“They returned… but stay I did”: Doreen Canaday’s Experience of Interwar Greece

I first encountered the name “Canaday” in the mid-1980s when I went to Bryn Mawr College for graduate school. Although we did most of our work in the seminar rooms above the Art and Archaeology Library (now the Rhys Carpenter Library), for books and periodicals about history or classics we had to go to the “big library,” which was none other than the Mariam Coffin Canaday Library.

A few years later when I returned to Greece to participate in the regular program of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA, or the School hereafter), I heard people referring to Canaday House.  One of the two marble houses flanking the Gennadius Library at 61 Souidias, it housed temporarily the family of the then Director of the School William (Willy) D. E. Coulson. (The big earthquake of 1986 in Kalamata had caused damages to the Director’s residence across the street.)

An ink drawing of the Canaday House at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. ASCSA Archives, Doreen Canaday Spitzer Photographic Collection.

Finally, in the summer of 1990, while digging at Mochlos on Crete, I met Doreen Spitzer on one of the “On-Site with The American School of Classical Studies at Athens” trips that she had been organizing for years, but without realizing that Doreen Spitzer’s maiden name was Canaday. It was only after I started working as the School’s Archivist that I became aware of Canaday Spitzer’s long legacy at the American School.  Doreen Canaday Spitzer (1914-2010) served as a Trustee 1978-1996, President of the Board of Trustees 1983-1988, Trustee Emerita from 1996 and President of the Friends from 1988 until her death in 2010.  (There is a thorough biographical essay about Doreen Spitzer by Catherine de Grazia Vanderpool in AKOUE 63, Fall 2010.) Her father, Ward Canaday (1885-1976), had also served as a Trustee of the School for almost four decades starting in 1937.

Doreen Canaday Spitzer listening to Manolis Andronikos, excavator of the royal tombs at Vergina, 1981. (Between them, barely visible, Machteld Mellink.) Source: ASCSA Archives.

Spitzer also cared deeply about preserving the School’s history and supported wholeheartedly the creation of an Archives Department during her term as President of the Board. Furthermore, she would contact School members, many of whom she knew personally from her time as a student of the School in 1936-1938, to solicit their personal papers.  No wonder why my formal title is the Doreen Canaday Spitzer Archivist. Needless to say that it would have pleased her immensely to see our new and enlarged facilities at the East Wing of the Gennadius Library.

1933: The First of Many Visits

Doreen first visited Greece in 1933 at the end of her freshman year at Bryn Mawr College. “In the spring of 1933, in an expansive mood, he [Ward Canaday] brought home a briefcase, stuffed with exotic travel folders, for a change. His proposal, ‘How would you like to go on the Odyssey Cruise this summer?’ struck a responsive chord in wife and daughter,” related Doreen some fifty years later in her book By One and One (Canaan, NH 1984), a fascinating book she wrote about her parents. They sailed for Europe on the Berengaria with so many trunks that there was hardly any space for them in their first class cabin. As the single offspring of Ward Canaday and Mariam Coffin, she had been raised in an affluent household with all the comforts of an upper-class society girl.  Mariam described Doreen as “Too self-conscious… and spoiled. Having whatever she wants is not good for her; she will never know the spur of necessity and her talent will never flower…” (p. 201). (In order to write By One and One, Doreen had access to her mother’s dairies.) She would change her opinion in the course of time as Doreen developed into a most caring person, raising a family of four and offering her time, organizational skills, and wealth to a number of institutions.  In Doreen’s albums there are a few photos documenting the family’s first experience of Greece. One of them depicts the 19 year old Doreen on the Acropolis dressed in a light-colored fine dress with a pin-on corsage. Three years later she would adopt a more comfortable attire to meet the demand of the School’s strenuous travel program.

Odyssey Cruise 1933. Left to right: Ward Canaday and his daughter Doreen, and unidentified woman. ASCSA Archives, Doreen Canaday Spitzer Photographic Collection.

