QUEEN MOO'S STORY
It felt good to be back in Brooklyn, for a while at least. There were stacks of fieldnotes and drawings to go over. Scientific American was interested in publishing more articles on the Maya, and Alice readily found outlets for her articles on life in Yucatan. Both she and Augustus continued to work on books about the places and people they knew so well. But they hoped for other projects that would allow them to confront the American audience with the wonders of Maya civilization.
One such opportunity seemed to be developing, shortly after their return to Brooklyn. Augustus learned that there might be a possibility of creating a small Maya temple from his moulds at the New Orleans Exposition. Mr. Burke, Director of the Exposition, invited the Le Plongeons to come to New Orleans and work on the building. There was one catch, however. Burke needed $5,000 to construct the building with fireproof materials; otherwise the exhibition could not be covered by fire insurance. President Diaz offered space already allocated to the Mexican government for its part in the exposition, but could give no financial assistance.
Spencer Baird at the Smithsonian was contacted to see if that organization could assist, but the Smithsonian did not consider the project important enough to spend $5,000--a considerable amount of money in 1884. With reluctance, Le Plongeon dropped the project. Instead he and Alice turned their full attention to manuscript writing.
Augustus concentrated on recreating the ancient history of the Maya and their supposed link to other world cultures. Using murals, sculptures, and bas-reliefs from Uxmal and Chichen Itza, Augustus narrated a life history of several key Maya rulers. He used material remains from their excavations to support his interpretation which appeared full-blown in Sacred Mysteries Among the Maya and Quiches, 11,500 years ago. The book synthesized Le Plongeon's findings in Yucatan, or "Mayax," as he called the land of the Maya. It set forth Le Plongeon's theories on Maya connections with Freemasonry and the civili-zations of the Middle East. It narrated the story he and Alice felt was graphically illustrated on the walls of the Upper Temple of the Jaguars.
Sacred Mysteries told of the love between Queen Moo and Prince Coh, of Prince Coh's death at the hands of his brother Aac, and of Queen Moo's final escape to Egypt where she was welcomed as Isis (translated by Le Plongeon to mean "little sister"). The story was substantiated, Augustus felt, by the excavation of what he interpreted as the cremated remains of Prince Coh.
Nowhere, except in Mayax, do we find it as forming part of the history of the nation. Nowhere,He wove his own analysis and explanation into the telling of the history. "It was among the Mayas," he wrote, "that the youngest of brothers should marry the eldest of sisters, to insure the legitimate and divine descent of the royal family." He did not divulge whether this information came from some ethnographic or archaeological evidence he had, but felt it was useful in under-standing the family of Queen Moo.
except in Mayax, do we find the portrait of the actors in the tragedy. There, we not only see
their portraits carried in bas-relief, on stone or wood, or their marble statues in the round, or
represented in the mural paintings that adorn the walls of the funeral chamber built to the memory
of the victim, but we discover the ornaments they wore, the weapons they used, nay, more, their
mortal remains (1886:84).
The story opened during the "ancient epoch," discussing the royal family in residence at Uxmal: the sovereign, Canchi; his wife Zoc; and their children: eldest son, Prince Cay (later to become high priest); Prince Aac; the youngest son, Prince Coh; Princess Moo; and Princess Nicte.
Augustus described how Princess Moo became queen of Chichen Itza after the death of her father, and how she married the great warrior Prince Coh, whom she loved. Uxmal had been inherited by Prince Aac, but he coveted Queen Moo and was jealous of the fame of Coh. He conspired to kill his brother Coh, capture and marry Queen Moo, and unite the divided empire under himself. He murdered Coh, and civil war broke out, which Aac offered to stop if Queen Moo would accept his romantic advances. She rejected him, and his armies finally defeated her followers. Sometime after her capture, with the help of friends she escaped, but her brother Cay was put to death.
Augustus wrote of Aac,
"In token of his victory, Aac caused his statue--the feet resting on the flayed bodies of hisLe Plongeon attributed other construction at Uxmal to Prince Aac, including the north and south wings of the Governor's Palace where the sculpture they thought was Moo's portrait was found, and the House of the Turtles, built as Aac's private residence.
kind, their heads being suspended from his belt--to be placed over the main entrance of the
royal palace at Uxmal, where, as I have said, its remains may be seen today."
"After her death she received the honors of apotheosis; became the goddess of fire, and wasAugustus and Alice continued to write and lecture exten-sively. In 1886, Alice published Here and There in Yucatan, a collection of previously published accounts of some of their journeys in Yucatan, including their 1876-77 boat trip from Progreso to Belize. The New York Times praised her style, calling it "direct and simple."
worshipped in a magnificent temple, built on the summit of a high and very extensive pyramid
whose ruins are still to be seen in the city of Izamal."
Alice read a paper before the New York Academy
of Sciences in 1886, titled "Yucatan, its Ancient Temples and Palaces,"
and another in 1887, "Eastern Yucatan, its Scenery, People, and Ancient
Cities and Monuments." She also published an article that year, "The
Mayas: Their customs, laws and religions" in the Magazine of American History.
