Blending Two Cultures: The Gennadius Library Dedication in 1926


Posted by Maria Georgopoulou

Inspired by the recent inauguration of the new Makriyannis Wing, Maria Georgopoulou, Director of the Gennadius Library, here contributes an essay about the festivities that took place during the dedication of the Library in April 1926.


The new Ioannis Makriyannis Wing at the Gennadius Library

On June 2, 2018 the American School inaugurated the new Makriyannis Wing of the Gennadius Library. During the preparations for the opening, I was tempted to look back at the festivities for the inauguration of the Gennadius Library itself in 1926. As with other momentous moments in his life, John Gennadius was keen to keep in his scrapbooks as much information as possible about the events (Opening Exercises of the Gennadius Library, preserved in Scrapbook Φ38, p. 36).

The dedication ceremony of the Gennadeion took place on April 23, 1926 at 4.30 pm, after extensive preparations in America and Athens. The letters exchanged between John Gennadius and Bert Hodge Hill, Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), in November and December 1925 deal not only with significant matters, such as guest lists, but also with smaller details like the duration of the blessing (αγιασμός).

On the day of the event the dignitaries marched into the Gennadius gardens in an academic procession. Inside the Library, they listened to various speeches and a lecture by John Gennadius. Due to limited space, admission to this event was by ticket only.  An additional tour of the Library and “a great garden party” was held in the gardens of the School, on the following day. The blessing (αγιασμός) had taken place a day earlier followed by a reception in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Gennadius hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Arthur M. Woodward, Director of the British School of Archaeology.

The dedication of the Gennadius Library, April 23, 1926. Photo: Gennadius Library, John Gennadius Scrapbook 38.

Greek and Foreign Dignitaries

The inaugural ceremony was a momentous event that attracted many important visitors. Edward Capps (1866-1950), Chairman of the Managing Committee of the American School, and an instrumental figure in accepting the gift of John Gennadius’s precious library on behalf of the American School in 1922, reached Athens in March of 1926. Although the School put on a good face for the inauguration of the Gennadeion, Capps’s early arrival may have had something to do with serious internal strife at the School; Director Bert Hodge Hill, who had served in this position since 1906 had been just terminated.  A ‘civil war” was about to break out in the American School that would cause a deep rift in the School’s foundations for several decades. Yet, the two men appeared side by side on many social occasions during the inauguration of the Gennadius Library, keeping the conflict within the School’s boundaries. [1]

John and Florence Gennadius arrived in Athens on April 13 and stayed on campus, in the newly built house for the Librarian of the Gennadius Library, Dr. Gilbert Campbell Scoggin.

The dedication of the Gennadius Library as seen in the Greek press. Photo: Gennadius Library, John Gennadius Scrapbook 38.

Among the 104 dignitaries who came from the U.S. we should mention: Dr. Henry S. Pritchett and Mrs. Pritchett of the Carnegie Corporation, the organization that had funded the construction of the Library [2]; seven members of the School’s Board of Trustees, including the President of the Board (1911-1928), Judge William Caleb Loring; the Vice-President, Frederick P. Fish (who was also representing M.I.T.); the Secretary (1920-1949), A. Winsor Weld (1869-1956), who had first come to Greece with the American Red Cross in 1918; and the Treasurer (1914-1933), Allen Curtis, who was also a member of the Building Committee supervising the construction of the Gennadius Library. John Van Pelt and W. Stuart Thompson, the architects who had designed and constructed the building, were also present of course. (On Weld’s involvement with the Greek Commission of the American Red Cross, see “Athens 1918: “In Every Way a Much More Attractive City than Rome”; and  about W. Stuart Thompson’s career in Greece, see also “’The Best Laid Plans… Often Go Awry’: A Tale of Two Museums”.)

