To Know One’s Country as a Foreign Land

I have always found informal travel accounts fascinating. By informal, I mean accounts found in personal diaries or letters. Occasionally, they are published posthumously by the writer’s relatives (usually for family consumption) and attract little attention because of their mundane nature. Until recently, such letters and diaries of anonymous folk were avoided by historians who considered their content subjective or inaccurate. After all, why use the private diary of an American expatriate in Greece as a source, when the event (e.g., a local revolution) was described in more detail in the newspapers or other official reports?

I, on the other hand, pay particular attention to these types of publications because they provide valuable information, otherwise undocumented, about the level of local awareness, participation or aloofness within foreign communities. Gilbert K. Chesterton (1874-1936), an English writer and philosopher, once said that “the whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land: it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” It’s the second part of Chesterton’s comment that makes me delve into the travel accounts of foreigners-mostly Americans in my case–who have experienced Greece as a foreign land. Here I am not interested in the tourist but instead the engaged traveler, the expatriate, or, in rare cases, the committed immigrant (that is the foreigner who has almost “gone native”).

My latest source of inspiration for getting “to know my country as a foreign land” is a privately published collection of letters which came to my attention after a visit to the newly established Archives of the American College of Greece. There, Dr. Demetra Papakonstantinou, an accomplished archaeologist who now serves as the College’s Archivist, graciously shared with me a copy of a book titled Odyssey of a Learning Teacher (Greece and the Near East 1924-1925). Published in 2005 by David L. Aronson, the book contains transcriptions of the letters that his mother, Charlotte Eleanor Ferguson, a graduate from Mount Holyoke College and a teacher at the American College for Girls (what is now Pierce College), sent to her family in 1924-25. (The original letters are now part of the American School of Greece Archives.)

Front cover photograph: Charlotte Ferguson and Helen Larrabee departing from New York.

It is unfortunate that the book does not have an index because it is packed with information about people and life in Athens after the Asia Minor Catastrophe. It was the lack of an index that forced me to read Odyssey of a Learning Teacher cover to cover, in order to create my own. Another drawback is the lack of a commentary, but back in 2005, in the early days of Google and Wikipedia, it might have been difficult for Ferguson’s son to construct one. Even without these tools, the book is a delight and I commend the Ferguson-Aronson family for their efforts to make the letters available to the public. Charlotte Ferguson, despite her youth –she was barely 22 years old when she came to Greece to teach at the American College for Girls (ACG)– was a keen observer of her surroundings and the people she met.

Miss Mills’s School

The American College for Girls in Old Phaleron (a suburb of Athens) was the successor of the Collegiate Institute for Girls at Smyrna which was destroyed in 1922, when the Turks burned the city at the end of the Greek-Turkish war (1919-1922). It was also known as “Miss Mills’s School,” after one of its most famous principals, Minnie B. Mills (1872-1965). On September 12, 1922, Mills opened the school’s gates in Smyrna to offer shelter to hundreds of Greeks and Armenians whose houses had been set on fire by Turkish soldiers (I. Friedman, British Miscalculations: The Rise of Muslim Nationalism, 1918-1925, London 2012).  Forced to leave Smyrna, the private school was relocated to Phaleron, a few kilometers to the south of Athens, where it continued to offer secondary education to Greek and Armenian girls.

“Miss Mills’s School” at Hellenikon, where it moved in 1932. ASCSA Archives, Homer A. Thompson Papers

From Charlotte’s comments, it is clear that the College did not fund itself though tuition since very few of its students came from well-to-do families. In fact, many of the girls were orphans who lived in the Near East Relief orphanage at the Old Palace. Among the students Ferguson noted that “seldom do the Armenian girls have older brothers or a father”– alluding to the Armenian genocide of 1915. “And half a dozen of them have been in Turkish harems as brides and the tattoos in their arms are easily seen” (p. 38). She and her friend Helen Larrabee, another Mt. Holyoke graduate, felt young and inexperienced in comparison to some of their younger pupils who had gone through hell and back. I was interested to learn that Eurydice Demetracopoulou was among the faculty of the ACG: “Miss D (first name is Eurydice) is very attractive with light brown curly hair and a very sweet manner” (p. 25). Evro Demetracopoulou would later have a long career (1938-1968) as Assistant Librarian at the Gennadius Library.

Jackie Coogan in Person

Upon her arrival in Athens in October of 1924, Charlotte attended a crowded affair at the Zappeion to welcome Jackie Coogan. I had no idea who Coogan was, why he (or she) had come to Greece, and why hundreds of orphans dressed in national costumes staged an elaborate performance in his honor, attended by the American Minister in Greece, the head of the Greek Church, and many other dignitaries. Imagine my surprise when I searched the name and discovered that John Leslie Coogan (1914-1984) was not only a famous Wunderkind who had played in movies with Charlie Chaplin (“The Kid,” 1921), but that he had also launched a modern “Children’s Crusade,” on behalf of the Near East Relief. This effort supported the orphans of the Armenian Genocide and the Asia Minor Catastrophe, by asking people to buy cans of condensed milk every time they went to the movies.

Front cover of the New Near East (June 1924 issue) depicting Jackie Coogan’s million-dollar campaign

In 1924 he had embarked on a journey across America to collect one million dollars in cash and goods for the Near East orphans (watch a two-minute mute film “Jackie Coogan Visits Detroit”). The campaign was highly successful, and in the fall of the same year Coogan arrived in Piraeus to deliver the proceeds in person to the Near East Relief.

