Aloha Wanderwell

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Aloha Wanderwell
Aloha Wanderwell publicity photo.jpg
Born Idris Galcia Hall
13 October 1906
Winnipeg, Manitoba
Died 4 June 1996(1996-06-04) (aged 89)
Newport Beach, California
Nationality American/Canadian
Other names Aloha W Baker
Occupation World traveller, filmmaker, explorer, lecturer
Known for First woman to circle the world in an automobile, starting at 16
Spouse(s) Walter Wanderwell (m. 1925)
Walter Baker (m. 1933)
Children Valerie (b. 1925)
Nile (b. 1927)

Aloha Wanderwell (born Idris Hall; 13 October 1906 – 4 June 1996) was a Canadian-American internationalist, explorer, author and filmmaker. While still a teenager, she joined an expedition to travel across the world by Ford Model T, driving through 43 countries in the 1920s. She was billed as "The World's Most Travelled Girl".

Aloha began her adventuring career when she met her traveling companion, Walter "Cap" Wanderwell, in 1924. They married in 1925 and had two children as they continued to travel the world, recording their journeys on 35mm nitrate and 16mm film. While stranded in Brazil, she lived among the Bororo people and recorded the earliest film documentation of them. In 1932, her husband was murdered on the yacht Carma in Long Beach, California. Aloha later married Walter Baker and continued her travels, ultimately visiting over 80 countries and six continents, and driving over 500,000 miles.


Early life[edit]

Idris Galcia Hall was born on 13 October 1906 in Winnipeg, Manitoba to Margaret Headley and Herbert Hall. Her father was a developer and rancher on Vancouver Island and the family lived in Parksville and Duncan.[1] In 1914, at the start of the First World War, her father joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force and was made a lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry after arriving in England. The family lived behind Allied lines, with Idris and her sister traveling with their mother in England, Belgium, and France. In June 1917, her father was killed in combat in Ypres, Belgium.[2] Hoping to tame her tomboyish tendencies, her mother sent Idris to boarding schools, first to Benedictine Soeurs du Saint-Sacrement in Courtrai, Belgium and later to Chateau Neuf in Nice.[1]

The Wanderwell Expedition[edit]

In 1922, Walter Wanderwell was capturing headlines with the Million Dollar Wager, a round-the-world endurance race between two teams racing Ford Model Ts to see which team could visit the most countries. A controversial figure, Wanderwell (born Valerian Johannes Pieczynski) had been jailed in the United States during World War I on suspicion of being a German spy, but was released in 1918. With his first wife, Nell Miller, he formed the organization Work around the World Educational Club for International Police (WAWEC).[2]

In 1925, when she was 19, Idris met Walter Wanderwall for the first time, after responding to one of his advertisements declaring "Brains, Beauty & Breeches – World Tour Offer For Lucky Young Woman…. Wanted to join an expedition… Asia, Africa…" She met "Captain" Wanderwell in Paris and secured a seat on the expedition. She served as the expedition's translator, driver and secretary, and took on the name "Aloha Wanderwell," even though Walter was still married to Nell at the time.[2]

Partially sponsored by the Ford Motor Company, the round-the-world tour also sustained itself through speaking engagements and screenings of films they shot during their travels. Aloha was billed as "The World's Most Widely Travelled Girl," traveling from Africa through the Middle East and on to Asia. In Calcutta in 1924, their tour crossed paths with planes from the first aerial circumnavigation, and Aloha filmed their meeting.[3]

They came to the United States in January 1925. Aloha would become an American citizen and marry Wanderwell on April 4, 1925 in Los Angeles. Their marriage foiled a plan by FBI agents to arrest Pieczynski under the Mann Act, a law that prohibited transporting women across state lines for "immoral purposes."[2][4]

Aloha gave birth to a daughter, Valerie, in December, 1925 and son Nile in April, 1927. The Wanderwells continued their travels, sailing to Cuba and South Africa. Aside from dealing with poor roads, the Wanderwells also had difficulty finding gasoline for their vehicles. During their travels through Africa from 1926-1928, they used crushed bananas for grease and elephant fat for engine oil.[5] The global tour included 43 countries. Author Stookie Allen contends that during this time, Hall had cut her hair and fought as a member of the French Foreign Legion.[1]

The Wanderwells returned to the United States where they made a home in Miami in 1929 and donated one of their Model Ts, known as Little Lizzie, to Henry Ford before the screening of the film, Car and Camera Around the World.[6] In 1942, Henry Ford decided that Little Lizzie was of marginal historical importance and scrapped her and 50 other autos for the war effort.[7]


