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Holy Land, Holy People? Photography, Semitic Wannabes, and Chautauqua's Palestine Park

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 July 2009

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Near the end of the day on which he was assassinated, Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, left the confines of the White House for a drive. As their carriage made its way through the city of Washington, their conversation turned, ironically, to the future. They talked of the travels they hoped to make following the expiration of his second term in office. Although their plans included tours of the Western United States and Europe, one destination assumed special importance. More than any other place, it seems, the president wanted to visit the Holy Land. “But,” as his widow wrote over a year later, “a few days after this conversation, the crown of immortality was his - he was rejoicing in the presence of his Saviour, and was in the midst of the Heavenly Jerusalem.…”

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1992

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1. Lincoln, Mary Todd to Smith, James, 12 17, 1866Google Scholar, in Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters, ed. Turner, Justin G. and Turner, Linda Levitt (New York: Knopf, 1972), p. 400.Google Scholar This incident was noted and discussed by Vogel, Lester Irwin in his dissertation, “Zion as Place and Past: An American Myth” (Ph.D. diss., George Washington University, 1984), p. 88.Google Scholar

2. Lear, Edward to Waldegrave, Lady, 03 9, 1867Google Scholar, Edward Lear: Selected Letters, ed. Noakes, Vivien (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988), p. 209.Google Scholar State Department records tend to support Lear's observation, if not his exaggerated numbers. See Kark, Ruth, “Annual Reports of United States Consuls in the Holy Land as a Source for the Study of 19th-century Eretz Israel,” in With Eyes Toward Zion II, ed. Davis, Moshe (New York: Praeger, 1986), p. 159.Google Scholar Other factors - such as the popularity of the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1867, improved steam travel on the Mediterranean, the introduction of the telegraph to Jerusalem in 1865, and the paving of several principal roads in Palestine and Syria - also encouraged new levels of American travel.

3. Aspects of this body of material are discussed in my doctoral dissertation (“Picturing Palestine: The Holy Land in Nineteenth-century American Art and Culture,” Columbia University, 1991)Google Scholar, from which this essay is derived.

4. “The Dead Sea, Sodom, and Gomorrah,” Harper's New Monthly Magazine 10 (01 1855): 187.Google Scholar

5. Bercovitch's most forceful discussion of the issue is The Puritan Origins of the American Self (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1975).Google Scholar See also his “The Biblical Basis of the American Myth,” in The Bible and American Arts and Letters, ed. Gunn, Giles (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983)Google Scholar; and Cherry, Conrad, ed., God's New Israel: Religious Interpretations of American Destiny (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971).Google Scholar

6. Blacks (particularly slaves) and Mormons, for example, are only two examples of cultural and ethnic groups traditionally outside of the circles of social and institutional power for whom the Holy Land had great importance. See Raboteau, Albert J., Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), pp. 243–51Google Scholar; and Raboteau, , “Black Americans,” in With Eyes Toward Zion II, pp. 311–22Google Scholar, for a perspective on African Americans. Mormons are considered by Davies, W. D. in his “Israel, the Mormons and the Land,” in Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian Parallels, ed. Madsen, Truman G. (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1978), pp. 7998.Google Scholar

7. For a discussion of the Puritan theory of sacred space, see Walsh, James P., “Holy Time and Sacred Space in Puritan New England,” American Quarterly 32 (Spring 1980): 7995.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

8. Robinson, Edward, Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai and Arabia Petraea, 3 vols. (Boston: Crocker and Brewster, 1841), vol. 1, p. 46.Google Scholar

9. Details of Robinson's life and intellectual formation can be found in, among other sources, Silberman, Neil Asher, Digging for God and Country: Exploration, Archeology, and the Secret Struggle for the Holy Land, 1799–1917 (New York: Knopf, 1982), pp. 3747Google Scholar; and Hovencamp, Herbert, Science and Religion in America, 1800–1860 (Philadephia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978), pp. 152–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar For a modern appraisal of Robinsons's methods and contributions to archaeology and geography, see Ben-Arieh, Yehoshua, The Rediscovery of the Holy Land in the Nineteenth Century (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1979), pp. 8491.Google Scholar

10. Vincent, John H. and Lee, James W., Earthly Footsteps of the Man of Galilee, Being Four Hundred Original Photographic Views and Descriptions of the Places Connected with the Earthly Life of Our Lord and his Apostles, Traced with Note Book and Camera, Showing where Christ was born, brought up, baptized, tempted, transfigured and crucified, Together with the scenes of his prayers, tears, miracles and sermons, and also places made sacred by the labors of his Apostles, from Jerusalem to Rome (St. Louis, Mo.: N. D. Thompson, 1894)Google Scholar, n.p. A small degree of confusion arises from the fact that there are several editions of the book. These versions are not identical, and page numbers, titles, and captions are thus not consistent throughout. Because of this problem of pagination, quotations from Earthly Footsteps will not be indicated in the notes, but will be identified in my text by reference to the specific introductory essay or caption. A rare collection of some, but unfortunately not all, of the original photographs used in the volume is in the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Many of these still retain typewritten paper labels, presumably pasted on the images by Bain for copyright purposes. I have been unable to locate any other extant copies of the prints.

