A Journey in the Mediterranean on the Eve of the Great War, 1914.

On July 4th, 1914, Francis Henry Bacon (1856-1940) and his wife Alice (née Calvert) departed from New York aboard the S.S. Kaiser Frantz Joseph (the ship would be renamed the President Wilson shortly thereafter). The Dardanelles were their destination, where the Calvert family owned an estate, as well as a farm in nearby Thymbra. This is where Bacon had first met Alice in 1883, when the members of the Assos Excavations received an invitation to dine with Alice’s uncle, Frank Calvert (1828-1908). An amateur archaeologist, Calvert had conducted several excavations in the Dardanelles. Perhaps more importantly, he suggested that Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890) look for Troy at the site of Hissarlik, not far from Thymbra, in the late 1860s. The Calverts were English expatriates long established in the Dardanelles, who made a living trading commodities with the benefit of consular posts.

The time was not good, however, to travel to Europe and especially to the Balkans and Turkey. Just a few days before, on June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife had been assassinated in Sarajevo. His death sparked a series of events that led Austria with the support of Germany to declare war on Serbia a month later. Within a week, the great powers of Europe were forced to ally with or against the main belligerents. Greece tried to remain neutral until 1917 (in no small part because the Greek King was married to the Kaiser’s sister and thus sympathetic to the German side), but the Ottoman Empire openly supported the Germans. 

Retracing his Steps

Bacon, a graduate of M.I.T (1876), first traveled to Greece in 1878, before the American School of Classical Studies was even founded. In 1881 he would join, as chief architect, the Archaeological Institute of America’s excavations at Assos in Western Turkey. Following Assos, Bacon pursued a successful career in interior design on the East Coast of America about which I have written before (Francis H. Bacon: Bearer of Precious Gifts from the Dardanelles). He is also credited with the design of the Shrine of the Declaration of Independence in the Library of Congress. Because of Alice’s attachment to the Calvert house in the Dardanelles, the Bacons frequently crossed the Atlantic. Occasionally, Francis would make a stop in Greece to retrace his steps.

After several stops including the Azores, Algiers, and Naples, the Bacons finally reached Patras on July 16th, where the couple parted. Alice continued on another steamer to the Dardanelles, while Francis planned to spend a week in Greece, starting from Olympia. “Splendid Victory of Paionios, and then the lovely, beautifully finished Hermes of Praxiteles – about the only authentic ancient masterpiece in the world,” Bacon scribbled in his notebook. The authenticity of the statue –whether it was a 4th century B.C. original or a fine Roman copy- had not yet been challenged.

The Olympia Museum, 1914. ASCSA Archives, Francis H. Bacon Papers.

From Patras, Bacon took a little steamer to Itea. At Delphi he was much impressed by the restoration of the Athenian Treasury, which the French had completed a few years earlier (1903-1906.) He only wished that “they had restored the acroteria, two horses with naked riders prancing off the corners of the pediment.” Bacon, an ardent photographer, did not miss a chance to capture monuments and landscape, as well as to experiment with interior photography, which was exceptionally difficult at the time. “Back to the Museum where the Ephor Contoleon is very obliging and invited us to photo and measure anything we like.” I cherish Bacon’s interior photos because we catch glimpses of the old museum displays. To him we owe a partial view of the old Delphi Museum, built in 1903, and several charming photos of the local children who had befriended one of his fellow travelers. See slideshow below.

After two days at Delphi, Bacon headed off for Athens. “Start at Itea at 5 A.M. Steamer at 6:30 for Corinth Canal and Piraeus. There has been a landslide in the canal and the little steamer almost climbs over a pile of clay and earth in the narrow channel. Reach Piraeus at 4 P.M. Drive to Athens over the dusty road. Go to Hotel Minerva where I spent winter in 1883, now rather dirty and forlorn.”

(The Hotel Minerva located at Stadiou 5 operated until 1991. When Bacon first stayed in it in 1883, it was known as Αι Αθήναι. For more information and a photo of the hotel, check out the site of the Greek Literary and Historical Archive.)

View of the Acropolis from the Hotel Minerva, 1914. ASCSA Archives, Francis H. Bacon Papers.

A fine dinner at the Averoff would, however, compensate for the disappointing accommodations. Athens was hot and lethargic in July. “Impossible to do anything with such heat and dust. Shops all close from 12 to 3, and everybody takes a siesta.” They would find some relief in the premises of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (the School hereafter), which was almost empty, except for William Bell Dinsmoor and [Stuart] Thompson, “the young architect in charge of alterations in the building. Dinsmoor is working on drawings of the Propylaea now being restored.” The School was undergoing its first major expansion since its construction in 1886-1887, enlarging its library and adding an east wing to accommodate the growing number of students. Dinsmoor, also an architect and then just beginning a distinguished academic career, had recently embarked on the study of the Propylaea, a life-long project, which was completed after his death.

