The Spirit of St. Louis Lives in Athens, Greece

Have you noticed that in the last ten days the press has been flooded with articles about the Doomsday Clock?  Here are some of the titles: “The Doomsday Clock is the closest to midnight since 1953” (Engadget, Jan. 28, 2017), “Nuclear ‘Doomsday Clock’ ticks closest to midnight in 64 years (Reuters), “Doomsday Clock Moves Closer to Midnight, Signaling Concern Among Scientists (The New York Times, Jan. 26, 2017), and “The Doomsday Clock is now 2.5 minutes to midnight, but what does that really mean? (Science Alert).

Martyl's design of the Doomsday Clock for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

Martyl’s design of the Doomsday Clock for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

The Doomsday Clock was created in 1947 by members of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’s Science and Security Board; several of them were part of the “The Manhattan Project” that led to the creation of the first atomic bomb. (For those of you who want to learn more about “The Manhattan Project,” I recommend a drama series that premiered in 2014; although the series was discontinued after the second season, it featured good acting and it was fun to watch. Also see Jack Davis’s Communism In and Out of Fashion, Sept. 1, 2016.)  “Originally the Clock, which hangs on a wall in The Bulletin’s office at the University of Chicago, represented an analogy for the threat of global nuclear war; however, since 2007 it has also reflected climate change and new developments in the life sciences and technology that could inflict irrevocable harm to humanity… The Clock’s original setting in 1947 was seven minutes to midnight.  It has been set backward and forward 22 times since then, the smallest ever number of minutes to midnight being two in 1953, and the largest seventeen in 1991” (after Wikipedia, accessed 28/1/2017). As of January 2017 (and this explains the flurry of articles in the press), the Clock has been set at two and a half minutes to midnight, a reflection of President Trump’s comments about nuclear weapons: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” Trump posted this remark on Twitter on December 22, 2016, and followed it with an even more worrisome comment: “Let it be an arms race,” he said, referring to the Russians.

While reading the history of the Doomsday Clock my eyes happened to fall on the cover of the 1947 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which featured for the first time the Clock (at seven minutes to midnight), and the name of the artist who had designed it: Martyl Langsdorf. Martyl is an unusual name, and I had seen it before. I went to the Archives Room of the American School of Classical Studies (ASCSA or the School hereafter), where we keep the School’s administrative records, and personal papers of its members. There, hanging on one of the walls, was an abstract painting depicting a mountainous landscape, and signed in the bottom left corner: “Martyl.” To my surprise, when I checked our inventory, there was a second work of art, an etching, by “Martyl” in the Archives of the ASCSA. But this one also carried a personal dedication: “To George and Lela with affection and admiration, Martyl.” This meant that Martyl’s other painting had also originally belonged to George and Lela Mylonas.

Landscape by Martyl. ASCSA Archives.

Landscape by Martyl. ASCSA Archives.

George Mylonas (1898-1988), a renowned Greek archaeologist, professor of archaeology at the Washington University of St. Louis, and excavator of many Greek sites including Mycenae, had died the year before I arrived at the School, as a first year student in 1989. After the death of his wife Lela in 1993 (I was not the School’s Archivist yet) I remember items from the Mylonas apartment in Athens arriving at the School. Unfortunately, no inventory was made at the time, so now I rely on my institutional memory, and that of other people, in order to identify those items. For example, I recently discovered that the large, heavy table where food is being served in Loring Hall was once George and Lela’s dining room table.

Martyl's signature

Martyl’s signature

Martyl Schweig Langsdorf

Martyl Schweig Langsdorf

To return to Martyl … I had once googled her without being sure if Martyl was her first or last name. I had found her both under Martyl Schweig (her maiden name) and Martyl Langsdorf (1917-2013). Her husband. Alexander Langsdorf, Jr., was, in fact, a physicist who had worked on the Manhattan Project and one of the founders of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. They were both graduates of Washington University in St. Louis (WUSL hereafter). Langsdorf had worked as Physics Instructor at WUSL from 1939 to 1942 before joining the Manhattan Project.  One can assume from the intimate tone of Martyl’s dedication to George and Lela that the Langsdorfs must have known the Mylonas’s quite well. Much later, in 1963, Mrs. Martin Schweig [Martyl’s mother] and her granddaughter Suzanne Langsdorf [Martyl’s daughter] would visit the Mylonases at Mycenae (Brokaw to O’Reilly, August 7, 1963). One wonders whether the etching was given as a gift after that.

Martyl’s obituary in The New York Times (April 10, 2013), “Martyl Langsdorf, Doomsday Clock Designer, Dies at 96,” notes that her “career designing magazine covers stopped and started with that first magazine issue of the Bulletin… She devoted herself instead to her artwork.” From the same obituary we learn that when she was 18 she sold a painting to George Gershwin, and that “her art sold well throughout her life” with many museums holding it (e.g., The National Museum of American Art and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden). To these, we can now add Martyl’s work at the ASCSA.

