th when he was able to sail for Montreal.

Sam Thorpe did not miss the following year’s convention in Los Angeles. There he offered a resolution to his fellow REALTORS® which included a prayer, “That the world may always hereafter abandon the carnage of war for the acts of peace and that hate among men be no more…” His resolution was unanimously adopted. Two years later the United States would enter the Great War.

  1. Jackie Montgomery

    Interesting knowing the timing and getting things in perspective!