A new look at the old Villa Perdicaris for #MuseumWeek #ZoomMW

Today’s Museum Week challenge asks us to zoom in on a particular item in our collection.

Over the past few weeks we have had several visitors with a keen interest in seeing Villa Perdicaris in its old splendor. There was the restoration crew charged with bringing Villa Perdicaris, also known as Villa Aidonia, back to its original glory and researchers from the BBC working on a documentary that will feature the ever-infamous Perdicaris incident.

Thanks to a generous donation from local resident Jonathan Dawson, we have a photo album that once belonged to the British Minister in Tangier, Sir Arthur Nicolson composed of photos taken during his mission in Morocco from 1895 to 1904.

The photos capture mostly quotidian things, a child in Victorian-era dress riding a mule, for example, and many fascinating shots in and around Tangier and Rabat. Two pictures in particular caught our eye, however, a shot of Villa Perdicaris looking rather pristine, and another of the Perdicaris family lounging outside their villa.

This photo helped us to rediscover the original white finish of the exterior of the house. Until recently the facade was completely decayed and showing bare brick.

Without these photos, we may never have known what Villa Perdicaris looked like when it was inhabited by its original owners.

Perdicaris mother and children, enjoying a relaxed moment.

“Dear Mrs. Perdicaris”

TALIM Dear Mrs Perdicaris 2
Before Tweets, before instant messaging, texting, and Skype, before viral videos, there were letters.

And on May 20, 1904, a flood of letters, from all over the world, started to flow towards Tangier.

TALIM Dear Mrs Perdicaris 3Mr. Ion Perdicaris and his wife's son Cromwell Varley had been kidnapped by Moroccan "brigand" and chieftan Moulay Ahmed El Raisuli, in what came to be known – worldwide – as "the Perdicaris Affair."

The incident sparked a diplomatic crisis, with US President Theodore Roosevelt dispatching the Atlantic Fleet to Tangier and issuing the ultimatum "Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead," which became his reelection campaign slogan.

Now these letters, painstakingly collected by Mrs. Ellen ("Nellie") Perdicaris in May-June 1904 in a bound album, are at the Tangier American Legation, along with other documents and images of an incident that the Legation helped resolve.  We wrote this up in a post last spring, and someone who could take action read it.

We have longtime Tangier resident Christopher Gibbs to thank for ensuring that this rare document has come "home" to Tangier.  Christopher Gibbs is Chairman of the J. Paul Getty Jr. Charitable Trust, and TALIM has been the recipient of a generous grant to enable the purchase of the album.

TALIM Dear Mrs Perdicaris 4

Gerald Loftus

Kidnap Scrapbook: Letters on the Perdicaris Affair


TALIM Enchantment Ellen Perdicaris
Ellen Perdicarisby Ion Perdicaris, n.d., featured in Enchantment: Pictures from the Tangier American Legation Museum

Thanks to an alert reader, we've been made aware of a rare book on sale: "Archive of letters sent to his wife during the period of his capture: Ion Perdicaris."  Only $5,802 to the right bidder.  "Approximately 300 items, most autograph letters, mounted or inlaid in an album, folio (457 × 324 mm). Original full dark green roan, green watered silk doublures and endpapers, turn-ins with decorative roll all around in blind, all edges gilt. Hinges weak, spine rather worn. Very good.  Bookseller Inventory # 30719."


The notes accompanying the book advertisement provide a very nice summary of the Perdicaris Affair:

A contemporary assemblage of more than 300 letters of sympathy and eventually congratulation, addressed to Ellen (formerly Varley, née Rouse), wife of the Greek-born hostage Ion Hanford Perdicaris (1840–1925), the central figure in a notable kidnapping known as the Perdicaris incident. Perdicaris's Greek father had emigrated from Athens to the United States, becoming a US citizen and making a fortune as one of the organizers of the Trenton Gas Company in New Jersey. Ion lived the easy life of a playboy until the American Civil War, when the family's property in South Carolina was threatened with confiscation by the government of the Confederate States of America. In order to forestall any confiscation, Ion Perdicaris travelled to Greece to renounce his United States citizenship and acquire Greek nationality. He subsequently moved to Tangier, and fell in love with an Englishwoman, Ellen Varley, wife of the eminent telegraph engineer C. F. Varley. The Varleys divorced in 1873 and Ellen and her four children settled with Perdicaris in Tangier, in a house full of exotic animals. Fascinated by Moroccan culture, Perdicaris wrote several books on the country and became the unofficial head of Tangier's foreign community.

