Brainerd P. Salmon: American Journalist (and Many More) and Friend of GreecePosted: April 12, 2023 Filed under: Archival Research, Biography, Modern Greek History, Philhellenism, Uncategorized | Tags: Brainerd P. Salmon, Edward Capps, Eleutherios Venizelos, John Gennadius 4 Comments
In American Influence in Greece, 1917-1929 (Kent, Ohio 1988), historian Louis P. Cassimatis refers to Brainerd P. Salmon, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Greece, twice. In the Preface, by quoting a line from Salmon’s Glimpses of Greece (1928): “‘American interests in Greece are commercial, financial, educational, and at times philanthropic, but never political’.” And again, in Chapter Five under “Constantine and the Forced Loan of 1922,” when Cassimatis discusses the three-man economic and diplomatic mission that the Greek Government sent to Washington D.C. in the fall of 1921.
The mission composed of John Gennadius, former minister of Greece to Great Britain, Stamos Papafrangos, solicitor of the National Bank of Greece, and Salmon was sent to the United States by the Royalist government of Demetrios Gounaris to obtain recognition of King Constantine as head of the Greek State and request the advancement of the remaining part of the Tripartite Loan of 1918 (about 33 million dollars), which had been suspended. (Until King Constantine formally acknowledged that he had succeeded his dead son King Alexander, the United States could not honor agreements made with the previous Greek government, that of Eleutherios Venizelos.) Failing that goal, the three men had high hopes for a private loan from American banks since there were already several U.S. commercial firms active in Greece in the early 1920s (Cassimatis 1988, 166-172).
According to Cassimatis, the idea of a Greek mission to the U.S. was the “brainchild of Paxton P. Hibben” (1880-1928), a former diplomat and an Associated Press war correspondent sent to Greece in 1915, and a close friend of King Constantine (so close that, in 1920, Hibben would publish Constantine I and the Greek People, in support of Constantine’s decision that Greece should remain neutral during WW I). Hibben’s recommendations included Papafrangos, Philippos Dragoumis, Ion’s younger brother, and Alexander Mercati, “a confidant of the Royal Family” (Malakasses 1976). Gennadius, writing to Demetrios Maximos, Governor of the National Bank of Greece, described in detail his meeting with Prime Minister Gounaris in London in the fall of 1921. According to Gennadius, it was Gounaris who persistently asked him to head the Greek mission to America (ASCSA Archives, Joannes Gennadius Papers, Box 4, folder 15). Maximos must have supported the inclusion of Papafrangos, a lawyer and a high-ranking officer of the National Bank of Greece.
BPS Enters the Scene
But how did an American like Brainerd (or Brainard) Pomeroy Salmon become involved in this mission? I became interested in Salmon because his name kept popping up in the institutional records of the American School in the early 1920s. A google name search produced very little, however. Searching in www.ancestry.com and www.newspapers.com proved more fruitful. Salmon also appears in the Eleutherios Venizelos Papers at the Benaki Museum (accessed through www.searchculture.gr). The Salmon puzzle remains far from complete, but I was able to piece together certain parts of it.
Salmon’s early years, up until WW I, are very sketchy. He was born into a small family in Fulton, a small industrial city in Oswego County, N.Y., in 1878. I could not find where he went to school, or if he did go to college. His name appears in the city lists of New York (1910-1915) as a manager, a manufacturer agent, and he is once associated with Mountain Construction Co. His journeys to Europe must have begun in 1918 according to border crossing lists, and at first he seems to list France as his final destination. By 1919, he was listed as married although he traveled by himself. In April of 1919, Salmon traveled first class as an “architect.” At some point Salmon must have made his way to Greece for business reasons. In May 1921 he was invited to the farewell dinner for U.S. Minister Edward Capps. (Capps was Minister to Greece for a short period in 1920 under the Wilson administration.) Salmon, representing the North American Wood Products Company, is listed among the members of the American Colony in Athens.
