Francis H. Bacon: Bearer of Precious Gifts from the Dardanelles

I first came to know Bacon’s name when, as a student of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) in 1989-1990, I was asked to report on the Assos Excavations during the School’s trip to Asia Minor. Assos, an affluent, ancient Greek city in the Çanakkale Province and a colony of Lesbos, is known for having erected the only Doric temple in Asia Minor, where the dominant style was Ionic. Francis Henry Bacon (1856-1940) was the architect of the excavations, which were funded by the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) and took place from 1881 to 1883, as well as one of the three co-authors (with Clarke and Koldewey) of a final publication that was not completed until 1921. Although Bacon’s name appears second, the publication would not have appeared without his dedication and persistence. Joseph T. Clarke (1856-1920) had given up on it long before, and Robert J. Koldewey (1855-1925) had dedicated most of his life to uncovering Babylon.

In 1878, Francis H. Bacon and Joseph T. Clarke bought a sailboat, the “Dorian,” in London and sailed to Athens by way of Holland, the Rhine, the Danube, the Black Sea, and the Aegean. Here a self-sketch by Bacon while examining a marble lekythos at the National Archaeological Museum. Source: MIT Libraries, Institute Archives and Special Collections.

In 1996, as the recently hired Archivist of the American School, I met one of Bacon’s nieces, Helen Bacon Landry (1924-2007), who was visiting the School. She left me with a photocopy of Bacon’s “Assos Days,” a collection of letters and journals that he had transcribed at some later point in his life: “for the benefit of Family and Friends, but interesting chiefly to Himself.” It appears that Bacon made at least three copies in 1934, and one of them came into the possession of Lenore Keene Congdon (1935-2014) in 1966. Subsequently, she published parts of it in Archaeology magazine in 1974.  In 1998, Anastasia [Tessa] Dinsmoor presented to the Blegen Library a second copy that Bacon had given to his friend Alexander (Alec) Maley. I do not know about the other copies, but this one also contains a detailed biographical note composed by Bacon himself. (However, this second copy did not come to my attention until years later when the library handed it over to Archives for special protection.)

Assos Excavations. Local boy sitting on top of Doric capital. Photo by John H. Haynes, who participated in the excavations. For his photography, see Robert G. Ousterhout, John Henry Haynes: A Photographer and Archaeologist in the Ottoman Empire 1881-1890, Hawick 2012. (There is also a wonderful video by Ousterhout.)

In the final pages of “Assos Days,” Bacon describes his initial visit to the Calvert mansion in the Dardanelles in 1883, where he first laid eyes on his future wife Alice: “I had never been at their house! Found the two young ladies at home… and also another one (the eldest), a Miss Alice, just as pleasant as her sisters; in fact, they are three about as nice girls as I’ve seen in this country! Their father [Frederick] died a few years ago! He had been quite wealthy and had built an enormous mansion on the sea with a magnificent garden about it! When he died the house was unfinished. Here these three girls live with their mother and their father’s brother, Mr. Frank Calvert, our consul! … A part of their property is a large house called ‘Thymbra Chiflik” in the Trojan plain about four hours ride from town! The girls all ride horse-back splendidly, each having her own horse. Then they play tennis, going winters to Smyrna, Egypt or Constantinople… These old Levantine English families form quite an aristocracy! They are nearly all well to do, and all seem to be related to each other.” Not only would Bacon marry Alice shortly after their meeting, but a few years later, in 1893, his younger brother Henry would also wed another of the Calvert sisters, Laura. (Henry Bacon [1866-1924], is the architect of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.)

The Calvert mansion in the Dardanelles, ca. 1900. From Allen 1999.

In 2002, Susan H. Allen published a long essay that dealt with the history of the ill-fated excavations at Assos, from its beginning until its delayed publication more than thirty years later (Allen 2002). Other than these two publications, information about Bacon still remains sketchy, especially for the period between the “Assos Days” and the publication of the excavation in 1921.

