American Samoa

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American Samoa is the only area south of the Equator controlled by the USA, not counting the Antarctic.
 The above is the flag of American Samoa and Pag Pago (pro Pango Pango) is the capital, which is located on the island of Tutuila.

The US had been interested in this part of Samoa from as early as 1839 and when Germany & Great Britain were expanding their influence in the Pacific the US  wanted to block Germany who had taken control of W. Samoa in 1899.

In 1871 the US signed a treaty with the local chieftain for an exclusive use of the harbour, which was one of the deepest in the Pacific. The US wanted to create a coaling station for their steamers. It was also in an area of one of the best whaling areas in the world.

In April 1900 the US flag was raised over Tutuila, which is the name of the island, to stop Germany from expanding their influence, because they had already claimed W. Samoa.

My visit to American Samoa was in 1987, which had been arranged by our W. Samoa agent because TNT Skypak wanted an agency in Pago Pago.

Samoa Air

We flew to American Samoa from Western Samoa, at that time Samoa was called Western Samoa, the name did not change until 1997 when the country became just Samoa.

Some of the passengers on our flight were weighed before being allowed to board, and some of us were not.
As you see the aircraft was small, so every kilo was counted and the Western Samoans are known for their size.
The flight from Apia to Pago Pago was not long, about forty-five minutes, but it was still an international flight. Our baggage was stowed behind the last passenger.
We flew at our maximum height, which was 4,500 feet (about 1370 mtrs) above sea level, and there is a lot of sea to be seen in that 45 minutes.

Our Samoan agent and I acted as OBCs (on board couriers) carrying documents from Australia, New Zealand and Samoa. Our new man in Pago Pago was an accountant who already had three businesses as well as being a public accountant, so he now had to learn the international courier industry jargon, because we were carrying his first consignments.

We landed at Tafuna Airport (airline code PPG), which is about seven miles (11 km) from the city.
The road to the city wound round the base of the mountain, which only allowed one lane of traffic in each direction. The road was very crowded and narrow so trying to pass the vehicle in front was not recommended. The journey took us over half an hour and the humidity was off the scale, plus the vehicle was not air-conditioned so within minutes of leaving the airport we were dripping with perspiration.
My first impression of American Samoa was not positive due to the very poor maintenance of such an important road between the airport and the city.
In 1987 the population of Tutuila Island was about 36,000.

2-Rainmaker (2)

The hotel that our Samoan agent had booked looked very inviting, the Rainmaker Hotel, which used to be called the Pacific’s Intercontinental Hotel.

poolside1

The above is from an early advert for the hotel – it was not as attractive when I visited, but it was the only hotel on the island! 

The hotel began life in 1965 and was refurbished after a US fighter plane crashed into it in 1980. The accident cost the lives of six servicemen and two tourists.

1200px-RAINMAKER_HOTEL,_PAGO_PAGO,_AMERICAN_SAMOA  A shot of the hotel when closed.

After a nice cold shower, I was given a tour of the town by our new agent. It was interesting, but my over whelming memory is the smell of fish. It did not matter where you were I could smell fish. Pago Pago housed the fourth largest tuna processing works in the world. 
The canning of fish and pet food, with the processing of fish bones and skin into fish meal did not help the atmosphere of the island.

Pan Am

In 1946 Pan American Airlines started a service from the US to Sydney via Pago Pago using a DC4.

DC7

In 1956 Pan Am updated to a DC7 

DC3

In 1959 Polynesian Airlines (Apia based) began a service between W. Samoa and American Samoa using a DC3.

This is how the rich and famous arrived at Aggie Grey’s Hotel in Apia.

Once again, even though the fish smell was strong I still found joy visiting places that I had read about, so of course I had to follow in Somerset Maugham’s footsteps as I had read Rain, which he wrote while in American Samoa.

Somerset Maugham - CopySomerset Maugham 1874 – 1965

Somerset Maugham was visiting the Pacific Islands in 1916. His ship Sonoma arrived in Pago Pago where he left the ship and took up residence in a guesthouse.

1920px-SADIE_THOMPSON_BUILDING This is the guest house were Somerset Maughan and his companion stayed for six weeks while he wrote the outline of a short story called Miss Thompson.

He used some of the passengers on the Sonoma as models for character in his story. There was a single lady travelling on her own, who became Miss Sadie Thompson in Maughan’s book. 

Sometime later when he was finalising his story from notes, while staying at a Hollywood hotel, he met an American playwright who was roaming around the hotel one night because he could not sleep. His name was John Colton and Maugham thought he would offer his new story to Colton to read, and perhaps it would help him to sleep.

The following morning Colton wanted to buy the story and turn it in to a play. Somerset Maugham agreed, but Colton did not have enough money to buy the rights, so Maughan offered his hand and said we split any profits 50 – 50 and John Colton agreed. 

While in America Somerset Maughan was also trying to find someone to buy his story. A magazine called The Smart Set bought the story.