William B. Dinsmoor, Francis H. Bacon, and William M. Stanton, outside the Director’s House at the ASCSA, 1914. ASCSA Archives, Francis H. Bacon Papers.

The restoration of the Southwest wing of the Propylaea was also the pet project of the School’s Director, Bert Hodge Hill, who frequently assigned its restoration on paper to the School’s students. It is aptly described by Emerson Swift who was a first year student at the School in the spring of 1913-1914. The students “sprang to it gaily” only to find out that it was “becoming increasingly more baffling. In a way, it resembled the old jigsaw puzzle but very much harder, because one worked not only in three dimensions but also on a grand and imposing scale.” Although Swift “enjoyed a rare sort of mental expansion,” he also commented “that Mr. Hill’s novel teaching methods proved him to be a true educational genius, at whose feet I would be honored to sit as a slow and baffled student” (Emerson H. Swift, Youthful Rambles: On the Trail of the Classics, 1912-1915, California 1975, p. 28).

As soon as he came to Athens, Bacon went up to the Acropolis. “[Will] try to photograph my ‘beauty’ the lovely archaic statue.” By ‘beauty’ he was referring to Kore 686 (also known as the Euthydikos kore), the upper part of which had been found in 1882 east of the Parthenon and the lower near the Erechtheion in 1886-87. Indeed, in Bacon’s scrapbook contains two great photos of Kore 686, which was displayed, however, without her lower part, although the connection between the two fragments had already been made in 1885. Attached to the base that supported the Kore is a piece of paper with “do not touch” instructions in French and Greek. The Greek is amusing because it does not use the expected “αγγίζω = touch” verb but the visitor is asked not to “θίγη τα αντικείμενα” (not to encroach or offend.) The other sculpture that grabbed Bacon’s attention was the Persian rider, which had been partially restored at the time. In Bacon’s interior photos we also catch glimpses of the Kritios Boy and the “Blonde Boy.” See slideshow below.

Bacon spent his last night in Athens at the Actaeon Hotel in Phaleron, “room facing the sea, breakfast on the terrace.” Actaeon, a true “belle epoque” jewel, which had opened ten years before, was perhaps the fanciest and most impressive hotel that Athens ever had. On July 26, 1914, Bacon finally reached the Dardanelles where Alice was waiting for him.

In the Dardanelles

After the devastating earthquake of 1912, Alice and Henry could no longer live in the large Calvert mansion: “We go to look over the big house to see the damage […]. The exterior not hurt much but what a terrible wreck inside.” The house not only suffered from the earthquake but also the years of neglect following Frank Calvert’s death in 1904. After a thorough inspection, Bacon concluded that “the house was a hopeless wreck, and it would be folly to attempt to repair it. The best plan would be to sell it, if possible, and then if the mill could be abolished, build a smaller house on the sea front, on the site of one of the stores […]. However, it is no time to do any building,” Bacon noted. He was referring to the “recent chasing out of the Greeks from all the coastal villages in the Troad. Armed bands of Cretans and Albanians were sent around to beat the Greeks and intimidate them, and a great influx of Turkish refugees from Thrace and Macedonia [who had been expelled from those areas after the victorious for Greece Balkan wars] have occupied their houses, driving out the inhabitants, most of them losing their furniture and household belongings to say nothing of their crops and animals.” These events of 1913-1914 were just a prelude to the Asia Minor Catastrophe of 1922 which saw the expulsion of the Greek population from western Turkey.

From the Dardanelles the Bacons drove to the Calvert farm at Thymbra where the excitement of the day included the installation of a new English steam engine and a threshing machine. In the evening Bacon and Alice walked over to Hanay Tepe, “excavated by Uncle Frank so many years ago.” The site located 7.5 km southeast of Troy was first excavated by Calvert in 1853. In 1878-79, after the discovery of Troy by Schliemann, Calvert went back to the site and correlated its stratigraphy to the levels recorded at Hissarlik.

Upon their return to the Dardanelles on August 5th, they heard that Germany had declared war on Russia and France. “What will Turkey do, as well as Greece and all the rest?” Bacon wondered. Martial law was declared in the Dardanelles. One of their Turkish servants, Mustapha was drafted for the army. “He is only 27, has a wife and two children. Served all through the Balkan war while his family starved and now he must go again.” The Greeks who lived in Asia Minor were also recruited or else they had to pay a steep fine. Bacon worried about his return to America. Plans to travel in Germany and England were cancelled. “They say the Straits will be closed again and how will I get away…”.  By August 8th, England had declared war on Germany and Austria, and Germany began to invade Belgium. “What a state of affairs, nothing like it since the time of Napoleon” lamented Bacon. In addition, the banks had stopped all payments.