The American School was not the only one facing problems. Greek President Theodoros Pangalos (1878-1952), who had taken over the government of Greece by staging a coup in June 1925 was to be deposed a few months later in August 1926.  Pangalos attended the inauguration accompanied by his wife, Major Zervos, Captain Laskos, and Captain Gennadis, aides to the President of the Republic. The ceremony was also attended by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Loucas Kanakaris Roufos (1878-1949), and the Minister of Religious Affairs and Education, astronomer Demetrios Aiginitis (1862-1934), the Mayor of Athens, the British Minister and Lady Cheetham, the Austrian Consul General and Madame Walter, and the American Consul General Mr. and Mrs. Garrels.

The dedication of the Gennadius Library. Judge Loring (1), General Pangalos (2), and Captain Gennadis (3). Photo: Gennadius Library, John Gennadius Scrapbook 38.

“A true Greek Renaissance”

Part of the planning had to do with entertaining those who came from America. In addition to visiting the museums and monuments of Athens, one of the Annual Professors of the American School, Dean Walter Miller of the University of Missouri, met a group of them in Patras on April 6 and took them on tours of Olympia and the Argolid and also of Boeotia and Delphi. (On Walter Miller, see also J. L. Davis, “Archives from the Trash: The Multidimensional Annie Smith Peck-Mountaineer, Suffragette, Classicist.)

The Greek experience of the foreign dignitaries was enhanced by a special presentation of the Lyceum Club of Greek Women (Λύκειον των Ελληνίδων). On Thursday April 21, 1926 the Lyceum organized an impromptu reception in their honor, a preview of the annual Festival of the Stadium that was being planned for May 9. The girls of the Lyceum dressed in traditional Greek costume danced folk dances. What attracted the admiration of the guests, however, were the tableaux vivants that recreated a historic panorama of all the periods of Greek civilization from prehistory to the present: “a true Greek Renaissance (Μια αληθινή Ελληνική Αναγέννησις).” (Scrapbook Φ22, p. 12, newspaper clipping, Πολιτεία, 27/4/1926.)  Particular praise was reserved for the reenactment of the frescoes of Knossos by the Greek archaeologist Anna Apostolaki, who put a lot of care into the creation of eleven Minoan costumes, which cost 20,000 drachmas, almost 1/10 of the entire festival’s budget. [3]. Mrs. Hill, the wife of Bert Hodge Hill, was enthused, and the director of Near East Relief referred to the presentation as a most beautiful work of national pride. Rightfully then, did Kallirrhoe Parren (Καλιρρόη Παρρέν) report at the end of 1926 that “Arthur Evans had excavated Knossos, a site that revealed Minoan civilization, but thanks to Anna Apostolaki the Lyceum girls revived Minoan culture and made it accessible to thousands of people.” (About Apostolaki, see also V. Florou, “Anna Apostolaki: A Forgotten Pioneerof Women’s Emancipation in Greece“.)

Greek women clad in copies of Minoan dress for the celebrations of the Lyceum in 1926. Source: Photographic Archive of Lyceum Club of Greek Women.


“All the comforts”

A different kind of feast was planned by John Gennadius and his wife Florence to thank the American School for all their hard work: a formal dinner in the best hotel in Athens was held on Saturday April 24, 1926 (Lazarus Saturday) at 8.45 pm. While the Grande Bretagne hotel was being remodeled (1923-1933), it had taken over the hotel Le Petit Palais (or Μικρόν Ανάκτορον) located on the corner of Panepistimiou Street and Kephissias Avenue (now Vasilissis Sophias) next to the Megaron Demetriou.

Advertisements stressed the prior history of the building, which had served as the residence of prince Nikolaos (e.g. in the Parisian newspaper Le journal des Hellènes, 1926). In 1923, this small luxury hotel of 60 to 70 beds prided itself that it “could be compared to the best of Europe as it had all the comforts sought by the most demanding European guest.” (Much of the staff of 250 people consisted of Asia Minor refugees.) Indeed, the hotel was not only a point of reference for the Athenian elite, but was praised by foreign guests as well. [5] It was in this chic Athenian establishment that Ambassador John Gennadius decided to throw a dinner party to thank the dignitaries of the American School for completing the construction of the Gennadius Library and fulfilling the lifelong dream of this adamant book collector.

Petit Palais, ca. 1920s.