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It was published in 1921, which opened a new avenue for Maughan’s work.

Later when Miss Thompson was to be included in a book of Somerset Maughan’s short stories the title was changed to Rain

It was as Rain that the play ran in New York for 608 performances between November 1922 and May 1924.

In 1928 it was made into a silent film with Gloria Swanson in the lead part.

Gloria

In 1932 it was Joan Crawford who had the lead part in a film called ‘Rain’.

Later it was June HavocJune_Havocwho played Sadie Thompson

and in 1953 Miss Sadie Thompson was played by

Sadie

Rita Hayworth

Blue Pacific Blues

Click on the link for a little bit of the film and Rita Hayworth singing . . or you might give a round of applause to Jo Ann Geer, who did all of Rita Hayworth’s singing.

RitaThe guesthouse (now renamed) where Somerset Maughan stayed in 1916 has become so famous that they have a sign outside.

sign

On the first picture of the guest house, you will see a yellow sign, I cropped it out for clarity. 

Now back to the Rainmaker Hotel – and the surrounds – the ‘mountain’ that dominates Pag Pago is the cause of the high amount of rain that drenches the town, so even though the mountain is called Mt Pioa it is more commonly known as the Rainmaker Mountain, hence the name of the hotel.
Pago Pago harbour has the highest rainfall of any harbour in the world.

The Rainmaker Hotel had 250 rooms and was THE place to stay, with famous guests such as Marlon Brando, William Holden etc who were on their way to Aggie Grey’s in Apia.

failed

The Rainmaker Hotel fell into disrepair and became derelict, and was demolished in 2015

BUT . . . there is always but . . . 

sadie_thompson_inn.jpg (2)

Sadie Thomason Inn flourished

and

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Sadie’s by the Sea flourishes

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I wonder what Somerset Maughan would have thought of Sadie’s today,
but sex sells, because Sadie Thomason was a deported prostitute from Hawaii, which is why she was on the Sonoma.

Tusitala part two

1986

In 1926 Aggie married Charles Grey

When one reads the history of Samoa, particularly through the 1800s to the mid-1900s the list of characters that flowed in and around Apia, the capital of Samoa, would keep a Hollywood producer in work for years.

Aggie grew up across the road from the International Hotel and one day, when she was a child, she saw carpenters dismantling the wooden building very carefully. This strange happening was mentioned to her father who told Aggie and her sisters that a Mr Hetherington had bought the building and planned to rebuild it on the bank of the Vaisigano river.

The International Hotel was rebuilt exactly as it was originally in 1870.

There was a character known locally as ‘Obliging Bob’ for his good manners and how he managed the International Hotel.

Robert Easthope (aka Obliging Bob) was born in England (Cumberland) in 1848.
At an early age he picked life at sea as his career and ended up in Samoa in 1894. By February 1896 he was managing a hotel called Club Hotel followed by The Tivoli and then the International, which was the most popular at that time.

Tivoli

His nick name came about because he was well mannered, and nothing was too much trouble. He would use his own boats to ferry his guests to their ship, which would be moored in the harbour before sailing.

When he died in 1932 at 84 years old, he was the oldest British resident in Samoa.
Billy Hughes, the slave trader used to drink in the International Hotel before it moved to its present location. When I visited this hotel Billy Hughes would have recognised the outside, nothing had changed.

 

AG 1989

On my second trip to Apia, I stayed at Aggie Grey’s again and it had changed somewhat. This time I was not shown to the fale as I expected, but taken upstairs to the ‘new’ extension, which was airconditioned and overlooked the sea. It was a pleasant hotel room, but not as ‘Samoan’ as the fale. The above picture is the ‘new’ hotel.

A little bit more about Aggie Grey – when she was a child she watched the International Hotel be rebuilt, but little did she know of her future connection with this hotel. 

Charlie and Aggie were great entertainers, but there was a problem, Charlie was a gambler, and they had three children, plus Aggie’s four children from her first marriage. Her entrepreneur skills showed early because when she was in her early twenties, she opened the Cosmopolitan Club. 

Later in 1933 she borrowed £200 to buy the old British Club, which was renamed ‘Aggies’ through which she sold illegal alcohol because the New Zealand Government, who controlled Western Samoa, declared the island to be ‘dry’.  The ‘dryness’ included Europeans as well as the local islanders. The Europeans were not happy.

The British Club had been the old International Hotel. 

To get around the problem of ‘dryness’ the NZ Government authorised the medical officer in Samoa to issue ‘points’ to the Europeans and depending on your position in society and rank, you were allocated ‘points’ on a monthly basis. Technically the points were for the use of alcohol for medical purposes. This system went on until after 1960!

beer

Today Samoa has its own brewery bought from Germany.

In 1942 the Americans arrived due to the war in the Pacific and Maggie opened a snack bar selling coffee and burgers from a location next to the current hotel, and she also operated a sandwich cart around the streets. Things were picking up – but in 1943 her husband Charlie, died. She was now on her own with children to feed, so had to come up with an income.
She moved the business in to the old British Club, which was now called Aggies, and Aggie Grey’s was born.

