Polo Players at the Beijing Legation


The Legation Quarter of Beijing was an independent military zone belonging to the international community. Troops from America, Great Britain, Japan, Italy, and France were housed in this walled off area of Beijing. Each nation was responsible for its installation within the quarter, which contained restaurants, housing, shops, and other goods and services.

An outlying area known as the Glacis served as a place for sporting events. It contained a baseball diamond, a gridiron for rugby, and polo grounds. The polo grounds were mostly occupied by the French, but residents from other nations participated in matches.

A Huntsville, TX resident named John W. Thomason served at the Legation from 1930-1933 and participated in these polo matches. These photographs come from his personal papers and document the matches and the leisure activities of the legation inhabitants.


 To view digitized material from the John W. Thomason collection, click on the link below.

John W. Thomason Collection




Mmmmm still life tomato (*makes Homer Simpson noise)


This John W. Thomason drawing from our collection looks good enough to eat.

See the original here: Still life

See the whole (non-gif) collection at : John W. Thomason collection

Chinese Archery


Here are some photographs of Jack Thomason, son of Col. John W. Thomason, practicing the Chinese form of archery. Jack spent 1930-1933 in China while his father was stationed at the Legation in Beijing. While not in school, Jack would participate in Dragon Patrol, a Boy Scout organization, where he and his classmates would explore outdoor activities in China.

To view more of the John W. Thomason photographs: click here


John W. Thomason visits Hearst Castle


Front Row (Left to Right): Adolphe Menjou, William Randolph Hearst, John W. Thomason, Lawrence Stallings , Dick Powell
Bottom Row: Marion Davies, Henry Roosevelt, Joan Blondell Ruth Gordon

From 1934 to 1936, John W. Thomason served as a junior Marine aide to Assistant Secretary of the Navy Henry L. Roosevelt (of the Oyster Bay Roosevelts). Thomason joined Roosevelt at parties in Washington, family getaways to Oyster Bay, and on his trips to review US Navy installations.

In May and June of 1935, they visited the navy installations on the West Coast and in Honolulu. It was during their time in California that Roosevelt and his entourage (which included Thomason) were guests at the Hearst Ranch in San Simeon, California. Hearst Ranch was the large extravagant home of American newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. In its heyday, invitations to the castle were prized. Entertainers such as Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, and Clark Gable as well as politicians like Winston Churchill and Calvin Coolidge were just some of the famous guests at Hearst Castle.

While on their visit, Roosevelt and Thomason toured the grounds and enjoyed the hospitality of their hosts Mr. Hearst and his famed mistress Marion Davies. The Sunday evening of their visit, Hearst threw a party with Roosevelt and his entourage as guests. The party was going to occur on Mother’s Day, a fact which had slipped Thomason’s mind. In a message to his mother, he wrote that Ms. Davies had reminded him, but unfortunately Thomason did not write his Mother’s Day message until late June.
The party was one of Hearst’s Hollywood affairs. The guests at the party included actor Adolphe Menjou (A Woman in Paris, The Front Page), playwright Lawrence Stallings (What Price Glory), actor Dick Powell (Footlight Parade), actress Joan Blondell (The Public Enemy, The Blue Veil) and Broadway actress Ruth Gordon (Rosemary’s Baby, Harold and Maude) and many others. You can see Thomason (top row, middle) along with Roosevelt (bottom row, second from the left) in the large group photo.

After leaving Hearst Castle, Roosevelt and Thomason continued their tour of Navy installations before returning to Washington because of Roosevelt’s poor health. Thomason remained an aide to Henry Roosevelt until Roosevelt’s death in 1936.

Beijing in the Snow


On September 3, 1930, Col. John W. Thomason arrived in Beijing, China to take a position as a commanding officer of a machine gun company within the United States Legation Guard. The Legation Quarter, which was created in 1861, was the area of Beijing that housed several nations’ diplomatic officers. The area had its own banks, hotels, stores, and security forces, as well as a baseball diamond and polo grounds. The area was independent of Chinese control and approximated a defended military zone.


Thomason would spend 3 years in China. He documented his time through his drawings and photographs. Many of these photographs capture the Legation and its inhabitants during the winter months. These photographs show members of the United States Legation Guard marching in formation in the snow.

We are currently digitizing the John W. Thomason collection, so hopefully we will have more pictures to show you in the future.


I rarely catch fish



Whenever I go fishing, I catch everything but fish. Maybe one of these days, I will actually get lucky and hook a big one.

John W. Thomason loved to fish and hunt. Nature was his greatest inspiration. He loved the outdoors so much that he quit a number of jobs and school so he could increase his time in the outdoors.

See the original here: A Soldier Fishing

See the whole (non-gif) collection at : John W. Thomason drawings

Putting things together


A side by side comparison of a Thomason photograph with a Thomason drawing












The image on the left is a photograph from the John W. Thomason collection. It is of soldiers marching with the American flag. John W. Thomason was stationed at the Legation in Beijing in the 1930s, so this is possibly the location of this picture.

The image on the right is a sketch by John W. Thomason. It seems to have been inspired by the picture on the left.

Even before leaving Huntsville, Texas, Thomason developed a habit of recording his surroundings in his drawing notebooks or on whatever scrap of paper he had nearby — which accounts for the large collection of diverse drawings held at Sam Houston State University.

See the original here: Marines marching, carrying flag

See the whole  collection at : John W. Thomason drawings

They will see us waving from such great heights



This work comes from the drawings of John W. Thomason, author, illustrator, and marine. Newton Gresham Library houses over 2,000 pieces including a number of drawings related to John W. Thomason’s life as a marine.

See the original here: Marine riding camel

See the whole (non-gif) collection at : John W. Thomason drawings

Buried Treasure on the beach


You never know what you may find on a beach. Sure, it will probably be a bottle cap or a discarded puka shell necklace, but we can still dream. So enjoy this John W. Thomason drawing and think of looking for buried treasure the next time you are at the beach.

See the original drawing at: Beachscape

See the whole (non-gif) collection at : John W. Thomason drawings

Radioactivity is in the air for you and me


This work comes from the drawings of John W. Thomason. Newton Gresham Library houses over 2,000 pieces of his work including a number of landscapes.

See the original here: Coastline and tower

See the whole (non-gif) collection at : John W. Thomason drawings