Six months later, Salmon was on his way to the U.S. as the third link in the three-man mission that I described above. Who vouched for Salmon? Not Gennadius because he did not know him personally. Was he recommended by someone in the U.S. Legation? Could it have been Capps, the former Minister? Somehow the Greek government was convinced to include Salmon in this important mission, as someone who could strengthen commercial ties between the two countries. «Α Mr. Salmon is in the city [Washington] attempting to make appointments for Mr. Papafrango to obtain a loan», reported the Chief of the Near Eastern Division to the Secretary of State, sent on December 12, 1921 (Malakasses 1976, 68).
In his personal papers in the Archives of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), John Gennadius mentions that during his 8-month stay in America, he sent 77 reports to the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs describing the group’s various contacts and meetings, and listing some of Salmon’s articles in the U.S. newspapers in support of Greece (Box 11, folder 4). Gennadius’s report of April 17, 1922, exalted Salmon’s important services. And it was during his trip to the U.S. that Gennadius was brought into contact with Edward Capps, the Chairman of the American School , a meeting that led Gennadius to donate his magnificent library to the School.
Salmon signed his press releases as President or Chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Greece, although the Undersecretary of the State expressed some doubts about the official character of his position: “Mr. Salmon claims to be President of the American Chamber of Commerce” (Malakasses 1976). In one of his lengthiest press releases, Salmon argued for Greece’s right of self-government, and if that meant that her people wanted King Constantine back, America should stand “for the right of free peoples to govern themselves.” What was happening in the Near East was not just a “European matter.” In addition, both Greece and America would benefit the most from an “open door” trade policy (“Denies Europe Has a Monopoly of Interest in the Near East,” The Sunday Star Washington, 26/3/1922).
Despite all of the hard work and lobbying, Gennadius did not get an audience with the Secretary of State, Charles Evans Hughes, until April 25, 1922. It was cordial -in fact, Hughes made special mention of Gennadius’s generous gift to the American School- but bore no fruit. The U.S., in agreement with England and France, refused to recognize the government of King Constantine and, because of this, the State Department could not render any financial assistance to Greece, who was fighting a war with Turkey since 1919 and was in dire straits. For Greece, this was the beginning of the end which came a few months later, with the calamitous defeat of the Greek army in Asia Minor in September of 1922.
After eight months in the U.S., John Gennadius left America in July 1922, having received honorary doctorate degrees from George Washington University and Princeton University; Papafrangos had left earlier. Salmon, on the other hand, stayed longer. During his time in Washington, it is very possible that he met Venizelos, who was also touring the East Coast on an unofficial visit. There is a note in the John Gennadius papers about how awkward they all felt when they found out that Venizelos was staying in the same hotel, but, out of courtesy, Gennadius paid his respects to the former prime minister.
Two months after the Asia Minor Catastrophe, Salmon addressed from New York a letter to Venizelos, who was not in power, but supported the revolutionary government that governed Greece after September 1922. In it he suggested, in agreement with Capps, “the appointment of a competent American attorney” to support Greece’s case for the 1918 loan. He also mentioned that they (Capps and Salmon) were working on a plan to help Greece with constructive relief (Benaki Museum, Eleutherios Venizelos Papers, Nov. 13, 1922). A few days later Salmon sent Venizelos a copy of an interview about Greece he had given to the New York Evening Post. Venizelos responded with a letter of thanks “for all you are doing for the Greek cause in this great crisis” (Benaki Museum, Eleutherios Venizelos Papers, Nov. 24, 1922).
Capps, having taken Salmon under his wings, telegraphed Venizelos, who was in Lausanne negotiating on behalf of Greece the terms of the Lausanne Treaty, on Jan. 5, 1923: “strongly recommend appointment salmon by ministry as liaison with American relief in Greece […]”. Venizelos followed up with a telegram to the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs recommending Salmon as a liaison between the Greek Government and the U.S. humanitarian agencies that were active in Greece after the Asia Minor Catastrophe (Benaki Museum, Eleutherios Venizelos Papers, Jan. 6, 1923).
