IMMORTALIZING THE EPIC
By March of 1900 Augustus' health had broken. He and Alice had all but given up hope of raising money to return to Yucatan. She spoke candidly to Phoebe Hearst, their benefactor, in a letter dated March 17.
"Since 1885 we have tried our best to dispose of our moulds, but have met with oppositionThey had lived on the royalties from the 1886 publica-tion of Sacred Mysteries until the book was sold out. "While the book was in the market we managed, with very strict economy, to live from its proceeds, at the same time writing other volumes."
and disappointment on all sides, because our studies did not tally with old ideas of certain
professors; and meanwhile we have lectured in order to live, and to make known ancient
American civilization while writing the results of our researches."
She begged Mrs. Hearst, who planned to fund a major search for American relics for the archaeological museum at Berkeley, to consider their materials.
"We have ready for use more than could possibly be acquired in that quarter at the presentIn another letter the following day, Alice gave details of her husband's painful heart ailment, angina pectoralis. "He is unable to take solid food, and should have an immedi-ate change of climate. He is the victim of conservative opponents, and his condition is undoubtedly the result of prolonged disappointment and anxiety." Yet he continued writing, hoping to publish one more monumental work.
time, and we also possess the knowledge to make plain the meaning of these interesting sculptures."
Spurred perhaps by love for her dying husband, and inspired certainly by his grant history of the Maya, Alice wrote an epic poem about Queen Moo and Prince Coh. In 1902 Queen Moo's Talisman was published in New York. The dedica-tion in Talisman reflected Alice's gratitude for the support Augustus always gave her career. "To Doctor Le Plongeon, whose works inspired these pages, their author dedicates them; not as a worthy offering, but as a small token of loving endeavor to gratify his oft expressed desire."
Queen Moo's Talisman represented a radical shift in Alice's literary career. Unlike her previous journalistic and historical pieces about Yucatan, or the detailed descrip-tion of excavations, this was a piece of fiction set in verse, and based on Augustus' theories and their historical analysis of the Maya. The two of them appear as central figures, drawn by "relentless forces" to study the Maya.
To learn the past, Maya-land both turned,
But no faint ray of mem'ry in them burned
Altho' he murmured in a certain place--
"Familiar 'tis, there's something I would trace."
The spiritual connection the Le Plongeons felt during their work at Chichen Itza, reflected in the title of the poem, was symbolized by the cylindrical jade piece found in what they had called "Prince Coh's Tomb."
Within a white stone urn in ancient tomb.
Charred heart and talisman lay in the gloom.
To her he gave the gem.--"Now take thine own,
I pray: henceforth it must be thine alone."
If Alice and Augustus ever believed themselves to be Queen Moo and Prince Coh reincarnated, then Queen Moo's Talisman was their confession of it and a documentation of their ancient memories. If not, it was a clever literary vehicle, keeping the reader involved. The immortal spirit of Prince Aac returned to converse with Alice, hoping to come back to life through her.
To her he turned again:--Forgive! forgive!
Earth-born thro' thee. ah! let me once more live.
My crimes and victories, my soul's defeat,
My anguish and remorse, wilt thou repeat;
For thus alone new life may dawn for me-
In solitude I've long awaited me.
The metaphysical overtones and emphasis on
immortality may have served to bolster the Le Plongeons in a time of deteriorating
health and worsening financial beleagerment. In 1902, the same year
that Talisman was published, Alice wrote a letter to Frederick W. Putnam
at the American Museum of Natural History, offering for sale seven small
pieces they had found 20 years before in Yucatan. Of great sentimental
value, the collection included two sections of wooden beam, a crude "bear's
head," a flint point, a stone attached to a handle, and two pieces of stone
sculpture from the center section of the east facade of the Governor's
Palace at Uxmal. These they identified as the head of High Priest
Cay and the torso of Prince Coh.
Putnam knew the Le Plongeons well and sympathized with their plight. He wrote a memo to Jesup, the museum presi-dent, recommending strongly that the seven pieces be acquir-ed. "I know how hard it is for them to offer to dispose of these objects which they brought from Yucatan many years ago." They were purchased for a small sum and eventually a few were placed on display.
In 1904 a book reviewer for the American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal, C. S. Wake, reviewed Dr. Le Plongeon's Queen Moo and the Egyptian Sphinx. Wake tried to be even-handed. His tone was measured and conservative; his review was an analysis of Le Plongeon's theories, pointing out the limitations of the opposing theories. Wake praised Le Plongeon's fieldwork, asking "Why, then, have they practi-cally agreed to taboo the work he has done?" Perhaps the time was not right to accept his new ideas, although after 18 years, "we ought to see signs of its approach," suggested Wake.
"Specialists are very apt to look with an
unfavorable eye on anything outside of their own particular specialty,
particularly...the work of an 'amateur,' or, let us say, a non-professional,"
continued Wake, referring to Le Plongeon's position outside the professional
circle of scholars. Wake concluded that no-one had taken up Augustus'
challenge to translate a particular legend on a frieze, not because they
lacked linguistic skills, but "because there is something radically wrong
in the author's explanation of the facts."