It is this event that Charlotte attended and described in her letters: “He arrived late-due to a strenuous reception in the morning at Piraeus and entered with Father and Mother Coogan between a double row of Greek Boy Scouts, the band meantime playing the Star-Spangled Banner. The program was all in the hands of the orphans and they had some of the nicest stunts…  It was so picturesque… Greetings were given to Jackie in English and Greek, and two little cherubs-a boy and girl from the Syra orphanage did a folk dance and sang at the same time. It was very interesting to have all the children performing for this so-called greatest child actor in the world…” and Ferguson concluded that “these Greek and Armenian children are born actors, and their spontaneity and lack of self-consciousness seem such a contrast with the hot house variety acting, which Jackie does” (pp. 28-29). Notice her comment about “Father and Mother Coogan,” instead of simply saying “his parents”? It presaged a serious problem that Jackie Coogan would have later with his parents, when upon reaching adulthood he discovered that his parents had spent all his earnings. (For this reason, a bill was passed by the State of California in 1939, also known as the Coogan Bill, to protect the earnings of child performers. As a middle-aged man, Coogan played “Uncle Fester” in the famous American TV series The Addams Family.)

“In a Most Illustrious Company”

I have written before about how popular afternoon tea parties were in Athens in the early decades of the 20th century. Charlotte and her colleagues from the College attended an important example on October 23, 1924, given by a Mrs. Sakellariou, whom Charlotte described as “the Columbia graduate who married the Greek university professor” (p. 44). Always fascinated by mixed marriages, I searched the Sakellariou couple on the web to find that George Sakellariou (1888-1964) had done graduate studies at the Teachers College of Columbia University before becoming professor of Psychology at the Teachers Academy in Athens, and later at the University of Thessaloniki. He must have met his wife Anne Kirschner at Columbia. I was not able to find more about her, but she appears to have been an active hostess in the 1920s and 1930s, when the Sakellariou household was a major attraction for American expatriates. And there were many such expats living in Athens in those years: the Y.M.C.A. people, the Near East Relief staff, the teachers from the ACG, the Standard Oil executives, the ULEN engineers about to arrive to start work on the Marathon dam, and, of course, the students and members of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter).

Mrs. Sakellariou figures often in Ida Thallon Hill’s and Elizabeth Blegen’s daily diaries.  The latter were the new brides in the social scene of Athens, having married the ASCSA’s Director Bert Hodge Hill and its Assistant Director Carl W. Blegen in the summer of 1924. But the most famous foreign bride at the time in Athens was Mrs. Sikelianos, née Eva Palmer (1874-1952), who had married one of Greece’s most famous poets, Angelos Sikelianos in 1907. Young Charlotte and her friend Helen (a.k.a. Larry) were fortunate enough to meet Eva Palmer Sikelianos in person that same afternoon. Thanks to Charlotte’s eye, we have a great description of how Eva Palmer was perceived by people when she walked into a room.

“The first person to arrive after us was a startling person, who walked in most naturally arrayed in a brown simple costume-of the old, old type. Her dress was homespun (she makes all her own things), her cloak –a draped mantle fashioned with an old brooch in the back-only queer open sandals with no tops on her feet – her golden coppery hair in two enormous braids – and a scarf bound around her forehead and pinned in the back. Who is she? The wife of a Greek poet… She is the daughter of an American millionaire-Palmer by name-but, but is at heart a Greek- all her interest and energies are spent here. Her ambition is to make Greeks appreciate Greece, and things Greek- and she does all sorts of things to this end from producing some of Aeschylus’s plays to having a special organ of fourteen intervals made on which to play the old music of the country” (pp. 44-45).

Earlier in October of 1924, Mrs. Sikelianos had attended a dinner that Ida Thallon Hill had given at the ASCSA in honor of Mrs. Montgomery Sears (née Sarah Choate), benefactor of the Corinth excavations. On the occasion of that dinner and the attendance of Eva Palmer, I have written an essay titled “Grèce en vogue: A New Wave of American Philhellenism in the 1920s.” (Since then, Artemis Leontis has published the definitive, I dare say, biography of Eva Palmer Sikelianos, based on deep archival research.)

The tea-party at the Sakellariou’s house included another guest from the American community in Greece: the legendary, but now elusive, Alice Leslie Walker Cosmopoulos (1885-1954). “Then along came Mr. and Mrs. Cosmopoulos –she a Vassar graduate of 1902, a famous archaeologist (Miss Walker), very deaf, and with a cherubic face. Last year, she married the man who bossed all her excavations—a man well versed in excavating but without the educational background that she has. They had just returned from the summer spent in Switzerland and France,” scribbled Charlotte, obviously mystified by these unconventional American women.

The Unfortunate “Uncle”

In her letters Charlotte refers many times to an “uncle” (always in quotes) who was associated with the ASCSA. The two girls met “uncle” on board a ship bound for Greece. He is described as “a young PhD from Georgia,” an “intellectual but nice quiet young man” and a “kindred spirit,” whom she and Helen (Larry) immediately adopted as an “uncle” (p. 5).

John Watson Logan (1898-1925), a graduate of Emory University with a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, was on his way to Athens to attend the annual program of the American School.  While in Greece “uncle” would often visit the two girls in Old Phaleron. “He gets out between the archaeological trips which the School takes. He likes our company and sweet chocolate-but he doesn’t furnish us with much except the satisfaction of having someone in trousers drop in to relieve the monotony of skirts,” commented Charlotte in one of her letters (Nov. 24, 1924; p. 66).  In January 1925, at another social gathering, “uncle” was beaming and chattering, and to Charlotte’s surprise he invited them for tea at the ASCSA.  He also offered “to bring Mr. Stillwell, out for an evenings [sic] foursome of bridge sometime soon.”  (Stillwell, B.A. Princeton University 1921 and M.F.A Princeton 1924, was the Special Fellow in Architecture that year at the American School; he would become Director of the ASCSA in 1932-1935.) Was Logan in love with one of the girls? We will never find out because he was killed two months later.