“The Odyssey Cruise turned out to be the first of many visits to Greece. Each of us made, from the experience, an enduring commitment to that country.” Her mother, an intelligent and romantic woman with a strong depth of feeling, was mesmerized by Greece; her father, a shrewd businessman, saw a lot of potential to expand his business to that country. On Crete, Mariam “managed to have five minutes alone on the throne of Minos, to feel the atmosphere” (p. 201). On Ithaca, home of Odysseus, she craved some privacy “but I couldn’t tell Ward I wanted to be alone, he would have not understood.”  In 1933, Ward Canaday (1885-1976) was on his way to becoming one of America’s most important car manufacturers. After having set up his own advertising company in the 1920s with a rich clientele that included Willys Overland Motors –a Toledo, Ohio based company, Ward managed to raise funds and obtain Willys’ full control after the crash of 1929. By 1936 “the advertising man and his lawyer [George Ritter] were in charge of a large competitive motor car manufacturing business. And Ward Canaday was to remain in this role of automobile manufacturer for nearly two decades to come,” recalled Doreen in By One and One (pp. 184-185).

Mariam Coffin Canaday, Acropolis 1933. ASCSA Archives, Doreen Canaday Spitzer Photographic Collection.

1936-1938: Halcyon Days

By her senior year at Bryn Mawr Doreen had made up her mind to continue her studies at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, despite objections from her father, who worried about political instability in the Balkan peninsula. Before doing so, and as a preparation for the School’s program, she decided to participate in the School’s summer session, an island cruise led by Louis E. Lord, Professor of Classics at Oberlin College. Mariam also joined Doreen in the cruise. “Aboard the venerable Greek steamer Epiros, sixty of us –including some of the most knowledgeable classical archaeologists of the day—visited all the major island sites. The knowledgeable archaeologists Doreen is referring to included the likes of Edith Hall Dohan, the excavator of Vrokastro on Crete, Mary Hamilton Swindler, professor of Classical archaeology at Bryn Mawr College, and Gisela Richter, curator of ancient art at the Metropolitan Museum.

Swimming on the island of Skyros, 1936. Gisela Richter (?) first on the left, Doreen Canaday posing next to her. ASCSA Archives, Doreen Canaday Spitzer Photographic Collection.

True to Ward’s fears, that summer Greece was experiencing a prolonged period of political turmoil which culminated in a coup d’ etat on August 4th and the ensuing regime of General Ioannis Metaxas.  Yet, it is unlikely that the country’s political uncertainty affected the daily life of the Americans who lived protected in the School’s compounds at the foot of Mt. Lycabettus. The list of members for 1936-37 counts forty men and women, the majority of whom were in their late 20s or early 30s, including the School’s new director, Charles H. Morgan, just 34 years of age. Doreen embraced the School’s vigorous program with passion and devotion as her letters to her family reveal (Vanderpool 2010). We may not have her letters in the ASCSA Archives but we are fortunate to have hundreds of snapshots from the two years she lived and travelled in Greece. (The Doreen Canaday Spitzer Photographic Collection was digitized in 2015-2016 with European Community funding and is available for online research.)

Doreen’s best friend in Athens in 1936-37 was Margaret (Miggy) Hill (later Whittman). There are several photos of them together. My favorite one depicts the two girls on mules ready to cross the Langada Pass on Mount Taygetus. Another one shows them in Old Corinth, after a day’s dig. They look like young boys in their baggy trousers and long-sleeved shirts; they also look happy. Doreen had come a long way since her first journey to Greece in 1933 when she travelled the country clad in fine dresses.

Margaret Hill and Doreen Canaday crossing Mt. Taygetus on mules, 1937. ASCSA Archives, Doreen Canaday Spitzer Photographic Collection.

Doreen Canaday and Margaret Hill, Corinth 1937. ASCSA Archives, Doreen Canaday Spitzer Photographic Collection.

When they were not travelling or digging, she and her friends played tennis in the School’s gardens, tried local food in the neighborhood, or took long rides to Glyfada.

The predecessor of “L’Abreuvoir,” 1936-1937. It was owned by the family which runs now “Όμορφο.”  ASCSA Archives, Doreen Canaday Spitzer Photographic Collection.