By Martyl with a dedication to George and Lela Mylonas

Martyl’s etching with a dedication to George and Lela Mylonas

Mylonas taught at WUSL for thirty-five years, thirty as chair of his department. Although there are brief biographical essays at the beginning of Φίλια έπη εις Γεώργιον Ε. Μυλωνάν δια τα 60 έτη του ανασκαφικού του έργου (Athens 1986-1990), Mylonas’s Festschrift, and in Γεώργιος Εμμ. Μυλωνάς : Βίος και Έργο. 1898-1988 (Athens 2013), a posthumous volume, one can learn more about his long and distinguished career from his personal scrapbooks in the School’s Archives.  From leafing through his many scrapbooks, one has the impression that he and Lela participated fully in a broad spectrum of local activities in St. Louis.

1952 was an important year in Greek archaeology since it was the first year after WW II that the Greek government allowed any excavations to take place in the country. The School launched two new projects, with Carl W. Blegen digging at Pylos, funded by the University of Cincinnati, and Oscar Broneer at Isthmia, funded by the University of Chicago.  Mylonas, who spent that year in Greece teaching at the University of Athens, supported by a Fulbright teaching award, went into an excavation frenzy, digging at four different sites in one season: Agios Kosmas in Attica, Pylos, Eleusis, and Mycenae. Mylonas always made sure that his work in Greece was highly publicized in the newspapers of St. Louis, especially the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch.” Although he was the driving force in the creation of the Greek War Relief Fund during WW II, it is unclear if he continued his ties with the local Greek-American community after the war, since he rarely makes mention of it.  The one and only time that the Greek-American community is mentioned is in 1952, in reference to Mylonas’s extensive digging activities of that year, which had been financed “in part by St. Louisans of Greek descent.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 8, 1952; and St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Aug. 10, 1952).

George Mylonas, 1950s. Photo by Martin Schweig (Martyl's father). ASCSA Archives.

George Mylonas, 1950s. Photo by Martin Schweig (Martyl’s father). ASCSA Archives.

Mylonas was a pioneer in fund-raising for archaeological projects. Unlike Blegen, who did not need to worry about funding his dig at Pylos because of the University of Cincinnati’s commitment to supporting archaeological research through its Semple Fund, Broneer and Mylonas had to raise most of their excavation money, either by applying to philanthropic foundations or through private philanthropy.  Unlike Broneer, who looked for funding opportunities among the members of the Greek-American Community in Chicago —often with poor results— Mylonas pursued St. Louis’s upper class systematically.

He and Lela created a group of ardent supporters, a club whose members were encouraged not only to visit Mylonas’ archaeological projects, but also to participate actively in them. Every prominent visit was followed by a press announcement in St. Louis’s press. “Comptons Digging in Greece” announced the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Sept. 10, 1952. What more could Mylonas have wished for, in terms of publicity, in regard to his new excavation at Mycenae! Arthur Holly Compton (1892-1962) was a well-known and esteemed figure in St. Louis, not only for being the ninth chancellor of WUSL (1946-1952), but also as a Nobel prize laureate in Physics (1927) for having discovered the Compton effect. In 1936 he was featured on the cover of TIME magazine (Jan. 13 1936), and a few years later he was one of the key participants (together with Langsdorf) in the Manhattan Project.

Two years later, the St. Louisans would read in the local press about Mylonas’s major discovery at Eleusis of what is known today as the Eleusis amphora, “to have been named ‘the Shepley Vase’ in honor of Chancellor Ethan A. H. Shepley.” Shepley, who practiced law before and after his term at WUSL, descended from an old St. Louis family. Mylonas and his work in Greece were highly appreciated by the highest echelons of Washington University, feeding the city’s pride. In 1958, members of the faculty of WUSL raised and presented to Mylonas a check for $5,000 (the equivalent of about $45,000 today) to finance his excavations. The publicity photos show George and Lela surrounded by the Shepleys and the Comptons, as well as Lucia King O’Reilly (1925-2004), a graduate of WUSL (1947) and President of Washington University’s Archaeological Society. Her husband, Daniel Elliott O’Reilly (1916-1998) was a prominent physician at St. Louis University Hospital and professor at St. Louis University School.

Betty Grossman at Mycenae, 1958

Betty Grossman at Mycenae, 1958

But it was Edwin and Betty Grossman who most systematically and wholeheartedly promoted Mylonas’s work in Greece. He was a prominent lawyer and a public figure of St. Louis, and she was an archaeologist who had written her dissertation under Mylonas’s supervision and who worked for the City Museum of St. Louis (the Saint Louis Art Museum now). Through the City Museum and later through the Washington University Archaeological Society she and Lucia O’ Reilly helped Mylonas to organize local lectures, workshops, and educational programs, as well as highly publicized cruises to Greece.

