Posted on January 25, 2015
I’m sure you’ve been wondering why archaeologist James Mellaart, after three highly successful seasons excavating in Turkey at the neolithic settlement of Catalhoyuk in 1961 through 1963, was denied a permit to dig in 1964 and again in 1966.
Mellaart’s excavations at Catalhoyuk had unearthed a huge Stone Age city, with hundreds of houses, burials, and artifacts, including wall murals that represent the first known human art on a manmade surface.
Turkish authorities denied Mellaart’s permit because of his involvement in the Dorak affair, which has puzzled archaeologists, and the general public for more than half a century.
The story, in brief, goes like this: Mellart was on a train to Izmir when he saw a woman with a gold bracelet that any archaeologist worth his salt would identify as Bronze Age Anatolian craftsmanship.
He chatted her up, asked about the bracelet and she told him her family had a whole hoard of artifacts from the same period that had supposedly been excavated from Dorak, near Troy, when Greek troops occupied the area after World War I.
She gave her name as Anna Papastrati, and when she learned he was an eminent archaeologist, she invited him to the family home to see the artifacts, which included objects of gold, silver, lapis lazuli, amber, marble and obsidian.
There were scepters, bracelets, daggers, swords, ax heads and vessels, and a solid gold throne cover inscribed from the second pharoah of Egypt’s fifth dynasty. No horde of Bronze Age artifacts would be complete without one.
The pharoah’s gift was made to a ruler of the Yortan kingdom, which bordered Troy, of which nothing much is known.
Mellaart drew detailed sketches of all the objects, and published them, with a description of their provenance in the Illustrated London News.
So far, so good. But when Turkish authorities went to the address Mellaart had given, they found no trace of Anna Papastrati, or of her family, or, needless to say, of the treasure.
Not one of the objects described by Mellaart has turned up for sale anywhere in the world, as far as we know, and the Dorak affair remains a mystery to this day.
Some say Mellaart made up the whole story, but why would the most famous archaeologist of his day make up such a story, when it cost him his right to continue his excavations?
Some say he did it to cover up an affair with Anna Papastrati, but if so, he would have had to spend so much time sketching and researching that there would have been precious little time for any hanky-panky, if you know what I mean.
The explanation that appeals to me is that the treasure is real and in the possession of smugglers, who took advantage of Mellaart’s expertise to authenticate their artifacts, which were obviously much more valuable after the sketches appeared in the Illustrated London News.
Pretty clever when you think about it. Planting the woman on the train with a solid gold Bronze Age bracelet, counting on the famous archaeologist to recognize it. Luring him to a remote village to view the treasure, getting him to publish an article, and then scooting without leaving a trace.
Excavations at Catalhoyuk resumed in 1993 under the direction of Ian Hodder and Shahina Farid. Mellaart continued his career as a scholar and the author of numerous works on the ancient civilizations of Anatolia and the Near East.
I found this story in the May/June 2005 issue of Archaeology Odyssey magazine.
Posted on January 17, 2015
In her book Wickford Tales, excerpted in the June, 1965 edition of American Heritage, Anita W. Hinckley recalls life in a Rhode Island town around the turn of the century.
“I was always glad to get back from Europe,” she writes, “to Wickford, where things were happening,”
She writes about the first railroad station fire, the subject of a previous entry, about several romances, murders, and other local events, as well as other details of local life, like clambakes.
“In the fall, getting ready for winter and collecting all the food to be stored took much planning and lots of arguing and arranging.Our cellar at Cedar Spring was large, and under the high windows on the south side of the cellar were the barrels of molasses, hard cider, sweet cider, salt pork, and oysters in their shells.”
“Every Sunday the oysters were fed a handful of bran and they made a sucking noise eating quite plain to be heard. Whether the ones on the bottom of the barrel got any bran, I don’t know, but as the ones on top were the first eaten, their turn came soon enough.”
A gentleman named Ed Standeven was the master of the Sunday clambakes. He would supervise as the clams, lobsters, chickens, potatoes and sweet corn, each wrapped up in cheesecloth, were layered into a pit with seaweed between the layers.
Other incidentals included clam broth, watermelon, beer, soft drinks, johnnycakes and cider.