Doreen was the only student at the School who had her own car. How could she not, when your father owned an automobile company? In 1937, Willys Motors was marketing a new product: a small, trendy car at the unbelievable price of $395. “The ads featured its dramatic parrot nose and simple airflow lines, its peppy engine and maneuverable size. Sales were brisk. For promotional purposes one was sent to Ward’s daughter in Greece where it took to the hills and the rough roads with gusto” reminisced Doreen in her book (p. 185). Doreen would also not miss a chance to capture for her father examples of Willys automobiles running in Greece –buses in most cases.

Ward Canaday (left) with his new model Willys, 1937. Source: By One and One, p. 186.

Willys bus (Τσιμισκή-Αποθήκη line), Thessaloniki, 1936-37. ASCSA Archives, Doreen Canaday Spitzer Photographic Collection.

I noted above that the School in the 1930s was a bustling place full of young people. There is a group photo in one of Doreen’s albums that captures the spirit of the School during that period. She has scribbled below the photo: “The Oxford Movement.” Although the group might have dubbed itself as such for its spiritual cohesion, I wonder whether this photo was not intentionally modeled after the Bloomsbury Group. (Kostis Kourellis was the first to write about the avand-garde spirit of the American archaeologists working in Greece in the 1930s; Hesperia 76:2, 2007, pp. 391-442.) Despite the different religious and social background of the people in the photo (e.g., Saul Weinberg was Jewish, Emily Grace a communist, who is not in this photo but was part of the group, and Doreen the daughter of an industrialist), I suspect that the binding agent in the School’s “Oxford Movement” was its desire for innovation.

The School’ s “Oxford Movement.” From left to right: Margaret Hill, Peggy MacVeagh, Mary Campbell, Dorothy Schierer, Bergen Gorpe (reclining), Elvis Starr, Saul Weinberg, Fred Householder, Doreen Canaday, Mr. Willoughby, Claude LaBreque, Francis C. Evans; Argolid 1937. ASCSA Archives, Doreen Canaday Spitzer Photographic Collection.

Doreen’s photos differ from those of Dorothy Burr Thompson. I have written elsewhere about the lyricism of Dorothy Burr’s photography and her love for the primitive. Dorothy, more than ten years older than Doreen, belonged to a generation that treated with suspicion the growing industrialism of America and looked for ways to escape it. Doreen, on the other hand, as the daughter of an industrialist, was the product of that environment. Her photography lacks lyricism; it is descriptive and factual. She was a skillful photographer, however. Her collection contains some great cityscapes which are worth showcasing in this presentation.

Patras, 1933 or 1936-37. ASCSA Archives, Doreen Canaday Spitzer Photographic Collection.

Thessaloniki 1933 or 1936-37. ASCSA Archives, Doreen Canaday Spitzer

Occasionally she attempted some indoor photography, which was difficult before the 1960s requiring extra skills and equipment. Snapshots from interiors of houses or museums are rare in the ASCSA photographic collections. Therefore, the few that do exist have high informational value. Here is one of the interior of the old museum in Olympia (Don’t miss the little reconstruction of Paionios’s Nike next to the original.)

The old museum at Olympia, 1936-37. ASCSA Archives, Doreen Canaday Spitzer Photographic Collection.

A Mystery Solved

In the gardens of the American School, next to the great plane tree, there is a semicircular brick construction for sitting.  A marble commemorative plaque embedded at one of its ends reads: “Edward Letchworth. ΜΝΗΜΗΣ ΧΑΡΙΝ.”  I have been asked several times, most recently by the School’s Director Jenifer Neils: “Who is Letchworth and what was his relationship to the School?” He remained a mystery man since we couldn’t find his name in any of the long lists published in the two Histories of the American School. The mystery was finally solved while I was reading By One and One.

