“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

The Camel Bell’s North Dakota Outpost

Posted: May 20th, 2016 | No Comments »

The Camel Bell, a shop in the old Peking Hotel run for many years by American Helen Burton, is remembered in many memoirs of pre-war Peking. It specialised in silks, dresses, furs, Chinese curios and artworks and was a stop on just about every visitor or sojourners itinerary. Everyone went there, including Wallis Simpson and Helen Foster Snow modelled furs as a mannequin there to pick up a little extra cash. Burton arrived in 1921 and stayed until the war and eventually left on the famous Gripsholm evacuation ship.

What I didn’t know was that there was an American branch of the Camel Bell – in Bismarck, North Dakota. A strange location perhaps, but Burton originally came from Bismarck. Burton’s mother actually lived at 219 Bismarck Street, next to the address given for the store here in 1935. Every few years Burton would visit the US on “selling trips”, starting in Bismarck and then visiting various summer resorts in the Eastern seaboard states to show her wares from China.

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