“To make the perfect johnnycakes, two thirds of last year’s meal and one third of this year’s is used. To use all this year’s makes it too moist.”
“We were very particular about our cider, too. No wormy apples were allowed — every apple was carefully picked , and the straw used in the press was clean and changed every time. We made sure the pressing was never hard enough to break the apple seeds. We thought the best cider apples were Gravenstein, and the best eating apples were Baldwins or Seek-No-Further.”
“At the clambakes we always sang, and it was fascinating how our guests changed the time and tempo of the songs. When we had Whiffenpoof boys we of course had charming close harmony. Southern friends meant ‘Dixie’ and such-like songs.”
“On the rare times in the past when we were only family or had old-fashioned guests, we sang the standard old tunes, and Mother’s dear voice rang out with every word of every verse of ‘Johnny Sands,’ ‘The Spanish Cavalier,’ ‘Tell Me, Kind Sir,’ ‘Seeing Nellie Home,’ ‘Now the Day is Over,’ ‘Home on the Range,’ and all the rest.”
“It was always beautiful at our clambake place but when the moonlight was on the water it was very lovely to sit looking at the ocean, singing with friends and being at peace with the world.”
Posted on December 15, 2014
After watching Ken Burns’ documentary about the Roosevelts, I decided to read a book I picked up at a tag sale years ago: The President’s Man by Elliott Roosevelt, FDR’s son.
Elliott Roosevelt served with distinction in the Army Air Corps in World War II during the Allied invasion of North Africa, but later in the war he was involved in some shady dealings, including a procurement scandal involving lots of parties and presents and Hollywood actresses provided by Howard Hughes. He got involved in more scandals after the war, during what Wikipedia calls “a business career marked by ties to organized crime.”
The President’s Man also deals with organized crime. It’s set just before FDR’s election in 1932. When FDR receives mysterious death threats from organized crime figures, he calls on his old college chum Jack Endicott to protect him.
Endicott is the archetypal suave old-money Boston boy who owns a yacht and a speedy roadster and an airplane and a townhouse and a place on Cape Cod. He is very resourceful because he’s so rich and has so many rich friends.
He meets with Dutch Schultz and Lucky Luciano and Al Capone and lots of other underworld figures, and of course they all try to kill him, but he thwarts all their evil plans with the help of an African-American cab driver and a hooker with a heart of gold.
Not only that, he wins a sailing regatta and flies Lucy Mercer to the Democratic convention, so she can see FDR nominated.
There are some interesting glimpses into the FDR household from someone who was there, and there are cameo appearances by Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong, but other than that, not a lot of substance. Still, it’s a fun read.
Posted on October 16, 2014
“In April 1894, a middle-aged gentleman, bearing a load of dresses, was rowed to the deepest part of the Venetian lagoon.
A strange scene followed: he began to drown the dresses, one by one. There were a good many, well-made, tasteful, and all dark, suggesting a lady of quiet habits and some reserve.
The gondolier’s pole would have been useful for pushing them under the still water. But the dresses refused to drown. One by one they rose to the surface, their busts and sleeves swelling like black balloons.
Purposefully, the gentleman pushed them under, but silent, reproachful, they rose before his eyes.”
This passage is quoted from Lyndall Gordon’s biography of Henry James. The dresses in question belonged to Constance Fenimore Woolson, who had been James’ very close friend.
One problem with making historical friends, which, don’t get me wrong, is a wonderful thing to do, is that you get caught up in the lives periperal to theirs, so you really have to find out all about them, too.
I am a big admirer of Marian (Clover) Hooper Adams. I’ve written at least a half a dozen entries about her. I spend an entire summer immersed in her letters to her father.
She is known as a woman who took her own life and was commemorated in a sculpture by Augustus St. Gaudens, but was left out completely from the memoirs of her husband, Henry Adams, as if she had never existed
The concensus among historians is that he loved her so much that he couldn’t write a word about her, and I do not doubt that this might be true.
It wasn’t his duty to overcome his pain and use his extraordinary talents as a writer to present her to us as she was in life…
But, I keep thinking, I would have done that if I had been her husband.