The first of these cruises was led in the fall of 1963. “The trip is planned for twelve days on board ship, because the Greeks were a sea-faring people and most of their cities are located close to the sea…” according to the advertising brochure. The participants were promised time with the Queen of Greece, “a friend of many St. Louisans,” as well as with the American Ambassador, Roger Labouisse, in the new U.S. Embassy, and a reception “in the beautiful colonnade flanking the  Gennadeion Library.”

Several months before the cruise the Washington University Archaeological Society was featured in a special contribution to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch with photos of prominent St. Louisans, who, in preparation for the cruise, were immersing themselves in Modern Greek culture: either by admiring hand-crafted dolls clad in Greek costumes and hand-embroidered modern-day Greek dresses, or by dressing their daughters in Greek costumes that had been brought from Greece (March 31, 1963). By June of the same year, in the same newspaper, there would be headings such as “Washington U. Students Aiding Mylonas on Mycenae Project,” naming Elizabeth Brokaw and Richard Rothman.

st_louisans

cruise2

cruise3

cruise4

The participants of the 1966 cruise were informed that:

“Zolotas, the fine jeweler (who surely must have taken a trip of his own after the ’63 descent of St. Louisans on his shop!) would be open from 2-5 —the usual siesta time— for us alone on Thursday…” and “Gentlemen, do your Christmas shopping early and avoid the rush.”

In addition to the cost of the trip ($1,000-1,500 per person, about $8,000 today), the participants were required to donate another $250 to Washington University for the research of George Mylonas.  In 1969, one year after his retirement from WUSL, Mylonas would lead a final cruise to Greece, the highlight of which would be the dedication of the Mycenaean Melathron Center at Mycenae.

Participants of the 1966 cruise. ASCSA Archives.

Participants of the 1966 cruise. ASCSA Archives.

In 1968, after almost four decades abroad, Lela and George would move permanently back to Greece. If in the 1930s the couple had carried with them memories of Greece to St. Louis —as Asia Minor refugees they would have had abandoned most of their possessions in Smyrna —this time, thirty-five years later, they would bring pieces of St. Louis to their Greek home in Athens. In addition to Martyl’s artworks, the ASCSA is in the possession of a painting by another St. Louisan artist: Wallace Herndom Smith.  Born in 1901 to a wealthy family, Smith studied architecture and built houses for relatives and friends of his family at Ladue, an inner-ring suburb of St. Louis, before devoting himself to painting. Although early in his career Smith flirted with modernism, his work is now thought to be closer to American Regionalism — but he had a definite, personal, style. Mylonas would have become aware of the artist’s work through Smith’s portrait of George Reeves Throop, Chancellor of WUSL from 1927 to 1944 (the painting now in the Kemper Art Museum).  Mylonas had known Throop from Athens when the latter spent two summers at the American School in 1927 and 1934. We do not know how Mylonas acquired Smith’s painting. A gift perhaps? Although there is no evidence in the scrapbooks that Smiths participated in any of Mylonas’s cruises, “Mr. and Mrs. Wallace Herndon Smith” appear in the brochures as members of the Committee of the Archaeological Society of Washington University.  The Mediterranean theme of the painting (some idyllic cove on the French Riviera?) would have appealed to George and Lela.  Today the painting is on display in the ASCSA Director’s house.

Painting by Wallace Herndon Smith at ASCSA

Painting by Wallace Herndon Smith at ASCSA

After a period of oblivion, there has been increased interest in Wallace Herndon Smith’s work since 1985, when James Van Sant, the retired chairman of General Steel Industries, and Lee Hall took an interest in his paintings, with Hall publishing a monograph about Smith. Most of Smith’s art now belongs to the Bellwether Foundation. The city of St. Louis, justifiably proud of him, has held many exhibits of his works. The latest,“Wallace Smith: Paintings and Drawings,” opened at The Sheldon Concert Hall and Art Galleries on Dec. 2, 2016 and will continue until March 13, 2017.

Today George Mylonas is mostly known for his impressive archaeological discoveries, but a glance at George and Lela’s carefully compiled scrapbooks and their personal art collection not only reveals less known aspects of their lives, but also introduces us to the post-WWII spirit of a Midwestern town, St. Louis, and its people who shared with enthusiasm the aspirations of a Greek archaeologist.


Note: The title of this essay is taken from the name of the plane that Charles Lindbergh (another St. Louisan) flew from New York to Paris non-stop in 1927. He described it as: “a living creature, gliding along smoothly, happily, as though a successful flight means as much to it as to me, as though we shared our experiences together, each feeling beauty, life, and death as keenly, each dependent on the other’s loyalty. We have made this flight across the ocean, not I or it.”

 


Expat Feasts in Athens on the Eve of the Balkan Wars

One of Zillah Pierce Dinsmoor's letters to her mother, October 1910

One of Zillah Pierce Dinsmoor’s letters to her mother, October 1910.

