Monday, 8 August 2016

From sea to shining sea. How Donald Trump's migrant mother came to the USA

Mary MacLeod's journey from Old World to the New - America's story in seven pictures
This is a slightly extended version of my Daily Record exclusive on newly-discovered photos of Donald Trump's mother. The story, and the individual pictures can be seen here on the Record website

THEY are the pictures of his mother that Donald Trump will never have seen, bearing witness to a family saga he cannot bear to tell.

Seven newly-uncovered, black and white photos show Mary Anne MacLeod, the Scottish island girl who became
the wife of New York property magnate Fred Trump and mother to the Republican presidential candidate.

Elegantly, they click the shutter frame on the immigrant background of the US politician who wants to build a wall against the world.

Mary MacLeod’s journey from the Isle of Lewis to New York is already well known, but these newly discovered photos and the memoir of her teenage penpal cast a new light on the Donald Trump story.

In one girl’s portraits are story of how modern-day America came to be. The three phases of European emigration - the Old World home, the ocean voyage and the opening door to wealth and happiness in the New  - are captured in seven prints from the 1920s and 30s now frozen in time. 

The first picture, taken about 1926, shows a girl in the bloom of youth, collecting wild flowers by the shore of her childhood home on the Isle of Lewis. The flower-carpeted machair, the fertile sandy grass, is unmistakably Hebridean as is the tall girl on the left of the picture.

Garbed in a dark velveteen dress, Mary MacLeod is accompanied by another young woman, possibly one of her sisters who emigrated to America, Canada and Australia before her.

Born in 1912, Mary was part of a large family in the crofting village of Tong, the most-populated of the Outer Hebrides.

A second picture shows the teenage Mary sitting on the windowsill of a modern block-built “white” house of the type that began replacing the thatched island blackhouses at the time.

Mary’s father was postmaster in the village as well as a fisherman and so one of the first to elevate himself out of endemic rural poverty. Often it was money sent home from abroad that helped islanders through lean years and lack of work on Lewis had scattered Mary’s siblings across the globe.

When she started her penpal correspondence with Agnes Stiven, an east coast girl of her own age whose prize-winning painting and address had appeared in the Dundee Courier, MacLeod described “her lonely life on the island”.
Her sisters and brothers had already left home. The village story was that Mary went on “holiday” to see her older sister Catherine who had left for New York.

But the memoir of their friendship that Agnes Stiven left behind finally puts that Trump family myth to rest.

Agnes wrote: “Mary’s older sister in New York invited her to visit her there...and soon afterwards her sister found her a job as a nanny with a wealthy family in a big house in the suburbs of New York”.

Ellis Island Records have Mary MacLeod arriving in New York in 1930, yet she may have criss-crossed the Atlantic more than once.

According to Agnes the two girls met in Glasgow in the late summer of 1928 when Mary was on the way to America for the first time. The girls hit it off immediately.

“Mary had long fair hair and blue eyes, my hair was short and dark and I had hazel eyes. Each thought the other was pretty!” Agnes recollected in her journal. 

“Mary’s news in 1929 was not so optimistic. Her employers had been involved in the Wall Street Crash which shook not only America but the whole world,” wrote Agnes. “Mary lost her job and went to New York City to find employment.” 

The letters were not so frequent then but the two girls exchanged Christmas gifts. “I well remember the chic pink cami-knickers she sent me. They buttoned round the waist and fitted perfectly,” recalled Agnes.

By then Mary had met her future husband. the real estate developer Fred C. Trump. Again, the village story in Tong is that they met at a dance in New York and kept in touch even though Mary returned to Lewis at least once afterwards.

Meanwhile Agnes, a gifted linguist from a humble Scottish background, had became a post-graduate scholar at Marburg University in Germany.

She was on her way home from Marburg via Hamburg in August 1934 when President Hindenberg died, leaving
the country in mourning. “His death, alas, left a gap that was quickly seized upon by Adolf Hitler, with dire consequences.” wrote Agnes, foreshadowing the calamity to come. 

She fled across the North Sea to Dundee to stay with her parents, paralleling a journey Mary MacLeod made back across the Atlantic to visit her parents on Lewis.

Agnes wrote the friends next met in 1934 in Glasgow when Mary left again for New York “where she now seemed to have settled”. 

