Photo of John Jay Ide on camel in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza and some scaffolding around the Sphinx, part of the excavation project. (John Jay Ide Collection at Jay Heritage Center)
By Will Thurman
Growing up in Mamaroneck, I had seen the Jay Estate hundreds of times, but it was only as a freshman in high school that I had internalized and understood its true historical significance. I had always been a huge American history buff, and the reality that one of our founding fathers had lived down the street from where I grew up was inspiring. This type of coincidence always makes you think that if someone great lived near you, maybe someday you could be great as well.
In October of 2016, I arrived at the Jay Heritage Center for the first day of a volunteer project; little did I know this project would expand into a two-year journey jam-packed with history.
I was greeted at the carriage house by Suzanne Clary, the Director of JHC. Ms. Clary had selected an item from the archives that would become part of my life for the next couple of years; I would be conducting research on a photo album compiled in 1926 during a world tour by a descendant of John Jay, a great grandson named John Jay Ide. My assignment? Put this time capsule in context for other scholars to understand and use. I couldn’t wait to dive in; I was holding uncharted history in my own hands.
When I first opened the leather covered scrapbook, I saw hundreds of pages filled with black and white photos of amazing sights including ancient Chinese pagodas, Egyptian pyramids, Greek temples, and Japanese Toriis. The first thing I needed to do was research Jack Ide – who he was and what he had done in his career, to understand his life, family, and friends. Fellow volunteers had laid the groundwork. Ms. Clary taught me how to fill in some blanks about his family tree and records of his arrivals and departures from country to country. Doing further research, I created an index to organize and catalogue the places and people held within the scrapbook’s pages. Next, I took a picture of each photograph – all 168 of them. I uploaded them to JHC’s Flickr Photostream; next I began my slow but steady writing of short descriptions of what is depicted in each photo. Over the winter I will continue to put these images in context along with narratives of both Jack Ide’s travels and events in world history.
This project is important in so many ways. It is a fantastic way to share rare photos of famous world sites and Ide’s circle in 1926 (including his main traveling companion, cousin and longtime friend L. Gordon Hamersley). The photos are snapshots of history and I find myself getting lost looking at the details in each photograph and wondering what Jack Ide was thinking, and in turn what the local people thought of him. With his background in architecture (he graduated from Columbia University in 1913 where he received a certificate in architecture and then studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris), Jack Ide was not a typical tourist at these architectural wonders of the world. Tracking his journey is a way to better understand his life, the things that shaped him and other people of his era. My future posts will detail more of the places, many of them UNESCO sites today, that he captured for posterity.
My name is Will Thurman. I am a junior at Fordham Prep where I study Mandarin and Spanish on top of 3 APs. I play tennis 6 times a week, traveling the tri-state area for tournaments along the way. I hope to play tennis in college and am exploring opportunities to learn more about the fields of law and medicine.