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Dreamland: American Travelers to the Holy Land in the 19th Century

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December 2010 - March 2013
"Jerusalem, from Scopus" - Picturesque Palestine, Sinai, and Egypt. By Harry Fenn, Charles Cousen. Dorot Jewish Division, The New York Public Library, Digital Collections. 1881 - 1884.

Intro

The image of the Holy Land in 19th-century America derived from religious and cultural sentiment, encouraged by several key groups: missionaries and tourists, archaeologists and Bible scholars, settlers and consular officers. Each had different motives for going to Palestine and were influenced by the interests of Western nations and improvements in transportation and accessibility. From these visits emerged an interest in the Holy Land that has influenced American politics to the present day.

This is the first exhibit in a series on the American presence in the Holy Land. The year 2010 coincides with the centennial of the death of Mark Twain, who traveled to the Holy Land in 1867 and recorded his observations in The Innocents Abroad (1869). Twain’s writing had a great impact on American perceptions of the Holy Land and the developing new age of travel in the Near East.

Gallery 1/7

Explorers

Robinson's Arch, Jerusalem. Part of a bridge which crossed the Tyropoeon Valley, named after it's discoverer in 1938, Dr. Robinson. Engraving from Charles Wilson, Picturesque Palestine, 2 vols. (London: Palestine Exploration Fund, 1881–83), vol.1, p. 72.

Explorers

Terra Incognita

From a scientific point of view, the Holy Land in the early 19th century was almost “terra incognita.” The growing involvement of the United States in Ottoman affairs, improved security, and a more favorable attitude to foreigners from the 1830s onward encouraged Americans to visit the country.

Robinson’s Arch today. Photographer: Tom Kook.

Biblical Archeology is Founded

American interest in the Holy Land was driven by a deep desire to understand the Scriptures better. After 1830, Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land were joined by adventurous biblical scholars such as the American Reverends Edward Robinson and Eli Smith.

Robinson – theologian, linguist and geographer – explored the Holy Land during two trips, in 1838 and 1852. Accompanied by the Reverend Eli Smith, they added greatly to modern knowledge of the land, and identified and mapped biblical sites. In 1838, Robinson, the founder of biblical archaeology, discovered in Jerusalem the remains of the Second Temple arch that is named after him.

One of the outcomes of Robinson’s first trip was the book Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai, And Arabia Petraea; a Journal of Travels in the Year 1838.

In this letter, Robinson writes to his publisher: “Will Mr. Murray permit me to ask: How he is getting on with my Manuscript of Palestine?”

Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai, and Arabia Petraea: A Journal of Travels in the Year 1838, 2 vols. Edward Robinson. (London: John Murray, 1841.) National Library of Israel.

The journey to Palestine for which this 1846 passport was key was not the first for the Reverend Eli Smith: he had, remarkably, already been there, in 1838, as the Arabic-speaking companion of Edward Robinson, to explore biblical Jerusalem.

“Enfeebled health and shortened life are the sacrifices necessary to the work of the missions,” Smith had unhappily noted; and indeed, having returned from America after a year’s furlough in 1846, he would himself die in Beirut, at the age of 56.

Plan of Jerusalem, “Chiefly from the Itineraries and Measurements of E. Robinson and E. Smith. Constructed and drawn by H. Kiepert 1840.” From Robinson, Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai, and Arabia Petraea. Laor Collection.
Title page, William Francis Lynch, Narrative of the United States’ Expedition. National Library of Israel.

Commander William F. Lynch's Expedition

It was the military surveys, with their considerable resources and well-trained engineers and surveyors, which contributed most to reliable geographical and scientific knowledge. This included the 1847–48 “United States Expedition” headed by naval Commander William Francis Lynch. It was the first truly scientific expedition of the region.

Lynch’s party set out from Acre to the Sea of Galilee, along the River Jordan to the Dead Sea, then to the convent of Mar Saba, and Bethlehem before arrival in Jerusalem. Lynch then made for Jaffa, Tiberias, Lake Hula (The Waters of Merom), the sources of the River Jordan, Damascus, Baalbec, and finally Beirut.