Commemorative plaque for Edward Letchworth in the lower garden of the American School. Photo: Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan

Ted and Ruth Letchworth were long-time friends of the Canaday family; Doreen also implies that Ted and Mariam shared a special friendship: “The two of them had lovely times together… dinners followed by theater and on top of that, ‘dancing till two! Back to the hotel on air… Sodas in Grand Central Station before my train! Ultimo bacio!’ It was harmonious and gay and revivifying. Invariably she [Mariam] felt more kindly disposed toward the world and toward her husband after these meetings. She dog-eared the dates in her daybook. The memories sustained her spirits” (p. 222). There are also photos of Ted Letchworth in Doreen’s albums from Greece; he must have accompanied the Canadays when they came to see their daughter in the spring of 1937. Ted’s death in 1958 was devastating for Mariam. Was the plaque ordered by Mariam, or Doreen, and when? And why was it placed on that brick bench? Although the mystery of Mr. Letchworth’s identity has been solved, I am still missing pieces from this “puzzle.”

Margaret Hill, Ted Letchworth, and Doreen Canaday, 1937. ASCSA Archives, Doreen Canaday Spitzer.

A Legacy Begins

Doreen was forced to leave Greece at the end of 1938. She would have probably stayed longer had not WW II followed. She had started to study the Roman pottery from Corinth and was planning to continue her research in European museums. A year later, while in England for a month, she would resume her friendship with an old friend, Lyman Spitzer Jr., a young astrophysicist, who would have a distinguished career at Princeton University. By 1940 they were married. While Doreen was busy raising a family of four, her father became President of the Board in 1949. “His business acumen and financial influence, his contagious energy, perseverance, the chemistry of his personality—all contributed much to the School, particularly to the revival of interest in the Athenian Agora, which had naturally been in abeyance during the war years.” It’s no exaggeration to say that without Ward Canaday the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalus in the Athenian Agora (1956) would not have happened. Two decades later, free from motherly and elderly obligations (Mariam died in 1974, Ward in 1976) Doreen would follow in her father’s steps and become an ASCSA Trustee in 1978 (but that’s another essay).

 

Ward Canaday and Queen Frederica at the inauguration of the Stoa of Attalus, 3 Sept. 1956. ASCSA Archives, Homer A. Thompson Papers.


Touring the Balkans with the Ladies of Ploutarchou 9

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 writes about women travelling alone through the western Balkans in the late 1930s, on the eve of WW II.


The second half of the 19th century saw the advent of mass tourism in the Mediterranean and Balkans. Despite a few blips (e.g., the Dilessi Murders in 1870 that resulted in the death of three Englishmen and an Italian at the hands of brigands; J. Gennadius, Notes on the Recent Murders by Brigands in Greece), travellers could be reasonably certain of their personal safety. Their passage was also facilitated by travel brokers and books of advice for tourists.  Thomas Cook tours began in Greece in 1868. The Baedeker guide for Greece was published in 1889 while and Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in Greece was already in its 7th edition by 1880.

Group and individual tourism became ever more common and secure.  American students in Greece experienced violence only on three occasions. In 1872 John Williams White, first chairman of the Managing Committee of the ASCSA, was the target of an attempted kidnapping. In 1886 University of Michigan student Walter Miller was commissioned a captain in the Greek army, so that he could hunt down his assailants. Only once did lawlessness end in death, in 1925 when John Logan was shot in Aitolia by attackers who fired on members of the American and British schools, in an apparent case of misidentification (http://www.ascsa.edu.gr/pdf/uploads/ASCSA-1882-1942.pdf, p. 179).

Since the late 19th century trips for the students of the ASCSA had been institutionalized, with a Peloponnese and an island trip led by Wilhelm Dörpfeld.  The Peloponnese trip was considered too rough for women, although the first woman member of the School (1885-86), Annie Smith Peck, travelled extensively there with friends. Several of the School’s female students would also hire Angelis Kosmopoulos (foreman for many excavations, including Olympia and Corinth) and his son George (later the husband of Alice Leslie Walker), as guides for their travels throughout Greece.

The more northern reaches of the Balkans began to attract tourists, including women travellers, a bit later than Greece, and there was an explosion of women travel writers there and elsewhere in the late Victorian period (http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/essay-07-07.html).

