Mystery Shack on the Jordan River

The mystery shack of Mr. Stomation near the Baptism site on the Jordan River. Norbert Schiller Collection

The mystery shack of Mr. Stomation near the Baptism site on the Jordan River. Norbert Schiller Collection

I recently read In the Steps of the Master (1936), one of travel writer H.V. Morton’s books on the Holy Land. In the passage where he describes his visit to the baptism site on the Jordan River, Morton mentions a strange wooden shack built up on stilts alongside the riverbank.

When Morton spotted the structure, he wandered around the property trying to determine the purpose for the shack. The writer then discovered an inscription above the bar revealing the proprietor as “Mr. N. Stomation” whom he finds sitting in a chair, completely oblivious to Morton’s presence on his property. Morton’s description of his discovery is detailed in his book as follows:

“I was not prepared for the strange sight at the end of the road. On the river bank is an old café, or rest-house, mounted on stilts. The roof is made of Jordan reeds, and everything about it suggests that at any moment the narrow, inoffensive river might overflow and drive the few inhabitants to their boats. Under this frail shelter are set a number of home-made tables and chairs. Hens, chickens and turkeys and goats roam carelessly around the tables. A stuffed crane and a stuffed flamingo, both much the worse for wear, hang with dreary reluctance from the roof. There is a kind of counter, or bar, with a license which states that this collection of poles and reeds is owned by a Mr. N. Stomation. I discovered that the only visible inhabitant was someone, whom I took to be Mr. Stomation, sitting with his back to the Jordan gloomily whittling a stick with a pen-knife. He was in shirt sleeves, with an ancient khaki tunic flung across his shoulders. He paid no attention to me as I prowled about his strange retreat. The Jordan is apparently always trying to dislodge Mr. Stomation. His dwelling quarters, and also a large dome-shaped oven, are mounted on twelve-foot high stilts. Even the chickens, and the turkeys and the goats must sometimes be forced to run for it, as little pile dwellings to the side of the main quarters testify.”

I didn’t think anything about this passage until I began researching photos to illustrate the story on The Nativity Trail between Nazareth and Bethlehem which is posted on this website. While rummaging through my archives, I came across a photo, which showed a strange looking structure on stilts with water flowing in the foreground. A handwritten note on the picture describes its subject as follows: “On the Banks of the Jordan.” Suddenly I made the connection between Morton’s words and this image. The date on the photo indicates that it was taken in 1924, nearly a decade before Morton visited the site.

Upon further online research, I discovered two short black and white films taken in the 1920s, early 30s showing clips of the same shack. However, since there is no narration, it’s impossible to know why the structure was filmed. The clips were most probably part of a larger production by a British crew making a promotional film about Palestine. Many such films were made at the time to highlight British “achievements” in Palestine after World War I.

If you have any further information about this mystery shack on the Jordan or about Mr. N. Stomation, I would be very interested in sharing it on this website.

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