The Menu

The menu consisted of six courses according to the trends of the times. In the interwar period upper-class Greek cuisine underwent a significant change in favor of a more European kind of cooking; the famous Greek cookbook of Nikos Tselementes, first published in 1910, had europeanized Greek cuisine by introducing butter and cream to its recipes. It comes to no surprise that the menu at the Petit Palais featured a five-course meal with dishes influenced by American and French cuisine. (On the changes in Greek cuisine during the early decades of the 20th century, see also: N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, “Expat Feasts in Athens on the Eve of the Balkan Wars“.)

The first course was barley velouté soup with pailles (“straws”) of Cheshire or Chester cheese. It was followed by lobster Newburg, ham mousse with ginger, roasted chicken with lettuce salad and asparagus with sauce hollandaise. For dessert there was bombe plombières [5], friandises (various sweets) and a basket of fruit.

The total cost of this dinner for 38 people was quite substantial: 16,159 drachmas. The dinner itself was set at 300 drachmas per person, drinks amounted to 1,721 drachmas (including the huge expense of 425 drachmas for Evian water); the cost of flowers was 1,000 drachmas and that of cigars and cigarettes 805. There was a service charge of 10% in the amount of 1,233 drachmas.

The Banqueters

The 38 guests were seated in one u-shaped table; they were mostly Americans associated with the School or the U.S. Embassy, and several Greek friends of John Gennadius. (Seating chart available in Scrapbook Φ22, pp. 14-15.) Many of the Greek officials who were invited sent their regrets as on that Saturday they had to attend the celebration of the centenary of the sortie of Missolonghi. John Gennadius had been careful (letter of December 29, 1925 to Bert H. Hill) not to plan the inauguration of the Library on the same day as the celebrations at Missolonghi nor on Greek Easter (May 2).

In addition to the representatives of the School’s Trustees and Managing Committee, the Carnegie Corporation and other American officials mentioned above, John and Florence Gennadius extended their invitation to family members of the dignitaries and to senior staff of the American School. For instance, the Chairman of the Managing Committee (1918-1939) Edward Capps of Princeton University, was accompanied by his wife and two children: Edward Jr. and Priscilla (who also headed Near East Industries in Greece), as well as by his brother, the physician Joseph Almarin Capps of the University of Chicago. The Director of the American School Bert Hodge Hill and his wife, Ida Thallon Hill, were joined by Assistant Director Carl William Blegen with his wife Elizabeth Pierce Blegen, Gennadeion Librarian Dr. Gilbert Campbell Scoggin and Mrs. Scoggin, and Mrs. Jennie Emerson Miller (wife of Annual Professor Walter Miller). The British School was represented by Mrs. W. A. Heurtley, wife of the Assistant director, as the Director was away in Sparta. Three Americans from Chicago, School Trustee (1924-1929) Horace S. Oakley, who was also a member of the American Red Cross Commission to Greece in 1918, and Mr. and Mrs. Henry J. Patten were added to the dinner party.

Edward Capps and Gilbert Scoggin with their wives posing on the steps of the Gennadius Library for the Greek press. Photo: Gennadius Library, John Gennadius Scrapbook 38.

Despite the wish of John Gennadius to have with him the highest ranking diplomats, the Minister of the U.S. to Greece does not appear in the correspondence related to the inauguration; he must have been absent from Greece at the time. In his stead two other members of the U.S. legation to Greece were present at the dinner: James Orr Denby (Second (?) Secretary) and Herbert S. Goold.

The Greek guests included General and Mrs. Amvrosios Phrantzis, whose correspondence with John Gennadius betrays a close friendship and mutual respect between the two, probably formed during Phrantzis’s time in London (1917-1922) [6]; Professor Andreas M. Andreades (1876-1935), an eminent economist trained in Paris and London and Member of the Academy of Athens [7]; D[imitrios] Calapothakis from the Press Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Themistoklis N. Marinos, vice-president of the Historical and Ethnological Society of Greece, one of the academic institutions that were highly regarded by John Gennadius; and G. Marinos.