Bacon made arrangements to leave the Dardanelles with an Italian boat, the “Romania,” since the French and English ships were held in the harbor for fear of mines, but Italian and Greek boats dared to navigate the Straits following the pilot through the mine field. The boat was full of Greek and Armenian refugees from Constantinople. While still in the harbor waiting for the ship to depart, Bacon witnessed two dark hulls with German flags coming slowly up the Straits: the Goeben and the Breslau. According to Bacon, the Breslau moving slowly down the Straits came “to anchor right astern of the French reserve ship, [the] Saghalien.” “We saw the sailors all at their posts and as she stopped, her long guns begin to waggle up and down in the sunlight trained on the French boat. It was the most menacing thing I ever saw, and the assembled company gasped.” Four years later, Bacon, having witnessed  the Breslau in action, would glue a newspaper clipping from Jan. 23, 1918 on a blank page of his scrapbook: “Four Explosions as Breslau Sank. Airmen Chased Goeben.”

While sleeping aboard and waiting for the Romania to depart, Bacon and his company saw a small boat coming in from Constantinople and flying the American flag. Word came that she was leaving immediately for Mytilene. Without hesitation, Bacon, together with Captain Guy Pears of the Royal Engineers who was trying to get to Egypt, and a Mr. Moloney, a Reuter’s correspondent who wanted to get to Belgium to report on the war, grabbed the opportunity and switched boats. They landed on Mytilene on August 13th [1914] at two o’clock in the morning. They found themselves stepping around mounds: “the streets full of sleeping refugees, men, women and children, their household goods piled all around them. These poor creatures are driven by the Turks from their homes on the mainland opposite. Boats are coming with them daily.” Bacon was referring to the Turkish expulsions of 1913-1914.

For Bacon, Mytilene was a familiar place, “so full of old-time memories – when we had our house there the first season of the Assos expedition in 1881, when Howdy, [William C.] Lawton and [Charles] Bradley were here, […] and all the world was young.”   

Tales of a Greek Island

A few days later with another small Greek steamer, Bacon and his fellow passengers managed to arrive in Piraeus on August 18th. Waiting for the next boat that would take him back to America, Bacon managed to take some good panoramic photos of Athens, one looking towards mount Lycabettus and another towards Hymettus (see slideshow below). Finding that the steamer to New York would not sail shortly, Bacon decided to skip the heat and dust of Athens by spending a few days on the island of Poros. He had recently read “the very pretty stories of the Island by Julia Dragoumis.” Bacon was referring to Tales of a Greek Island that Julia Dragoumis had published in 1912.  Nearly forgotten today, Dragoumis (1858-1937) was a prolific author who wrote both in Greek and English, specializing in short stories and children’s books.

“Picturesque village on the narrow strait, clear blue water, nice room with balcony on the sea. 3 francs. Good eating in restaurant. Coffee and narghileh after under the Eucalyptus tree in the square with the fountain.” (See slideshow below.) After a good night’s sleep, Bacon planned for a day trip to the Temple of Poseidon at Calauria “where Demosthenes is said to have put an end to his life in B.C. 322,” and later in the day he took a sail in the bay, “past a pretty villa on a terrace with some pine trees at the back. The boatman says it belongs to Madame Dragoumis, the author of ‘Stories of a Greek Island.’ As I’d come on account of reading her book, think I’ll call and pay my respects.  Send up my card and a young man comes out, Mad[ame] D[ragoumis]’s son. He is sorry his mother has gone for a walk.” But later that same the evening after Bacon had enjoyed his narghileh on the quai, a boatman brought him an invitation from Madame Dragoumis, “if not too late.” Bacon took a boat across the bay to Villa Gallini, as the house was known, to spend a pleasant evening with the Dragoumis couple, their sons and other friends of the family.

The Villa Gallini was built in 1894 by architect Anastasios Metaxas (whose works in Athens include the French and the Italian Embassies and the Presidential Megaron [the former palace]). It was the summer residence of Dimitris and Julia Dragoumis, who spent the rest of the year in England. Among the many intellectuals who spent time in the house were writer Henry Miller in 1939, and, later, in 1947, poet George Seferis who composed his famous poem Κίχλη (Thrush) there. Julia and her husband were also friends of Carl and Elizabeth Blegen. On December 10, 1932 they took afternoon tea at the Blegen House at 9, Ploutarchou, where Julia presented some grape and grapefruit cuttings from the Villa Gallini for Blegen’s garden.

