The American Dream to Excavate Delphi or How the Oracle Vexed the Americans (1879-1891)

Delphi before the excavations, April 1891. Photo ASCSA Archives. Click to enlarge.

Delphi before the excavations, April 1891. Photo ASCSA Archives. Click to enlarge.

The story of how the French secured the excavation of Delphi has been told before. Pierre Amandry published an exemplary account (“Fouilles de Delphes et raisins de Corinthe”) of the negotiations between the French, Greeks, and Americans in La redécouverte de Delphes (1992). His work drew heavily on material in the archives of the French ministries of Public Instruction and Foreign Affairs and L’ Academie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres to paint a detailed picture of the French side of the story. His account of the American side is much shorter because Amandry only had access to a handful of documents published in the History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1882-1942 (1947, pp. 58-62). The author of that volume, Louis Lord, included four letters either addressed to or written by Charles Eliot Norton, the President of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). Norton was not only the founding spirit of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) but also the driving force behind the Institute’s unsuccessful campaign to dig at Delphi. In a brief essay from Excavating Our Past (2002), Phoebe Sheftel presented more records from the archives of the AIA that shed further light on the American side of the Delphi story without, however, making reference to the rich archival resources that Amandry had published in his long article. Sheftel’s story about Delphi is “the story that Norton wanted told” (Sheftel 2002, p. 106). Read the rest of this entry »


Revisiting George Cram Cook and Other Delphic Surprises

George Cram Cook's grave. Click to enlarge photo

George Cram Cook’s grave. Click to enlarge photo

Back in August, when I wrote about the unusual life of George Cram Cook and his death and burial at Delphi, I promised to add a photo of his grave.  Artemis Leontis of Michigan University kindly sent me her own photos of Cook’s and Eva Palmer’s tombs at Delphi, but I hesitated to post them because I felt that I had to visit Cook’s grave myself. Moreover, as an archaeologist, I was curious to examine the ancient block that had been used for his headstone. Susan Glaspell in The Road to the Temple described it as “one of the great fallen stones from the Temple of Apollo” (1926, p. 343). But by the time Elias Venezis referred to Cook’s grave in his American Earth, the block had assumed the shape of a column “συντροφευμένος από μια κολόνα του Ιερού των Δελφών” (1955 [1977], 301). Was it a block or a column drum?

On September 24, Tom Brogan and I drove to Delphi to hear the papers of Tom Levy and his team at a conference on virtual reality in archaeology. Before going to the conference center, we made a brief stop at the local cemetery, which is located above modern village near the southwest edge of the ancient site.  Several foreigners are buried in the northwest corner of the cemetery. It wasn’t hard to locate Cook’s grave, two burials to the right of Eva Palmer Sikelianou’s. With a broom that I borrowed from a nearby grave, I cleaned the surface of the marble plaque and revealed this inscription: Read the rest of this entry »


“Going Native”: The Unusual Case of George Cram Cook

Susan Glaspell and George Cram Cook with their fatal puppy dog at Delphi, 1923.

Susan Glaspell and George Cram Cook with their fatal puppy dog at Delphi, 1923.

In The Road to Temple, a biography of George Cram Cook, his wife, author Susan Glaspell wrote: “He liked the shepherd’s clothes, worn also by the peasants. A grey or black tunic, white tights of beautiful wool from the sheep of Parnassos, spun and woven by the women, heavy half-shoes crowned with poms-poms, and a little black skull cap.” Cook had adopted this attire when he decided to move to Greece in 1922 and make Delphi and Mount Parnassus his new home. By January 1924, Cook had died of glanders (contracted from his pet dog) and was buried at Delphi, a column drum from the Temple of Apollo marking his grave. Glaspell published The Road to Temple only two years later.

I did not know who George Cram Cook (nicknamed “Jig”) was until a few years ago. While reading the diaries of archaeologist Dorothy Burr Thompson, I discovered by happenstance the following entry for October 15, 1923: “At supper G. Cram Cook, husband of Susan Glaspell, appeared in Greek costume in the restaurant –looking handsome and ridiculous. He is writing four plays on modern Greece…” There is one more entry in Thompson’s diary about Cook. On January 16, 1924 she mentions his death: “G. Cram Cook died of hydrophobia in Delphi – poor man, his four plays unfinished.” One senses some slight sarcasm in her remark. Read the rest of this entry »