SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — The suffering inflicted on Korea by Japan lives on in exhibits in the Seoul Museum of History about the nightmare of Japanese rule.
Memories from 1910, when Japan formally took control over Korea as a colony, to 1945, when Japan surrendered after the American atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, coalesce on March 1, the date of the founding in 1919 of the independence movement. On that day crowds amassed in Pagoda Park in central Seoul as an activist read a “declaration of independence” influenced by the 14-points set forth by American President Woodrow Wilson for ending World War I in Europe with emphasis on democracy and self-determination.
But what about the role of a part-time American journalist and his English wife in alerting the world to the ruthless repression of the movement by Japanese forces? Dedication of a restored mansion named Dilkusha, Persian for “Palace of Heart’s Delight,” where the couple had lived in Seoul revived their role in Korean history.
Albert Wilder Taylor and his wife, Mary Linley Taylor, “stood in solidarity with Korea in her fight for independence,” their granddaughter, Jennifer Linley Taylor, remarked before joining Seoul officials in cutting the ribbon in a ceremony outside the mansion.
The Taylors’ contribution was a worldwide journalistic scoop, the first report of the Korean rebellion against Japan. Asked by the Associated Press to cover the funeral for Gojong of Korea (later Emperor Gwangmu) in Seoul on March 3, 1919, Albert Taylor, an engineer mining for gold in Korea, witnessed the protests.
In Seoul’s Severance Hospital, Albert’s wife Mary, after giving birth to their baby boy, Bruce, had been entrusted with a copy of the independence declaration by a nurse after the Japanese discovered in the same building the press that had printed it. Albert, who spoke and read Korean, found the pages hidden in her bed as he picked up baby Bruce.
“To this day,” Mary wrote in her memoir, ‘Chain of Amber,’ I aver that, as a newly fledged newspaper correspondent, he was more thrilled to find these documents than he was to find his own son and heir.” Her husband gave his report to his younger brother, William, who jammed it into the heel of his shoe and went to Tokyo to file for the AP.
The story, published by The New York Times and others, is encased under glass at the renovated Dilkusha. A marvel of intricate red brick masonry in the shadows of latter-day apartment-and-office blocks, Dilkusha might not have been considered worth saving had its one-time owner not spread the news of that historic day.
Taylor’s reporting did not end with his story on the declaration. Returning to the hospital, Taylor did not have the heart to tell Mary that “hymn-singing Christians had been cut down by swords” or that one of them “had been nailed to a cross and crucified not far from our house.” The next day, however, he did let her know that “whole villages were being set on fire” and the Japanese “had called all the Christian Koreans, of whom they were the most suspicious, into the church and… shot them down through the windows.”
By the time the anti-Japanese protests had ceased in May, according to Mary’s book, “thousands were sent to prison and an estimated 7,000 were killed, many of them prominent Korean patriots who met their death by assassination.” Of the 33 who had signed the independence declaration, “most were arrested and died in prison.”
Conversion of the mansion to a historical site culminates a campaign initiated 15 years ago by Bruce Taylor, who died in 2015, and his daughter Jennifer, visiting Seoul from her home in Mendocino, California. The job was all the more difficult since a dozen families had been occupying the mansion’s spacious rooms long after Albert and Mary Taylor were deported by the Japanese in 1942 in an elaborate exchange of American and Japanese civilians, including diplomats.
Miraculously, the mansion survived not only Japanese rule but the devastation of the Korean War, the efforts of construction magnates to replace it with another huge apartment block, and the infestation of the squatters who were living there rent-free. Just as miraculously, the Taylors, husband and wife, had managed to convey the saga of March 1, 1919, in newspaper articles on display along with dozens of historical artifacts donated by Jennifer, including the precious amber necklace that her grandfather had given her grandmother before their marriage in India in 1917.