On his way back to Athens, Bacon made a quick stop on Aegina. “At a café near the quai I asked about the Museum, and presently a very pleasant Greek, Mr. Pelicanos, the ephoros, appeared and invited me to go to the Museum.” There Bacon took a photo of Ephor Pelicanos next to the marble sphinx found by Adolf Furtwängler (1853-1907).

Aegina Museum, Ephor Pelicanos posing next to the Sphinx, 1914. ASCSA Archives, Francis H. Bacon Papers.

All Aboard for New York

On August 26th, 1914 Bacon finally boarded the Thessaloniki. The boat has just arrived from Alexandria. “She looks unkempt and dirty,” but there is no other way to get home.  Sailing along the Coast of the Peloponnese (and not through the Corinth Isthmus), the boat made quick stops at Kalamata and Katakolo (the port of Pyrgos) to take on cargoes of currants. At Patras Bacon went ashore to the U.S. Consulate to find if there was any news of the war. Consul Cook had just arrived from America “with $5,000,000 in gold, and several relief committees to assist Americans in Europe to get home.” The Thessaloniki finally started her long transatlantic journey. In addition to the passengers, the boat carried live cattle, sheep, etc. “which they slaughter on the deck daily for fresh meat” because there was no ice on the boat. “As for the pantry, galley, etc., the least said the better,” Bacon scribbled on his notebook. As for personal hygiene, he managed “to get a salt bath every day or two.”

By the time they left Gibraltar, Bacon and his fellow passengers had already spent ten days on the Thessaloniki “and Heaven knows how many more until we reached Sandy Hook.” Bacon finally reached New York on September 17th. His brother, Henry (also an architect, known today as the architect of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.) was waiting for him. Francis was “once more in the land of the free” and “Allah be praised!”

A Rare Photo

At the end of Bacon’s scrapbook there are copies of letters that he exchanged with his co-traveler Captain Guy Pears in the following two years. Pears fought in the war in trenches in France.  In June 1915, while hospitalized in London after having been wounded on the battlefield, Pears received a copy of Bacon’s scrapbook: “Your journal brought back to me so vividly those happy days we had at Mytilene and Athens. One never knows at the time when one is well off, and I poor fool was fretting all the time about getting back to Egypt and fearing that if I were a day or two late, I should miss my chance of seeing some of the war…”.  

Francis Bacon and Guy Pears enjoying a nargilleh, 1914. ASCSA Archives, Francis H. Bacon Papers.

A year later, Pears sent to Bacon through his father, the Levantine lawyer and distinguished historian Sir Edwin Pears (1835-1919), who came to Boston to lecture, a rare photograph that showed him and General Kitchener inspecting cadets at Woolwich. “It is of interest as it is the last picture of Kitchener,” wrote Guy Pears to Bacon on Sept. 29, 1916. Lord Kitchener (1850-1916), who built England’s first mass army in 1914 and is also known for his colonial victories in Sudan and South Africa, was drowned in June 1916 when his vessel struck a mine.

Captain Pears and General Kitchener inspecting work of cadets, 1916. ASCSA Archives, Francis H. Bacon Papers.

Author’s Note

Bacon’s scrapbook is one of nine which were recently donated to the Archives of the American School by his descendants. This one will be available online on the ASCSA’s webpage shortly.


Athens 1918: “In Every Way a Much More Attractive City than Rome”

The headquarters of the American REd Cross in Athens, 1918-1920

The headquarters of the American Red Cross in Athens, 1918-1920. Source: Horace S. Oakley Papers, Newberry Library, Chicago.

This description of Athens was penned by A. Winsor Weld (1869-1956), one of the deputy commissioners of the American Red Cross Commission to Greece, a few days after his arrival in October 1918. Weld, an investment broker from Boston and a graduate of Harvard University (B.A. 1891), was one of a million Americans who responded to President Wilson’s call to provide military and civilian aid to many European countries at the end of WW I. The mission to Greece was organized in June and July of 1918 in response to an appeal from the Greek Red Cross (Capps 1919, 9).

There came from America to do the work 103 persons (60 men and 43 women), and several others were recruited in Europe. They enlisted in the service of the American Red Cross from all parts of the United States, and represented all manner of occupations and professions. There were business men, lawyers, bankers, physicians, preachers, teachers, farmers and mechanics, and among the women, trained nurses, stenographers and social workers. The authority of the Commission was vested in the Commissioner, who held the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and seven Deputy Commissioners with the rank of Major.

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