From his new post Salmon addressed several memoranda to Andreas Michalopoulos, Venizelos’s private secretary, such as “Greek American Relations and Outline of Work to Be Done” and “The Legal Liability of the United States to Greece in Connection with the Credit of 1918,” or updated Venizelos about his and Capps’s actions to raise awareness in the States concerning the continuance of the refugee relief in Greece after the withdrawal of the American Red Cross at the end of June 1923. He also wrote to the Director of Publicity of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, recommending the establishment of a fully equipped Bureau of Publicity in the U.S. “whenever funds are available” (Benaki Museum, Eleutherios Venizelos Papers, May 14, 1923). Salmon proposed Edward Hale Bierstadt, “a well-known writer and journalist” to run the service with a budget of $60,000-70,000 per year (May 29, 1923). He also implied that until the Greek government found the funds to support a complete publicity service, he could start one himself, “which could grow in the future as time and necessity dictated” (Benaki Museum, Eleutherios Venizelos Papers, Salmon to Michalopoulos, June 6, 1923).
There was a flurry of action in the late months of 1923 and early 1924 as Capps spearheaded the creation of the American Friends of Greece (AFG) in October of 1923. This new organization had a three-fold mission: to educate the American people about the refugee situation in Greece, to negotiate with existing organizations for continuance of relief aid to Greece, or to organize a separate appeal for funds. Salmon signing as Special Commissioner in Washington D.C. of the Greek Minister of Public Assistance (i.e., Apostolos Doxiades) prepared and distributed through the American Friends of Greece a “Statement Regarding the Refugee Situation in Greece” that contradicted a recent announcement by the American Red Cross (ARC) that the refugees in Greece had been assimilated and there was no need for more U.S. relief aid (ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers, Box 2, folder 2).
Salmon’s Reputation at Risk
It is in an exchange of letters between Capps, Bert H. Hill, and Carl W. Blegen (the School’s Director and Assistant Director, respectively), that we learn how much the U.S. Legation in Athens disliked Salmon. One of Blegen’s comments to Hill about Salmon must have echoed the Legation’s opinion, namely, that Salmon had been hired by the Greek Government:
“as a propaganda agent in America with the understanding that he was to receive a commission on all loans he may succeed in getting paid and likewise on all sums collected and turned over by philanthropic organizations inspired by his propaganda for relief work… In any case S. appears to have a most unsavory reputation among American (and Greek) circles in Athens. I wonder if Mr. C. knows how unpopular S. is over here” (Bert H. Hill Papers, Box 2, folder 3, Dec. 5, 1923).
When Hill confronted Capps about Salmon’s reputation, Capps explained that Salmon was “under a contract to render services in connection with the refugees […], his compensation was fixed” as well as his expense account, and that his contract had no reference whatever to any change in his compensation conditioned upon his success in any one of the defined field of his activity.” That he had “no relation to the Greek Loan, except to do all in his power to induce the [American] government to pay it.” Capps further added that Salmon had “no relation whatever to philanthropic contributions, except an interest such as I have in seeing that such are made[…] and that he had “no business connection with the AFG and has never received a cent from us, though he has served us with devotion and intelligence whenever we have had need of him.” Capps thought of Salmon as a valuable and trusted person who was successful in building up in Washington D.C.:
“a very wide and influential set of connections. Mr. Hoover [at the time Herbert Hoover was Secretary of Commerce] seems to value his advice, and seeks it; the Near East Relief and the Federal Council, and similar groups; [John] Finley and the newspaper people; and many of the leading men in Washington. The whole complexion of Greek relations in America has been transformed since his coming over”. Capps ended his section about Salmon by noting that he had never seen “work of a higher grade” (Bert H. Hill Papers, Box 2, folder 2, Jan. 11, 1924).
