Another time, another world

Americans touring Iran in 1959


Another time, another world
by Paul Schroeder

Abadan was our family home for two years, 1958 and 1959. My father, Charles Schroeder, worked for the refinery there, and we've posted two previous sets of his photographs at (Memories of an American Boy, and Khuzestan 1958-1959; please also see a related story Little Mother of Abadan).

This set of photos, taken during a 2-week trip in Iran, between April 8 and April 22, 1959 is the final group of his photos that will be posted here.

There are two things that I will try to convey here. First is a description with short recollections that I had of this trip around Iran. Second is to offer a reflection on the many moving messages we have received related to Abadan in the past couple of years.

I've delayed posting this last set of photos for many reasons, one of which is that many of them are standard tourist views which many people have seen in person. But now is a good time to get it done, since this month marks my father's 98th birthday. To say that he is "still quite robust" would not say enough, because it would imply that someone at that age might not be as robust as at any other age. So these photos are a little present to him, and a "thank you" for taking us to Iran.

I believe that the trip we took around Iran was a common itinerary for foreigners in Abadan like ourselves who had one two-week "annual leave" during which to see the rest of the country. There's probably no need to identify each photo. The itinerary and particular views are largely in this order: train to Tehran with views of Qom; Tehran railroad station, Majlis, street scenes, American embassy, bazaar, Darband, Golestan Palace, carpet cleaning at Cheshme-Ali, Rey, railroad to Babol, Babolsar, Ramsar, Rasht, bus to Tehran via Qazvin, Esfahan, Shiraz, Persepolis.

What are my personal memories of this trip? The vision of Qom is lasting, as is the glittering interior of the Golestan Palace. The village of Darband made a deep impression. The train to the Caspian was thrilling, and I was entranced by the life we saw there, so different from Abadan! I got really sick on the bus back to Tehran, but remember clearly two painted sculptured figures on a building in Qazvin, near the bus stop. A strong memory but an 'unphotographed moment.'

Who could visit Esfahan and not be deeply touched? Although every person and place is precious, our prayers for peace have to include a special moment for this city. Among my memories, when we were in the bazaar there was an older man sitting with a group, smoking. He motioned to me with that palm down "come here" -- but my mother made sure I didn't go anywhere near! On the Chahar Bagh I saw a dervish walking with his begging bowl. I wondered then, where were the wandering dervishes back home in the USA? Except for a memory of the city gate, my memory of Shiraz is dim because dehydration forced me into Nemazi Hospital there for a day. The previous day when we visited Persepolis did me in. In spite of the heat exhaustion, or maybe because of it, there was something transcendent that took hold of me in those days and places.

Along with many kind messages have come other photos and documents. Some of these have been of personal nature that would be of little interest to share. But here are some of the others. First, I obtained a copy of the book Views Around South Persia, with photos by C. W. Walsh and O. F. Holton, printed by Vandyck Printing, Bristol and London, undated but probably in the mid-1920s. Darius Kadivar posted a note about this book to the Iranian several years ago. One of the few people who have contacted us directly from Iran (The Iranian is blocked there) lives in Khorramshahr. This person asked if we had old photos from there (in this photo book it is named Mohammerah), and wrote to explain, "because today Abadan and Khorramshahar never seem older...."

On a separate theme, I have been given an organization chart of the whole refinery, dated May 1, 1960. This was a few months after my father left Abadan, so his name is not on it. The hundreds of payroll workers shown in the payroll department chart previously posted [Part (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9)] fit into one small box in this chart. Several people connected with the payroll department have been in touch; one sent several large group photos, including this one. Other items that have been shared with us include photos of the scout troop in 1957 (the year before my time), an IranAir schedule, program to the Theatre Society production Night Must Fall, and two theatre tickets. The eight "usherettes" in the program, a couple of whose names ware misspelled, were girls I knew, and some of these now are back in touch. A photo of the Naft open air cinema also arrived.

Mention of the Abadan Theatre Society reminds us that there is actually an Abadan Society, membership open to people who have been part of the oil industry in Iran, that meets every other year, alternating between the US and the UK. This was unknown to us until recently. People who are interested are invited to see details and make contact via their website, or to send an email directly to George Fox.

Completing these further contributions, a person who lives in Abadan created a Persian translation of Memories of an American Boy, and also sent a scan of the front page of the newspaper Arvand in Abadan, that printed parts of the essay there. We also want to thank my father's colleague Mr. Hakimzadeh, who presented a stamp album as a farewell present, that we treasure today.

One reason for delay in making this posting has been coming to terms with the vast outpouring of sentiment that has been shared with us about Abadan. For me Abadan always was a special place, and a sense for its uniqueness was part of what originally motivated me to share these photos and stories. Abadan occupies a unique historical and geographic place in the story of the 20th century. As a cultural borderland, the position of Abadan goes back millennia. For many people today it is a place that is marked by tragedy, great suffering and personal loss. Along with stories of love and family reminiscence have come stories of the attack and siege of the city in the Iran-Iraq war, and the dispersion of Abadanis all over the world.

In trying to bridge the difficulties in reflecting the many messages that have arrived, it seems the voice of one person might stand for all. I'll share some quotes from a person named Siroos who gave permission for me to include these. He was born in Abadan when we were living there, and left at the time of the war. Some of the five brothers and sisters of his family have not seen each other since then. He said "You are right about Abadanis. I think it owes a lot to the fact that more than any other place in Iran, Abadan, as a small town, was subjected to experiencing varied and wonderful cultures traveling through its time. There were unhappy events and experiences too, like most other places, but they too travel with time." I asked about some words he shared on cultural perspective, and he said "As far as perspective goes I guess I meant that when we are 'the visitors' we mostly tend to look in while for us as kids seeing the visitors in our home town was like 'being in' and looking out. When I think back I cant help but think that I saw the Europeans and the Americans as a window out into a different world." And regarding the photos, he so kindly said, "‘Thanks for the memories’ as they say. I hope you don’t mind my borrowing your memories and maybe making some of them my own."

I'll end with a photo that was sent to us, that for me means the Promise of Abadan. I am hoping that this special and important place which so many people dearly love can someday become a token of friendship and peace for the world, and that's the distant promise that this photo shows to me.

Thanks again to all who have cared and shared >>> Photos

A note on photo rights: Copyright for these photos and previous postings in this series is reserved by Charles R. Schroeder. Right of first publication on the web is reserved by The Iranian, which allows reproduction for non-commercial purposes, with credit to The Iranian. Those interested in obtaining higher quality scans or rights for commercial reproduction should contact Paul Schroeder.


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Iranian Reader

Thank you again.

by Iranian Reader on

It's been a true, if bittersweet, pleasure to look at these pictures and read your writing. I'm sorry this is the last installment! As you know, there is so much one can say that it is daunting to begin. All I can say is thank you.