Through the American Colony Lens: A JERUSALEM FOURTH

AC 4th of July ca 1910_00062v

Fourth of July pageant at the American Colony, ca. 1908. (John D. Whiting Collection, US Library of Congress.)

People or communities who intentionally transplant themselves on foreign soil for any length of time usually experience a certain tension: the need to maintain links to “home” and their native culture versus immersing themselves unreservedly in their new surroundings. In this regard, the American Colony, it’s fair to say, usually managed to strike a balance, one that well served both their own members and the diverse peoples of Jerusalem. Within this mix, however, the Colony leadership for many years clung tenaciously to one particular tradition — the mounting of colorful, spirited displays of American patriotism on the 4th of July!  

The first two images (above and below) seem to date from the first decade of the 20th century, and probably depict the same occasion, a Fourth of July pageant held on the grounds of the American Colony’s “Big House” north of the Old City. These particular photos — hand-colored, gelatin silver prints mounted on album pages — belong to a corpus known as the John D. Whiting Collection. Like the more famous “Matson Collection”, the Whiting materials reside with the U.S. Library of Congress, who have curated and digitized them for online access by all. As for the identity of the actual photographer (or the colorist) here, these remain forever unknown, simply reflecting the anonymous, group attribution that always pertained to Colony images.

(By way of background, John D. Whiting belonged to one of the Colony’s founding families that had migrated from Chicago — he was in fact the first baby born into the American Colony in Jerusalem, in 1882 — and he married the Spafford’s younger daughter, Grace, in 1909. A key figure in the Colony throughout his life, he helped manage the group’s business affairs, carried out U.S. consular duties in Jerusalem, and aided Allied intelligence during World War I, being fluent in Arabic from early childhood. He was known also as a guide, and as the author of numerous articles for National Geographic magazine. A sometimes photographer with the Colony Photo Dept., Whiting also documented visually many of his own travels and activities, ultimately preserving thousands of prints in a series of captioned albums. Today, these constitute a rich archive indeed.)

The first photo (above) shows a group of young children lined up, wearing festive costumes and caps; in a militaristic display the boys all sport toy rifles. The second image (below) captures a group of older Colony members in colorful costumes performing a patriotic routine — complete with Uncle Sam and “Lady Liberty”!

AC 4th of July ca 1910_00061v

Fourth of July pageant at the American Colony, ca. 1908. (John D. Whiting Collection, US Library of Congress)

Prominent in both scenes are the flags. There’s the American flag, of course — if current at the time, its 45 stars would date the photo to 1908 or earlier. What’s interesting, though, is that by the time these photos were taken, the bulk of the American Colony membership in fact derived from two particular Swedish and Swedish-American religious communities, groups that fell under the influence of the charismatic Anna Spafford in 1896 and came en masse to Jerusalem over the course of a few months. Hence, the prominent presence of the Swedish national flag, a yellow cross (rather reddish looking here) on a blue field. In both photos, yet a third flag is visible, which appears to be the black-white-red banner of the German Empire (1871-1918); the connection would be that Frederick Vester, who married Bertha Spafford in 1904, was a German national.

* * *

Around the turn of the 20th century, the American Colony arguably began to shed some of the more bizarre, cloistered aspects of its early existence. Slowly turning more outward, the community would weave itself ever more deeply into the genuine fabric of life in the Holy City. Contributing to this evolving, enlarged ethos were several factors: certainly the wide-ranging work of the Colony’s Photo Department; the launch of the highly visible Vester-American Colony Store enterprise at Jaffa Gate at about the same time; and, not least, the first permitted marriages within the community, including those of Anna Spafford’s own two daughters. With this new openness came new opportunities for the Colony community to make themselves useful to, and endear themselves to, whatever power happened to be ruling their adopted country, whether it be the Ottoman-Turks (even after America entered World War I–on the other side) or, now, the British.

While the previous pictures have the flavor of family photos, this last one (below) taken on July 4th, 1918, some seven months after British forces had captured Jerusalem — carries rather more historical weight. At the far left of the photo we see the 76-year-old Anna Spafford, indomitable matriarch of the Colony community until her death in 1923. Then, proceeding to the right are two British officials: first, Col. Ronald Storrs who was serving as military governor of Jerusalem, and the imposing Field Marshal Edmund Allenby, commander-in-chief of British forces in Palestine who were even then, and not very far from Jerusalem, preparing for their northward advance and the denouement of the Sinai-Palestine campaign.

July 4 1918 at AC_A-Spafford_R-Storrs_Gen-Allenby

July 4th, 1918. At far left (L to R): Anna Spafford, Col. Storrs, Field Marshal Allenby. (Album-mounted, captioned print; John D. Whiting Collection, Library of Congress)

Bertha Spafford Vester, the daughter of Colony founders Horatio and Anna Spafford, recalled the specific occasion shown here many years later, in her memoir Our Jerusalem (Doubleday, 1950, pp 275-7):

It had been the custom of the American Colony to give a garden party on the Fourth of July. This had to be suspended during the war years. [In 1918 w]e found that Colonel Finley had decided to have the official opening of the Red Cross Headquarters on the same historic date, so we compromised by putting off our reception to a later time. We sent an invitation to the commander in chief through the military governor, and Colonel Storrs wrote to say that General Allenby had accepted… [After the Red Cross ceremony, t]he guests then all proceeded to the American Colony, where refreshments were served. The children of the Colony performed a drill in fancy dress, which received enthusiastic applause. Members
of the Syria and Palestine Relief, American Red Cross, and Hadassah Medical Units were invited, besides many Arab and Jewish friends. […]

Colonel Storrs became Uncle Ronald to our six children. Many times I returned from work in the hospital to find him sitting on the nursery floor with all the children clustered around him while he read aloud to them Alice in Wonderland or some other of the children’s classics.

* * *

Happy Independence Day!


This is one of a series of posts highlighting images produced by the Photo Department of the American Colony of Jerusalem (and later by Eric Matson, working independently), between about 1897 and 1946, as well as other aspects of Colony history. The springboard for some of these posts was work I did in collaboration with Todd Bolen on his digital publication project of  American Colony/Matson images. The searchable Matson Collection archive, most of it in the public domain, is held by the U.S. Library of Congress. For more background on the American Colony, see my on-line article “Jerusalem’s  American Colony and it’s Photographic Legacy”.

This entry was posted in American Colony, Fourth of July, Jerusalem People, Modern History, Photography, PHOTOS and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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