President Pangalos, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Education, the Provost of the University of Athens Simos Menardos, Alexandros Vouros (1871-1959), a high ranking Greek diplomat, and Stamos Papafrangos (1872-1942), a high ranking official in the Director’s Office of the National Bank of Greece [8] declined the invitation; some were going to be at Missolonghi.

The array of guests demonstrates the network of people that Gennadius wanted to honor in this event, as well as his personal connections with Greek dignitaries. As a senior diplomat from London he surely had a heightened sense of protocol exigencies and meant to include Greek ministers and University professors along friends and colleagues, such as Amvrosios Phrantzis and Stamos Papafrangos with whom he had worked in the past.

The juxtaposition of the two events, one at the Lyceum Club of Greek Women, celebrating the continuity of Greek history, and the other, a high class European-style dinner at a posh Athenian hotel offered by John Gennadius, recall the two cultures that were combined in his figure. As his portraits show, this Athenian who spent most of his life in London could choose to appear either as a true Greek or as a Englishman seamlessly blending into the new, host culture depending on the situation.

 

Portrait of John Gennadius by Philip de László, 1925. Photo: Gennadius Library.

Portrait of John Gennadius for Spy Magazine, ca. 1925.


Notes

[1] On the rivalry between Capps and Hill, see also: “Clash of the Titans: The Controversy Behind Loring Hall” and David W. Rupp,” Mutually Antagonistic Philhellenes: Edward Capps and Bert Hodge Hill at the American School of Classical Studies and Athens College,” in Philhellenism, Philanthropy, or Political Convenience? American Archaeology in Greece, ed. J. L. Davis and N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, Hesperia Special Issue, vol. 82:1 (2013), pp. 67-100.

[2] Henry Smith Pritchett (1857-1939) was a Trustee of the Carnegie Corporation and president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (1906-1930). He was a famous astronomer, former President of MIT, founder of TIAA (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association) and had close ties with the American School; about Pritchett and the Carnegie Corporation see N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, “The Carnegie Appropriations to the American School of Classical Studies. Gifts wrapped up in successful social networking,” in Philhellenism, Philanthropy, or Political Convenience? American Archaeology in Greece. ed. J. L. Davis and N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, Hesperia Special Issue, vol. 82:1 (2013), pp. 131-152.

[3] Anna Apostolaki (1881-1958) hailed from Crete and was among the first women to enroll at the University of Athens to study philology. In her professional career she became involved with the nascent field of ethnoarchaeology as well as the National Museum of Decorative Arts. She was particularly keen to organize exhibitions and festivals in order to support organizations like the Weaving Center “Double Axe” in Crete established in 1925. She was a founding member of the Lyceum Club of Greek Women in 1911, where she gave a significant lecture on Knossos in 1911. See E. Bobou-Protopapa and N. Andriotis, «Η Άννα Αποστολάκι στο Λύκειο των Ελληνίδων: το ξεκίνημα [Anna Apostolaki in the Lyceum Club of Greek Women. The Beginning],» in A. Economou and V. Florou, eds., Αντίδωρον στην Άννα Αποστολάκι. Η ζωή, το έργο και η συνεισφορά της, Athens, 2017, pp. 133-150, esp. 142-144.

[4] Aggelos Vlachos, Μεγάλη Βρεταννία: ένα ξενοδοχείο σύμβολο. Eπιμέλεια, σύμβουλος έκδοσης Γεωργία Μ. Πανσεληνά. Athens 2003, pp. 80-81.

[5]  Ice cream made with whipped cream, candied fruit and kirsch in the shape of a bombe or sphere; https://www.maxi-mag.fr/cuisine/recette/plombiere.html. Retrieved on January 20, 2018.

[6] Amvrosios Frantzis (1869-1953), an army officer who participated in the Greek-Turkish War of 1897, the Goudi Military League (1909), and the Balkan Wars. From 1917 to 1922 he served as military attaché at the Greek Embassy in London and in 1926 he was appointed military attaché to Prime Minister Kountouriotis; cf. http://www.ascsa.edu.gr/index.php/archives/Gennadius-Archival-Collections#AmvrosiosFrantzis. Retrieved January 20, 2018.