A Leading Designer

It appears that Assos was an interlude in an otherwise significant, although poorly documented, career as an interior designer that started immediately after his graduation from M.I.T. in 1876. At first he worked briefly for McKim, Mead & White, the famous architectural firm, for $20 per week, but, when in 1880 the Herter Brothers, a decorating firm, offered him $35 per week to help them design furniture for William H. Vanderbilt’s new house on Fifth Avenue, Bacon could not resist. In 1881 he joined the Assos Expedition for two years. After his return to America in 1883, Bacon realized that it would take him years to establish a profitable reputation as an architect, so he decided to switch careers to interior design. “I finished my [Assos] drawings in midsummer, 1884, and was now anxious to earn a living as in the meantime I had become engaged to be married! So through Mr. Norton I got a position with H[enry] H[obson] Richardson, the architect in Brookline!” noted Bacon in the Epilogue of the “Assos Days,” composed in 1923.  While working for H. H. Richardson (1883-1886), another prominent architect, Bacon, who wanted to become financially independent, decided finally to give up architecture for interior design “as being more profitable!” “Got an introduction to Mr. A. H. Davenport of Boston and entered his employ in the fall of 1884! I went to Constantinople in June, 1885, and was married there in the Crimean Memorial Church to Miss Alice Calvert.”

Within a few years, Bacon would become the leading designer for A. H. Davenport and Company, a renowned furniture making firm that had formed partnerships with major architects, including Richardson. Through Richardson, Bacon designed some of the furniture for the Glessner House in Chicago. According to their web page, Bacon decorated Mrs. Glessner’s new Steinway piano, which weighed 900 pounds and was delivered on Christmas day of 1887. In January 2015 while attending the AIA meetings at Chicago and during one of the worst recent blizzards in the Midwest, Jack L. Davis and I managed to pay a visit to this exquisite house, which is now a museum, and to inspect the piano. While there, I noticed that there was other furniture in the house that could have been designed by Bacon, who is credited with introducing classical elements to a style known as Colonial Renaissance. (Bacon’s career as a furniture designer remains sketchy and unexplored and would be a great topic thesis for an architectural historian.)

Mrs. Glessner’s piano, designed by Francis H. Bacon. Photo: Jack L. Davis.

In 1914, A.H. Davenport merged with another successful furniture firm, Irving and Casson.  In the website of Historic New England, which acquired the Irving and Casson – A. H. Davenport Co. archive, I discovered several of Francis Bacon’s designs, easily identified by his signature initials: FHB.  One of the most important clients of the merged firm was the great American entrepreneur and founder of Eastman Kodak, George Eastman (1854-1932).  Bacon designed most of the furniture for Eastman’s house in Rochester, New York (now the George Eastman Museum). In addition, signature chairs by Bacon are on display both in the Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

One of Francis Bacon’s chairs for A.H. Davenport. Source: Historic New England, Irving and Casson – A. H. Davenport — Collection I.

Chair made by A.H. Davenport and attributed to Francis H. Bacon. American Furniture in the Art Institute of Chicago.

I was pleasantly surprised to find in a letter from Edward Capps, the Chair of the ASCSA Managing Committee, to Edward D. Perry that Bacon had been asked to design some of the furniture for the newly built Loring Hall (1929) at the ASCSA; this furniture must be saved during its upcoming remodeling. “And he [W. Stuart Thompson, the architect of Loring Hall as well of the Gennadius Library] has ordered the furniture for the whole shebang, the nicer pieces from Bacon and the simpler ones from a New York house… Thompson is certainly a daisy of the first water…” confided Capps to Perry on September 3, 1929 (ASCSA AdmRec Box 311/4, folder 4).

Interior photo of Loring Hall, 1931, with furniture designed by Francis H. Bacon.

Relieved at Last!