11. There is a large body of scholarly work on American travel writing. Two discussions that offer particular insight in the context of this discussion are Caesar, Terry, “‘Counting the Cats in Zanzibar’: American Travel Abroad in American Travel Writing to 1914,” Prospects 13 (1988): 95134CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Metwalli, Ahmed Mohamed, “The Lure of the Levant, The American Literary Experience in Egypt and the Holy Land, A Study in the Literature of Travel, 1800–1865” (Ph.D. diss., State University of New York, Albany, 1971).Google Scholar

12. Warren, Henry White, Sights and Insights, or, Knowledge by Travel (New York: Nelson and Phillips, 1874), p. 246.Google Scholar

13. Thomson, W. M., The Land and the Book; or Biblical Illustrations drawn from the Manners and Customs, The Scenes and Scenery of the Holy Land, 2 vols. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1859), vol. 1, p. 17; vol. 2, p. 468.Google Scholar

14. This problem in Holy Land photography has been considered by Munsterberg, Marjorie in her “Louis de Clercq's Stations of the Cross,” Arts Magazine 61 (05 1987): 4853.Google Scholar

15. The useful term “geopiety” was coined by Wright and is discussed in his Human Nature in Geography (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1966), pp. 250–85.Google Scholar For further consideration of the implications of the term, see Tuan, Yi-Fu, “Geopiety: A Theme in Man's Attachment to Nature and to Place,” in Geographies of the Mind: Essays in Historical Geosophy, ed. Lowenthal, David and Bowden, Martyn J. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), pp. 1139.Google Scholar

16. The problematic nature of the Western assumptions behind the notion of the “never-changing” culture of the Middle East have been ably analyzed by Said, Edward W. in his important Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1979)Google Scholar and by Nochlin, Linda in “The Imaginary Orient,” Art in America 71 (05 1983): 118–31, 187–91.Google Scholar

17. For an interesting discussion of the turn-of-the-century issue of photographing an unsuspecting or unwilling subject, see Mensel, Robert E., “‘Kodakers Lying in Wait’: Amateur Photography and the Right of Privacy in New York, 1885–1915,” American Quarterly 43 (03 1991): 2445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

18. Elsewhere in the book, Lee's caption to a photograph entitled Wall of Tiberias equates the ruinous condition of the structure with that of the Jews who live around it.

19. For sentiments echoing Lee, 's, see “The Future of Islam,” New York Times, 11 9, 1879.Google Scholar

20. Roosevelt is quoted in Hurlbut, Jesse Lyman, The Story of Chautauqua (New York: Putnam's, 1921), p. x.Google Scholar For additional background information, see “Chautauqua,” Harper's New Monthly Magazine 59 (08 1879): 350–60Google Scholar; Vincent, John H., The Chautauqua Movement (1885; rept. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1971)Google Scholar; Morrison, Theodore, Chautauqua: A Center for Education, Religion, and the Arts in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974)Google Scholar; and Irwin, Alfreda L., Three Taps of the Gavel: Pledge to the Future, rev. ed. (Chautauqua, N.Y.: Chautauqua Institution, 1987).Google Scholar

21. Most viewers were more enthusiastic than Rudyard Kipling, who described Palestine Park as “an elaborately arranged mass of artificial hillocks surrounding a mud puddle and a wormy, streak of slime connecting it with another mud puddle” (quoted in Morrison, , Chautauqua, p. 234).Google Scholar

22. Pansy, [Alden, Isabella M.], Four Girls at Chautauqua (Boston: D. Lothrop, 1876), p. 233.Google Scholar

23. Pansy, , Four Girls at Chautauqua, pp. 399, 454.Google Scholar An interesting “pendant” to Alden, 's Four Girls at ChautauquaGoogle Scholar is Champney, Elizabeth W.'s adolescent novel, Three Vassar Girls in the Holy Land (Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1892)Google Scholar, in which the vacationing heroines decide rather ambitiously to “pass an entire season [in Jerusalem], verifying as nearly as possible all sacred localities …” (p. 20).

24. “The Children's Pilgrimage,” Chautauqua Assembly Herald, 08 19, 1878.Google Scholar

25. For more on the American colonization of Palestine, see Bein, Alexander, “American Settlement in Israel,” in Israel: Its Role in Civilization, ed. Davis, Moshe (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1956), pp. 298309Google Scholar; and Vogel, , “Zion as Place and Past,” ch. 7.Google Scholar

26. Extensive documentation of the breakup of the Adams Colony is found in the National Archives, Washington, D.C., Record Groups 59 and 84, and the Jewish National and University Library, Hebrew University, Jerusalem (MS v. 849). These fringe Protestant sects were not alone in their colonial interest in the Holy Land. They were encouraged by governmental officials, such as Lieutenant William F. Lynch, who had conducted the U.S. naval exploration of the Dead Sea in 1848. In a pamphlet entitled Commerce and the Holy Land (Philadelphia: King and Baird, 1860)Google Scholar, for example, Lynch interwove American designs with those of Providence to suggest that the Bible had predicted U.S. domination of the Palestinian region. Lynch's expedition is a reminder of the significant government role in exploring the Holy Land, laying claim to its promise, and placating religious doubt by locating scripture-affirming evidence.