“Maybe I asked you before, but will you save all my letters, dear, for I may want to use some of the material in them” Zillah Pierce Dinsmoor (1886-1960) reminded her mother a month after her arrival in Greece (Oct. 20, 1910). And because Emma Pierce respected her daughter’s wish, a valuable collection of private correspondence describing the daily life of a young American bride in Athens in the early 20th century has been preserved in the Archives of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA).

This is the second time From the Archivist’s Notebook features an essay about Zillah Dinsmoor.  In February 2014, guest author Jacquelyn Clemens published an account of Zillah’s Greek experience, mining information from her letters. “Students and scholars who study at the American School… have often been accompanied by their spouses, significant others, and children who live with them here in Athens. In the early 20th century, Zillah Pierce Dinsmoor was one of these women who traveled to Athens along with her husband, architect William Bell Dinsmoor” wrote Clemens in her introductory paragraph. (Read J. Clemens,”Letters from a New Home. Early 20th Century Athens Through the Eyes of Zillah Dinsmoor“)  Barely 24 years old (and away from home for the first time), this fashionable young woman from Massachussets wrote long letters once a week to her mother about her new life in Athens.

Zillah Dinsmoor, ca. 1910

Zillah Dinsmoor, ca. 1910

Considered “as somehow inferior, less political, or less significant texts,” familial letters have been neglected by historians.  In the past decade, however, there has been an upsurge of scholarly publications studying social issues, such as the rise and strengthening of the middle class in America and Britain, based on private correspondence. I mention in passing Sarah Pearsall’s Atlantic Families (2008), Eve Tavor Bannet’s, Empire of Letters (2005), and Konstantin Dierks, In my Power: Letter Writing and Communications (2011).

I recently revisited Zillah’s rich correspondence, especially the letters she wrote from 1910-1912, looking for information about daily interactions, social and professional, between American and German archaeologists working in Greece at the end of the 19th/early 20th century. Yet, what caught my eye were Zillah’s detailed descriptions of dinners she hosted or attended in Athens. Because she was particularly interested in cooking and entertaining, her letters trace the culinary profile and social aspirations of the city’s upper middle class, a mixture of foreign expatriates and a local westernized aristocracy.

The rise of professionalization at the end of the 19th century did not leave cooking unaffected. Although recipes still passed from mothers to daughters (sometimes as well-kept family secrets), the Boston Cooking School project –which was initiated in 1876 and the first to categorize different kinds of food, standardize quantities, and study the relationship between food and health– elevated cooking to a science. In the spirit of the time, an Italian cook Pellegrino Artusi also published La Scienza in Cucina e l’ Arte di Mangiar Bene (1891) which was soon translated into many languages including German. A few years later, in 1896, Fannie Farmer published the Boston Cooking School Cookbook. (See Alex Ketchum’s, “Fannie Farmer and the Boston Cooking School Cookbook [1896]: A History of Science, Gender, and Food”). Interestingly enough, Bert Hodge Hill, director of the ASCSA from 1906-1926, owned a copy of Farmer’s 1918 edition. Although it does not show any signs of wear (unlike my own cookbooks), except for occasional checks in pencil, it must have been consulted by the School’s hosts and hostesses before dinners.

Bert Hodge Hill's own copy of Fannie Farmer's Cookbook. ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers

Bert Hodge Hill’s own copy of Fannie Farmer’s Cookbook. ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers

Zillah’s time in Athens coincided with the rise of Nikos Tselementes (1878-1958), perhaps the most famous and influential Greek cook, who took it upon himself to “clean” Greek cuisine of oriental influences, thus banning olive oil from cooking and introducing butter and creamy sauces. Moussaka and pastitsio, signature dishes of modern Greek cuisine, were his creations. Originally from Siphnos, Tselementes learned to cook in his uncle’s hotel, the luxurious “Aktaion” in Phaleron. After spending time in Vienna, Tselementes returned to Athens to establish himself as the best cook in town, working for the Austrian Embassy (and other embassies later). Talented, ambitious, educated, and trendy, he soon distinguished himself from the other local cooks by publishing the first Greek cookbook in 1910 (Οδηγός Μαγειρικής και Ζαχαροπλαστικής).

“Fortunately I have not met the octopus yet”

After spending several days with her husband Bill (the architect William Bell Dinsmoor) and other members of the American School in Central Greece, Zillah described the local food as monotonous. “They soak everything that they possibly can in tomato sauce and while that is very good in itself it becomes a little tiresome when it flavors everything.” She continued with a description of the local products available for sale on the stores: “The front of all the stores are the same, one keg of pickled herring, a [?] of ripe olives, a big barrel of cheese, a big barrel of tomato sauce and a confection made of honey and sesame seeds called halva. Fortunately I have not met the octopus yet.” But she raved about the Greek honey, “[it] is the most delicious I have ever tasted. You almost think you are eating flowers.” (Oct. 20, 1910).