When not designing furniture, Bacon must have worked on the Assos plans and drawings. In the Epilogue of his “Assos Days”, Bacon described how it fell upon him to finish the publication of Assos. When Clarke finally abandoned the project in 1896, he handed over to Bacon all the drawings and notes; Bacon sent immediately for Koldewey. The two of them “went over all details and agreed as to the manner of their publication! It was to be a book of plates with descriptive text and notes. Then I began a task which proved for me more than I expected, deciphering others’ notes, drawing over things long forgotten, all in the midst of other active business!”

He would go back to Assos in 1904, only to find the site more ruined than ever. “Stop at the theatre, now all ruined, and the scena built over as a goat shelter hardly recognizable… How I wish Koldewey was here! …The Agora plateau a ruin! Stoa all smashed and columns gone! The Bouleuterion is now a goat enclosure! … What an enormous place Assos is! Ten times the size of Priene!  … Down to the tombs. What a ruin is there –all broken and smashed! They are evidently using the place a quarry as dressed lintels and sills are lying ready to be carried off! …Fortunately we have every stone on paper, as the place is now a scene of desolation.”

Topographical plan of Assos Excavations, published in Investigations at Assos (pt.1).

Before leaving Assos, Bacon presented to the village “the Book of Assos, Part 1, which I have had bound… to always remain with the head man for the benefit of travelers and others. I had a Turkish scribe at Dardanelles put in a dedication in large Turkish script, and all the inhabitants crowd around to see the pictures… Many of the people are recognized in the pictures to their great delight! Great excitement, and the future visitor to Assos will have to look at this book whether he wishes to or not; but judging by the way the ruins are disappearing, the book will be all that’s left ere long­!” wrote to Charles Eliot Norton, the President of the AIA, on June 23, 1904.

Assos was finally published in 1921, “and if ever a man felt relieved of a burden, that man was Francis H. Bacon” wrote Bacon in September of 1923.  By then, Francis (Frank) and Alice had moved back to the Dardanelles. One final search combining Bacon’s name with Calvert’s led me to the fascinating website for Levantine Heritage. This is where I found this photo of Francis and Alice and other members of the extended Calvert family.

The extended Calvert family, 1931. Francis Bacon seated in the middle, Alice to his left. Source: Levantine Heritage, Testimony 16.

Safeguarding Frank Calvert’s Legacy

Back in the 1990s, as I was familiarizing myself with the archival collections that the School had amassed over the years, especially with the history of their acquisition, I came to realize that a small part of the Heinrich Schliemann papers had come to the School through Bacon, several years before Schliemann’s children, Agamemnon and Andromache, deposited their father’s rich archive at the Gennadius Library in 1936.

In 1923, while on board a ship bound for New York, Bacon wrote a letter to the Director of the American School, Bert Hodge Hill, asking him to accept eighty-nine letters that Schliemann had written to Frank Calvert, the U. S. consular agent in the Dardanelles, in the early 1870s, as well as penciled drafts of a few letters that Calvert wrote to Schliemann. Bacon had found them while cleaning the destroyed Calvert mansion at the Dardanelles. With both men dead (Schliemann in 1890 and Calvert in 1907), Bacon wished, through the letters, to preserve for posterity the complicated relationship and secret rivalry between Schliemann and Calvert. As a member of the Calvert family, he would have heard stories about the injustice that Schliemann had done to Calvert by not crediting him with the discovery of the site of ancient Troy.

“Perhaps you may know that Dr. Schliemann came to the Troad with the intention of excavating for Troy at Bounarbashi, but was persuaded by Mr. Calvert to begin at Hissarlik where Mr. Calvert had already bought a field… Dr. Schliemann never gave him credit for directing him to Hissarlik” wrote Bacon to Hill in his accompanying letter.

Bacon’s letter to Hill, 1923. ASCSA Archives, Heinrich Schliemann Papers.

