“All Aboard”: Cruising the Aegean in 1923

On the morning of May 14, 1923, a private yacht approached the island of Santorini and cast anchor just outside the bay of Phira. The Zion carried twenty-five passengers and belonged to an American millionaire and philanthropist, George D. Pratt. Pratt, a recent widower, had come to Greece a few weeks earlier, and the cruise would allow him “to go about the islands taking photographs” as one of the Zion passengers –or so Natalie Murray Gifford wrote in her own account of the trip. There was, however, another, more practical, motivation that lay behind Zion’s Aegean course. At the end of the cruise, the yacht would sail to Mount Athos to deliver food and supplies to starving Bulgarian and Russian monks, who had lost vital support from home as a consequence of the Russian Revolution. Thomas Whittemore, one of Zion’s passengers, was monitoring this relief effort.

Santorini, 1923 (ASCSA Archives, Carl W. Blegen Papers)

Santorini, 1923 (ASCSA Archives, Carl W. Blegen Papers)

Pratt’s guests on board the Zion were archaeologists or classicists affiliated with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) or with the American Academy in Rome (AAR). All were advanced students and scholars, making the trip entirely unlike the contemporary commercial cruises to the renowned harbors of the Mediterranean that had become increasingly popular in the first decades of the 20th century. Evelyn Waugh describes such a trip aboard the Stella Polaris in Labels (1930), as well as how pleasure cruising had evolved by his time. “Before that only the very rich, who owned their own yachts, could afford this leisurely pottering from port to port,” and this is exactly what George Pratt’s Zion was tasked to do; to offer an exclusive, old-fashion cruise to the members of the School at Athens and the five “Romans” who had come from the Academy in Rome. Waugh also drew a colorful distinction between travelers and tourists, and Pratt’s guests were clearly members of the former club. Read the rest of this entry »