“The mid to late 19th century and early 20th witnessed an extraordinary number of European and American female travelers who wrote of their adventures. Industrialization had increased women’s mobility and women more easily could travel by train and streamer. As important, by end 19th century, European imperialism had made many areas of the world “safe” for women travelers. Annie Taylor, first European woman to enter Tibet, stated after she was captured, “I am English and do not fear for my life!”

In A Woman in the Balkans, “Mrs. Will Gordon” introduced her adventures in Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Albania, Montenegro, and Dalmatia in 1919.

“Before the war much of the current literature of the day was written for the ‘man in the street’ and the ‘women at home.’”

Winifred Gordon, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, was attracted to the Balkans by: “much that is interesting in their peoples and problems, much that is unfamiliar in their lives and customs, survivals of a medieval age.” These were people only recently wrested: “…out of a state of virtual subjugation and misrule to the rank of modern powers…”.

But relatively few American Classical archaeologists were drawn to the reaches north of Greece.  Most members of the ASCSA arrived and departed by ship at Piraeus or travelled overland from Northern Europe via Italy. Nonetheless, the creation of Yugoslavia, carved from former Ottoman and territories of the Hapsburg Monarchy after WW I, and the founding of a monarchy in Albania, made travel safer and more comfortable, as touristic infrastructure was established, some of it, especially in coastal Dalmatia, not only comfortable but luxurious.

The new Balkan environment did attract the curiosity of two prominent members of the School, Ida Thallon Hill and Elizabeth Pierce Blegen, who, in both 1937 and 1938, planned an elaborate Balkan itinerary that would lead them from Athens to Italy through Northern Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Croatia to Rome, and, the following year, through Albania to Dalmatia.  It is our good fortune to be able to experience these areas through the eyes not only of two distinguished scholars, but of two prominent woman archaeologists — since their diaries and letters are preserved in the Archives of the School.

Ida’s diaries provide a complete, continuous account of the two trips.  In them she records hers and Libbie’s daily activities in near excruciating detail, with sentences flowing like streams, often without punctuation and always heavily sprinkled with abbreviations and references to others by one initial only.  She clearly intended her diary to serve as an aide-de-memoire and not to be shared with others.

These sources present a picture of two women comfortable in their relationship, devoted to each other and to their husbands, to whom they sent letters along the way. They had, after all, been a couple for three decades, since first meeting as professor and student at Vassar in 1906, and had been living together for a decade as components in the so-called Quartet at No. 9 Plutarchou St. in Athens. The depth of their shared interests is also clear. Both women were endlessly fascinated by landscapes and ethnography as well as antiquities, by Renaissance architecture and medieval, and both were thrilled at the opportunity to see with their own eyes what was already familiar to them from books.  Ida’s most commonly used adjective in her trip diaries is “splendid.”  She and Libbie downed a lot of vermouth on the trip and Ida, at least, read a dozen popular novels, appropriately among them Princess Pro Tem: A Story of High Adventure in the Balkans (1932), in which a dying king attempts to convince his American granddaughter to assume his throne.

Ida Thallon Hill and Elizabeth Pierce Blegen in their travelling gear. ASCSA Archives.

The right for Ida and Libbie to travel by themselves was a fundamental concession that had been established in 1924, only a month before the so-called Quartet was formed through their marriages to Bert Hodge Hill and Carl Blegen (see R. L. Pounder, “The Blegens and the Hills: A Family Affair,” in N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, J. L. Davis, and V. Florou, Carl W. Blegen: Archaeological and Personal Narratives, Atlanta 2015). And they continued to exercise their right to travel together until Ida’s death in Libbie’s arms, during a trans-Atlantic crossing in 1954.

Guide books of the period, such as Baedeker’s for Dalmatia and the Adriatic published in 1929, cautioned travellers to prepare for bedbugs and malaria, but Ida and Libbie found no such impediments to their enjoyment. American Express offices in Athens and in Dalmatia were of assistance in helping them, and generally they were able to find someone along the way who spoke Greek, English, Italian, or German.  Failing that, there were always “’hello’ boys.”  Libbie took photographs and painted when there were opportunities. (Unfortunately, her photos and watercolors from this trip have not been preserved.)