The report included 27 illustrations, two maps and numerous scientific measurements and specimens. Lynch prepared the first accurate maps of the River Jordan and the Dead Sea.

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Authors

Herman Melville.

Authors

Several American writers, some of them clergy, visited the Holy Land from 1832 (during the Egyptian occupation). Prominent among them were John Ross Browne, George Curtis, John Lloyd Stephens and Bayard Taylor. Stephens was the first American tourist in the true sense, and in 1837 published Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land, which went through several printings. Most famous, however, were Herman Melville and Mark Twain.

Herman Melville, best known for his novel Moby Dick, visited the Holy Land in 1857. Melville spent time with the Dickson family, whose daughter, Mary, had married Friedrich, brother of Johann Großsteinbeck. A year later, the Dickson-Großsteinbeck families were victims of a barbaric attack by Arabs in which Friedrich was murdered, and Mrs. Sarah Dickson and Mary were raped.

Melville’s naïve fantasy of the Holy Land was shattered by his own experiences and no doubt the attack on the Dickson family. It took him two decades to publish Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land. Unlike most other 19th-century Holy Land travel literature, Melville saw Palestine as alienated and disjointed.

In this letter Melville writes to an admirer: “…there was one –‘Clarel’– that your spade had not yet succeeded in getting at. Fearing that you never will get at it by yourself, I have disinterred a copy for you…”

Gang rape, murder, and robbery formed the basis of the “Outrage at Jaffa” – a vicious assault perpetrated in 1858 by Arab bandits upon a family of American Christians who had come to the Holy Land as part of the American Agricultural Mission. After the attack, what was left of the Dickson-Großsteinbeck family left for the United States.

In the mid-20th century, the outrage that the Großsteinbeck family suffered haunted John Steinbeck, the famous American novelist, whose great aunt was rape victim Mary Dickson. John Steinbeck was pained when he discovered the horror of the ordeal, and in many ways hinted at it in his East of Eden (1952). In 1966,  Steinbeck, while on a trip to Israel, made a special point of visiting the site near Jaffa where the Dicksons and Großsteinbecks once lived.

This broadside is an advertisement for Henry Dickson’s lecture on Arab life in Palestine.

Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens), The Innocents Abroad; or, The New Pilgrims’ Progress (Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Company, 1876. First edition 1869).

Mark Twain (1835–1910) blended and spiced realism in his journalistic writing and literary works with cynical humor and social satire. Though his The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are better known, it was The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress that first brought Twain international acclaim.

This is a circa April page from Twain’s notebook, in which he first mentions his upcoming Quaker City trip to Europe and the Holy Land. Civil War General William Sherman was one of the intended passengers, but had to drop out in order to deal with Indian affairs in his position as lieutenant general.

The Quaker City left New York on June 8 1867 and returned a few month later on November 19th.

The steamship Quaker City. Patten Free Library, Bath, Maine.

In December 1866, Mark Twain was retained as a special correspondent for the Alta. Early in the following year the Alta agreed to pay for a trip to Europe and Asia. This, was soon changed to Europe and the Holy Land.

Twain’s transport, the steamship Quaker City, was the first luxury tour boat of its kind, though by modern standards the luxury, which included taking a bath on board in sea water,and reading by oil lamps and candles, was minimal.

Twain sailed for Europe and the Holy Land in June 1867 aboard the steamship Quaker City, in the company of a group of American pilgrims and well-heeled tourists.  He was 31 years old at the time.  The articles he dispatched during his travels to newpapers in California and New York became the basis of The Innocents Abroad, published in 1869.  The sections relating to the Holy Land have been translated into other languages under Twain’s own subtitle of A Pleasure Excursion to the Holy Land.

When the Quaker City stopped in at Constantinople in September 1867, Clemens and several of his fellow excursionists had their photographs taken there by Abdullah Frères, the official photographers to His Imperial Majesty, the Sultan of Turkey, Abdul-Aziz. Clemens thought his pictures very bad, however: he might as well send a photograph of the Sphinx, he said, it would look as much like him.

