My grandfather, Dr. William Edgar Geil, was a missionary and explorer throughout the Middle East, Africa, Asia and elsewhere. In 1908 he walked the entire length of the Great Wall of China, roughly 1500 miles. He is the first person ever documented to have done so.
Dr. Geil and this history are largely forgotten despite the fact that he wrote 10 books and documented his trek along the wall with with extensive photographs preserved on glass slides. He spoke to packed auditoriums around the world with tens of thousands coming to hear him. Upon his return from the Great Wall he met with President Theodore Roosevelt to describe his journey and impressions of China.
As it turns out my grandfather has not been completely forgotten. My family learned in 2008 that people in China had been searching for Geil’s decedents. They found me at my job after combing through Google. We learned that people in China are working to recover my grandfather’s legacy including a project that rephotographed the Great Wall 100 years later from the same positions and angles as Dr. Geil’s slides. Within a few months of making contact with us, a remarkable confluence of events brought my family together with a delegation from China to celebrate the centennial of Geil’s journey.
The delegation was led by William Lindesay who has devoted his life to the history and preservation of the Great Wall. Born in England, it is this new “second William” who has gone back to retrace and rephotograph Dr. Geil’s journey along what might be called the “Wall of Two Williams.”
So much has happened since we all gathered in 2008! At the time there was an article in Smithsonian Magazine that included comments by my brother. Later there was an exhibition in Beijing, several books by William Lindesay and several television documentaries. Among the early films produced after 2008 was Geil of Doylestown: Forgotten Explorer. This is the trailer.
For More Information
If this interests you, my website tells the whole remarkable story of Dr. Geil, the Great Wall and William Lindesay’s work today. There are extensive photographs, videos, and links to other sources of information. In addition, I post related material in this blog from time to time. Use the links here to visit my website or see the related posts on this blog.
• Full History at BobLaycock.com
• More here at Just Sayin’ 2.0
Title image: iStock.com / Songquan Deng
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