In 1930 and 1931, the Wanderwells traveled to the state of Mato Grosso in Brazil. They set up camp at the Descalvados Ranch in Cuiabá and were ostensibly searching for lost explorer Percy Fawcett. They made several flights with a seaplane, once running out of fuel on the Paraguay River and receiving help from the Bororo people. The crew's cameraman filmed a ceremonial dance, a first contact scenario with Boboré villagers, and Bororo men experiencing sympathetic labor pains. The 32-minute silent film called Last of the Bororos is preserved in the Smithsonian Institution's Human Studies Film Archives and includes Aloha's meeting with Brazilian explorer Cândido Rondon.[1][8][9]

Murder of Walter Wanderwell[edit]

In late 1932, the couple purchased a yacht, the 110-foot Carma, intending to document their voyage to the South Seas on film. On December 5, 1932, the day before they were to embark, Walter Wanderwell was murdered on the yacht in the harbor near Long Beach, California.[10] William James Guy, a member of their 1931 expedition to South America who had attempted to mutiny on a previous voyage, was tried for the crime. Guy had an alibi and was acquitted by the jury and Judge Kenny. [2][11] Another man, Edward Eugene Fernando Montague, was briefly considered a suspect, but was never charged.[2]

Life with Baker[edit]

Aloha learned to fly a seaplane that she would later land on an uncharted part of the Amazon River and the Matto Grasso. She met Walter Baker, a cameraman for WAWEC reportedly eight years her junior, in Laramie, Wyoming; they would later marry on December 26, 1933 in Louisiana.[2] The couple traveled to Indochina, with Aloha later recounting being surrounded by five herds of elephants, and having to shoot their way out.[12] Her final films include To See the World by Car (1935–37), India Now, and Explorers of the Purple Sage, which contains the only known footage of Desert Dust, the famous palomino wild horse. All films were made with Baker.

She continued to give lectures and wrote an autobiographical account of her travels, Call to Adventure!, published in 1939, and later republished in 2012. The couple eventually settled in Cincinnati, Ohio where Wanderwell worked in radio broadcasting and print journalism. Aloha gave her final performance in front of 150 family members and guests, with Pete Lee curator at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles in 1982. In 1947, she and Walter Baker moved to Lido Isle community in Newport Beach, California. She died on June 4, 1996.[2]



  • Car and Camera Around the World
  • To See the World by Car
  • River of Death
  • Cape to Cairo
  • Last of the Bororos
  • Flight to the Stone Age
  • Australia Now
  • Victory in the Pacific
  • My Hawaii
  • Magic of Mexico
  • India Now
  • Explorers of the Purple Sage


  1. ^ a b c d Levine, Allan E. "Aloha Wanderwell". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 5 October 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Newton, Michael (2009). "Wanderwell, Walter". The Encyclopedia of Unsolved Crimes (2nd ed.). New York: Facts on File. pp. 385–387. ISBN 978-1-4381-1914-4. 
  3. ^ Bell, Joseph N. (September 30, 1989). "The Newport Connection to 'Great Air Race'". Los Angeles Times. 
  4. ^ Levine, Allan E. "Aloha Wanderwell, Walter Piecynski, assorted hanky-panky and the Mann Act". Armchair Adventurers. Retrieved 5 October 2012. 
  5. ^ "Globe-Circling Car to be Gift to Ford: Aloha Wanderwell to Present Dearborn Museum Auto She and Husband Used". The New York Times. November 30, 1929. On this trip they used kerosene for gasoline, crushed bananas for grease in the differential and water and elephant fat for oil in the engine, she said. In India on their round-the-world trip oxen were required frequently to tow the Ford across mud flats and rivers, and in China in 1924, when civil warfare made it impossible to purchase fuel, coolies towed the car for eighty miles... 
  6. ^ "Around-the-World Movie: Miss Wanderwell's Exploits With Camera Shown at Fifth Avenue.". The New York Times. December 17, 1929. 
  7. ^ Treace, Dan. "The Wanderwell Expedition: Model T Fords circle the globe 1919-1925". Retrieved 5 October 2012. 
  8. ^ "Last of the Bororos 1930-1931". Human Studies Film Archives. Smithsonian Institution. 
  9. ^ Staples, Amy J. (2006). "Safari Adventure: Forgotten Cinematic Journeys in Africa". Film History: An International Journal 18 (4): 392–411. doi:10.1353/fih.2007.0007. 
  10. ^ "Guy Arraigned in Yacht Murder; Hearing Dec. 19". St. Joseph Gazette. December 15, 1932. 
  11. ^ "Wanderwell Note Lost Since Death: Widow, at Trial, Says Missing Paper Involved Guy, the Man Accused of Murder". The New York Times. February 4, 1933. 
  12. ^ "World Traveler Received Greatest Thrill in View of Rulers at Close Range". Ottawa Citizen. June 22, 1939. 

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