Susan H. Allen in Finding the Walls of Troy juxtaposed the life and work of both men, finally giving credit to Frank Calvert for the discovery of Troy. Their different personalities, the shrewd and flamboyant Schliemann on one side, and the modest Calvert on the other, can best be seen in the grave monuments of the two men. Their respective antiquities had a similar fate. Calvert’s rich collection was dispersed to various museums in America and Europe, sometimes with no indication that the objects belonged to him, while Schliemann’s Trojan collection remained almost intact and was given to the Berlin Museum. Its “disappearance,” however, in 1945, when it was stolen by the Russians as spoils of war, and its reappearance at the Pushkin Museum fifty years later, where it is on partial display, represents history’s revenge on Schliemann.

Gathering of archaeologists at Troy, 1890 (a few months before Schliemann’s death). First row (l-r) seated: Frank Calvert, Osman Hamdi Bey, and Charles Waldstein. Second row standing: Rudolph Virchow, Wilhelm Grempler, Ghalib Bey, Heinrich Schliemann, Edith Calvert, Wilhelm Dörpfeld, Madam Babin, Charles Louis Henri Babin, Friedrich Carl von Duhn and Carl Humann (I would like to thank Filiz Songu for identifying the people of the second row). ASCSA Archives, Heinrich Schliemann Papers.

For reasons unknown to me, but most likely owing to an absence of regularized archival procedures at the time, the papers of Frank Calvert were not catalogued and marked as a separate collection, i.e., the Frank Calvert Papers, but were incorporated into the Schliemann papers when the latter came to the American School –never having received the credit they deserved. Once again, Frank Calvert was eclipsed by Schliemann.

The Stargazer

The Calvert papers were the first gift that Bacon sent from the Dardanelles, but not the last. A few years later, in the late 1920s or early 1930s, Bacon must have brought another important gift to the American School; this time, a small statuette of alabaster (height: 0.145 m) from the third millennium B.C.: The Stargazer. This rare (there are about thirty known pieces) statuette was found at Kilia near Gallipoli, in an excavation directed by Frank Calvert in 1901.

The Stargazer. ASCSA Archives, Antiquities Collection. On temporary loan to the Museum of Cycladic Art.

Following his retirement Francis and Alice Bacon returned to the Dardanelles. The Calvert family’s property was in decline having suffered both from the Battle of Gallipoli and the Greco-Turkish war of 1919-1922. Frank Calvert’s once rich collection of antiquities had been dispersed to various museums, or lost in natural or human catastrophes. What little was left was finally given to the local Canakkale Museum in 1934. But, for some reason, Bacon chose to take the small statuette out of Turkey and bring it to the American School. I have found no evidence, so far, in the School’s administrative records or in the personal papers of people that knew Bacon (such as Hill or Carl W. Blegen, or Gorham P. Stevens) how the statuette ended up at the School. In June 1932, the new director of the American School Richard Stillwell claimed that he had found the statuette in the director’s roll-top desk, unaware how it had arrived at the ASCSA:

“Provenance: Unknown. Found by me in roll-top desk, June 1932, and left by me in ditto. R. Stillwell.”

Forty years later, another Director of the School, John Caskey,  who published the Stargazer in the American Journal of Archaeology in 1972, also claimed that he had no idea how the statuette had come into the possession of the School. Caskey was the one who identified the School’s Stargazer with the photograph of a similar statuette in an old German catalogue of Calvert’s collection that he had seen in Istanbul in 1937; next to the photograph there was an added a penciled note: “geschenkt an Amer. School of Archaeol. Athens.” Since 2006, the Stargazer has been on loan and display at the Museum of Cycladic Art.

Francis Bacon between Greek archaeologists Konstantinos Kourouniotis and Panayotis Aristophron, 1931. ASCSA Archives, Francis H. Bacon Papers.

Drawing in Full Size (F.S.D.)

