Richard Halliburton’s The Flying Carpet

Words by Glenn O'Brien

Every hobo should know the work of Richard Halliburton. He isn’t the founder of the notorious company and designer of the great aluminum suitcases, that was his cousin Erle Palmer Halliburton. Richard Halliburton was a writer who wrote about his own true adventures—one of a dying breed, even then. He rode an elephant in the tracks of Hannibal over the Alps. He swam the length of the Panama Canal (and paid a 39 cent toll.) He retraced Odysseus’ extended post Trojan War sailing trip, swimming the Hellespont along the way. He retraced the route of Cortez in Mexico. He made the Hadj to Mecca, even though he was not a Muslim and risked death in doing so.

My favorite of his books is The Flying Carpet (1932), in which he flies around the world in a two seater, flying over points of interest like Mount Everest and dropping into many spots that had never been flown into before. In my favorite chapter he flies with his trusty pilot from Baghdad, where he had palled around with the Prince, across five hundred inhospitable miles to Teheran. When he lands he’s met by another adventurer, William McGovern, author of Lhasa in Disguise who had penetrated the most mysterious precincts of Tibet. McGovern tells Halliburton that the people are “hospitable to a fault—particularly the bandits.”

Having visited the imperial palace, McGovern wants to visit the Imperial Prison, but so far he has been unable to get in. He and Halliburton manage to get a letter to the Shah explaining their desire to live there as prisoners for a few days before being “pardoned.” They get in and have the time of their life, among the political prisoners. Halliburton recalls “The food was preposterously good and served in a much better fashion than in our hotel.” Halliburton was a confirmed bachelor, and his final trip was a voyage in a Chinese junk that he had built for him, from Hong Kong to San Francisco. The Sea Dragon was last spotted by the SS President Coolidge, battling mountainous seas in a typhoon. The junk radioed the liner “Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here instead of me.”