From this location besides the food, they also sold ‘bush gin’ which was a palm toddy at $2 a bottle.
The toddy was created from the coconut palm tree and a local would climb thirty feet (nine meters) up the palm tree to tap into the sap, and allow it to drip in to a glass jar.

Barley-Water-Benefits-For-Skin-Hair-Health

The tree sap looked like barley water.   

The liquid had a fizzy tang to it . . . 

Wiley

There was an unfortunate incident due to ‘bush gin.’ The Admiral Wiley Pictured above) was anchored in the harbour and unloading stores. The Captain went ashore for a few glasses of bush gin, which caused him to become unsteady.
It was dark and the only way the captain could return to his ship was via a native boat, but the instructions were that native boats were not allowed near military ships. The watch keeping sailor on the ship could not believe that the person in the native craft was his captain.
After a long argument the sailor allowed the captain to board and the Captain went to his cabin.
The captain still full of bush gin, was as mad as anything at the idea of being refused to board his own ship, so he left his cabin and started firing his pistols at the sailor. The sailor had no choice but to return fire and killed his Captain.

The First Mate was told to take command and to be prepare for sailing. The problem was that the First Mate worked in haberdashery before he had joined the navy and had taken a six week crash course in commanding a merchant ship – he was incapable of taking the ship to sea, so the ship had to wait for a competent merchant seaman officer to arrive and take the ship to sea.

During the time that the Americans were located in Samoa they had to place military police outside Aggie Grey’s premises because officers would arrive in jeeps but when they wished to drive back to their ship or barracks, they would find that the jeep had been stacked on rocks because the wheels were missing, the petrol had been syphoned and parts of the engine were missing.
The local Samoan society believed that everything that they owned was available for anyone to use, so it was not theft but a cultural problem for the Americans.   

The war was over and James A Mitchener a naval historical officer wrote

Tales of the south pacific

This edition was published in 1947

Michener became friendly with Aggie, and I believe that she contributed her ideas during the editing process.
I must admit that reading his book while wandering around the South Pacific added to the experience for me.
One might say that James A. Mitchener became the Tusitala of the 20th Century Pacific Islands.

James-Michener

   James A. Mitchener 1907 -1997

In 1952 ‘Return to Paradise’ a Mitchener story was turned in to a film and Gary Cooper played the lead role. The American crew stayed at Aggies and at the Casino run by Aggie’s sister, there were a total of fifty Americans, but in every other aspect the US film company used local Samoans and the dancing girls (Samoan dancing) were trained under Aggie. 

roberta-haynes

Roberta Haynes 1927 – 2019

Aggie also directed and trained Roberta Haynes in her dance sequences. 

Roberta Haynes’ ashes were taken back to Samoa by her son and interred at a chapel at the Return to Paradise resort in 2019.

If you wish to see a short piece of the film click below.

Return to Paradise

In addition to Gary Cooper 1901-1961 gary-cooper-2  who was awarded three Academy Awards, a Golden Globe and a number of other awards,

  Aggie Grey’s hotel has been visited by

Dorothy Lamour 1914 – 1996,  dorothy-lamour-6 She received a citation from the US Government for selling $300 million worth of War Bonds during WW2. She was known as the ‘Bond Bombshell’. 

 

Marlon Brando 1925-2004,  marlon-brando Two Academy Awards, Three BAFTAs, Two Golden Globes.

 

Raymond Burr 1917-1993, raymond-burrTwo Emmy awards & and a stamp issue by Canadian Postthumb_raymond-burr-canada-stamp

 

Robert Morley 1908-1992, Robert Morley  CBE, but he declined a Knighthood

 

William Holden 1918-1981  WILLIAMHolden Academy award winner

to name a few.

The above were film actors, who became famous due to their ability to entertain, even though they did not have Facebook, Tick Tock, , Instagram, Linkedin, Youtube nor did they Twitter on & on . . . but they were good at their job and entertained us.

When Gary Cooper was seriously ill and close to death amongst the huge number of well-wisher’s cards & letters there was a telegrams from Queen Elizabeth and the Pope, and a phone call from President John F. Kennedy, Gary Cooper was famous, they even used his name in this song. 

Putting on the Ritz

In 1971 Aggie was ‘stamped’ with success (please excuse the pun)

stamp

Aggie

Aggie died in 1988 at 91 years of age.

Her son took over the running of the company and in 2013 Aggie Grey’s hotel was sold to Chinese investors for US$50 million and is now operated by the Sheraton Hotel Group. Aggie Grey’s Hotel is now known as the Sheraton Samoa with a subtitle ‘Aggie Grey’. 

Hotel sold

The hotel was rebuilt after major damage during the cyclone in 2012 when the Vaisigano River (which I have mentioned earlier) flooded the hotel up to the third floor (American) or second floor if you are British.

Sheraton

The hotel re-opened for business in July 2016