In truth, the roads were not always the best, nor clearly signposted.  The two became lost on several occasions.  There were frequent stops for repairs to their car, typically to patch punctured tires but once to have a new part manufactured on the spot.   Their Greek driver Athanassi was up to such challenges.

Neither woman drove, and success depended on Athanassi, who, back home in Athens, tended their car at Ploutarchou 9.  It was Athanassi who drove the women as far as Italy in both years.  Both Ida and Libbie were too old to have been impacted by movements in the U.S. that encouraged women to drive.  (In 1916 the Girl Scouts had instituted an Automobiling Merit Badge.) In 1937 Ida was 61, while Libbie turned 48 in Dubrovnik.

Highlights from Ida’s 1937 diary can convey the essence of their experiences:

In Ochrid: “Hotel Bellevue, [room] 22, 2nd floor over lake, grand breeze, unpacked, washed a little before dinner, incl[uding] the famous trout.  Have to use shaky German… Hotel manager took us to bank but they didn’t know exchange rate so he lent us 500 d[inars] and said to send it from Skopelzi [Skopje].”

In addition to the citadel of Ochrid they travelled to the famous monastery of St. Naum, then only recently presented as a gift to the King of Yugoslavia by King Zog of Albania. They: “drove along side of lake, splendid, partly by shore, past a fishing village with strange boats, up and around in hills.  S[t.] N[aum] is close by Albanian frontier, fascinating site and fine old church.  By great luck got G[ree]k speaking monk. Very fine Pantok[rator] in dome … Tomb [of St. Naum] for cures with many offerings.  Went to new church with a lot of awful modern things.  To rooms of K[ing] Alex[ander I of Yugoslavia] and Q[een] Mary [of Romania], kept just the same, black ribbons and wreath.”

Alexander had been assassinated in 1934.

St. Naum Monastery in Ochrid

On the way to Skopje they experienced a: “… magnificent drive, after Struga, went past it on wrong road and were started for Albania, then back to right one.  Through splendid gorges, high banks, cliffs, well wooded, rushing rivers.  Bad washouts in places, quick repairs.  Rocks in river.  Two very fine gorges with big open valley between, grand broad basin of river.”

In Skopje: “Had tea and under escort of small G[ree]k boy Ath[anassi] picked up went, eventually, to Hrsumli House [Kursumli An] now converted into a most int[eresting mus[eum], things chiefly Rom[an], a few G[ree]k, Byz[antine], Turk[ish] etc.” This former Ottoman han still attracts visitors today and is near the new archaeological museum.

Exterior of Kursumli An in Skopje

In Kosovo there was the monastery of Decani: “all in most beautiful country – esp]ecially] chestnut groves.  Fascinating place, built by King Stephan [Oros III in the 14th c.].  Archit[ecture] astonishingly like Ital[ian], esp[ecially] Lomb[ard] … Has G[ree]k monk and did the place thoroughly …  Went later to the spring w[ith] monk for drink.  He had been before in Ath[ens].” Since 1999 the monastery has been the target of escalating attacks by Islamic radicals and is today guarded 24/7 by UN forces.

After stopping at Pec, the couple crossed the forbidding landscape of the Dinaric Alps, passed Cetinje in Montenegro, descended to Kotor (which they toured), and arrived in Dubrovnik. The stay there was special: “glad to unpack and clean up after tea in garden.  Dinner out too, dancing etc. Lovely breeze.  L[ibble] had good birthday.” Their hotel, the Grand Imperial (today a Hilton) had provided top of the line accommodations for visitors to the old city of Ragusa since 1897.

Hotel Imperial in Dubrovnik

Shopping for embroideries and for a belt and handbag for Libbie’s birthday was followed by a side trip to Cavtat (“dear little town”) to see the mausoleum for the Racic family, designed by Ivan Mestrovic, the renowned Croatian sculpture of the early 20th century (“splendid place”).