When someone takes their own life, they tend to be regarded as a tragic figure, but Clover was such a lively intellect and such a loving, life-affirming human being, that it is wrong for us to think of her only in those last tragic throes of melancholy, when we should remember who she was when she was herself.
Certainly that was what Clover’s nieces had in mind when they published her letters. And that’s why I want to read everything ever written about Clover Hooper Adams.
Well, it turns out that entails reading all about Henry James and Constance Fenimore Woolson, who jumped out of a window in Venice and did not survive. She’s the original owner of the dresses that Henry was trying to push down into the canal.
James was a close friend of Clover’s. He called her “Voltaire in petticoats.” And there’s no higher tribute than that.
I always thought the prognosis on Henry James was “gay gay gay.” He seemed to be what my grandmother called a “confirmed bachelor,” but Gordon seems to think that he just got into homoerotic fantasies “later in life.”
She plays up his relationships with Fenimore Wilson and another woman from his youth named Minny Temple, but I just don’t think so. He liked them as friends, and I think Gordon miscontrues his use of the word “intimate.”
Remember, homosexuality was illegal in those days.
To me and to other historians, James memoirs strongly suggest homosexual activity with Oliver Wendell Holmes, later chief justice of the US Supreme Court.
Now there’s something that might become a thing. I’ll present the textual evidence in my next entry.
But none of this begins to answer the question of why Henry James was pushing down those dresses in the Venice canal.
Do I have to do everything around here?
Posted on October 13, 2014
I stayed up way past my bedtime Saturday night when I found that Connecticut Public Television was airing the four-part 1990 BBC series House of Cards. The screenplay was adapted by Andrew Davies from a novel by Michael Dobbs, former chief of staff at the Conservative Party.
They’ve made an American version starring Kevin Spacey, but this is the original British version, set at the end of the reign of Margaret Thatcher, as conservative members of Parliament elbow one another to become prime minister.
Ian Richardson is fiendishly delightful as Francis Urquhart, who speaks directly to the viewer, introducing the principals, and guiding us through intricacies of the political process.
Urquhart is chief whip of the Conservative Party, marshalling the ‘back benchers’ and ‘putting a bit of stick about to watch them jump.’
He knows everybody’s foibles and peccadillos, and he uses his knowledge to take down his rivals, one by one, all the while seeming to be the loyal party man who has everyone’s back in a tight spot.
Most of the time he has this devilish twinkle in his eye, and he looks a great deal like my grandfather, so he’s really the most lovable villain since J.R. Ewing.
The backdrops are wonderful — the chambers of Parliament, Urquhart’s town house and his country home and the famous landmarks of London, and the cast is absolutely brilliant.
Susannah Harker gives a magnificent performance at Mattie Storin, a young journalist befriended by Urquhart, and the two have these exquisitely crafted interchanges where Mattie guesses what’s going on and when she’s right, urquardt says, “You might think that, Mattie. I couldn’t possibly comment.”
Diane Fletcher plays Urquhart’s wife Margaret, who is complicit in all his dastardly deeds and even suggests he have an affair with Mattie, who seems to have an Electra complex, because she likes to call him ‘Daddy.’
Miles Anderson does a star turn as Michael O’Neill, the cocaine addict/party public relations director, who is compelled to further Urquhart’s schemes, and Alphonsia Emmanuel does a great job as his beautiful mixed-race girlfriend Penny Guy, who bears a striking resemblance to Diana Rigg, my favorite actress of all time, and the only one who ever played the part of Mrs. James Bond.
Another great character actor, Colin Jeavons, plays Urquhart’s ruthless henchman, aptly named Tim Stamper. Jeavons is an experienced villain, having also portrayed Uriah Heep in David Copperfield, Adolph Hitler and Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis, Dr. Moriarty.
The series was a huge success in Britain and the United States and the BBC followed it with two sequels based on Dobbs’ novels To Play the King and The Final Cut, which follow Urqhart’s career as prime minister.
Of course he continues his nefarious ways: whenever he wants to get rid of someone he has their car blown up and it’s blamed on the Irish Republican Army.
The fact that Francis Urquhart’s initials are ‘F U’ is deliberate. That’s why the star of the American series is named Frank Underwood.