27. In a most interesting article, Alan Wallach has employed Michel Foucault's concept of the “sovereign gaze” to elucidate the American panoramic, or “panoptic,” approach to landscape. See his “Making a Picture of the View from Mount Holyoke,” Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 66 (1990): 3445.Google Scholar

28. Hurlbut, , Story of Chautauqua, p. 47.Google Scholar

29. Vincent, , Chautauqua Movement, p. 235.Google Scholar

30. Morris, Robert et al. , Bible Witnesses from Bible Lands (New York: America-Holy Land Exploration, 1874)Google Scholar, unpaged “fasciculus.”

31. Morris, Robert, Freemasonry in the Holy Land or, Handmarks of Hiram's Builders (1872; rept. New York: Arno, 1977), p. 596.Google Scholar

32. In Morris, et al. , Bible Witnesses.Google Scholar

33. See Hurlbut, , Story of Chautauqua, pp. 6667Google Scholar; and “Palestine,” Chautauqua Assembly Daily Herald, 08 12, 1876.Google Scholar Hurlbut, however, notes of Van Lennep's call to prayer, “I failed to observe … the people at Chautauqua prostrating themselves at the summons. Indeed, some of them actually mocked the makebelieve muezzin before his face” - remarks that indicate a higher threshold of acceptance for Ostrander's pretend Judaism than for Van Lennep's ersatz Islam.

34. Flood, Theodore, “Old Chautauqua Days,” The Chautauquan 13 (08 1891): 575Google Scholar; and “Oriental Life,” Chautauqua Assembly Daily Herald, 06 15, 1876.Google Scholar

35. Representative books include Poole, W. H., Anglo-Israel or The Saxon Race Proved to be the Lost Tribes of Israel (New York: J. Higgins, 1880)Google Scholar; Spencer, Morton W., The Missing Links, or, The Anglo-Saxons, the Ten Tribes of Israel… (St. Augustine, Fla. [?]: M. W. Spencer, 1895)Google Scholar; and Streator, Martin Lyman, The Anglo-American Alliance in Prophecy, or the Promises to the Fathers (New Haven, Conn.: Our Race, 1900).Google Scholar The standard treatment of late-19th-Century antipathy toward immigrants is Higham, John, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–1925, 2nd ed. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1988), esp. chs. 3–6.Google Scholar

36. See the far-reaching discussion throughout Lears, T. J. Jackson, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880–1920 (New York: Pantheon, 1981).Google Scholar Some of the same issues are brought into the present in Kuspit, Donald, “The Appropriation of Marginal Art in the 1980s,” American Art 5 (Winter/Spring 1991): 132–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

37. See discussions in Baltz, Trudy, “Pageantry and Mural Painting: Community Rituals in Allegorical Form,” Winterthur Portfolio 15 (Autumn 1980): 211–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Banta, Martha, Imaging American Women: Ideas and Ideals in Cultural History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), chs. 5 and 15.Google Scholar

38. Hill, J. A., Hill's Book of Tableaux… (Indianapolis, Ind.: Fraternity, 1884)Google Scholar, n.p. Perhaps the most notorious American assumption of a biblical role took place in 1898 when, on a hill outside Norwood, Massachusetts, the photographer F. Holland Day took off his clothes and climbed up onto a cross made of wood imported from Syria. The outcry that greeted the photographs of Day's emaciated, diapered body indicates that there were indeed limits to the late 19th Century's tolerance of Middle Eastern role-playing. See Day, F. Holland, “Sacred Art and the Camera,” Photogram 6 (02 1899): 3738Google Scholar; and Jussim, Estelle, Slave to Beauty: The Eccentric Life and Controversial Career of F. Holland Day, Photographer, Publisher, Aesthete (Boston: David R. Godine, 1981), ch. 9.Google Scholar

39. MacMechen, Thomas R., The True and Complete Story of the Pike and its Attractions (St. Louis, Mo.: Division of Concessions and Amusements, Louisiana Purchase Exposition, 1904), pp. 31, 32.Google Scholar The impulse behind the erection of the St. Louis Jerusalem continues to the present in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. There, the Elna M. Smith Foundation is building a “life sized” reconstruction of the Holy Land; the Sea of Galilee and the stone entrance gate to the Holy Land have already been completed. My thanks to Randall Griffin for alerting me to the Eureka Springs project, to Lester Vogel for calling my attention to the St. Louis stereograph illustrated as Figure 17, and to David Steinberg for his illuminating comments on this phenomenon.

40. See Benedict, Burton, ed., The Anthropology of World's Fairs: San Francisco's Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915 (Berkeley, Calif.: Lowie Museum of Anthropology, 1983), pp. 34, 4344, 58.Google Scholar

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