This flirtatious letter from bachelor Clemens to Miss Emma Beach has much to do with their recently shared “Quaker City” excursion to Europe and the Holy Land.

Twain has been up all night writing a lecture about the “Quaker City” voyage to be given the next night and called “The Frozen Truth!” – a title, he says, that “has got just about as much truth in it as it has poetry.”

In this letter, too, there is the issue of his photograph, taken in Constantinople, which he cannot find but promises to look for again and send – although it is so bad a likeness, he might as well send her a picture of the Sphinx.

Mark Twain's letter in which he orders a bible for his mother. Courtesy of the Mark Twain Project, The Bancroft Library University of California, Berkeley.

While in Jerusalem, Mark Twain purchased for his mother a copy of the King James Bible. In this letter Twain wrote to Mr. Esais, a book seller: “Fix up the little Bible I selected (I don’t want any other)… Put on it this inscription: ‘Mrs. Jane Clemens – from her son – Mount Calvary, Sept 24, 1867.’ Put ‘Jerusalem’ around it loose, somewhere, in Hebrew, just for a flyer. Send it to our camp, near the head of the valley of Hinnom.”

Replica of the bible Mark Twain ordered for his mother. Shapell Manuscript Foundation.

Replica of the King James Bible which Twain purchased for his mother during his stay in Jerusalem. Printed in 1863 for the British and Foreign Bible Society.

Mark Twain records his visit to the purported Tomb of Adam in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher:

“The grave of Adam! How touching it was, here in a land of strangers, far away from home, and friends, and all who cared for me, thus to discover the grave of a blood relation… The fountain of my filial affection was stirred to its profoundest depths, and I gave way to tumultuous emotion.”

Mark Twain’s use of the title, “The American Vandal Abroad” – a play on The Innocents Abroad – suggests that perhaps American tourists to the Holy Land weren’t always so innocent; in Innocents, Twain recorded, aghast, how these religious pilgrims sliced off souvenirs from venerable biblical sites in Palestine. He also witnessed the same kind of behavior in parts of Euorpe.

Two years after his return, Twain recommends his traveling companion, Dan Slote, as a distributor of The Innocents Abroad.

“Dan knows every body, & thinks he could have sold 500 copies by this time if he had had them. He knows the agent here, well, & has got his books from him, heretofore. Write Dan, if you choose.”

Autograph mock-up of title page and dedication for “THE SURVIVING INNOCENT ABROAD AGAIN or ANOTHER INNOCENT ABROAD AGAIN,” to Chatto & Windus, London, 1897.

“Of the seventy Innocents who sailed in the “Quaker City Excursion” twenty-eight years ago, I am the only innocent one still living…Strictly, the title described only two of us. The other one is no more.” June 1897, Mark Twain.

The book was published as More Tramps Abroad later in the year. The U.S. edition wasFollowing the Equator: A Journey Around the World.

Gallery 3/7

Holy Land Travel

Jerusalem train station grand opening, 26 September 1892. Israel Railway Museum.

Holy Land Travel

The majority of visitors to 19th-century Palestine took ship in Europe, though storms and piracy made the voyage potentially dangerous. Little was done to develop the country’s harbors, and at the Jaffa port ships were forced to anchor at sea, and passengers were transferred to small landing boats.

Overland transportation was dependent on camels, donkeys, horses, and success in evading bandits. The roads were poor, where they existed. In 1865 the Ottoman grand vizier, Fuad Pasha, declared: “I shall never concede to these crazy Christians any road improvement in Palestine, as they would then transform Jerusalem into a Christian madhouse” (American Palestine ,[Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999]).

By the end of the century, over a thousand Americans came each year, many taking the Jaffa-Jerusalem Railway, completed in 1892, reducing travel time to less than four hours.

Rails for the Jaffa-Jerusalem Railway. Shapell Manuscript Collection.