John W. Logan, shortly before his death. ASCSA Archives, Administrative Records.

The last time Charlotte and Helen saw Logan alive was at the American School’s Open Meeting in early March of 1925, where “Mr. Hill and Mr. Blegen reported on new excavations at Nemea and Phlious…  There was a very interesting group of people there –Japanese, German, English, American, Greek and Russian” (p. 184). A few days later during a trip to Epirus, a party of five students from the American and British Schools was ambushed near Arta. One of the students, Logan, was shot through the lungs. Although it initially appeared that he was going to survive, “uncle” died a week later, resulting in diplomatic tension between Greece and Italy, as there was considerable speculation about the identity of the assailants and their real intentions. (In the ASCSA Archives there is a separate folder about Logan’s death and funeral containing correspondence, photos, and press clippings.) In a letter to Logan’s father on March 31, 1925, Hill tried to explain the possible motives behind the crime.

“The first impression, that the assailants were ordinary bandits, does not seem to be confirmed on reflection. They would normally stop a car by means of a barricade… or by a threat of shooting or firing into the tires; and they would then collect what money they could from the passengers or/and carry off one or more of them as prisoners to be ransomed. The actual assailants seem to have intended primarily to injure the occupants of the car… There was in fact no pursuit at all: neither John nor any of the others ever saw the assailants nor heard anything except the shots… The probability is that these fled immediately without going down into the road at all, either having discovered that they had shot at the wrong party… or having accomplished their purpose in committing a notable outrage on foreign travelers…” (ASCSA AdmRec 805/1, folder 1).

The ambush as it was illustrated for an Italian newspaper. ASCSA Archives, Administrative Records.

Both Charlotte and Helen attended their friend’s funeral: “A state affair with a guard of honor, masses of flowers from state organizations and political parties… After five minutes, the Cabinet, and Prime minister arrived… There were silk hats, white gloves, and dignity on the part of the Americans, less formality with the officials of republican Greece. The government paid all expenses of the funeral but assumed no other responsibility. They couldn’t…” hinting at how nervous the Greeks were about the incident and its possible repercussions for their foreign policy.

“I could have eaten tails, heads and bones”

Those of you who read my posts regularly know that I am interested not only in the history of Greek cuisine but also how it was perceived by foreigners. To me, food is predictive: the more one is open to “exotic” tastes, the more one is able to understand and take part in a foreign culture.  After all, don’t they say “tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are”?

Charlotte seriously delved into Greek food. There are long descriptions of meals in her family letters. American travelers were usually amazed by the abundance and taste of the fruits, did not like the unsalted butter made from sheep milk, and had a hard time eating food cooked in oil. “Everything swims in oil, we get unsalted soft butter only for breakfast and on bread at tea… Potatoes are scarce, and rice takes their place most of the time. The fruits delicious –grapes, fresh figs, quinces and once watermelon. Chestnuts, those large, meaty ones are very plentiful and are served as a vegetable, or even for desert,” thus communicated Charlotte to her family as first impressions of the Greek food (p. 31).

On another occasion, during a trip to the country, her party traded with a shepherd a few pieces of chocolate for some bread and goat cheese. “The bread was a fresh brown bread and I could have easily been a shepherd, if I had such fare, with the hard crumbly, white cheese from goat’s milk.” Later that evening they ended up in Oropos for dinner. “The menu was macaroni and cheese, turkey (only a taste for each-but what a taste) potatoes, and a choice little fish with a name that sounds like ‘barbounia’… Although the food was simply cooked, the turkey melted in our mouths, and the little fish browned in butter, were so nice I could have eaten tails, heads and bones,” described an ecstatic Charlotte, reminding me that despite recent efforts to westernize Greek cuisine or introduce the concept of “fusion,’ nothing beats the taste of fried μαρίδα (whitebait), γαύρο (anchovy) or μπαρμπουνάκι (small red mullet).

Getting Around

Charlotte and Helen (Larry) did not miss a chance to go around Athens and explore a wide variety of surroundings and situations. On one occasion they visited the Physical Laboratory of the University of Athens (Charlotte had majored in Biology and Chemistry) where they made their way through hundreds of male students before meeting the professor they had corresponded with. Charlotte was rather surprised to find (and I with her) a state-of-the art lab, “all German” because, after the Great War, Germany paid part of her debt to Greece in apparatus (p. 265). Truly amazed by the sight of the lab, she wondered about the chemistry class she was teaching at the ACG: “Quite a jump from the dishpan and baking powder can experiments which we had this year” she noted.

On another occasion, Charlotte took her senior class to the legendary Fix Factory on Syngrou Avenue, where they witnessed all stages of ice and beer making. At the end of their tour, the group was offered bread, cheese, golden brown fish, and “six foaming mugs” of the “best bier I have ever tasted” (p. 256).

Travelers, Not Tourists…

A recurrent theme in Charlotte’s letters is her low opinion of tourists, especially those who toured the Mediterranean in cruise ships. She took special pleasure in writing that “one insisted on going to see the Acropolis when they had just come down from it” or “tourists are so funny –they know so little and say so much…” [pp. 183, 187].

Reading Charlotte’s comments, I remembered that a few years ago, when I was writing “ ‘All Aboard’: Cruising the Aegean in 1923,” I read an enjoyable description of tourists in Evelyn Waugh’s Labels, published about the same time, in 1929: ‘… baffled, breathless, their heads singing with unfamiliar names, their bodies strained and bruised from scrambling in and out of motor charabancs, up and down staircases, and from trailing disconsolately through miles of gallery and museum at the heels of a facetious and contemptuous guide… Must they go on to the very end? Are there more cathedrals, more beauty spots, more sites of historical events, more works of art? Is there no remission in this pitiless rite?”