The American Legation treated Salmon as a thorn in its side, hoping to get rid of him. In February 1924, Ray Atherton, the Chargé d’affaires in Athens, met with Doxiades and “made representations against S[almon], and the State Department took up the matter with the Greek Ambassador in Washington, [Michael] Tsamados, but “no statements or allegations were made” (Bert H. Hill Papers, Box 2, folder 2, Feb. 16, 1924). The American Legation in Athens was successful, however, in dissuading the ARC from resuming relief aid to Greece. Capps, much disheartened, refocused his efforts on the establishment of embroidery workshops in Athens that employed refugee women. His daughter Priscilla would direct the AFG workshops which later merged with the Near East Industries.
Glimpses of Greece
Salmon continued his collaboration with the Greek Government under a new contract, that of the Director of the Hellenic Information Bureau in Washington. Salmon’s role (and others, whom Dale Pappas calls “business savvy Byrons”) in the development of Greek tourism in the interwar period is being examined in Pappas’s dissertation “Partners in Pleasure: State and Private Capital in the Making of Modern Mediterranean Tourism” (2021). In a press release about the American School’s intention to excavate the Athenian Agora that appeared in many U.S and Canadian newspapers in July 1927, Salmon promoted Greece as a tourist destination: “Greece offers wonderful tourist possibilities. The country is beautiful and the Government is constructing roads that will compare with the best elsewhere in the world[…] good hotels are being constructed and there is no fear of brigandage …”. Salmon also tagged himself as representative of the Athens Telegraphic Agency and correspondent of the Messager d’ Athènes (The Gazette [Montreal, Quebec, Canada] 11/6/1927).
A year later, in 1928, Salmon would publish Glimpses of Greece, a tourist guide to Greece, jointly sponsored by the Hellenic Information Bureau and the Anglo-Hellenic League in London. It featured articles by many prominent American philhellenes, such as Henry B. Dewing, a classicist and president of (the newly established) Athens College, Charles P. Howland, chairman of the Greek Refugee Settlement Commission of the League of Nations (1925-1926), Ernest A. Gardner, British archaeologist and former director of the British School at Athens, and others. According to Dale Pappas, Salmon’s book “was not solely a guide to ‘what ought to be seen,’ rather it was devoted to the Greece of the 1920 and the refugee crisis,” including an itinerary of locations affiliated with refugee settlement and assimilation. Salmon wrote the chapter “American interests in Greece,” where in addition to promoting Greek commodities (e.g., Hymettus honey, currants, and tapestry) and U.S. companies trading in Greece, he made special reference to educational institutions such as the ASCSA, Athens College, the American Farm School, Anatolia College, the Y.M.C.A., and others. Fred McCallum wrote the part about the “American Workshops in Greece,” but there is no reference to its director Priscilla Capps. (I found it interesting that that Capps did not contribute to Glimpses of Greece and that the chapter about the AFG Workshops was not written by Priscilla Capps.)
It is about this time that Salmon drops off the School’s radar. I could not find any references to him in the School’s administrative records from the late 1920s. (Unfortunately, Edward Capps’s personal archive in America has not been preserved, or, at least, all our efforts to locate it have not borne any results.) Salmon’s contract to run the Greek Information Bureau in Washington continued until 1932. In late 1931 Salmon must have inquired about the renewal of his contract. In the Eleutherios Venizelos Papers there is a memo from the Greek Tourist Organization to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, suggesting the renewal of Salmon’s contract for another three years, but with a modification: Salmon would continue to promote Greece to the American people, while a Greek appointee would develop and strengthen the relations with the Greek American community (November 17, 1931).
The Greek Tourist Organization was responding to public complaints by Greek American organizations, such as AHEPA, who were pushing for a Greek American at the helm of the Greek Information Bureau. A certain Nick Kassavetis, who had applied for the position, but did not get because his services cost three times more than Salmon’s, claimed that Salmon was underperforming, sponging off Greek money, and had been absent from Washington since October 1928 (newspaper Πατρίς 13/2/1932).