Augustus worked on a lengthy manuscript which he called "Monuments of Mayax and their Historical Teachings." It was never published.
The Le Plongeons also wrote to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, requesting permission to present papers at their August 10-17, 1887 meeting. Alice proposed to give a slide lecture on the archaeology of Yucatan. Augustus had written a paper called "Ancient American Civil-ization." They waited expectantly for notice of acceptance, not anticipating any problems. After all, Daniel Brinton, Vice-President of the anthropological section of the Association, and the official who would issue the invitations to speak, had written favorably of them in a November 1885 letter published in the American Antiquarian. Referring to a pleasant evening spent with the Le Plongeons, he had praised the efforts of Augustus and "his accomplished wife" to correct the "hasty conclusions of Charnay." Yet he made a point of adding a reference to their reputation, "Whatever opinion one may entertain of the analogies the doctor thinks he has discovered between the Maya culture and language and those of Asia and Africa..." (1885:378).
Brinton's replies to the Le Plongeons' requests to speak at the meetings were not only cool, but suspiciously late. Brinton's letter to Alice, dated August 13, three days after the Association meetings began, said that while the members all agreed such a lecture would be of great value, all the evening lecture rooms were occupied, and the only space available was a room during the day that could not be darkened. Further, they could only allow Alice 30 minutes to cover her topic.
Apparently embarrassed by his late reply, Brinton added that he had written his response on August 5 and had entrusted it to an assistant who "placed an erroneous address upon it." However, he failed to explain why a letter written on August 5 was dated August 13. Brinton's reply to Augustus was not received until three weeks after the close of the meeting, having been sent via San Francisco!
Though disappointed by this apparent rebuff, Alice and Augustus carried on with their writing and speaking about Yucatan. They were negotiating with museums and individuals to buy some of the moulds from Uxmal and Chichen Itza to raise some much-needed cash. Though the moulds were unique and of excellent quality, the search for buyers dragged on for years. The Le Plongeons did have some financial support from a few individuals who thought their work was important. And there were some royalties from the sale of Sacred Mysteries.
Others who realized the value of their work
were less interested in the well-being of the Le Plongeons, instead making
unauthorized use of their materials. It was impossible to determine
if certain instances were intentional deceptions or merely mis-understandings.
In January 1889, for instance, they were invited to attend a lecture in
New York by the traveler Frederick Ober, who had written Travels in
To their great shock, they saw their own photos projected on the screen during Ober's talk.
"Imagine our amazement when he threw upon the screen wretched copies of the east facadeWhile Ober cooley took credit for the photos, Augustus guessed that he had never even visited Chichen Itza. Noting that Alice appeared among the workmen in the foreground of the pictures, Augustus added, "We expected that he would complete the story by pointing at Mrs. Le Plongeon's picture and say--Here is my wife:--he did not, happily" (1889).
of the Palace at Chichen--made from imperfect prints that he had begged from Mrs. Le Plongeon
for his album, and she having given him with the under-standing that he should not use them
either in his lectures or articles."
Their only defense against such encroachments was to continue publishing their own research as quickly as possible. Augustus worked on a long manuscript revising and elaborating the history of the Maya. He hoped it would sell at least as well as Sacred Mysteries. Alice concentrated on the shorter articles that journals and magazines were anxious to carry.
One article, "The Mayas. Individuality and personality," appeared in an 1890 volume of Theosophical Siftings, published by the Theosophical Publishing Society of London. Alice may have been a student of the Theosophical Movement, which was experiencing a wave of popularity at the time. Its emphasis on spiritual insights and revelations would have struck a harmonious cord in Alice whose writings about Yucatan were beginning to emphasize metaphysical matters. If there was a connection, it may have been through Madame Helena P. Blavatsky in New York, a leader in the Movement. She had spent time with spiritual "masters" in India and brought knowledge learned from them to her followers in England and America. Her multi-volume treatise, The Secret Doctrine, published in 1888, made several references to Augustus' work in a discussion of "Central America."
In 1890, Augustus gave seven lecturers to the Lowell Institute on "Ancient American Civilization." These lectures were illustrated with slides covering the ethnology of Yucatan, the history of the Conquest, Maya language, development of architecture, and a detailed look at Chichen Itza's architecture and history, based on his interpretations of the murals in the Upper Temple of the Jaguars.
That same year a book by Daniel Brinton, now professor of American Archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania, appeared, fanning the smoldering animosity between him and Augustus into an open feud. In the book, Essays of an Americanist, he charged Le Plongeon with "eccentricity" for asserting that the basic unit of measure among the Maya was the meter. This implied that Le Plongeon believed the Maya knew the distance between the equator and the pole, which was the basis of calculations for the meter.
In contrast to what he reported and what Le
Plongeon believed, Brinton contended that one of the basic units of the
Maya was the cubit, a measurement based on human anatomy, specifically
the distance from the elbow to the finger tip. It was just one of
several charges, all calculated to discredit Le Plongeon. Augustus
would not let Brinton get away with the affront.