Zillah’s Chafing Dish

Zillah travelled to Greece with her own chafing dish, and she tried to use it to make fudge. Although it came out “beautifully creamy,” it tasted funny because she and Bill couldn’t make the shop keeper understand that they wanted unsweetened chocolate. “…We came home with some miserable Greek sweet chocolate.” While in Corinth at the excavation house, she cooked their breakfasts in the chafing dish, but her attempt to cook lamb proved unsuccessful: “the roast lamb was a fizzle. The oven was too hot at first and by waiting for it to cool enough to put the meat in, it was not hot enough to cook it through…” she complained to her mother (Nov. 15, 1910).

dinsmoor_chafing_dish

“I wish you could see my kitchen. Dirt floor, a long zinc table in the middle…, candles for light…, and about half of the room is piled up with excavation picks, shovels, baskets, etc. I have a box with a hinged cover to keep groceries in and I can’t leave a bit of milk or meat there for the two cats get in through the window the minute I leave the place… Even the hens walk in the kitchen when I am there and the goat has pushed his nose in inquisitively on several occasions.” Unlike other Americans who describe with disgust the goat’s milk, Zillah enjoyed the flavor, eggs, and local bread. “It is a pleasure to cook with it and the eggs also. Scrambled eggs puff up as light as a feather.” “I wonder how they make bread here. They only bake once a month but the bread seems fresh. It is very different from ours rather brown with a hard crust but I like it.”

Zillah Dinsmoor in front of the Corinth Excavation House, ca. 1910. ASCSA Archives, William Bell Dinsmoor Papers.

Zillah Dinsmoor in front of the Corinth Excavation House, ca. 1910. ASCSA Archives, William Bell Dinsmoor Papers.

“Evangelos is a Genius”

Zillah spared no words when it came to praising Evangelos, the School’s cook. Unfortunately, no picture of him survives; we don’t even know his last name. But Evangelos must have belonged to the new generation of Greek cooks like Nikos Tselementes, who were willing to experiment and learn from their foreign employers.  I was surprised to read some of the seven-course menus he prepared more than a hundred years ago. (When was the last time more than a three-course dinner was served at a formal meal at the ASCSA?) For Thanksgiving in 1911, Evangelos served a fish soup, followed “by cold jellied pigeon with little individual salads with whipped cream, turkey with chestnut dressing, another kind of salad, potato ball, quince jelly, and the most remarkable ice in fancy shape, salted almonds…” (Nov. 27, 1910)

Two months later, in February 1911 when Zillah and Bill Dinsmoor hosted their first dinner at the American School, which was attended by Mr. and Mrs. Steele of the U.S. Legation, Miss Nicholls (a teacher at the Palace), professor Alice Walton, Dr. Georg Karo of the German Archaeological Institute, and Dr. Chester Alan Johnson, “Evangelos cooked himself with glory.” “We had a thin consommé…, then tarts with mashed birds on them (purée of snipe), then fish made into pears covered with crumbs and fried a perfect golden brown, potatoes, carrots and peas all cut in small round balls (but the peas). After that came roast of turkey with salad of apples, lettuce and nuts and mayonnaise, then ice-cream chocolate made into big eggs with sugar browned and made into fine strings over the top to represent straw and the nest of cake. It was very pretty. Fruit came last and on the table were salted almonds, peppermints…” reported a happy Zillah to her mother a few days later (Feb. 7, 1911).

The Dining Room of the ASCSA, ca. 1915. Indoor photos are very rare in people's personal papers until well into the 20th century. ASCSA Archives, Administrative Records.

The Dining Room of the ASCSA, 1915. Indoor photos are very rare in personal papers until well into the 20th century. ASCSA Archives, Administrative Records.

“Tour la Reine”

Fancy dinners but with a limited wine selection. White or “green” Rhenish was the wine of choice for all courses. On one occasion Samian wine was served at a dinner in the U.S. Legation (Mar. 24, 1912). For their first formal dinner Bill and Zillah went shopping for wine, cigarettes, and flowers. “Wine is very cheap here (the only thing) and we bought the kind Mr. Hill always serves, a very light wine called ‘Tour la Reine.”

The wine took its name from a royal estate in Attika (near Nea Liosia) built by Queen Amalia as her personal getaway. At some point in the late 19th century it was bought by the Serpieri family and transformed into a plantation producing many goods including wine. (Ο Πύργος της Βασιλίσσης has now been renovated and a visit there is a wonderful weekend excursion. Read here about Queen Amalia’s gardens in Greece.)

Six, Seven, and Eight-Course Dinners

The multi-course dinners described by Zillah started with a soup (beef consommé, chicken or fish soup). During lunches and informal dinners Zillah would also serve fish chowder which “Evangelos makes as well as I do now.” (Feb. 17, 1911). “I cook the fish first, then take it from the stove and remove skin and bones; put it back and add one onion and sliced potatoes. When these are cooked, I add milk and before taking them from stove put some butter… I think I must have gotten the recipe from you at some time” she wrote to her mother a few days earlier (Feb. 7, 1911).