Ninety years later, I have to ask myself do I feel more like a tourist or traveler when I board a plane for a three- or five-day European trip?


Note
Charlotte Ferguson was born in 1902 in New Bloomfield (Dauphin County, PA) into a family of farmers and teachers. Later her family moved to near Harrisburg, where Charlotte’s father taught at the Harrisburg School. After graduation from high school, Charlotte received a scholarship to Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA, where she majored in Biology and Chemistry (1923). After a year of teaching at Connecticut College for Women, she and Helen Larrabee approached the American Board of Missions of the Congregational Church looking for a position in China, but they were sent to Greece instead. Following her return to the U.S. Charlotte was hired as a research assistant at the Henry Phipps Institute in Philadelphia (1926-1927). In 1927, she married Joseph David Aronson.


On Finding Inspiration in Small Things: The Story of a Pencil Portrait

My story begins six years ago when we inventoried Bert H. Hill’s collection of photos at the item level. Among the images were early portraits of Hill when he was a little boy, and later, a handsome young man. A graduate of the University of Vermont (B.A. 1895) and Columbia University (M.A. 1900), Hill subsequently attended the American School of Classical Studies (ASCSA or the School hereafter) as a fellow for two years (1901-1903). He then secured a job as the Assistant Curator of Classical Antiquities at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (1903-1905) and lecturer at Wellesley College where he taught classes in sculpture.  Bert Hodge Hill (1874-1958) was only 32 years old when he was appointed director of the ASCSA in 1906, a position he held until 1926.

Bert Hodge Hill, ca. 1910s. ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

While processing the images my eye fell on a small portrait (12 x 9 cm) that was not a print but instead a well-executed drawing of Hill’s profile in pencil. On the back, Hill had scribbled “Huybers” and “BHH”.  An initial web search for “Huybers artist” produced four of his pencil sketches in the Harvard Art Museums, a gift from George Demetrios in 1933 (keep the name in mind); the artist was identified as John A. Huybers.

Portrait of Bert Hodge Hill by John A. Huybers, ca. 1915-1920. ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

Pencil sketch of an old woman by John A. Huybers, Paris 1881. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of George Demetrios, 1933.

It would take multiple web searches and various combinations of his name before I could identify his middle name as Alfred. His name also appeared here and there as an illustrator of a number of books for children or works of historical fiction: Julia Augusta Schwartz’s Wilderness Babies (Boston 1905), George Barton’s Barry Wynn. The Adventures of a Page Boy in the United States Congress (Boston 1912), John McIntyre’s In Texas with Davy Crockett (Philadelphia 1914), and John P. Ritter’s The Crossroads of Destiny (New York 1901).  (Most of these books and their authors are now largely forgotten, perhaps because their genre –the adventures of young boys– is no longer popular or because their authors were not of the magnitude of Charles Dickens or Mark Twain.) Thus far, Huybers appeared to have made a living illustrating books on the East Coast in the early 1900s. From the Library of Congress entries, where he is listed as contributor to these books, I discovered his date of birth and death (1859-1920).

Subsequent efforts to learn more about Huybers failed to bear any fruit; however, over the years I have learned that one often has to be patient when doing archival research on the web. I know from experience that tons of new information is added to it daily, so it pays to conduct new searches every two or three months. My notebooks are filled with partially studied topics marked as “potential essays.” Moreover, as I have written elsewhere, archival research is really about “connecting the dots.” If you are lucky, once in a while, there is a breakthrough or a discovery and, suddenly, everything comes together.

Wandering Tasmanians

Another web search tracked Huybers’s name down in a collection of personal papers in the National Library of Australia: the Patricia Clarke Papers. Clarke (b. 1926) was an author and journalist, who wrote extensively about 19th century Australian women. One of her subjects was Jessie Couvreur (1848-1897), neé Huybers, also known as “Tasma,” after her pen name. According to Clarke, the Huybers were an English family of Dutch origin who migrated to Australia in 1852; most of their children, including John, were born in Hobart in Tasmania. In 1873, John’s mother, Charlotte, took five of her children on a tour of Europe that lasted several years. Perhaps as intended, it appears that very few of the Huybers children returned to Australia after the tour; most of them settled in Europe, earning their living as artists and foreign correspondents to English, Australian, and American newspapers.

In 1881 Jessie published (under the name Tasma) her first novel, Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill, which earned her considerable success (although her reviewers presumed that the novel had been written by a man). In 1889 there is evidence that she was in Athens, either by herself or with her brother John, because she reported for the “Melbourne Argus” on the royal marriage of Prince Constantine of Greece and Sophia of Prussia.  Up to that point, my various web searches had revealed that John Huybers was an English Australian who had spent considerable time in Europe before he moved to the United States in the early 1900s.