The following morning they departed for Mostar in Herzegovina, where they admired the famous (destroyed in 1993) bridge, then spent the night in Sarajevo, which turned out to be an impressively civilized place. There the couple stayed in a: “Big hotel, rather ruined splendour but all well run.  Huge room.  Tea in café, also ILN [Illustrated London News], had seen Times [of London] at Mostar.”

The next day (July 1) Ida and Libbie arrived early at the city’s museum, and she found the: “coll[ection] far richer than I imagined and beautifully arranged, a splendid place.”

The highlight of the remainder of the 1937 Dalmatia trip was a visit to Salona, the Roman capital of Dalmatia, and Diocletian’s palace at nearby Split.  After that, we leave them as they cross the border at Babindub into the Italian territory of Zadar.

The following year, when the two women repeated their journey, and we have a long letter sent by Libbie to Carl Blegen Dubrovnik.

Libbie’s letter to Carl, June 26, 1938. ASCSA Archives, Carl W. Blegen Papers.

After Skopje, this time, they headed west over the high pass at Qafa e Thanës, where Libbie wrote: “it felt as if we were on top of the word.  The roads are magnificently engineered but lacked hard surface and we got one puncture.”

They then descended to lunch in: “in a beautiful locust grove outside Elbasan where they had chairs and tables and coffee for picnickers and washed our cherries for us, ”not realizing that the well-known Scottish ethnographer and archaeologist Margaret Hardie Hasluck, whom they had formerly known from the British School at Athens, lived there — until it was too late.

In Tirana they did find an old acquaintance, the U.S. Ambassador Hugh Grant.  The cavass (the guard) of the legation helped them with further travel plans, including booking a good hotel room in Shkodra, which was flooded with German tourists.  Libbie and Ida dined with Ambassador Grant where they met the famous English major-general Sir Jocelyn Percy, commander of the Albanian gendarmerie under King Zog.

Tirana, ca. 1938

The highlight of the following day was a visit to the new Agricultural School at Kavaje.  Founded by American Protestant missionaries, the school’s central building was designed by W. Stuart Thompson, architect of the Gennadius Library and long a friend of the Hills and the Blegens.

The Agricultural School at Kavaje built by W. Stuart Thompson, architect of the Gennadius Library.

Did Ida and Libbie have any sense of what was to come in 1939 – a breakaway semi-autonomous Croatia, formed under pressure from fascist Italy and Germany? – the Italian invasion of Albania? These events would change the world and the invasion of Greece in 1940 would further shake and reshape the Balkans. It would be more than a decade before a trip through Yugoslavia like theirs would again be possible, and for Albania not until the early 1990s when I first visited.

In 1937, Rebecca West, acclaimed British authoress, was also exploring Yugoslavia with her husband. Who knows? They may have passed Ida and Libbie on the road.  Her acclaimed account of what she saw, heard, and read presaged the ultimate fate of Yugoslavia as a failed state. The writing was on the wall. But if Ida and Libbie imagined the calamities to come, we find no thread of it in the writings they have left behind.


In the Archives of the Classics Department of the University of Cincinnati, there is a film from a trip to the western coasts of the Balkan peninsula shot in 1935 by George Warrington of Cincinnati. You can view an excerpt (1′) of this valuable film showing Sarajevo here:


Rediscovering the American Pioneer Spirit in Greece, 1928: The Letters of Robert Stroock

In the Main Reading Room of the Carl and Elizabeth Blegen Library in Athens, on the narrow side of one of the old bookcases, hangs a heavy bronze plaque inscribed: “In Memory of Robert L. Stroock: A Lover of Ancient Greece. MCMXXX”.

Unlike other commemorative plaques at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) which have often changed locations or even have been withdrawn from public view over the years, this one has remained in the same spot since it was dedicated shortly after Stroock’s death in 1930.

