“California Pilgrimage” of 1915

There’s been some talk of pilgrimages on the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society mailing list, and a book was mentioned. Since I own a copy, and since there are some odd parallels to today, I thought I’d mention it. It covers events in July 1915, so almost exactly ninety years ago.

Frederick A. Bisbee’s A California Pilgrimage (Boston: The Murray Press, 1915) subtitled “A Souvenir of the United Universalist Conventions, California 1915” is quite a charm. The writing style was loose and flowing; indeed, the notes about Chicago admittedly flowed away and there is almost nothing written about it. There is an instantaneous quality to the writing that makes me identify with Bisbee as if a blogger.

The first half of this small book is about the rail caravan that began in Boston (South Station for those keeping score) and ended up near Los Angeles via Chicago and Salt Lake City. There were three hundred riders in all, with the first train adding cars as it moved west, and in time a second train was added. (They tended to “play tag.”) In Omaha, where they had a two day rest, they even rode in cars — not well received — on a stretch of the new (1913) Lincoln Highway, the first nationwide auto route. After visiting the churches at Riverside and Pasadena, visiting Catalina and other beauty spots (orange trees!) They dined at a new kind of eatery: a cafeteria, also not well received by Bisbee; too mechanistic. The Universalists held the conventions (in Pasadena, probably at Throop Memorial), of which almost no mention was made, and dedicated the now defunct Los Angeles church. In the second half of the book went to San Francisco for the world’s fair, the Panama Pacific International Exposition. (Also this.)

It was, however, the denominational tidbits that tickled me. Here’s one. A wealthy Universalist, too old or frail to travel himself, donated a typewriter and they took a duplicator to create a newsletter aboard the train: The Daily Ugcwumaypcuss, “a Journal of Fact Fellowship and Frivolity” published by “The General Consent Publishing Co., Limited.” Denominational acronym soup at its finest. See if you can figure it out; I’ve put my guesses below. Time and time again, I’ve seen how Universalist writers were keenly aware of the future, and no less this passage which could have been written for me.

The Daily Ugcwumaypcuss came out as usual on the last day of the journey, and there was regret it was the last number, for it had been chief amonf the diversions, and we found that copies were being treasured. There is no doubt that some time when the centennial of this pilgrimage is celebrated, this paper will be reproduced in facsimile as a great curiosity.

Wow. Well folks, we have ten years to find and copy these. Actually, I know where we can read them. And it seems the Rev. Gene Navias (known to many of my readers, I’m sure) had a copy in hand when he wrote an article (“R.E. Moves West by Mail and Train R-XYZ”) for the Universalist Herald. (search for UGCWUMAYPCUSS within this page.)

There was also much talk about how they could spread the word to all the places there were no churches, make advertizing (their term) use of the Convention, and commented on how the name confused people not otherwise aware of the church. (Sound familiar?)

Later. The cafeteria was in the basement of Trinity Methodist Church that — by Bisbee’s description — clearly was not “the little brown chapel” but a typically Los Angeles-scale institution. He described it as taking up a city block, and the conventioneers saw a motion picture there. This has to be it. And it still stands!

UGC: Universalist General Convention
WUMA: Women’s Universalist Missionary Association (I’m guessing. The organization tended to change names.)
YPCU: Young People’s Christian Union
SS: probably Sunday School (Union)

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

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