A Memorial Fund

Huybers lay dormant in my notebook for another year until recently, when browsing Louis E. Lord’s History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (Cambridge, Mass., 1947), my eye landed on Huybers’s name in “Appendix V: Funds for General Purposes”: J. Huybers Fund; established 1921; $714.53 (which is the equivalent of about $18,000 today). There was, however, no additional information about why or how this fund was established. When studying the School’s institutional history, I find that the next best tool after the pair of “School Histories” is the collection of Annual Reports; and, sure enough, in the ASCSA Annual Report for 1920-21 (p. 21), Edward Capps, the School’s Chair of the Managing Committee, reported Huybers’s death, as well as some other biographical information:

“[He] was for many years a resident of Greece, whence he sent to the American press, and particularly to the Christian Science Monitor, admirable articles on Greek affairs. He died at Phalerum in 1919 [sic]. His writings showed such admirable sanity of judgement, good information, and genuine philhellenic sympathy and understanding that his friends in America, chiefly those of Hellenic descent, desired to perpetuate his memory in connection with the School, which they highly regard as the permanent symbol in Greece of American-Hellenic unity. We are indebted to Professor A. E. Phoutrides of Harvard University, for conceiving this idea and carrying it to completion, and to His Excellency Mr. Tsamados, then Minister Resident of Greece in Washington for generous assistance. A principal fund of $545 was contributed.”

At last, a real breakthrough in my search for Huybers: not just an illustrator but also a foreign correspondent stationed in Greece during the last years of his life, with strong connections to the School and possibly Harvard (where I found four of his pencil sketches), and a philhellene with ties to the Greek-American community in the U.S.

The Story of an Immigrant Boy

I ran another search, this time through the School’s website, because I wanted to see if his name appeared in any of our collections of personal papers. It did not, but I was pleasantly surprised to find him as an editor, as well as an illustrator, in a book titled: When I Was a Small Boy in Greece, by George Demetrios (Boston 1913). Huybers had edited and published the autobiographical story of Demetrios. At first, I thought that Demetrios was a fictional name that Huybers had invented in order to write a historical novel, but then I remembered that Demetrios was the donor of the four sketches by Huybers to the Harvard Art Museums in 1933.

George Demetrios (1896-1974) was a real person, who would become a sculptor and marry the novelist Virginia Lee Burton (1909-1968). Barbara Elleman, the biographer of Burton, recounted the encounter of Demetrios with Huybers as follows: “In 1911, George, a Greek immigrant, had arrived in the U.S. at the age of 15 with a nametag attached to his lapel… To earn money, George shined shoes on the street. During slow times he amused himself by drawing faces of people he saw. One day a man, illustrator and painter John Hybers [sic], saw George’s sketches, and, very impressed, arranged for him to receive a scholarship, funded by art enthusiast Charlotte Hallowell of West Medford, to the School of Fine Arts in Boston…” (Virginia Lee Burton: A Life in Art, Boston 2002, p. 15).

Huybers in the Editor’s Preface to When I was a Small Boy in Greece related a somewhat different story regarding his first encounter with Demetrios in 1911: “In the spring of last year, at the house of some Greek friends in Boston I heard a boy of sixteen, who had recently arrived from Southern Macedonia, tell in his own language, to some of his own people, the story of Xenophon’s ‘Retreat of the Ten Thousand’. The boy stood facing his audience. He spoke without a book… he knew the narrative well, and he put it in his own way in the beautiful modern language. I was seated behind the speaker and what impressed me strongly was the attitude and expression of the listeners… the look in their eyes showed their keen interest and the boy held the attention of all for an hour and a half, till he had finished… We spoke French, and he expressed his regret at having had to give up his studies and relinquish the promise of a university education… In leisure hours he told me the story of his boyhood in Macedonia. Then, too, he knew much story and verse by heart…In taking down all the boy had to tell me, I was a careful listener, and I tried to preserve –in the medium of translation—as far as possible, his thoughts expressions and words…”.

Marcia Gronblad: Finnish Girl, by George Demetrios. Cape Ann Museum (Gift of The George Demetrios Revocable Trust, 1990.)

As mentioned above, Demetrios became a well-known sculptor whose works are on display at the Cape Ann Museum in Massachusetts. On the Museum’s web page, one reads: “During his sixty year artistic career, Demetrios had a profound influence on an entire generation of artists who studied under him here on Cape Ann and in his Boston studio.”  In addition, in the possession of the Demetrios’s family is a fine watercolor of young Demetrios, dated 1913, by J[ohn] A[lfred] H[uybers] (B. Elleman, Virginia Lee Burton: A Life in Art, Boston 2002, p. 16). It’s the one that was used for the cover of Demetrios’s book.

Dispatches from Athens

We do not know exactly when Huybers left Boston for Athens but probably sometime shortly after 1914. By 1915 he was working as a foreign correspondent for The Nation. Through the historical archive of The UNZ Review: An Alternative Media Selection I was able to retrieve 16 of his essays in The Nation. Most of them describe the political situation in Greece in 1916, especially the rift between King Constantine and Eleutherios Venizelos, as to whether Greece should remain neutral during WW I or join the Entente. Of great interest to me (and the readers of this blog) is an essay by Huybers, published on February 1, 1917 and titled: “The American School of Classical Studies at Athens” because it provides a vivid picture of life at the School and in Athens at the time.

According to Huybers one reached the School by taking Tram 15 which, however, brought you as far as the “Athens Normal School of Teachers” (a.k.a. Marasleion): “… taking the first corner on your right by the high wall enclosing the gardens of the Normal School, you come … to the gates of the American School, just beyond the tower of the British School adjoining. The name ΑΜΕΡΙΚΑΝΙΚΗ ΣΧΟΛΗ is carved in Greek letters on the stone pillar on one side of the high green gates of iron open-work, and in English on the other… To the left, pushed out on the hill, are a few small, one-story houses, tinted yellow and pink. In front of them stand some Australian eucalyptus trees, and seen above the tiled roofs a plantation of young pines on the hill gives a relieving note of green.”