Posted on October 5, 2014
I’m devouring two delicious books about Abraham Lincoln that I found at the Whately Antiquarian Book Center: Lincoln by Philip Kunhardt Jr. and his sons Philip and Peter, derived from a documentary made for ABC, and The Lincoln Reader, edited by Paul M. Angle.
Lincoln is such a well-known figure that a lot of people think they know all about him — Honest Abe, born in a log cabin that he built with his own hands — but there’s so much to learn about this complex individual, who played such an important role in preserving the United States of America.
I truly believe he did what no other man could have done. The other day I saw some history professors speculating about what might have happened if Lincoln had lost the election of 1864, as almost everyone thought he would.
As president, George McClellan would have sued for peace and recognized the Confederacy as a nation. The split would have ‘Balkanized’ North America and all the evils of the Old World would have made their way into the New.
It’s certain we would never have become the colossus that intervened decisively in World War I and World War II.
Paul Angle and the Kunhardts give us an intimate portrait of Lincoln and the communities from which he came, and it’s a delightful tour of the world that is no more.
Angle presents selections from different biographical sources, and the Kunhardts detail all of these sources and add photographs from the collection of Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt, their mother and grandmother, which she inherited from her father, Frederick Hill Meserve, and made many additions.
Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt, I should add, is the author of a work that I appreciated as a very young child, first published in 1940, which is still a bestseller TO THIS DAY! It’s a book called Pat the Bunny.
The Meserve-Kunhardt collection is a wonderfully comprehensive collection of photographs, showing the prairie giant at every stage of his career.
New Salem, the town to which Lincoln went to escape his family and grow into manhood, disappeared from the map shortly after Lincoln left, but it is here that he ‘wrassled’ Jack Armstrong, leader of the Clary Grove Boys, and licked him fair and square.
They became fast friends and Jack gave Lincoln a place to stay when he was broke. Lincoln later returned the favor when Armstrong’s son Duff was accused of murder.
One witness claimed he saw Duff Armstrong strike the fatal blow, although he was 150 feet away. It was 11 o’clock at night and the witness claimed he could see clearly by the light of a full moon.
In Duff’s defense, Lincoln introduced into evidence an almanac that showed a new moon on the date in question, and a new moon that set before 11 p.m. It was forever known as the “Almanac Trial.”
And there’s so much more: Lincoln’s romance with Annie Rutledge and her tragic death, his courtship of Mary Todd and their tempestuous marriage, his law practice, his service in the Blackhawk War, his election to the state legislature and the US Congress, even the morbid poetry he wrote as a young man.
For anyone who thinks they know Lincoln, these works show there’s always more to learn.
Posted on September 14, 2014
I learned a lot reading Bruce Catton’s book Grant Takes Command, and it was enjoyable reading, given the grim subject matter.
The book, the third in a series begun by Lloyd Lewis, begins right after Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, and gives a great description of his subsequent victory at Chatanooga.
After that Lincoln made him commander of the Union Armies, and he set about the long, slow process of defeating Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.
After taking Petersburg and Richmond, Grant made good his victory with a rapid pursuit that cut Lee off from his supply lines and forced him to surrender at Appomattox.
There is a curious reference, in Catton and elsewhere, in which Grant is talking to General Rufus Ingalls, who served with him in the Mexican War, when they returned to camp after the surrender.
“Ingalls, do you remember the white mule that so and so used to ride in the City of Mexico?” And Grant went on to talk about the animal’s antics on an excursion to Popocatapetl, Mexico’s highest volcano. But there is no explanation of what called the mule to mind.
I was curious to know why the General-in-Chief of the Union Armies, after one of the most important military victories in American history, would be thinking of a white mule on a Mexican volcano.
I looked into it a bit further and found the full story in Grant’s Memoirs.
Turns out Grant’s party, which included many officers who later fought on both sides of the US Civil War, was traveling on a narrow cliffside road with a “yawning precipice on one side, hundreds of feet down to a roaring mountain torrent below.”
“One of our mules, loaded with two sacks of barley, one on each side, the two about as big as he was, struck his load against the mountain-side and was precipitated to the bottom.”