For the second course Evangelos usually served game, either cold, jellied pigeon or tarts with mashed birds, which Zillah also described it as “purée of snipe.” There is a great recipe of “Purée of Snipe a la Creole” in David S. Shields’s Southern Provisions: The Creation and Revival of a Cuisine (2015, p. 88). One must use fresh snipes which “should always be kept four days at least, before cooking. Never pluck them until you are ready to cook them…”. For Cyrus Ashton Rollin Sanborn’s birthday (Sanborn, aka CARS, was the School’s Secretary until 1912), Evangelos served fish as a second and game as a third course: “a pretty dish with mashed partridges made in a jelly mould with daisies near the top of the jelly, the petals made of hard boiled white of egg…” (Mar. 20, 1912).

"Birds on Canapes" from Fannie Farmer's Cookbook (1918, p. 375)

“Birds on Canapes” from Fannie Farmer’s Cookbook (1918, p. 375). ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

Game and fish alternated as a second and third course, or game was skipped when the courses were fewer than six. For fish, Mrs. Gale, the wife of the U.S. Consul, served sole fried in batter; Mrs. Steele (whose husband was the manager of the Lake Copais Company) offered fry red mullets (μπαρμπουνάκια), while the incoming director of the German Archaeological Institute, Georg Karo, spared no cost serving broiled live lobsters with mushrooms (Mar 24, 1912 and Apr 20, 1911). On another occasion, Evangelos served “a delicious fish dressed with cream sauce and garnished with mushrooms and potatoes.”

Meat came next, served in one or two courses. Turkey with chestnut dressing was served for the School’s Thanksgiving of 1910, “roast turkey with salad of apples, lettuce, nuts, and maynonnaise” for Zillah’s first dinner at the School as a hostess, and “a big fat bird from Lake Copais” for Mrs. Steele’s dinner. Since the director of the School, Bert Hodge Hill, was a bachelor, the wives of the Visiting Professors would frequently act as hostesses for the School’s parties, or when the director was absent, Zillah and Bill would also be allowed to host parties at the School.  Roast beef, steaks or lamb was the other choice. In addition to mushrooms, artichokes were a favorite side-dish of the local cooks and their foreign mistresses. On two occasions, chicken was served after the beef: at Karo’s dinner it was served broiled with lettuce salad, while at Mrs. Gale’s in the U.S. Legation, the “roasted chicken came with wonderful salad and currant jelly, delicious French peas” providing “a course by themselves” according to Zillah’s description (Mar. 24, 1912). This, after they had already consumed fried sole and roast beef with mushrooms and artichokes.

The "saloni" in the Director's House, 1910s. A rare indoor photo from the ASCSA Archives.

The “saloni” in the Director’s House, 1910s. A rare indoor photo from the ASCSA Archives.

To describe these dinners using modern dietary terms, I would say they were rich in protein and fiber and low in carbs, since starch was limited to potatoes. Rice was completely absent. In Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cookbook, although there are a couple of recipes for Turkish pilaf, rice does not constitute an important ingredient in North American cuisine. Likewise, the new generation of Greek cooks such as Tselementes and the School’s Evangelos, wishing to modernize the Greek cuisine by removing any Turkish influence, would have been equally happy to ban recipes with rice from the menu.

Dishes with macaroni or spaghetti are also missing from Zillah’s accounts. Although there are a few recipes for macaroni in Fannie Farmer’s cookbook, pasta may have been considered too ethnic and thus inappropriate for these social settings. In Greece, egg pasta such as χυλοπίττες, was also considered peasant food which had no place at a formal dinner, especially one prepared for foreigners.

What’s for Dessert?

It wasn’t pudding or cake or pie (although Zillah herself made delicious mince pies), but ice cream. The Boston Cooking School Cookbook lists a host of recipes for making ice cream in many flavors. For Zillah’s first dinner at the ASCSA, Evangelos outdid himself by serving a chocolate ice cream “made into big eggs with sugar browned and made into fine strings over the top”. On another occasion, a dinner she hosted at the “Continental Hotel,” the dessert was orange ice cream, while Mrs. Gale’s guests at the U.S. Legation were offered “ice cream with preserved ginger and sauce” (Mar. 24, 1912). There is also mention of Evangelos serving “Spanish cream filled with candied fruits and nuts” (Feb. 12, 1912). Cakes were reserved for special occasions, such as birthdays.

Dessert was followed by fruit, candies, salted almonds (Zillah does not miss a chance to mention the latter), and port. At Mrs. Gale’s dinner “coffee was served in an odd way. Instead of bringing in the cup quite prepared on a tray” coffee, milk, and sugar were brought in separately so that the guests could fill their cups as they wished (Mar. 24, 1912).