“We spent a hectic day together in Glasgow. In the morning  we went on a shopping spree and I particularly remember in a big store on Sauchiehall Street she bought a pair of fur-backed gauntlet gloves for her boyfriend, Fred. “I said I hoped he’d like them and she said ‘he’d better’” 

They went to view the Queen Mary on the Clyde, the world’s largest passenger ship, being fitted out and still without her distinctive four funnels.

Agnes snapped Mary on the quayside, a flared coat and jaunty hat adding to her glamour. “I thought Mary was very pretty, with her hair still quite long and permed,” wrote Agnes.

“I saw Mary off on board the ship at Clydebank that evening and that was the last time we saw each other until 61 years later in London”.

The two pictures of Mary MacLeod en-route to America are iconic images of European emigration. 

Between 1880 and 1920, more than 25 million foreigners arrived on American shores, transforming the country. Scottish emigration reached a peak in the 1920s, with 363,000 Scots leaving for the US and Canada in that decade.

Aboard ship Mary stands by the deck rail, a hairband ties her blond locks and she wears smart white deck shoes. In the next image she looks relaxed and has captivated a male passenger.

The pictures are marked on the back by her friend Agnes as being “en-route” on the SS Transylvania, the Anchor Line passenger vessel that ran between Glasgow to New York in the inter-war years.

There is no way of knowing on which of Mary MacLeod’s voyages they were taken but the confident, optimistic stance lends the impression that this was a young woman who knew where she was going.

Shipping records show that Mary MacLeod arrived again in the United States in 1934, by then 22 years of age.
The next picture shows Mary in a swimming costume on the steps of a Long Island swimming pool where the elite of New York decamped for the Summer.

The transformation is complete, the coy look of the girl on the Hebridean beach is replaced by a glossy poolside pose reflecting the golden years of Holywood. From domestic service to domestic goddess, Mary MacLeod had made it. 

Two years later she was married to Fred Trump, a wealthy real estate developer, and would have five children: Maryanne, Fred Jr., Elizabeth, Robert and, of course, Donald, or Donald John as he is known in Tong.

Agnes noted: “She didn’t tell me that the man she married in January 1936 was “the most eligible bachelor in New York” as she called him in a recent letter, and also of German parentage like the man I was then engaged to marry.”.

In the final photo of the sequence Mary is pictured on her driveway holding her firstborn child, Maryanne, who as an adult accompanied her mother on many visits to Lewis. The marks one of the last contacts the two women had for years.

War separated the two friends and altered the course of Agnes Stiven’s life completely. The German man she married in 1938, in the lull of the Munich Agreement between Chamberlain and Hitler, went on to become a Panzer tank commander.

He survived the war a damaged man, and the couple divorced forcing Agnes and her children to return to Britain. 
The correspondence, apart from a few letters and photos at her parents’ home in Scotland was lost as was the link with Mary MacLeod.

That was until Donald Trump’s growing fame intervened and his Scottish connection surfaced years later.
Agnes wrote: “In June 1995 I finished watching News at Ten in bed, as I usually do, without paying too much attention to the following programme called “Selina Scott meets Donald Trump - an exclusive interview with the  Manhattan tycoon’”.

She added: “I pricked up my ears when with a jolt when Selina said that the interview was being held in the sumptuous apartment occupied by Donald’s mother, who was a Scot originally Mary MacLeod form Lewis.”

“I jumped up at the tv set to get a close look at the elegant lady with the groomed golden hair seated with lovely legs crossed just as Mary MacLeod used to do.”

A hopeful letter to “the apartment on the 64th floor of Trump Towers” received an equally swift reply and the friendship of over half a century was picked up again with enthusiasm.

The two ladies were re-united in London in August 1995 to their great delight.

Mary MacLeod regularly returned home to Lewis before her death in New York in 2000, at age 88. 

Alice Stiven died in March 2002, leaving an trove of photos and memoirs which her family are piecing together.

Donald Trump’s older sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, a senior US judge, visited Lewis often with her mother and made a £150,000 donation to the island’s Bethesda hospice in her memory.

But Donald Trump appears to have little interest in his Scottish roots. He has only visited Lewis twice in a blaze of publicity to promote his golf interests but his public references to his mother’s background are conspicuous by their absence.

Maybe that is because these pictures of Mary MacLeod tell a different history from the anti-immigrant bombast of his campaign trail speeches.

From the foreshore of Lewis to the exclusive swimming pools of Long Island, from sea to shining sea, Mary MacLeod’s seven pictures are the story of a country made great by immigrants, people just like Donald Trump’s mother.




No comments:

Post a Comment