He then proceeds to describe the School’s garden giving ample praise to “a great Judas tree, whose wealth of purple flowers is a springtime glory. Myrtles, laurels, and other native plants grow in the garden, and tall shrubs, with white and blood-red flowers.” The great condition of the garden must be credited to Carl W. Blegen who was the School’s Secretary at the time and a passionate gardener. Just a year before, the School had completed its first major expansion which had enlarged the library, added a women’s parlor as well as other space. I found it entertaining that Huybers made special mention of the three bathrooms added to the Director’s house during the expansion (hard to believe now, but until 1915 the Director’s house at the American School lacked an indoor bathroom).

“One of the most American features of the house is the three bathrooms, of the best quality and construction, American workmen and plumbers having come to Athens to carry out the work. The Queen of Greece recently visited the School, and repeated the visit the same week, accompanied by the King, pointing out to him the bathrooms, that were her special admiration. And both King and Queen admitted that the palace and royal summer home had no such faultless installations.”

The entrance to the School, ca. 1902. The Judas tree that Huybers is describing must be to the right. The gates (that have been replaced with simpler ones since then) were designed by Ernst Ziller. Photo: ASCSA Archives.

Huybers also praised the views from the library, when one tired from reading could “step out on the white marble balcony at the end of the library and rest his eyes on the great hill of Hymettus,” including a lyrical description of the mountain view: “The very bareness and barrenness if the mountain becomes a thing of beauty in the vaporous atmosphere—cool and warm grays, pinks, and neutral tints, with purple flying shadows from the clouds above…”. Hard to imagine any of this today, with the large and horrendous mass of Evangelismos Hospital blocking all such southward views.

The School had great views to Mount Hymettus until the 1930s. Here a photo taken from the Gennadius Library, ca. 1930. ASCSA, Archives.

Echoing most likely Hill and Blegen, Huybers could not refrain from adding a comment about the increasing excellence of the American School in comparison with the French School. “The American student may as a rule come less well prepared than the man of the French School, but they ‘make good’ by their initiative and originality, bringing with them the new breath and clear vision of the young Western world.” Hybers backed up this comment with a statement by Wilhelm Dӧrpfeld, an authority in the study of Classical architecture, who reported that in the study of Athenian buildings, the “newest and most original interpretations were the work of the American School.”

The French American rivalry was not limited to just scholarly matters. “The French Government considers the proper maintenance of the French School at Athens as one of the obligations of good government. The American Government leaves such work to the enterprise of its colleges and the practical devotion to ideals of private individuals among his citizens.” Huybers concluded his essay with a line from Plato’s Protagoras: τρέφεται δέ, ὤ Σώκρατης, ψυχὴ τίνι; μαθήμασιν δήπου, ἢν δ’ἐγώ (and what, Socrates, is the food of the soul? Surely, I said, knowledge.)

The Boston Connection

Aristeides E. Phoutrides

The short “obituary” on Huybers in the School’s Annual Report of 1920 also noted the creation of a fund through the initiative of Professor A. E. Phoutrides of Harvard University. The life of Aristeides Phoutrides (1887-1923) deserves an essay of its own (and is duly noted as such in my “Notebook”). I am not sure what to make of the connection between Huybers and Phoutrides, except that the latter, like Demetrios, had also immigrated to the U.S. at a young age. Born on the island of Icaria and having lived for a short time in Egypt, Aristeides arrived in America at the age of 19 without any knowledge of English. After attending Mount Hermon, a preparatory school for students who had interrupted their education, for two years, Phoutrides was accepted at Harvard College where he graduated in 1911 summa cum laude. Three years later he obtained his doctoral degree and an assistant professorship at Harvard.

A big proponent of Modern Greek Studies, Phoutrides, until his premature death in 1923 at the age of 36, travelled to Greece several times and launched several campaigns in the U.S. in order to support Greek national causes. His reputation was such that in 1919 he was offered the Chair of Greek Literature at the University of Athens by Eleutherios Venizelos, which in the end failed to materialize after Venizelos’s defeat in the elections of 1920. I suspect that Huybers must have met the young Phoutrides at one of the gatherings of the Greek American community in Boston about the same time that he “discovered” George Demetrios (ca. 1911).

A Sketchy Life: Hobart, Boston, Athens

Except for the pencil profile of Bert Hodge Hill, the four sketches at the Harvard Art Museums and the one watercolor in the possession of the Demetrios family, I was not able to discover any other original artwork autographed by Huybers. Most likely his papers were not preserved, especially since he moved around so much. There are major gaps in his life, especially until the early 1900s, when we find him working as a book illustrator on the East Coast; by then he was in his early 40s.

Another one of Huybers’s pencil sketches, now at the Harvard Art Museums. It was executed the same year he painted “The Paris Soup Kitchen.” Perhaps it was a sketch for that painting.

A final search through old Australian newspapers produced a letter from Huybers to the Editor of Mercury (a Tasmanian newspaper), written from Boston and published on December 29, 1911. He was offering for sale to the Hobart Art Gallery one of his paintings, “The Paris Soup Kitchen,” from 1886, which was exhibited together with two more of his paintings in the new Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He identified himself as a painter who had been forced “to take book and newspaper work because ‘Art for art’s sake’ did not procure a living.” He wanted to sell because he needed the money for an operation. I have not been able to find what happened to Huybers’s “Paris Soup Kitchen” or any of his other paintings. To judge from his book illustrations, however, he must have been a gifted artist, and Hill must have treasured his little portrait by Huybers.

On September 23, 1920 an obituary appeared in Tasmanian Mail reporting Huybers’s death (as having taken place on May 27, 1920).  I was unable to obtain online access to this document, but it really didn’t matter so much because I had already achieved my real objective which was to draw a rough sketch of Huybers’s life and learn why the School came to own one of his drawings.