The rails for the Jaffa-Jerusalem Railway were manufactured at the Angleur steel works in Belgium, and embossed with the name of the works, date of manufacture (1891 and 1892), and the initials of the railway (J. J.). The track gauge was narrow, of one meter width, suitable for lightly laid lines and sharp curves. The original promoter of the railway was Joseph Navon of Jerusalem.

Travel Posters

Above:

A scarce travel poster for the French railway, Chemins de fer de Paris à Lyon et à la Méditerranée, or PLM, to Palestine by the artists Hugo D’Alesi and Louis Guerry. It depicts the road leading to the Jerusalem gate with an inset, “Bethleem”.

Below:

A rare fin de siècle Thomas Cook poster advertising travel to the Nile and Palestine. The Thomas Cook company pioneered organized tourism to the Holy Land from the end of the 1860s.

Gallery 4/7

Souvenirs

Pilgrims buying rosaries and relics in the forecourt. "Entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre" from Wilson, Picturesque Palestine, p. 16. National Library of Israel.

Souvenirs

Holy Land pilgrims and tourists – Jews and Christians alike – were anxious to bring home some meaningful physical reminder of their trips. Early tourists created their own souvenirs, by gathering flowers, olive wood and sea shells, and filling bottles with water from the River Jordan.

Some visitors, with little or no concern for the preservation of holy monuments, carried in their baggage a hammer and chisel for hacking away stone from walls. This was a favorite activity of Mark Twain’s fellow pilgrims.

 

 

Albums of Dried Flowers From the Holy Land. National Library of Israel.

By the 1870s, manufactured souvenirs included photographs “of every part of Palestine,” in addition to “rosaries of olive-stones, crosses and other ornaments in mother-of-pearl (chiefly manufactured at Bethlehem), vases and other objects in black ‘stinkstone’ from the Dead Sea and roses of Jericho” (Baedecker, 1876). Bibles and olive-wood albums with pressed dried flowers were also popular. In Jerusalem, Jewish-American visitors gathered sacred soil from the Mount of Olives cemetery to be used in their own burials back in the United States.

Albums of dried flowers with olive wood binding and marquetry design. The word “Jerusalem” is painted by hand in English and Hebrew. Jerusalem: Lithograph by A Mohnson (undated). National Library of Israel.

Members of the American-Swedish Colony sold souvenirs and photographs, printed postcards, pictures and guidebooks. From the end of the 19th century Jerusalem’s American Colony became famous for its Holy Land and Near East photographs.

American travelers wrote hundreds of letters, books and articles describing their adventures. Most provided factual accounts of the country, as well as emphasizing its spiritual importance. Travel literature became all the rage in the United States, second only to popular novels.

National Library of Israel.

Sections of olive wood cut from branches and carved with different patterns.

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Guest Rooms

The first location of the Mediterranean Hotel, next to Hezekiah's Pool, close to the Jaffa Gate. Paul Scherer.

Guest Rooms

The Mediterranean Hotel was highly recommended in the early guidebooks for European and American visitors. At the beginning, it was located between the present Christian Quarter Street and Jaffa Gate. This is where Herman Melville stayed in January 1857. Other visitors included Edward Robinson and Eli Smith.

Women grinding wheat in the inner courtyard of the Mediterranean Hotel in 1867. Photograph taken by Sergeant Henry Phillips, Royal Engineers, of the Palestine Exploration Fund.

Finding suitable accommodation was a challenge for travelers to the Holy Land in the 19th century. In Jerusalem, there were inns and hostels, as well as monasteries and convents that catered to Christian pilgrims. The first modern hotels opened around 1850 within the city walls and mostly in large rented houses. Hotels sometimes had to relocate when the buildings’ owners needed the rooms for other purposes.

Pictured here, women grinding wheat in the inner courtyard of the Mediterranean Hotel in 1867. Photograph taken by Sergeant Henry Phillips, Royal Engineers, of the Palestine Exploration Fund. Much of the building’s features, including the original courtyard paving stones, are still present today. Palestine Exploration Fund.

