'Her heart chose love in Glasgow': Woman retraces mother's amazing 1951 journey

Margaret Wagner at Kelvingrove. <i>(Image: Gordon Terris/Newsquest)</i>
Margaret Wagner at Kelvingrove. (Image: Gordon Terris/Newsquest)

ALL HER life, Margaret Wagner listened to her mother’s wonderful tales of travelling through Europe in the 1950s.

Sarah Wagner (nee Hooker) and her college friend Liz Taber, boarded an ocean liner in New York and landed in Le Havre for a seven-month adventure in 1951, which took them through France over the Pyrenees, from Spain to Gibraltar, crisscrossing Italy to Switzerland, Germany, Scandinavia, England and Scotland.

Glasgow Times: Sarah Hooker in 1951.
Glasgow Times: Sarah Hooker in 1951.

Sarah Hooker in 1951. (Image: Margaret Wagner)

In Glasgow, the two women stayed at the youth hostel, and Sarah fell in love with the city. Her daughter thinks this was also where she realised who she really wanted to marry.

“My mother raved about Rembrandt’s A Man in Armour, which hangs in Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum,” says Margaret, who is retracing her mother’s journey to write a travel memoir based on the trip. “As I sat before the painting, I was struck by how the man's profile looked like my father.

Glasgow Times: Margaret visited Kelvingrove to see the Rembrandt painting her mother loved.
Glasgow Times: Margaret visited Kelvingrove to see the Rembrandt painting her mother loved.

Margaret visited Kelvingrove to see the Rembrandt painting her mother loved. (Image: Gordon Terris/Newsquest)

“My mother didn’t say yes to my father the first time he asked her to marry him - because nothing was going to stop her from going on this trip.

“A few months before she passed away, she told my father she decided to marry him on her trip.  I like to think that, in some unconscious way, when she saw this painting something clicked.”

Margaret smiles: “Perhaps her heart chose love in Glasgow.”

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Writer, dancer, poet and artist Margaret, who lives in California, is the founder of Write in the Beat, workshops which pair mindful movement with written poetry and visual art.

She recently visited Glasgow to follow in Sarah’s footsteps.

Glasgow Times:
Glasgow Times:

“At Christmas 2014, a year after my mother died, I discovered a Kodak projector box hidden under a stack of shower curtain liners in the guest bathroom of my parents’ retirement home,” says Margaret. “It contained slides from her 1951 trip, notes - some on the back of envelopes - and a letter from my father.

“I had listened to my mother’s stories all my life – how she and Liz, near the Arctic Circle, picked up reindeer antlers and tied them to the top of their chocolate Morris Minor; how she met Picasso in the south of France and was bored by his talk about fascism;  how she was driven off the road by Spanish sherry barons, then had drinks and saw a flamenco show with them.

“These stories fascinated me ever since I can remember; I asked her to repeat them to me over and over. But the notes I found revealed another side to my mother.

“She changed so many flat tyres that she could do it in twenty minutes straight.  She noted when she wrote weekly postcards to both of her suitors - Dick W (my father) and Dick S (who was not).

“She picked up German male hitchhikers and travelled with them through Denmark and Norway, and she hitched rides herself in Scotland, when she and Liz had hiked too far from their car.”

Glasgow Times: Margaret at Kelvingrove
Glasgow Times: Margaret at Kelvingrove

Margaret at Kelvingrove (Image: Gordon Terris/Newsquest)

After her father died in 2016, Margaret joined a dance programme which took her to Europe every six months for about three years.

“I added time on each trip to retrace parts of my mother’s journey,” she explains. “That was what started the travel memoir.”

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In her journals, Sarah wrote: “The drive to Glasgow was beautiful with lots of snow-covered peaks mirrored in the numerous lakes.

“Ben Lomond was… covered with snow which made a lovely picture. We had a picnic along the shore of Loch Lomond - a little chilly, but beautiful. Glasgow was like all cities in Great Britain -- very sooty.

“However, it was well worth a visit as there are many interesting areas such as the shipyards and the Town Hall, which is really an elaborate affair with the hallways done in marble and alabaster and mosaic ceiling giving the effect of the ground floor of a mosque. The different rooms are all done in various types of wood, too, and are beautifully carved.”

Margaret adds: “She mentioned being photographed with her hiking backpack by a Glasgow newspaper, outside a hostel in Inverness but so far I have been unable to track that newspaper down.”

Margaret also enjoyed her stay in Glasgow.

“I’m impressed with how the city is facing up to how wealth was created there, and being inclusive,” she says. “The arts and culture in Glasgow are fascinating – I learned from The Hunterian, Kelvingrove and Riverside about new artists and points of view.

“The City Chambers tour and cathedral were wonderful, too.

She adds: “The city reminds me of New York City.  Glaswegians are exceptionally friendly and helpful and have such pride in sharing their city.”

She smiles: “And I am now a fan of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I had my first high tea at the original Willow Tea Rooms on Sauchiehall Street - I can’t wait to go back there.”