Recipe for Spanish Creme from Fannie Farmer's cookbook (1918, p. 423). ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

Recipe for Spanish Creme from Fannie Farmer’s cookbook (1918, p. 423). ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

 

Letters Do Count

I started writing this post just before Christmas while cooking and baking for the holidays, and finished it in Rome between Italian lunches and dinners. It never felt like the work was spoiling the vacation.

Although Virginia Woolf, an avid diarist herself, remarked that women’s letters did not count in history writing, the letters of the School’s women, students or companions, do count.  They are troves of microhistory which can be expanded into larger social history once enough information and context have been gathered (see Susan Whyman’s review of Sarah Pearsall’s Atlantic Families: Lives and Letters in the Later Eighteenth Century). Nellie Reed, Ida Thallon, Zillah Dinsmoor, and Dorothy Burr were keen observers of local life and customs, whether travelling in the country or living in a Balkan capital.  “The people and modern things [as opposed to the ancient things that interested her husband Bill] interest me so much through the customs and habits” wrote Zillah to her mother during her first month in Greece (Oct. 20, 1910).

The transcription of Zillah Dinsmoor’s letters is an ongoing project which so far has depended on volunteer efforts.  Her letters continue well into the 1920s, so there is much still to transcribe.  This challenging work will, however, make valuable information available to scholars addressing gender and mobility studies, and the early history of the American School.

Καλή Χρονιά (και καλή όρεξη)! – Happy New Year (and bon appétit)!


The Man from Damascus, the Good Wife, and Baby Solon: R.I.P. at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

ASCSA Library, 1902

ASCSA Library, 1902

“You enter a reception hall of marble and go up a flight of marble steps which give the effect of entering a museum, as there are marble busts and old sculptures round that have been dug up…” Major A. Winsor Weld wrote to his wife on October 26th, 1918, upon entering the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter). He and six other officers of the American Red Cross including Lieutenant Colonel Edward Capps would live in the School’s premises until July of 1919. (At the time one entered the Library through the Director’s residence.) Although the ASCSA was already building a small collection of antiquities –mostly pottery sherds and other small objects picked up on walks and informal surveys– the antiquities Weld described are of a different scale. The busts he refers to must have been plaster casts of originals similar to the one displayed above the fireplace mantle in the Library in a photo from 1902. I believe that the other “old sculptures” on display, the ones that “have been dug up,” were three Roman marble funerary reliefs unearthed in 1894, at the corner of Vasilissis Sophias (then Kephissias) and Merlin (then Academy) street, exactly opposite the Palace (now the Greek Parliament), during the construction of a mansion by Charles Edward Prior Merlin (1850-1898). Named after one of Merlin’s French ancestors, the “Hôtel Merlin de Douai” has housed the French Embassy since 1896.

“Hôtel Merlin de Douai” (French Embassy at Athens)

The “Hôtel Merlin de Douai” (French Embassy at Athens)

“In digging for the foundations of the large house which Mr. C. Merlin, the well-known artist and photographer of Athens, is building at the corner of Academy and Kephissia Streets, the workmen came upon considerable remains of an ancient cemetery. At my suggestion Mr. Merlin made over to the American School the right of publishing these discoveries, and afterwards generously presented to the School three reliefs and one other inscribed stone, together with some smaller fragments. The finds were made in the autumn of 1894. Only a part of them came under my observation at the time; hence the description of the graves and their location rests in part upon the accounts of Mr. Merlin and his workmen” reported Thomas Dwight Goodell a year later (American Journal of Archaeology 10, 1895, pp. 469-479).

Read the rest of this entry »


Who Went to Schliemann’s Wedding?

Posted by Curtis Runnels

Curtis Runnels, Professor of Archaeology at Boston University, here contributes to From the Archivist’s Notebook a story about the accidental discovery of an original letter by Heinrich Schliemann at an Antiquarian Book Fair in Boston. The letter was found inside an old Greek-English lexicon that Runnels bought for his book collection.  In addition to doing fieldwork and publishing extensively on Palaeolithic archaeology in Greece, Runnels is also the author of The Archaeology of Heinrich Schliemann: An Annotated Bibliographic Handlist (Archaeological Institute of America; available also as an ebook from Virgo Books).


Experienced booksellers and collectors always look through old books that come into their possession to see what might have been left between the pages.  Some people make collections of their finds, which range from the curious to the valuable.  It can be an exciting business: almost anything may turn up in a book, from gold coins and paper money to love letters and flowers—even a strip of bacon (cooked or uncooked, one wonders).  It was a matter of habit, therefore, that induced me to leaf through an old Greek-English lexicon that I purchased last November at the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair.  Of all the finds I have made in old books, this was perhaps the best: a letter written by Heinrich Schliemann.  It was tucked inside the first volume of A Lexicon of Modern Greek-English and English-Modern Greek by N. Contopoulos, which was published in two volumes in 1867 [volume 1] and 1869 [volume 2] in Smyrna by B. Tatikidou (vol. 1) or B. Tatikianou (vol. 2). Read the rest of this entry »