 


Schliemann’s Culinary Adventures in Italy

Heinrich Schliemann, a man of the world, ca. 1870. ASCSA Archives, Heinrich Schliemann Papers.

A day does not go by in the Archives of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) without an inquiry about the Heinrich Schliemann Papers. More than one third of the collection has been digitized and made available for research online; still, these inquiries keep coming from all over the world, including destinations as remote as Japan and Cuba.  Though unquestionably a legendary figure, Schliemann’s popularity is largely due to the richness of his personal archive, which remains an inexhaustible source of information for a wide range of audiences: historians, archaeologists, fiction and non-fiction writers, even film producers. (I have written about Schliemann before [Schliemann of Troy: The Story of a Linguistic Genius] and have hosted two posts by Curtis Runnels [Who Went to Schliemann’s Wedding? and, “All Americans Must Be Trojans at Heart”: A Volunteer at Assos in 1881 Meets Heinrich Schliemann], the author of The Archaeology of Heinrich Schliemann: An Annotated Bibliographic Handlist [2007].)

To the rich list of books and articles that have been written about Schliemann I would like to add the recent publications by Umberto Pappalardo, who has been studying Schliemann’s activities in Napoli and on the island of Motya, and Massimo Cultraro’s new book with the sibylline title L’ ultimo sogno dello scopritore di Troia: Heinrich Schliemann e l’ Italia (1858-1890). Before them, in 2012, Elizabeth Shepherd published a comprehensive article about Schliemann’s wanderings in Italy in the fall/winter of 1875, especially his interest in the site of Populonia. Schliemann travelled to Italy seven times, first as a tourist (1858), and later, especially after the discovery of Troy (1871-1873), as a celebrity and potential excavator. He even drew his last breath in the streets of Naples one morning in December 1890. Yet, until recently, Schliemann’s Italian days remained understudied. Read the rest of this entry »


The Mystery Artist: In Search of François Perilla

The American School’s haphazard art collection continues to fascinate me. It lacks any thematic cohesion and at first glance often makes no sense, because most of the works have little to do with the institution itself. Yet, it remains a source of mystery because these same works are also associated with people who were once deeply involved in the School’s affairs. Before they ended up at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter), these objects decorated the walls of private houses and were part of those households’ life history. In Janet Hoskins’s Biographical Objects: How Things Tell the Stories of People’s Lives (1998), six women and men from Eastern Indonesia tell the history of their lives by talking about their possessions, thus creating an identity for themselves through objects they made, bought, were given, or collected. Our people are no longer alive but many of their possessions are with us, and they have a story to tell us (if we ask them…).

The Blegen-Hill house at Ploutarchou 9, ca. 1960s. ASCSA Archives.

Most of the artwork that hangs on the walls or decorates the mantels of the various buildings of the School comes from two households. One was the residence of two couples, Carl and Elizabeth Blegen (the Blegens) and Bert and Ida Hill (the Hills), who lived together at Ploutarchou 9 (Kolonaki) in the 1930s; the other belonged to the archaeologist George Mylonas and his wife Lela who lived in Saint Louis (Missouri) in the 1930s before they moved back to Greece in the early 1970s. Although both households were set up about the same time, the Blegens/Hills, because of Elizabeth’s personal wealth, began purchasing artwork immediately, while the Mylonases, both younger and refugees from Asia Minor, did not begin acquiring art until the early 1950s. (I have written about the nature of the Mylonas collection in a post titled “The Spirit of Saint Louis Lives in Athens”; on the two couples living at Ploutarchou Street read “The End of the Quartet: The Day the Music Stopped at Ploutarchou 9,” by Jack L. Davis; and Pounder 2015.)

Lately I have been trying to identify the items from the Blegen-Hill household, which came to school almost intact after the death of the house’s last occupant, Carl Blegen, in 1971. Although we have an inventory, the fact that the objects were not photographed or tagged before they were dispersed among the various buildings of the School (including Corinth) makes it difficult to identify their origin today.  Some of the art, such Giovani Battista Piranesi’s “Vedute di Roma,” is easily identifiable, but portions of the collection remain shrouded in mystery.

In addition, we also lack indoor photos of the house, except for the one that shows the so-called “Greek Room.” (Take for comparison the interior of John Gennadius’s house in London, which was professionally photographed, making it easier to identify the artworks from it that came to the Gennadius Library.) Still we are slowly putting together a picture of the life and art at the Blegen residence. In a recent conference about Carl and Elizabeth Blegen, Vivian Florou reconstructed through archival research some of the social life of the house at Ploutarchou 9 during its peak times, before and after WW II (Florou 2015).  In “Skyromania? American Archaeologists in 1930s Skyros,” I identified some of the embroideries and pottery that were once part of it.  In “The Grecian Landscapes of Anna Richards Brewster,” I suggested that an oil by Brewster might also have once been belonged to the Blegens.

Today’s post focuses on another large painting that once hung on the walls of Ploutarchou 9 (item no. 10 in the Blegen Collection), but is now adorning the walls of my new office: a watercolor depicting the temple of Hera at Olympia, signed “F. Perilla 1930”. A quick search on the internet produced a few brief references to auction catalogs that identified him as a French art historian and artist, born in 1874, as well as to two recent translations of books he wrote about Chios (1928) and Mount Pelion (1940). A search in “Ambrosia” (the ASCSA’s online book catalogue) proved more fruitful, with several entries to publications by Perilla.

Temple of Hera at Olympia, watercolor by F. Perilla. ASCSA Archives, Art Collection.

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Professors to the Rescue: Americans in the Aegean at the End of the Great War, 1918-1919.