The Mediterranean Hotel at it's second L\location. Photograph: Tom Kook.

From 1866 to 1871, the hotel moved and operated close to the Damascus Gate. Mark Twain was among its many American guests. Archeologist and explorer of the British Palestine Exploration Fund, Captain Charles Warren, was a longterm guest. Warren noted that “the English and American and German Protestant travellers were usually well-to-do, and even wealthy.” He was impressed by “the manner in which many of the Americans were well grounded in Palestine topography … they accounted for it by telling me that their clergy make a point of explaining and describing it from the pulpit frequently.”

The second Mediterranean Hotel in 2010.

The building is currently owned by Ateret Kohanim Yeshiva. Former prime minister of Israel Ariel Sharon owned an apartment in the building. This second location, lost for a century and a half, was recently found as a result of research funded by the Shapell Manuscript Foundation.

Third location of the Mediterranean Hotel. Palestine Exploration Fund.

In 1871, the hotel moved to its third and final location, just inside the Jaffa Gate, where the most famous guest was the Civil War Union hero, General Ulysses S. Grant (1878). Due to overbooking, the Roosevelt family in 1873 had to go to the Damascus Hotel, then some distance away. U.S. statesman, and Secretary of State under Lincoln, William H. Seward stayed at the first and last locations of the Mediterranean Hotel, in 1859 and 1871, respectively.

Gallery 6/7

Famous Visitors

J. F. Packard, Grant's Tour Around the World. (Cincinnati: 1880.)

Famous Visitors

Among the most notable American visitors of the period were U.S. Army generals William H. Seward and Ulysses S. Grant. Also worthy of mention because of his great friendship with Mark Twain is essayist, novelist, critic, and social reformer Charles Dudley Warner. Warner collaborated with Twain in the writing of The Gilded Age: A Tale of To-day (1873), an exposé of bribery, political corruption, and greed in America. In 1875, Warner visited Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, no doubt well informed by own his reading of The Innocents Abroad. Warner’s account of the Holy Land appeared as In the Levant (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1876).

General Grant on horseback and his wife on a donkey. John Russell Young, Around the World with General Grant, 2 vols (New York: Subscription Book Department, American News Company, 1879), vol. 1, p. 279.

In the Holy Land, Grant first visited Jaffa, Ramla and Jerusalem, with the dragoman Rolla Floyd as his guide. Grant’s itinerary included Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, the Galilee, Damascus and Beirut, from where the party left by sea for Constantinople, and elsewhere in the Orient.

 

 

“After a most pleasant visit up the Nile, back through the Suez Canal, then to Jeppa [Jaffa] and out to Jerusalem,” Grant reports, they have travelled “up to Smyrna, and from there to Constantinople – where we spent five days…”

His reception involved an offer by the Sultan of a gift of an Arabian horse – the initial decline, then acceptance of, and subsequent concern for its shipping, are detailed at length. This gift introduced the Arabian breed to North America.

Of special interest here is Grant’s opening allusion to his visit to Jaffa and Jerusalem – where he had hoped to calmly see the sights but was, instead, treated as a conquering hero.

William H. Seward’s Travels Around the World (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1873.) Shapell Manuscript Collection.

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Women, Children, and Missionaries

Edward Everett Hale and Susan Hale, A Family Flight over Egypt and Syria. (Boston: Lothrope, 1882.)

Women, Children, and Missionaries

With the significant improvement in transportation, accommodation and organized tourism from the 1860s, increasing numbers of American women and children joined the flow of visitors to the Holy Land.

American women took a compassionate view of local populations, and were touched by scenes of terrible poverty. American men, in contrast, related to the populace dismissively, regarding them as primitives.

Numerous children’s books were published describing the visits of American children to the Holy Land. Their purpose was to inculcate moral and Christian religious values, and at the same time teach the history and geography of the land of the Bible in an appealing way.

A brother and sister team wrote this children’s book in 1882, more to entertain than to educate its young readers.