[7] Andreadis was professor of Political Economy and Statistics at the University of Athens and member of the Academy of Athens since its inception in 1926. In addition to his significant contributions to economic history and public finance, Andreadis also wrote studies about Byzantium, early modern Greece, theatrical reviews, and even literary studies. See M. Psalidopoulos, ed., Ανδρέας Μ. Ανδρεάδης. Ο Πατριάρχης των Δημόσιων Οικονομικών. [In Greek: Andreas M. Andreadis. The Patriarch of Public Finance]. Athens, 2008; P. Giotopoulos, “Andreas M. Andreades [In Greek],” Ionios Anthologia  95-98 (1935), pp. 77-83; and V. Rapanos, “Ο Ανδρέας Ανδρεάδης και οι σύγχρονες απόψεις για τη φορολογία,” in Ανδρέας Μ. Ανδρεάδης. Ο Πατριάρχης των Δημόσιων Οικονομικών (2008), pp. 33-60.

[8] Although his signature is not easily deciphered it probably belongs to Papafrangos who had been sent to the U.S. along with John Gennadius to negotiate a loan to Greece in 1921); cf. L. P. Cassimatis, American Influence in Greece 1917-1929 (Kent, OH, 1988), p. 71.


Phantom Threads of Mothers and Sons

“Dear Mother: How far are we responsible for already inherited faults? That old Sam Hill, by whom folks used to swear when they dared not take greater names in vain, brought over to Vermont at the end of the eighteenth century among his numerous children one son, Lionel, destined to surpass in dilatoriness all the other slow-going Hills of his generation. He married very tardily and begat two sons, both in due time notable procrastinators, the greater of them being the younger, named Alson, who added to more than a full measure of the family instinct for unreasoning delay an excellent skill in finding good reasons for postponing whatever was to be done. Alson Hill was my father…”.  Bert Hodge Hill (1874-1958) addressed these thoughts to his mother from Old Corinth on February 28, 1933 when he was almost 60 years old. Hill, however, never mailed the letter because she had died when he was barely four years old.

Bert Hodge Hill as a young boy and as a middle-aged man. ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

We will never know what prompted Hill to compose this imaginary missive to a person he never knew. It is the only document, however, that has survived among Hill’s papers that gives us a hint of latent childhood trauma. Just google “mothers and sons” and you will get titles such as “Men and the Mother Wound”, “The Effects of an Absent Mother Figure,” and so forth, with references to a host of scientific articles about the decisive role played by mothers. Hill’s dilatoriness cost him the directorship of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) in 1926, after having served as the School’s Director for twenty years. Hill never even finished his imaginary letter to his mother. Had she been around when he was growing up, would have she corrected this family defect and taught him how to prioritize and achieve timely and consistent results? Hill must have wondered.

Hill’s letter to a “phantom mother” (read also my note at the end of the essay) and the fact that Mother’s Day is around the corner, inspired me to look for other cases of mother-and-son relationships among the people whose personal papers reside in the School’s Archives.

Carl W. Blegen (1887-1971), the excavator of Troy and Pylos, on the other hand, had a happy childhood in Minnesota with attentive parents and caring siblings. Many of his mother’s letters are preserved in the ASCSA Archives, but the contents are difficult to access because they are hand-written in Norwegian. As a result they are largely unread with only a few exceptions.  But, although Anna Blegen wrote to her son exclusively in Norwegian, he corresponded with his parents in English.

The majority of any archive (and here I am referring to our analog collections) usually consists of incoming correspondence. Letters sent out are rare and are either drafts, or, rarely, originals that relatives of the deceased (usually the “family’s historian”) have saved. In Blegen’s case, it was his nephew Robert (Bob) Blegen who preserved Carl’s correspondence to his family and then donated it to the School’s Archives in Athens. Yet, despite Bob’s care, only a handful of Carl’s letters to his parents remain.

Carl Blegen (standing, left) with his parents and siblings, 1908. ASCSA Archives, Carl W. Blegen Papers.

