American lecturer and journalist Mable F. Knight wrote two travel articles about Ajijic in the 1950s. In the first, published in the magazine of the Pemex Travel Club in 1952, Knight concluded that,
“Ajijic is not a tourist resort and never will be for many years to come, but for those who want to see the real Mexico it is adorable. It is just a narrow strip of land between mountains and lake with more mountains across the lake and burros everywhere.”
Times, of course, have changed, and Ajijic has moved on, though not necessarily for the better in the eyes of many old-timers.
So, just what did Knight report on in her first article? She mentioned the books about Ajijic by Dane Chandos and Neill James and described two hotels in Chapala: the Nido and the Montecarlo. Knight reported that there were three places to stay in Ajijic: the “private home” of the Heuers with its bungalows, the Posada Ajijic “which has recently changed hands” and the General’s House (or Quinta Mi Retiro) with its “elegant bungalows, designed for Mexican families with maids”, each of which had views of the lake.
Knight decided that one of the main attractions in Ajijic was Neill James, the American authoress who had settled there a decade earlier. Her hagiographic portrait of James suggests that perhaps Knight was visiting Ajijic at her behest. Knight described how James had 80 workers sewing blouses (and this in a village of barely 2500 residents) and was adored by her two maids: María Perales and Consuelo Gómez. The article is illustrated with several photos including one of James and her dog, Pluto. Another member of the menagerie that lived in James’ tropical gardens was Paco, a parrot that had formerly lived at Villa Montecarlo in Chapala.
Knight’s second article about Ajijic, published in the Mexican American Review in 1955, is focused solely on James, with chapter and verse about how she had introduced silkworms to Ajijic and started a successful silk business. According to Knight, James had first tried to start a knitting business, which failed, and then cross-stitch embroidery which had become such a success that one room of James’s house was “piled with blouses, skirts, towels, and cocktail napkins.” Now she was diversifying and had a “room where more than 60,000 silk worms were at work nibbling the mulberry leaves which grow on the estate.”
Just who was Mabel F. Knight? She was a really colorful character who billed herself as Ta-de-win (“Maiden of the Winds”), the ceremonial name she was given by the Omaha tribe of Indians in Nebraska in the summer of 1923.
Knight was born in Boston on 29 November 1879 and graduated from Everett High School. She completed a degree at Tufts College and studied French and German in Europe for two years. On her return to the U.S. she gave lectures on European travel and taught modern languages in a series of high schools, including Wayland and Peterboro in New Hampshire and Augusta in Maine.
The Boston native donned traditional dress when lecturing. Attired in full Indian regalia, she kept audiences spellbound with tales and performances of the music, legends and dances of the Omaha. Knight used her extensive knowledge of the Omaha to write a two-act play Wild Rose and Swift Arrow about a young Indian, Swift Arrow, and his love for an Indian maiden, Wild Rose. Other characters in the play include Chief Wild Eagle (“an old, wise Indian Chief”), Stalwart Joe (“a World War Veteran”), Black Hawk (“An irrepressible Indian”) and a trader and his wife.
Her repertoire of lectures, all illustrated by colored lantern slides, had such titles as “In Camp with the Omahas”, “Our New England Indians”, “The Six Nations of N. Y. State” and “The Art, Life and Lore of the American Indian”.
The Special Collections Department in the library of the University of Iowa Libraries holds various papers relating to Mabel F. Knight and her lecture career.
- Mabel F Knight. 1952. “Ajijic – The Gem of Jalisco”, Pemex Travel Club magazine, 1 Feb 1952: 2-4
- Mabel F Knight. 1955. “The Silkworm returns to Mexico”. Mexican American Review (Mexico City: American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico), Vol XXIII #8 (August 1955) 16, 33.
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