Cabinet photograph of Roosevelt children and cousins, 1 July 1873. Theodore is second from left. Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Among prominent American families that visited the Holy Land were the Roosevelts, with their children, Theodore, Anna, Elliott and Corinne, in1873. Fifteen-year old Theodore, the future 26th president, was a keen naturalist who expressed a particular fascination with the avian population of the Dead Sea area. He recorded that Jaffa “is thoroughly oriental with very pretty women and children.”

The family also visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and “the Wailing Place of the Jews.” (The Western Wall).Theodore later noted an original stone from the Second Temple: “We saw the places where Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon prayed…” Theodore Roosevelt, Diaries of Boyhood and Youth (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1928), p. 313.

Page from the diary of Theodore Roosevelt. Houghton Library, Harvard University.

On March 3, the Roosevelts set off for the Dead Sea, and camped the first night near Jericho, protected by “Bedaween guard … At night some people of Jericho came and danced a wild sort of dance before our tents.” Next day, as was the custom, they bathed in the River Jordan, and made for the Dead Sea, and then continued via Mar Saba: “We then rode off to the Mountains and a perfect sense of desolation burst upon us. The mountains were bare and barren, the plants were dried up, and the only living things in sight were a huge vulture that was soaring over the valley, and a black raven that was wheeling overhead.”

They visited Bethlehem, and the place of the Nativity (“after some baksheesh and persuasion”), the milk grotto, and the cave of the slaughter of the innocents. They returned to Jerusalem on March 7, and two days later, after a stopover in Ramla, sailed from Jaffa to Beirut.

A Woman’s Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, or, Pleasant Days Abroad; Being Notes of a Tour Through Europe and the East (Hartford, Conn.: J. B. Burr & Hyde, 1872), p. 307.

“Their women are meant to do the drudgery, and are the slaves of the men… The Bedouin Arab often thinks more of his horse than of his wife. Give him a piece of bread and he will share it with his horse.” - Mrs Stephen M. Griswold [Louise Griswold]
Reminiscences of Levi Parsons, an early American missionary, who arrived in 1819. Memoir of Rev. Levi Parsons. (Poultney, Vermont: Smith & Shute, 1824.)

Missionaries

Christian missionary activity in the Holy Land in the 19th century was pioneered by Americans. The missionaries became pathfinders for the visitors, consuls and settlers who followed. In 1818, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions decided to establish a mission in Jerusalem. Two young emissaries, Rev. Levi Parsons and Rev. Pliny Fisk, left for Palestine the following year. Both died prematurely within a few years of their arrival because of the difficult conditions, and the American mission was relocated to Beirut.

An agreement with the English mission in 1843 terminated the American mission in the Holy Land. Among the missionaries in Lebanon was the explorer William McClure Thomson, who wrote a popular book on his travels.

Emma Raymond Pitman, Mission Life in Greece and Palestine: As Illustrated in the Missionary Labours of Mary Briscoe Baldwin in Athens and Joppa. (London and New York: Cassell, Petter, Galpin, 1882.)

Mary Briscoe Baldwin, missionary and assistant to Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War, moved to Jaffa from Greece in 1867. With her nephew, John Hay, she founded the Joppa [Jaffa] Mission School. Her sister, Ann Hay, ran the school after Mary’s death.

William McClure Thomson, The Land and the Book, or, Biblical Illustrations Drawn from the Manners and Customs, the Scenes and Scenery of the Holy Land. (New York: Harper, 1859).

The missionary Reverend William McClure Thomson arrived in the early 1830s and spent almost 40 years in Syria and the Holy Land. He traveled widely and drew on his own notes and those of scholarly accounts for his two-volume The Land and the Book. Thomson described in popular terms the topography of the land within a biblical context.

He wrote: “…rough brambles bear allegories… The very hills and mountains, rocks, rivers and fountains, are symbols and pledges… Palestine is one vast tablet whereupon God’s message to men have been drawn, and graven deep…”

Thomson’s book was a favorite end of term award for generations of Sunday school pupils, and one of the most widely read books in the United States during the second half of the 19th century.


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