Bacon’s third gift to the School was his portfolio of full-size drawings of moldings and rubbings. Unlike the Stargazer, this gift was fortunately accompanied by a letter that Bacon had sent to the Director of the American School in 1933, explaining the nature of his gift. Bacon wanted a safe shelter for a series of drawings, most of them rubbings at full-sale, of relief decoration of funerary monuments, capitals, and friezes from ancient monuments in Asia Minor and Greece.

Trained at M.I.T., which had adopted the European tradition of making measured drawings, Bacon learned to draw architectural details in full scale. (At M.I.T. Bacon studied under William R. Ware, the architect of the ASCSA (core) building in Athens, his only European project.)  In fact, Bacon at Assos and Howard Crosby Butler in Sardis in the early 1910s were the first American architects to produce full-scale drawings of archaeological remains. The practice of full-scale drawing of architectural details remained popular in the United States until the mid-1930s (Edlung-Berry 2005, p. 3), and Francis Bacon can be credited as being a pioneer in this art. In 1936, a few years after the publication of the Erechtheum had come out, Bacon criticized his friend Gorham P. Stevens for not executing full-scale drawings of the monument (Edlung-Berry 2005, p. 8). In his late 80s, after a successful career in furniture designing, Bacon had returned to his original vocation. From 1929 until 1931, he travelled in Asia Minor and Greece drawing architectural fragments at full-scale.

An example of a full-scale drawing by Bacon published in Investigations at Assos (pt. 1).

In the end, Francis Bacon made not one, but three valuable gifts to the American School. Without the Calvert Papers, the story of Troy’s discovery would not have been complete. Although a rare type of Early Bronze Age sculpture, the Stargazer’s object biography also speaks to us about past and recent practices of private collecting.  Finally, Bacon’s unique rubbings, aside from their pioneering value, tell us about an architect’s esoteric dialogue with his objects: As he himself wrote, “when you draw a full size of a good Greek original, you shake hands with the man who made it… Half size will not do; it is not the same thing” (Edlund-Berry MAAR 2005, p. 4).


ADDENDUM

On June 18, 2019, I received some additional and highly interesting information from Mr. Eric Pominville of Washington D.C. about Francis H. Bacon, some of which I am sharing below:

–“I think it worth mentioning that F.H.B. is credited with the design for the Library of Congress Declaration of Independence Shrine which was dedicated in 1924. This display shrine can be seen when actor Jimmy Stewart views the Declaration of Independence in the 1939 Frank Capra movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The transfer of the Charters of Freedom to the National Archives and a more modern exhibit shrine did not occur until December 1952.”

–“One of the most interesting first-person accounts connected to the story of the AIA excavations at Assos is William Cranston Lawton’s charming essay “From Venice to Assos” published in the Atlantic Monthly in April 1889. “No one who knows him will wonder” Lawton wrote of Frank Bacon “that they followed to the world’s end for love of adventure and of his companionship.”


REFERENCES

S.H. Allen, Finding the walls of Troy: Frank Calvert and Heinrich Schliemann at Hisarlik, Berkeley 1999.

S.H. Allen, “Americans in the East.” Francis Henry Bacon, Joseph Thacker Clarke, and the AIA Assos,” in Excavating our Past: Perspectives on the History of the Archaeological Institute of America, ed. S. H. Allen, Boston 2002, pp. 63-92.

L. Caskey, “The Figurine in the Roll-Top Desk,” American Journal of Archaeology 76 (1972), pp. 192-193

T. Clarke, F. H. Bacon, and R. Koldewey, Investigations at Assos: Drawings and Photographs of the Buildings and Objects Discovered During the Excavations of 1881-1882-1883, Cambridge Mass. 1902-1921.

I. Edlund-Berry, “Architectural Theory and Practice: Vitruvian Principals and “Full-Sale Detail” Architectural Drawings, Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 50 (2005), pp. 1-13.

L. Keene Congdon, “The Assos Journals of Francis H. Bacon,” Archaeology 27 (1974), pp. 83-95.

 


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.

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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 »