Islands and coast Asia Minor still crowded with refugees. Stop. Number there still to be repatriated estimated three hundred thousand. Stop. We are maintaining three stations in Mytilene district clothing alone being available, but food urgently needed.  Stop. Above statements based on personal inspection this Commission. Stop. We recommend that work in Aegean be immediately extended to other islands like Chios, Samos and to opposite coast which can be reached by sea transport which can be secured by Greek governments. Stop.”

The text quoted above is a small portion of a long telegram (47 lines) that Colonel Edward Capps sent to Harvey D. Gibson, member of the American Red Cross War Council in Paris, on December 12, 1918 (NACP, Greece, ARC Commission to, 964.62/08). The telegram reported the activities of the American Red Cross (ARC hereafter) since arrival of its Greek Commission in Athens on October 23rd.

This is not the first time I am writing about the activities of the ARC in Greece. In 2011, together with Jack L. Davis, then Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), we organized and subsequently published the proceedings of a conference titled Philhellenism, Philanthropy, or Political Convenience: American Archaeology in Greece (Princeton 2013). Davis’s paper, “The American School of Classical Studies and the Politics of Volunteerism,” discussed the involvement of members of the ASCSA, through enlistment in the Greek Commission of the ARC, in humanitarian aid in eastern Macedonia, as well as in the repatriation of Greek citizens who had been taken as hostages to Bulgaria. Later in 2015, on the occasion of the centenary of the Battle of Gallipoli, I was invited to participate in a conference about The First World War in the Mediterranean and the Role of Lemnos, with a paper that discussed the humanitarian activities of the ARC Greek Commission in the eastern Aegean at the end of the Great War. Read the rest of this entry »


“The haughty arrogance of the Nordic people”: A Scandal in the German Colony of Athens on the 20th of April 1935.

Posted by Alexandra Kankeleit

Alexandra Kankeleit here contributes an essay about an unknown episode, almost a scandal, which took place in 1935 in the German community of Athens and involved the local Catholic church and members of the German Archaeological Institute.  Alexandra, an archaeologist who specializes in the study of Roman mosaics, has also since 2016 been part of an extensive project of the German Archaeological Institute (Athens and Berlin), titled The History of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens during the National Socialist Era. As part of the project, she has examined a host of bibliographic and archival sources in both countries that document the activities of the German archaeologists in Greece from 1933 until 1944. A list of her most recent publications can be found on Alexandra’s own website.


A recently discovered episode from 1935 offers a striking picture of the predominant mood in the so-called “German Colony” in Athens following the National Socialist seizure of power in Germany. (“Deutsche Kolonie” was the official name of the German-speaking Community in Greece until the end of WWII.)  It illustrates in dramatic fashion what battlefronts were being drawn up at the time and what the representatives of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens (DAI Athen hereafter) saw as their role in this critical period.

I stumbled more or less by chance upon this incident while carrying out research at the Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amtes (Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office). The relevant documents are to be found in a folder that deals with the “Schwarze Front” (“Black Front”) in Greece, an underground organisation that was opposed to Hitler and his policies, and which was founded in 1930 by Otto Strasser (1897-1974), brother of the infamous Gregor Strasser (1892-1934). From 1934-1937 members of the “Schwarze Front” were based in Greece publishing illegal flyers and articles, and encouraging Germans living in Greece to turn away from Hitler. Read the rest of this entry »


Connecting the Dots: Peripheral Figures in the History of the American School of Classical Studies. The Case of R. S. Darbishire.

Steve Jobs once said: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” Archives is all about connecting the dots. When processing archival material, you often come across documents, photos, or notes that don’t connect in any obvious way with the rest. For this reason all finding-aids have a “Miscellaneous” section.  And such is the case of R. S. Darbishire (1886-1949), a name I came upon in the Carl W. Blegen Papers several years ago, in a booklet of poems; and more recently, while going through a small box of unprocessed material from the Blegen/Hill household on Ploutarchou 9, in a set of architectural blueprints. It took me a while to connect the dots in the Darbishire puzzle.

The Elusive Mr. Darbishire

ASCSA Archives, Carl W. Blegen Papers

In the Blegen Papers, there is a small booklet with a collection of handwritten poems titled “Poems to Order. Thera, June 17-21, 1928. Robert Shelby Darbishire.”  The short poem on the first page is dedicated to CB:

Εξ αδοκήτο [Unforeseen]
You, when I asked, “What shall I do in Thera?”
Unexpectedly in my empty mind
Casually dropped this: “Write pretty!”
Here (unexpectedly) nought else I find.

Darbishire appears in the student list of the American School of Classical Studies (ASCSA, or School hereafter) for the year 1926-27; he is also thanked in the preliminary reports or final publications of a number of excavations conducted in 1927-1928: Prosymna, the Odeum at Corinth, and Olynthus.

There is very little information about Robert Shelby Darbishire on the web, and one has to type his name in various ways in order to retrieve a few scraps. Born in 1886 at Fort Meade, Florida, he was the son of Godfrey Darbishire (1853-1889) -a British surveyor and a famous rugby player, who immigrated to the States in 1883– and Ann Shelby of Chicago. Robert was unfortunate in losing his father at an early age.  Mother and son lived for a while on a farm they owned in Danville, Kentucky before they moved back to England to be near the paternal side of the family. (Darbishire’s grandfather was Robert Dukinfield Darbishire, a well-known philanthropist and biologist from Manchester.) Nevertheless, the Kentucky farm remained in the Darbishire family’s possession for a long time; mother and son would move back to it after the death of Robert Dukinfield in 1910; and Robert Shelby would retreat to the farm in various periods of his life. In fact, the family papers are deposited at the University of Kentucky Special Collections, and it is from their finding-aid that I managed to obtain good and reliable information about the Darbishires.

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