On 18 May 1904, Perdicaris and Ellen's elder son Cromwell were kidnapped from their home by bandits under the control of Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli, an outlaw considered by many to be the rightful heir to the throne of Morocco. Several of Perdicaris's servants were injured by Raisuli's men, and Ellen was left behind alone. Shortly after leaving Tangier, Perdicaris broke his leg in a horse fall. Raisuli demanded of Sultan Abdelaziz of Morocco $70,000 ransom, safe conduct, and control of two of Morocco's wealthiest districts. During his captivity Perdicaris came to admire and befriend Raisuli, an early example of what has since become known as Stockholm syndrome. US president Theodore Roosevelt, who had succeeded to the presidency upon the assassination of William McKinley, responded to the apparent kidnap of a US citizen with a classic display of gunboat diplomacy. He quickly dispatched several warships and Marine companies, though with little idea of what US forces could achieve on such hostile foreign soil.

Secretly advised that Perdicaris had relinquished American citizenship 40 years earlier, Roosevelt brushed that aside, pointing out that Raisuli had believed Perdicaris to be a US citizen when he kidnapped him. Roosevelt succeeded in getting Britain and France to put pressure on the sultan to accept Raisuli's demands, which he agreed to do on 21 June 1904. Roosevelt's "big stick" diplomacy and his reported demand for "Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead" helped him secure the presidency in his own right in a landslide victory in the election of November that year. Perdicaris and his family moved to England shortly after the incident, eventually settling in Tunbridge Wells. He died in London in 1925. The story was loosely adapted to film in the 1975 motion picture The Wind and the Lion, with Sean Connery in the role of Raisuli.

Here's a recent film (12 min. by Abdelkader Salah Haddouch) showing Raisuli's palace in  Tazrout, near Chefchaouen, where Perdicaris was held hostage.  We are fond of telling the Perdicaris story to visitors, and the Library of Congress deems the Perdicaris Affair important enough to dedicate a Chronicling America page to it.  Plenty of links to period news stories, where we learn that

The English housekeeper [phoned] the operator to inform the American Consulate… and Consul General Gummere, accompanied by guards, hastened to the scene.  Long before they arrived, the band had fled, carrying their prisoners into the mountain region…

That gives us another perspective on Mr. Gummere, galloping off to save an Amcit.

Now, does anyone want to get us this book?

Gerald Loftus

The Wind, the Lion, and Rosita Forbes

TALIM Rosita and Raisuli b wYou may have heard of Isabelle Eberhardt, intrepid explorer and writer in turn of the 19th-20th century Algeria, and you've probably heard of Gertrude Bell, contemporary of Lawrence of Arabia and familiar with the same geography.

But chances are you may not have come across Rosita Forbes, a prolific English adventurer and writer, author of a number of books on her travels in North Africa and Central Asia.

The photo at left is one of many in her 1924 account of a legendary figure of early 20th century Morocco: The Sultan of the Mountains: The Life of Story of Raisuli.  Raisuli was also known as Raisuni.

At the American Legation, we're used to recounting the story of the kidnapping of Tangier American Ion Perdicaris by Raisuli.  "Perdicaris Alive Or Raisuli Dead!" was the rallying cry of Theodore Roosevelt's gunboat diplomacy to liberate Mr. P.

The true story is exciting enough (kidnapping, US battleships in Tangier harbor, Marines guarding legations), but it had to be sexed up by Hollywood, whose The Wind and the Lion cast Candace Bergen in the role of the kidnap victim, swept away by the handsome Raisuli, played by Sean Connery.

But here's what author Margaret Bald (From the Sahara to Samarkand: Selected Travel Writings of Rosita Forbes, 1919-1937) has to say about the inspiration for the film:

Years ago, when I first began traveling to Morocco, I had read Forbes’s biography of the Moroccan brigand Raisuli and had found aspects of it fascinating. I had seen John Milius’s 1975 film, The Wind and the Lion, with Sean Connery as the Raisuli, which owed a lot to Forbes’s portrait of the Raisuli and her relationship with him.

"Relationship" nowadays might imply more than your usual subject-biographer rapport, and I understand that local lore has it that Rosita Forbes was romantically involved with Raisuli, something that Margaret Bald did not imply and in fact qualifies as "nonsense."  In a comment to this post, Margaret Bald adds this:

For The Wind and the Lion, Milius used Raisuli quotes from Forbes verbatim in his dialogue, imbued his character of Raisuli with the charisma Rosita described, and drew on some aspects of Rosita's relationship with the Raisuli as she described it in her book for his portrayal of the Sean Connery-Candice Bergen attraction. But that aspect of the movie, as well as many others, was highly fictionalized.

So though the Milius film really did mangle history, there's no doubting that Raisuli was taken with Rosita Forbes:

… there came to visit us the beautiful, the precious pearl, the learned, the well-educated Sayeda Rosita Forbes, the Englishwoman. [From the Arabic dedication to the book].

For her part, Forbes writes of Raisuli's "fabulous glamour" and "his charm, as powerful as it is elusive."

A year after Forbes published her book, Raisuli was captured by the forces of Rif Republic rebel Abd el Krim, and died in captivity.  His "brigand" ways – kidnapping, ransoming, switching allegiance – had finally led to his downfall.

Gerald Loftus