The Danish DeadheadOn May 3, 2023 by Elyse
On a recent visit to Copenhagen, I fell in love with the scenic waterfront, the pastries, the castles and gardens, the pastries, the attractive men, and did I mention the pastries?
While none of these are fodder for a history blog, they did send me scurrying to the historical newspapers. There, I stumbled across a possibly brave, possibly foolish and definitely attention-seeking young Danish journalist named—depending on the source—Wiren, Siven Wiren or Sven Otto Richard Waldemar Wiren of the Danish newspaper Daneborg, Danebrog or Danneborg. In 1892:
He made a bet of £2,000 with some acquaintances that he would travel round the world without money. He has a letter of credit for £25 with him, but this is only to prevent him from being arrested as a vagrant for if he cashes it he loses his wager.– The North Wales Express, April 14, 1893
Somebody’s been studying Second Glance History’s “How to Travel for Free.”
From Copenhagen, Wiren worked as a sailor on the steamer Christian IX, which took him as far as London. That was the easy part.
It would not be a difficult matter to work one’s passage in this way all over the ocean; but M. Wiren intends to journey as much as possible on land.– The Evening Star, December 9, 1892
Therein lies the trouble:
He worked his way across the Atlantic. . . then he got free passage from Wilmington to New York, where he had no food for two days and had to walk the streets to keep warm, until the Salvation Army took him in. From New York he had a free pass to Chicago, but had to perform the journey fasting.– The North Wales Express, April 14, 1893
Food wasn’t the only thing Wiren had to do without.
. . . In America he did without washing expenses by exchanging his linen with people who wanted to use his cast-off clothes as advertisements.
But he immensely dislikes to be called the “champion deadhead.”– The North Wales Express, April 14, 1893
No, not that kind of deadhead; “one who has not paid for a ticket.”
Eventually, Wiren made his way to Portland, Oregon.
. . . But the pleasure of the journey may be judged from the headlines which heralded his arrival: “Three days without food on the Northern Pacific.—His mouth raw with smoking.—He smoked to stay the pangs of hunger.”– The North Wales Express, April 14, 1893
Twenty years later, “the little pedestrian” Gladys Mason would attempt the similar feat of walking across the entire United States. However, she and Wiren wouldn’t have made good travel companions: she didn’t “believe in. . . cigarettes, tea, meat, white bread, coffee, liquor and a few other things.” It’s a wonder she didn’t starve, too.
Next up were Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Suez, Tunis, Hamburg and finally, home sweet home in Copenhagen. Less than a year after English-language newspapers first reported his wager, Wiren completed his trip around the world “without spending a farthing of his own.” I hope he used the prize money to buy all the cigarettes, tea, meat, white bread, coffee and liquor he could find.
Having received my credit card statement from Copenhagen, Wiren’s economical traveling style is beginning to look appealing, as is an extra £2,000. I know what I’d buy with my winnings:
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Disclaimer: The modern era is far from the first to grapple with rampant “fake news.” As I am neither a historian nor journalist, I make no claims about the accuracy or lack thereof of the above sources. I assert only that they make for a good story.
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Welcome to Second Glance History! This blog seeks to uncover the people and the stories forgotten by history and give them another read through a modern lens. Join me every week as we examine the differences that divide and the common threads that connect the then to the now.
Believe Hans Christian Andersen could have spun a tale from this guy’s story!
😂 All he’d need is a moral at the end!
That dude definitely had a short in his Wiren.
“Riding that train
He got by without payin’
Sven Otto Richard Waldemar Wiren you better watch your speed…”
(that sound you hear is Jerry Garcia rotating at about 7500 RPM)
😂 I never knew you were a composer in addition to being a wit. Bravo! Encore! 👏👏
…more like a decomposer…