On display in the Carl and Elizabeth Blegen Library of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Read the rest of this entry »


Hetty Goldman: The Potentate of American Archaeology in Greece

In 1924, Hetty Goldman (1881-1972), who was directing an excavation at the site of Eutresis in Boeotia, hired architect Piet de Jong to draw some of the finds she had unearthed during the season.  To beat the dullness of the evenings, De Jong, who worked for American and British excavations in Greece, made pencil caricatures of his fellow archaeologists which he later turned into striking Art Deco watercolors. The majority of these caricatures once in the possession of Sinclair and Rachel Hood, are now in the care of the Ashmolean Museum. Published by Rachel in Faces of Archaeology in 1998, they constitute visual biographies of American and British archaeologists working in Greece in the 1920s and 1930s.

Hetty Goldman’s caricature by Piet de Jong, 1924. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

De Jong’s caricature of Goldman depicts her “holding a Neolithic pot of which she was particularly proud. The object behind Hetty’s head is a seated archaic statue found up in a Roman villa which was excavated at some distance from the mound [of Eutresis]… There is the mound itself surmounted by the shelter to protect the diggers from the heat of the sun… The horse, Kappa, on the road below the hill to the right draws the cart containing Hetty herself, Hazel [Hansen], Dorothy [Thompson] and Mitso the driver, on their way to work… a sailing boat or caique refers to the expedition organized by the foreman, George Deleas, to try and row across the Gulf of Corinth from Creusis, the harbor settlement of Eutresis.  On the left of the picture at the foot of the mound two village girls with long plaits carry on their heads baskets of washing… Below them is a temple which probably refers to classical architectural findings at Hetty’s previous dig at Halae…” (Hood 1998, p.51). Read the rest of this entry »


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Blending Two Cultures: The Gennadius Library Dedication in 1926


Posted by Maria Georgopoulou

Inspired by the recent inauguration of the new Makriyannis Wing, Maria Georgopoulou, Director of the Gennadius Library, here contributes an essay about the festivities that took place during the dedication of the Library in April 1926.


The new Ioannis Makriyannis Wing at the Gennadius Library

On June 2, 2018 the American School inaugurated the new Makriyannis Wing of the Gennadius Library. During the preparations for the opening, I was tempted to look back at the festivities for the inauguration of the Gennadius Library itself in 1926. As with other momentous moments in his life, John Gennadius was keen to keep in his scrapbooks as much information as possible about the events (Opening Exercises of the Gennadius Library, preserved in Scrapbook Φ38, p. 36).

The dedication ceremony of the Gennadeion took place on April 23, 1926 at 4.30 pm, after extensive preparations in America and Athens. The letters exchanged between John Gennadius and Bert Hodge Hill, Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), in November and December 1925 deal not only with significant matters, such as guest lists, but also with smaller details like the duration of the blessing (αγιασμός). Read the rest of this entry »


Phantom Threads of Mothers and Sons

“Dear Mother: How far are we responsible for already inherited faults? That old Sam Hill, by whom folks used to swear when they dared not take greater names in vain, brought over to Vermont at the end of the eighteenth century among his numerous children one son, Lionel, destined to surpass in dilatoriness all the other slow-going Hills of his generation. He married very tardily and begat two sons, both in due time notable procrastinators, the greater of them being the younger, named Alson, who added to more than a full measure of the family instinct for unreasoning delay an excellent skill in finding good reasons for postponing whatever was to be done. Alson Hill was my father…”.  Bert Hodge Hill (1874-1958) addressed these thoughts to his mother from Old Corinth on February 28, 1933 when he was almost 60 years old. Hill, however, never mailed the letter because she had died when he was barely four years old.

Bert Hodge Hill as a young boy and as a middle-aged man. ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

We will never know what prompted Hill to compose this imaginary missive to a person he never knew. It is the only document, however, that has survived among Hill’s papers that gives us a hint of latent childhood trauma. Just google “mothers and sons” and you will get titles such as “Men and the Mother Wound”, “The Effects of an Absent Mother Figure,” and so forth, with references to a host of scientific articles about the decisive role played by mothers. Hill’s dilatoriness cost him the directorship of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) in 1926, after having served as the School’s Director for twenty years. Hill never even finished his imaginary letter to his mother. Had she been around when he was growing up, would have she corrected this family defect and taught him how to prioritize and achieve timely and consistent results? Hill must have wondered. Read the rest of this entry »