Posted by: Tom Owen | July 6, 2009

A Journey in Other Worlds (1894) – John Jacob Astor IV, SPS 1882

A Journey in Other Worlds

Biographical Notes (adapted from Wikipedia)
John Jacob Astor IV (July 13, 1864 – April 15, 1912) was an American millionaire businessman, real estate builder, inventor, writer, a member of the prominent Astor family, and a lieutenant colonel in the Spanish-American War. He died in the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912.

Image: Wikipedia.

Image: Wikipedia.

John Jacob Astor IV was the great-grandson of John Jacob Astor whose fortune, made in opium, fur trade and real estate, made the Astor family one of the wealthiest families in the United States. Astor made millions in real estate and in 1897, Astor built the Astoria Hotel, “the world’s most luxurious hotel ,” which adjoined Astor’s cousin, William Waldorf Astor’s, Waldorf Hotel in New York City; the complex became known as the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

In 1898 Astor was appointed a lieutenant colonel of a U.S. volunteers battalion he financed in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. During this time he allowed his yacht, the Nourmahal, to be used by the U.S. government.

John Jacob Astor boarded the Titanic as a first class passenger with his wife, Madeleine Astor, his valet Victor Robbins, his wife’s maid Rosalie Bidois, nurse Caroline Endres and pet Airedale named Kitty. He was the wealthiest passenger on board the Titanic. At 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912 the Titanic hit an iceberg and began sinking. At first Astor did not believe the ship was in any serious danger, but later Madeleine, her maid and her nurse were rescued into lifeboat 4. He asked if he could join her, mentioning her “delicate condition” (she was five months pregnant at that time), but the officer in charge told him not until all the women and children were away. Astor reportedly stood back and asked for the lifeboat number, then, after lighting a cigarette, he tossed his gloves to Madeleine. Madeleine, her nurse and her maid survived while Colonel Astor and his valet died.

John Jacob Astor’s prominence made his actions while Titanic was sinking legendary. Many exaggerated and unsubstantiated accounts about what Astor did the night Titanic sank appeared in newspapers, books and magazines after the disaster. There was a story that he was the one who opened Titanic‘s kennel and released the dogs; another story has Astor putting a woman’s hat on a boy to make sure he was able to get into a lifeboat. Another legend states that after the ship hit the iceberg, he quipped, “I asked for ice, but this is ridiculous.”

Summary
In the year 2000, technological advances have created a worldwide utopia.  In a multi-chapter diversion, Astor details numerous fantastic scientific progressions such as solar power, insect-like boats, commuter air travel, and straightening the Earth’s axial tilt to create constant latitudinal temperatures (n.b., Astor was a patented inventor as well as a real estate tycoon).

The book mainly details the travels of a few intrepid explorers who attach an airplane to a comet and travel to Jupiter and Saturn.  Despite this novel’s 19th-century publication, it reads like any respectable 1950’s pulp novel or a big-budget CGI film of today.  Astor vividly describes other-worldly scenes with a feverish imagination.  He also follows in Verne’s footsteps by arming the “peacfeful” scientists – despite the explorers’ investigative mission, they often resort to fast-paced gunfights to save their lives.

A Journey in Other Worlds sheds new light on the mind of millionare John Jacob Astor IV and is well worth a look.  It’s available from Project Gutenberg at http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/1607.

Excerpt
Just here they came upon a number of huge bones, evidently the remains of some saurian, and many times the size of a grown crocodile. On passing a growth of most luxuriant vegetation, they saw a half-dozen sacklike objects, and drawing nearer noticed that the tops began to swell, and at the same time became lighter in colour. Just as the doctor was about to investigate one of them with his duck-shot, the enormously inflated tops of the creatures collapsed with a loud report, and the entire group soared away. When about to alight, forty yards off, they distended membranous folds in the manner of wings, which checked their descent, and on touching the ground remained where they were without rebound.

Image: Project Gutenberg.

Image: Project Gutenberg.

“We expected to find all kinds of reptiles and birds,” exclaimed the doctor. “But I do not know how we should class those creatures. They seem to have pneumatic feet and legs, for their motion was certainly not produced like that of frogs.”

“I will perforate the air-chamber of one,” said Col. Bearwarden, withdrawing the explosive cartridge from the barrel of his rifle and substituting one with a solid ball. “This will doubtless disable one so that we can examine it.”

Just as they were about to rise, he shot the largest through the neck. All but the wounded one, soared off, while Bearwarden, Ayrault, and Cortlandt approached to examine it more closely.

“You see,” said Cortlandt, “this vertebrate–for that is as definitely as we can yet describe it–forces a great pressure of air into its head and neck, which, by the action of valves, it must allow to rush into its very rudimentary lower extremities, distending them with such violence that the body is shot upward and forward. You may have noticed the tightly inflated portion underneath as they left the ground.”

“As it will be unable to spring for some time,” said Bearwarden, “we might as well save it the disappointment of trying,” and, snapping the used shell from his rifle, he fired an explosive ball into the reptile, whereupon about half the body disappeared, while a sickening odour arose.

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