“The descent was steep, but not perpendicular. The mule rolled over and over until the bottom was reached and we supposed, of course, that the animal was dashed to pieces.”
“What was our surprise, not long after we had gone into bivouac, to see the lost mule, cargo, and owner coming up the ascent.”
“The load had protected the animal from serious injury, and the owner had gone after him and found a way back to the path leading up to the hut where we were to stay.”
I think Grant was thinking of his long and checkered military career, and how he had finally made it up the mountain, like the white mule of Popocatapetl.
Posted on August 24, 2014
“Le canard, le saumon, et le couchon
Ont donné leur vies
Pour provider mon bon petit déjeuner
Au Chateau Frontenac.”
“The duck, the salmon, and the pig
Have given their lives
To provide my lovely breakfast
At the Chateau Frontenac.”
Just two days in Quebec, and I’m writing poetry in French, celebrating my lovely breakfast of duck pate, lox, bacon, and sausage, with some lovely strawberry jam [confiture] from a confiturerie [jam maker] on the Ile D’Orleans.
You see I’m building my word power by eating delicious food.
There are more than one million reasons to visit Quebec, but the first one has to be the food. Restaurants here have always relied on local ingredients since the 1600s, mainly from the Ile D’Orleans, an island on the St. Laurence River known as the “Garden of Quebec.”
The island, which is about 20 miles long and five miles wide, is reached by a long bridge from the mainland, and the road the runs around the perimeter is dotted by little villages with farms and artisan studios and art galleries.
We toured a confitururie, a 17th-century manor house, a vineyard, and a farm that grows black currants used to make wine, and sweets, and a delicious liqueur known as creme de cassis.
At the confitururie, Tigido, we met Vincent the confiturier, and sampled some jams made from the luscious berries that abound on the island. The strawberry jam was a triumph in its own right, but we also tried strawberry with lavender and my favorite, strawberry with basil.
At the manor house, we were transported back to the household of a wealthy doctor in the colony, and all the housewares and artifacts and costumes, as well as the architecture and decorations of the house itself, really gave a vivid impression of what life was like in the early years of the settlement.
At the Cassis Monna et Filles, we learned the many wonderful uses of the black currants they gro. Founded by Bernard Monna in 1971, and now run by his daughters Anne and Catherine, the farm is known around the world for its award-winning wines, liqueurs and syrups.
We met with Anne and Bernard, who described their plans for a major renovation of their farm and restaurant.
Then, on the mainland, you have a European walled city with cobblestone streets and beautiful ancient architecture that allows you to travel back to the seventeenth century without the bother of crossing the Atlantic.
And during the New France Festival, you’ll find all kinds of concerts, demonstrations and reenactments to help you visualize the busy New World city that was Quebec.
Many Quebecois are decked out in period costumes: lots of beruffled aristocrats in waistcoats and knee breeches and their ladies in elaborate gowns and coiffures, and soldiers and trappers and blacksmiths and Native Americans and bourgeois like me.
My costume had a lot of bling — ruffles and satin and gold lace — but it was blue to distinguish it from the burgundy outfits worn by the nobility. So I was “new money,” but hey, I’ll take it. Like they say, new money is better than no money at all.
We attended one of the splendid banquets held nightly on the Quai de Pionniers, where we enjoyed five sumptuous courses paired with sprightly local wines.
Foie gras poêlé [pan-seared foie gras], purée de topinambours [Jerusalem artichokes], grenadins de veau [veal grenadin], champignons sauvage [wild mushrooms], crème mascarpone [Italian cream cheese] aux petits fruits de saison — now that’s what I call building your word power!
Stay tuned and I’ll tell you about the legendary hospitality, the foot-stomping music, the iconic Chateau Frontenac, where FDR and Churchill met to plan strategy in World War II, and the importance of festivals like this for passing along the province’s French heritage to future generations.
Posted on August 19, 2014
Just back from the New France Festival in Quebec, where I had an absolutely fabulous time. I stayed for four days at the iconic Chateau Frontenac, toured the verdant countryside of the Ile D’Orleans, dined at all the magnificent restaurants, and dressed up in elaborate 17th Century costumes to celebrate the heritage of this wonderful province.