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Richard Halliburton
(January 9, 1900 - March 23, 1939) U.S.A.

Richard Halliburton

Adventurer, writer


Born in Brownsville, Tennessee, shortly thereafter he and his parents, Wesley and Nelle Halliburton, moved to Memphis. Richard briefly attended the Hutchison School for Girls, where his mother taught, and later was a student at the Memphis University School for Boys. Wesley Halliburton had hopes that his gifted son would attend his own alma mater, Vanderbilt, but Richard had his eye set on Princeton, and to further that end he was sent to prep school at Lawrenceville.

It was at Princeton, which he entered with the Class of '21, that Richard was first overcome by the wanderlust which was to dominate his life. At the end of his sophomore year he "ran away" to New Orleans, where he signed on as an ordinary seaman on a freighter bound for England. Life aboard the freighter was harder and much less romantic than the young man had expected.

Upon his graduation from Princeton in the spring of 1921, Halliburton sailed for Europe, beginning his first trip around the world. After extensive, though uneventful travel in northern Europe and the Low Countries, Halliburton arrived at last in Zermatt, Switzerland, the site of his first genuine adventure. On September 23, 1921, Richard began his ascent of the Matterhorn, arriving at the 14,701-foot summit just before noon on the following day. Richard had never climbed before, and that fact, plus the dangerous climbing conditions which prevailed so late in the season, combined to make his ascent of the Matterhorn a feat worth bragging about.

After further travels in France and Spain, Halliburton arrived in Gibraltar in January 1922. After a brief stay in Egypt he traveled extensively throughout India, the high point of his Indian adventures being a midnight swim in the elevated pool before the Taj Mahal. From India he traveled considerably - and often dangerously - about Asia and on to Japan, where he scaled 12,700-foot Mt. Fuji alone in a season when the climb was regarded as impossible. He finally sailed from Japan as a seaman on the liner President Madison and arrived back in Memphis on March 1, 1923.

Halliburton was on his way to his second round of adventures, this time to retrace the route of Ulysses as described in Homer's Odyssey. It was on this trip that Halliburton re-enacted Lord Byron's swim across the Hellespont (the Dardanelles). The Hellespont swim was not unique, but it was a genuinely brutal experience: the white-capped water was numbingly cold, and Halliburton emerged severely sunburned, suffering from nausea and exhaustion.

In April 1928, he sailed from New Orleans to Mexico, where he retraced on foot Cortez' conquest of the country and climbed Popocatapetl. In the Yucatan he visited the ancient Mayan site of Chichen-Itza, where young virgins had been ritually thrown into the "Well of Death" to appease the rain god. Standing alone at the lip of the Well, 70 feet above the dark surface of the water, Halliburton was suddenly overwhelmed by a desire to experience what those maidens had felt centuries earlier; before he could think twice, he had stepped off the ledge and was falling. Later, climbing back up the cliff-like walls of the pool, he realized the romantic potential of his action.

Halliburton is known for having paid the lowest toll to cross the Panama Canal, which he swam in 1928, paying 36 cents. Halliburton swam the Panama Canal through the locks; though he made the swim in stages over eight days in mid-August, it was a difficult, and occasionally dangerous, feat which managed to bring him still more notoriety.

In summer 1929 he spent several weeks at the infamous French Prison on Devil's Island, living for a time as a prisoner, and for the remainder of his stay as a guest of the governor. He later stopped off on the island of Tobago, where he played Robinson Crusoe for two weeks, complete with a man "Tuesday," before returning to New York in late August.

He also rode an elephant Hannibal-style across the Alps. By the time he returned in August, Richard's newspaper articles had increased his popularity beyond anything it had ever been before, and he was once again in great demand for lectures.

Halliburton's attention turned toward what was to be his last adventure. A friend gave him the idea of sailing a junk from China to San Francisco for the 1939 World's Fair; the more Richard thought about the idea, the more he liked it.

Finally, the Sea Dragon sailed from Hong Kong on February 4, 1939, bound for San Francisco. Six days later she limped back into Hong Kong harbor for repairs and modifications. The Sea Dragon put to sea again on March 4th. It was last heard from, via radio, on March 23, 1939, encountering heavy weather near the International Dateline.

The vessel was unseaworthy and went down in a storm, apparently shortly after Halliburton sent out his last signal: "Southerly gales, squalls, lee rail under water, wet bunks, hard tack, bully beef, wish you were here - instead of me!"

Richard Halliburton was a writer, lecturer, and world traveler. He published numerous books in his short lifetime, including The Royal Road to Romance, Glorious Adventure, and The Complete Book of Marvels


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