Saturday, December 01, 2007

Who Paid for Corinth's Excavations in 1937?

Charles H. Morgan II (1902-1984) is one of my favorite members of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA). Like my other favorite Rhys Carpenter, Morgan was intensely well rounded with expertise ranging from ancient art and Byzantium, to the Renaissance and Modernism. How many ASCSA figures could have written The Life of Michelangelo (New York, 1960), or George Bellows: Painter of America (New York, 1965)? Morgan was the consummate product of Harvard’s Norton education (Class of 1924). He was hired by Rhys Carpenter (thirteen years his senior) at Bryn Mawr College (1929-1930), where he overlapped with the Viennese Byzantinist Ernst Diez (1926-1939). However, it was Amherst College that became Morgan’s academic home; between 1930 and 1969, Morgan oversaw the creation of an art history program, a collection, and a museum (the Mead Art Museum,

There is no need to enumerate here the long and significant accomplishment of Morgan's scholarly career including his directorship of the Corinth excavations (1936-1938); for that, I direct you to his obituary, written by Homer Thompson, in the American Journal of Archaeology 88 (1984), pp. 439-440. Rather, I want to answer one question. What was Morgan’s economic background? Going through the official history of the ASCSA (Louis E. Lord, 1947) and the ASCSA’s administrative records (ADMREC Box 318/4, Folder 1), it is clear that Morgan’s father financed the purchase and excavation of Saint John’s at the Central Area of Corinth in 1937. Since J. P. Morgan Jr. had financed excavations in Corinth the previous decade (1925-1927), I was curious to see if there was any relationship between the Morgan bankers and Charles H. Morgan II.

The two Morgan families were in fact genealogically related as cousins, but Charles H. Morgan’s family had made its name in Worcester, Massachusetts independently of the bankers. Charles H. Morgan I (the grandfather) was an engineer. He became superintendent of the Washburn and Moen Company (producers of wire), where he designed the first hydraulic elevator in New England. After several European research trips, Morgan designed a new mill, patented in 1883. Known as the Morgan Mill, it featured a continuous train of horizontal rolls. In 1888, Morgan started the Morgan Construction Company in Worcester with branch offices in New York and Brussels. In 1881, Morgan started the Morgan Spring Company, which in 1905 expanded into Struthers, Ohio. His son, Paul Beagary Morgan, studied engineering in Europe and took over his father’s companies. Hence it is Paul Beagary who financed the Corinth excavations of 1937. Charles H. Morgan II was both son and grandson in a well established family of engineers and mill owners with high standing in Worcester society. For more genealogical details, see Ellery Bicknell Crane, Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs of Worcester County Massachusetts with a History of Worcester Society of Antiquity (New York and Chicago, 1907), v. 1, pp. 102-107. The family belonged to the Plymouth Congregational Church, which is noteworthy given that Charles H. Morgan II's wife, Janet, belonged to the clergy.

One can, therefore, say that the metal industry indirectly financed the 1937 Corinth excavations. Nevertheless, to have Paul Beagary Morgan finance his son's excavations seems to be a sign of desperate times for the ASCSA. The funds were supplemented by a welcome donation by the Peabody family, who had visited the site in March 1937. A few months earlier, the Peabody's hosted a big coming out party at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, which was featured in Life magazine (January 18, 1937, pp. 61-65). The cover story for that issue was the General Motors labor strike in Dearborn, Michigan. Clearly, Corinth was visited (and financed) by national celebrities. "What attractive folk they are," wrote Morgan, "I only hope Gladys [Davidson] has been able to locate some juicy graves for them." (ADMREC 318/4, Folder 1).

Finally, it is interesting to consider the following. By 1937, Worcester had a sizable Greek immigrant community that included Christos Gatzoyannis, husband of the famous Eleni Gatzoyannis, whose 1948 execution was immortalized by their son Nicholas Gage (in the 1983 best seller Eleni, as well as granddaughter Eleni N. Gage's 2005 memoir North of Ithaka). I have no idea if any Greeks, in fact, worked in the Morgan mills, but it would be fascinating to contemplate that through their labor, Greek immigrants may have contributed to the excavations of Saint John's in Ancient Corinth.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States