Blegen chose to write separately to his mother and father. His letters to his father, John Blegen, a professor of Greek and Religion at Augsburg Seminary, were usually long because he would often try to explain aspects of the current political situation in Greece. On August 1, 1915, Carl wrote a lengthy letter to his father about the nature of Greek politics and the “events which led up to the resignation of Mr. Venizelos as Prime Minister of Greece.” His letters to his mother Anna are shorter; hers, however, are quite long. In one of his to her, written on Nov. 16, 1916, he described the impressive discovery of two Roman statues at Corinth, while a month later (Dec. 25, 1916) he would share with her his successes as a gardener in Athens. “Gardening is almost as much fun as archaeology” Blegen confided. He often climbed Mount Hymettus in order to collect bulbs of wild cyclamen and orchid.

It would be wrong to think, however, that Blegen’s letters to his mother were trivial or mundane. A letter from his sister Martha reveals that Carl shared with his mother a lot more than just gardening adventures. “Mother was good enough to let me read that letter about Miss Schurman as you said I might. I was rather surprised to think that such a thing should happen to you for you were always making fun of others! But I might have suspected that you were very much interested elsewhere, for you have written, so seldom this last year… and I hope that when she does make up her mind it will be as you wish…” (Martha Blegen, July 31, 1913).

Anna Blegen writing in Norwegian to her son Carl. ASCSA Archives, Carl W. Blegen Papers.

I have written elsewhere about Blegen’s love affair with Catherine Munro Schurman (1886-1936), the daughter of the U.S. Minister to Greece in 1912-13, Jacob Gould Schurman. Knowing how much this affair had tormented Blegen, I was curious to find out how much more he had confided to his mother. With the help of people of Norwegian descent, I was able to read parts of two letters from his mother. In the earlier one, from July 22, 1913, she inquired whether Miss Schurman’s parents were aware of his marriage proposal: ‘What do her parents say to this? Have you spoken with her father?” She ended her letter with a little warning, no doubt, revealing a mother’s instinct: “I only wish and hope that she says ‘Yes.’ Should it go against you, it would probably become quite difficult to stay as ‘cheerful’,” his mother noted. By September 12, the not-so-good news had reached Blegen’s mother. Helen had declined Carl’s proposal. “It is all for the best” Anna Blegen wrote, further adding with a touch of motherly indignation: “it seems that her family had other expectations for their eldest daughter. She encouraged Carl “to keep up his courage” and “although nothing is good, you are that much stronger.”

Carl Blegen with Catherine Schurman and her father Jacob Schurman, 1913. ASCSA Archives, Carl W. Blegen Papers.

Ten years later he would share very little with his mother about his relationship with Elizabeth (Libbie) Pierce. It was too complicated and perhaps too progressive to explain to his mother. After an initial “yes” and engagement in February 1923, Libbie broke up with Carl, and resumed her relationship with Ida Thallon, only to agree, a year later, to a conditional marriage, involving a liaison of four. I wonder how much of this, if any, Carl ever confided in his mother. The family was almost shocked to read on July 24, 1924 that he had married Elizabeth in Lake Placid without inviting them.

“Mother doesn’t feel equal to writing you and Elizabeth today, so wants me to do so for her. The news of your marriage was certainly a very great surprise, since you had given not the slightest intimation of any such plans. You ask if she had had any suspicions – we only wish you had given occasion for them” wrote his sister Martha on July 15.

To add further that “you know she loves you so much that whatever will bring you the greatest happiness is what she wishes for you.” Martha concluded her letter by saying that their mother was looking forward to seeing him soon. He must have hurt her even more when he and Elizabeth decided to leave for England a few days after their wedding without going to Minneapolis to meet Carl’s family. In fact, his mother would die two years later without having ever met Elizabeth in person.

If Blegen, metaphorically speaking, broke his mother’s heart in 1924, a year later, he would convey the bad news of Richard Seager’s sudden and untimely death to his mother, Gertrude McCabe. Seager (1882-1925), the excavator of Mochlos and Pseira, an islet off the coast of Crete, had taken ill on ship returning from Egypt to Crete and died at sea. In the ASCSA Archives we have his mother’s response to the announcement of Richard’s death. “It’s as you know, a crushing blow to me. He was my most cherished possession and I am alone without him… The shock was too much and for 24 hours I was dumb and blind” McCabe wrote to Blegen on May 26, 1925, thanking him for taking care of Richard’s funeral on Crete. Seager was her only child. “I shall never take Richard’s body away from Crete. I’m sure he would prefer to lie there, where his best efforts were made and his heart was.”