It is unclear where Salmon resided after 1928, whether in America or Greece. In the fall of 1930, Salmon was reporting from Addis Ababa, as a United Press writer, the coronation of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie (The Pittsburgh Press, 2/11/1930). In the spring of 1932 Salmon sent from Greece a brief note to the Wisconsin State Journal to correct news circulating in the U.S. that the Greek government had decreed three meatless days a week. Fearing that such news would discourage American tourists from coming to Greece, Salmon informed the editor that the number of meatless days had been reduced to two, while adding:
“the readers should not envisage these days as days of war-time hardship. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays red meat is replaced by chicken, turkey and duck, all of which are plentiful, and by fresh lobster or the many delicious fish in the waters of the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Aegean seas abound […]. At the moment there is no place in the world where the gastronomic desires of mankind can be better or more cheaply satisfied.”
In January 1934, the then Director of the American School, Richard Stillwell, addressed a brief letter to Salmon, who was living at the Grande Bretagne Hotel in Athens. The letter included a photo and a short description of a Dionysus head discovered in the Corinth excavations in the fall of 1933.
Making the Front Page
On August 16-17, 1934, Salmon made the front page on several Greek newspapers. The day before, he had been found dead in his room at the Grande Bretagne. The toxicological tests showed that he met his death by poison. He had left two notes, one for his lawyer, the other for George Anthony Weller (1907-2002), a fellow journalist in Athens, who would later write The Crack in the Column (1949), a novel about wartime Greece.
Some of the press notices were brief, others lengthier in their remembrance of Salmon’s active support of the Greek refugees, for which he was decorated with the Order of the Savior. All emphasized that his suicide was related to his financial bankruptcy.  Once again, the local community was divided over Salmon: for some, he deserved such an end because of his spendthrift lifestyle, for others he, an ardent supporter of Venizelos, was the victim of the new political situation in Greece and the ripple effects of the Great Depression in the Greek economy. Salmon’s contract with the Greek government was cancelled soon after the defeat of the Venizelist party in March 1933. A promised indemnification never came through, and the Greek American newspaper in New York he worked for suddenly closed. Venizelos died in 1935; a year later, on August 4, 1936, the Metaxas regime cancelled key elements of the constitution, and, in so doing, established a dictatorship. One way or the other, “the business savvy Byron” would have been marginalized.
Salmon was buried in the First Cemetery. On his plaque, it is written: American Journalist and Friend of Greece. His death report mentioned no relatives. The only photo we have of him comes from the passport found in his room.
. In a recent conference at the American School, co-organized with the Hellenic Parliament Foundation, The Asia Minor Disaster and the Humanitarian Response: International Philanthropic Organizations and the Arrival of the Refugees in Greece 1918-1924, I discussed the establishment of the American Friends of Greece in 1923, as well as the polarization of the American Community in Athens over the continuation of relief aid to the thousands of unassimilated refugees after the withdrawal of the ARC.
. Ακρόπολις, 15/8/1934; Ελεύθερον Βήμα, 17/8/1934; Έθνος 16/8/1934; Ελληνικόν Μέλλον 17/8/1934, and Εθνικός Κήρυξ 17/8/1934. His death was also reported in the New York Times, “Journalist a Suicide.; B.P. Salmon Had Written From Athens for American Papers,” 17/8/1934.
L. Cassimatis, 1988. American Influence in Greece, 1917-1929, Kent, Ohio 1988.
J. T. Malakasses, 1976. “American Diplomatic Relations with Greece during the Last Part of Wilson’s Administration and the Beginning of Harding’s: The First Active American Intervention in the Internal Affairs of Greece,” Dodone 5, 47-74.
D. Pappas, 2021. “Partners in Pleasure: State and Private Capital in the Making of Modern Mediterranean Tourism” (Unpublished Diss. University of Miami).
B. P. Salmon (ed.) 1928. Glimpses of Greece, Washington D.C.