“A New View of Richard Halliburton’s Sea Dragon”

On March 3, 1939, the celebrated American travel writer Richard Halliburton (1900-39), Class of 1921, set out in the Sea Dragon, his new 75-foot Chinese junk, on what would turn out to be his final adventure. Halliburton planned to sail from Hong Kong to San Francisco, where the Golden Gate International Exposition was taking place. He hoped that the voyage of the Sea Dragon would serve as a show of American solidarity with China against Japanese military conquest at the beginning of World War II.

Among the many people who came to see the Sea Dragon at its Hong Kong mooring just before its ill-fated maiden voyage was a young Californian merchant marine and amateur photographer named Robert Pullen (1919-93), who had enjoyed reading many of Halliburton’s bestselling travel books, such as the Royal Road to Romance (1925). Pullen photographed the Sea Dragon with a Kodak-style folding camera and 2.5 x 4.25-inch black-and-white film. Unlike most views of the Sea Dragon, Pullen’s close-up view, never before seen, shows the junk’s stern, with the name Sea Dragon and home port of Hong Kong boldly emblazoned in Chinese characters below a yin-and-yang symbol. Further down, we see the large painted image of a phoenix, below which are a series of Chinese mythological scenes, including a phoenix and horses. The actual dragon can also be seen, painted on the side of the junk.

Just three weeks out to sea on March 23, the Sea Dragon sailed into a typhoon, lost radio contact, and disappeared. Later that year, Halliburton and his crew would eventually be declared lost at sea. But Pullen never forgot the excitement of seeing the Sea Dragon and being a witness to history. He kept the photographic negative and print for the rest of his life. Recently, his daughter Barbara Wilson, of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, thoughtfully donated the photo to the Princeton University Library so that it could be kept with the Richard Halliburton Papers (C0247), in the Manuscripts Division. The negative was scanned by Roel Muñoz in the Library’s digital studio to produce the image seen here. .

The Halliburton Papers include 20 linear feet of original materials documenting his life and writing, from his Lawrenceville School essay “Disillusioned,” through his Princeton University years, his years of worldwide travel, lecturing, and writing, to his posthumously-published “autobiography” of letters to his parents (1940). Autograph and/or typescript drafts of seven of his books–The Royal Road to Romance (1925), The Glorious Adventure (1927), New Worlds to Conquer (1929), The Flying Carpet (1932), Seven League Boots (1935), A Book of Marvels (1937), Second Book of Marvels (1938)–are present, as are some short stories, essays, and notes from his school days.

There are also passports, publishing contracts, memorabilia, maps, and newspapers clippings. Halliburton’s numerous letters to his parents (1919-1939) provide a vivid account of his travels, and they are supplemented with over 10 boxes of photographs of the exotic locales he visited, many of which were never published in his books. Correspondence of others includes letters from Devil’s Island prisoners (with some manuscripts). A large part of the papers consists of Halliburton’s research material for a biography of the British poet Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) that he never wrote: his correspondence with Brooke’s friends/acquaintances and summaries of interviews he had with them, as well as copies of Brooke’s works and correspondence, some clippings, and photographs. Here is a link to Halliburton papers finding aid: http://findingaids.princeton.edu/collections/C0247

Halliburton's Sea Dragon in 1939

Halliburton’s Sea Dragon