The facts he referred to were the relative antiquity of America versus Egypt and Babylonia, and the transoceanic contact between them. Wake agreed with Le Plongeon, to a degree, that "there was communication between the two continents for a long period," but he pointed out that Egypt and Babylonia were important civilizations far earlier than Mesoamerica. "None the less," Wake wrote, "Dr. Le Plongeon is to be congratulated on the good work he has done in collecting information which will aid largely some-day in deciding the important question of American origins."
Any published acknowledgement of Le Plongeon's
work, even a lukewarm review, was a welcome occurrence since many chose
to ignore it. Alice Le Plongeon was earning some public appreciation
and acclaim in literary circles for Queen Moo's Talisman, which
led her and Augustus to think about transforming it into a drama.
After a careful search for a sympathetic author, they gave exclusive right
of dramatiza-tion to Brooks Betts. His brother M. Beverly was to
write a musical accompaniment based on Maya chants and dances. Alice
supervised the writing of the drama, The fall of Maya, which was
completed shortly before she died.
On March 4, 1905 Alice wrote her last letter to Phoebe Hearst.
"I am sorry to report that Dr. Le Plongeon since his severe illness has been less wellThough still in her early fifties, Alice had aged considerably since leaving Yucatan.
than before that event, and this winter has tried him severely. Unfortunately I too
have been less strong and able during the last two years, so that life is a distressing problem."
Even they had to concede that they would never see Yucatan again. The mysteries of the Maya, which they felt had begun to be revealed to them--or perhaps well up from within their subconscious--would be left for others to unravel.
Augustus Le Plongeon died in Brooklyn on December 13, 1908, at the age of 82. A few close friends attended the funeral, and he was cremated at Fresh Pond the next day. Alice scattered the ashes of her beloved Augustus at sea.
The Brooklyn Eagle published an obituary.
"Dr. Augustus Le Plongeon, the noted archaeologist and scientist, whose explorations inThe article mentioned his early work on religion done while in Peru, as well as his more recent and better known fieldwork.
Yucatan and other portions of Central America have resulted in some highly interesting
discoveries, died suddenly of heart trouble, in his home at 90 State Street."
"In addition to his interesting works on the discoveries he made in Yucatan, and which, it isAlice's last major published work, A Dream of Atlantis, appeared serially from 1909 to 1911 in four volumes of the Theosophical Societyis, The Word Magazine.
said, aroused jealousies and disagreements in other archaeologists, Dr. Le Plongeon wrote many
books in Spanish dealing with religion."
"Mrs. Le Plongeon is in possession of many manuscripts by the doctor which have not yet been
published. Among the most interesting of these, is a work called 'Pearls in Shells,' which is a frank
and somewhat daring treatise on religions."
Alice wanted the reader to be aware that Augustus had interpreted many Maya manuscripts including the ancient Codex Troano, a fragment of one of the few authentic Maya books, which had been reprinted a few years earlier by Brasseur de Bourbourg.
Alice's interpretations evolved out of her husband's which as much as stated that the Maya founded Atlantis. Augustus saw the Maya as the source of all world civiliza-tion, and the greatest bearers of culture to the ancient world. Alice's Dream of Atlantis brought the Maya back to Yucatan from Atlantis.
"A few years prior to the destruc-tion of that famous land a colony of the Old Maya stockBattles and epic events marched across the pages of The Word for the next three years.
again returned to the fatherland, in these days named Yucatan, and there founded a new
empire that was under the rule of the Cans, the first king of this dynasty having been unanimously proclaimed by the colonists as their chosen monarch."
In the spring of 1910, Alice traveled to London to visit her family, and draw up her will. Through her trusted friend Mrs. Henry Field (Maude) Blackwell, she planned for publica-tion to continue even after her own death, which she felt could not be far off. Alice's will directed that all their manuscripts, notes, artifacts, and the hundreds of glass-plate negatives should be left in the care of Maude Blackwell.
Before leaving London, she published "The Mystery of Egypt: Whence Came Her Ancestors?" in the London Magazine. She then set sail for New York, but during the crossing she became seriously ill. A friend of the Le Plongeons, Colonel James Churchward, had planned to meet Alice's ship. But something came up, and not realizing the gravity of her condition, he called upon Herbert Spinden, Assistant Curator of Anthropology at the Natural History Museum, to assist Alice.
Alice was taken to New York's Woman's Hospital, where she survived for three weeks. Her friend Maude Blackwell came to her bedside to receive Alice's final instructions. Alice spoke of the frustration she and Augustus felt in seeing how their life's work was mis-understood and ignored. She gave their manuscripts and other materials to Mrs. Blackwell, asking her to guard them until the American people evinced a greater interest in the ancient Maya civilization than they had done in her lifetime and that of her husband. Blackwell promised to see Augustus' last major work, "The Origins of the Egyptians", into press with the Theo-sophical Publishing Company.
Alice Dixon Le Plongeon died on June 8, 1910. Obitu-aries in the New York Times and New York Evening Post called her "a writer of note," and a lecturer on "Central American subjects." Alice's death may have brought to a close more than half a century of fieldwork, writing and lecturing by the Le Plongeons; but it did not end their influence on American Archaeology. The mysteries of the Maya, which they felt had begun to be revealed with their subconscious-- would be left for others to unravel.