To end this post on a lighter note I recall a conversation I had more than two decades ago with Nancy Winter, Head of the Blegen Library at the time. She had asked me whether I had read Theodore W. Heermance’s letters to his mother; she wanted to know if I had noticed the unorthodox way with which he signed them. Heermance, Director of the School for two years (1903-1905), wrote to his mother weekly. However, instead of simply signing as Theodore (or Ted), he used his full name: “Theodore Woolsey Heermance.” Why? I don’t know. One suspects a formal relationship between mother and son, which was probably not unexpected in the upper echelons of America’s East Coast, where boys were sent away to boarding schools at an early age.

On the other hand, John Gennadius (1844-1932), the founder of the Gennadius Library (one of the School’s two libraries) maintained a close relationship with his mother Artemis throughout his life despite his frequent and long absences from Greece, as the few preserved letters between the two reveal. He addressed her as Αγαπητή και πολύτιμή μου Μαμά (My dear and precious Mother) or Μανούλα (My little Mother, a very affectionate term in Greek) even as a mature man in his late 30s. And he treasured the scrapbook of dried plants (φυτολόγιο) that she compiled for his 36th birthday in January 1880.

From the plant scrapbook that Artemis Gennadius compiled for her son’s birthday in 1880. ASCSA Archives, John Gennadius Papers.

Speaking of formal and informal mother-and-son relationships, Prince Charles of Wales most recently broke protocol by publicly calling Queen Elizabeth “mummy.” The Queen’s reaction? Rather amused, she rolled her eyes!


Note: Phantom Thread, the movie, inspired the title of my essay. In it, Reynolds Woodstock (played by Daniel Day Lewis), the renowned London dressmaker of the 1950s, cherished his mother’s memory by having sewn a lock of her hair into his jacket. More than an act of remembrance, her lock acted as a talisman and guaranteed her protective omnipresence in his life long after her death.


The Bohemian Past of Madame Gennadius

On Saturday December 27, 1902, a well-publicized wedding took place in London.  John Gennadius, former ambassador of Greece to England and a great book-collector, age 58, and Florence Laing, the youngest daughter of Samuel Laing and the widow of painter Edward Sherard Kennedy, age 47, were married in a double ceremony, first at the Greek Orthodox church of St. Sophia and later that day at the Anglican church of St. Peter’s at Cranley Gardens.  There are no photos capturing the ceremony or the reception that followed, but Gennadius, the creator of more than seventy scrapbooks, did keep numerous newspaper clippings announcing this celebrated marriage. More than a few of them mention that the bride had an annual income of roughly 8,000 pounds, leading some to hint that it may have been a marriage of convenience. Time proved that their union was a harmonious one; it lasted 30 years until his death in 1932. She outlived him by another twenty years. The Gennadius Library of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) was the offspring of their union. The deed of gift was signed in 1922 and the building was completed in 1926.

John and Florence Gennadius, ca. 1925. Source: ASCSA, Gennadius Library.

John and Florence Gennadius, 1920. Source: ASCSA, Gennadius Library.

The best source for John Gennadius’s life is a small, but thorough, booklet, Joannes Gennadios, the Man: A Biographical Sketch (1990), by Donald M. Nicol, director of the Gennadius Library (1989-1992). In it, there is very little information about the circumstances of how Gennadius met Florence Laing Kennedy. Nicol suspects that they were introduced by “Prince Alexis Dolgoruki, an acquaintance of Gennadios, [who] had married an English lady, Miss Fleetwood Wilson, who was an old friend of Florence.” In an endnote, Nicol mentions that Florence was an artist in her own right, having exhibited her “genre paintings” in the Royal Academy and other London galleries between 1880 and 1893. Read the rest of this entry »