The Bohemian Past of Madame Gennadius

On Saturday December 27, 1902, a well-publicized wedding took place in London.  John Gennadius, former ambassador of Greece to England and a great book-collector, age 58, and Florence Laing, the youngest daughter of Samuel Laing and the widow of painter Edward Sherard Kennedy, age 47, were married in a double ceremony, first at the Greek Orthodox church of St. Sophia and later that day at the Anglican church of St. Peter’s at Cranley Gardens.  There are no photos capturing the ceremony or the reception that followed, but Gennadius, the creator of more than seventy scrapbooks, did keep numerous newspaper clippings announcing this celebrated marriage. More than a few of them mention that the bride had an annual income of roughly 8,000 pounds, leading some to hint that it may have been a marriage of convenience. Time proved that their union was a harmonious one; it lasted 30 years until his death in 1932. She outlived him by another twenty years. The Gennadius Library of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) was the offspring of their union. The deed of gift was signed in 1922 and the building was completed in 1926.

John and Florence Gennadius, ca. 1925. Source: ASCSA, Gennadius Library.

John and Florence Gennadius, 1920. Source: ASCSA, Gennadius Library.

The best source for John Gennadius’s life is a small, but thorough, booklet, Joannes Gennadios, the Man: A Biographical Sketch (1990), by Donald M. Nicol, director of the Gennadius Library (1989-1992). In it, there is very little information about the circumstances of how Gennadius met Florence Laing Kennedy. Nicol suspects that they were introduced by “Prince Alexis Dolgoruki, an acquaintance of Gennadios, [who] had married an English lady, Miss Fleetwood Wilson, who was an old friend of Florence.” In an endnote, Nicol mentions that Florence was an artist in her own right, having exhibited her “genre paintings” in the Royal Academy and other London galleries between 1880 and 1893. Read the rest of this entry »


Communism In and Out of Fashion: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens and the Cold War

Posted by Jack L. Davis

Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and a former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here contributes an essay about attitudes of the ASCSA and its members toward Communists and Communism in the 20th century.


“Feeling they were witnessing the demise of capitalism, many writers moved left, some because their working class origins helped them identify with the dispossessed, others because they saw socialism or Communism as the only serious force for radical change, still others because it was the fashionable thing to do; they went where the action was.”
Morris Dickstein, Dancing in the Dark (2009), pp. 16-17.

DancingDark_smallIn 1974, when I first arrived at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), we youngsters were told that we should not express our political views in public. The ASCSA’s institutional mission might be hurt, were it perceived not to be neutral. In September 1974 that was certainly a reasonable position for the ASCSA to assume. Yet I was curious. In 1974, I was myself radicalized, and had definitely headed left. I could not condone U.S. policy in respect to the Junta, or the suppression of the Left in Greece. Could I say nothing? Had the ASCSA always maintained a position of strict neutrality? Or were its postures more convenient than sincere? Read the rest of this entry »


Gertrude Smith: A Classic American Philhellene

Posted by Dylan Rogers

Dylan Rogers holds a PhD from the University of Virginia, and he has been Assistant Director at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens since 2015. The essay he contributes to “From the Archivist’s Notebook” was inspired by his summer experience at the School.

“Summers at the ASCSA are a vibrant time for the School, full of students and scholars, with the buzz of activity and chats at Ouzo Hour. Taking on the role of the Assistant Director of the School last year, I was intrigued to learn that each Summer Session Director is given the title, “Gertrude Smith Professor.” At first, I was only vaguely familiar with Smith’s scholarship on Greek law. So, why would the School associate SS Directors with her? This led me on a quest to find out more about Smith—and to find out what her story exactly was. She must have had a passion for Greece, but why? And in what ways did she spread this love to others?”


Gertrude E. Smith in her office at the University of Chicago, ca. 1950.

Gertrude E. Smith in her office at the University of Chicago, ca. 1950. Photo: University of Chicago Library, Special Collections Research Center.

Gertrude Elizabeth Smith (1894-1985) spent most of her adult life in Illinois. Born and raised in Peoria, Smith would later go on to receive her education at the University of Chicago, writing a PhD dissertation on Greek law– after which Smith would begin teaching at the university, eventually becoming the Edwin Olson Professor of Greek in 1933. From 1934 until her retirement in 1961, Smith was the Chairman of the Department of Classics at Chicago, making her a prominent female figure in the field of Classics in America in the 20th century. Smith also served as a founder of Eta Sigma Phi, the national Classics honor society, was the first woman to serve as the president of both the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS, 1933-1934) and the American Philological Association (1958), and was a long serving member of the editorial board of the journal, Classical Philology (1925-1965). After her retirement from Chicago, Smith would go on to teach briefly at the University of Illinois, Loyola University in Chicago, and Vanderbilt University (Gagarin 1996-1997). Read the rest of this entry »