If Augustus Le Plongeon had been given a fair shake by historians of anthropology or history, this book might never have been written. It was the unusual vehemence of attacks on his work and a fascination with this unique nineteenth century character that led to a search of archives and photo collections by Larry Desmond in 1977. Desmond's goal was to try to explain why such an absurd sounding character as Le Plongeon was so intriguing. One of the missing pieces that fell into place was a major collection of the "Old Doctor's" glass-plate negatives and original albumen prints. With that discovery Desmond knew he was hooked. Desmond's research on Augustus Le Plongeon led him to archives around the country, to fieldwork in Yucatan, and to a Ph.D. dissertation.
When Luther Wilson and Beth Hadas of the University of New Mexico Press suggested that Larry and I work together on Le Plongeon's biography, we wondered why we hadn't considered the idea ourselves. I had been following his progress from the beginning, when he pounded out a draft of his research notes in the basement of our house in Deephaven, Minnesota, but it had not occurred to me to join with him full time on the project.
The picture that took shape from Augustus and Alice Le Plongeon's ethnographic writing, photographs, fieldnotes, and drawings was of an extraordinary couple whose work was not being fairly appraised in the context of the time and situation. We soon found that Alice's role, and the roles Alice and Augustus played in each other's lives were becoming clearer. Their personalities and their part in that period of discovery and exploration began to emerge as we pieced together the sequence of events and let the Le Plongeons speak in their own eloquent voices as much as possible.
For the Le Plongeons, their research was their life and their psyches were intertwined with their work. They never had children. In a way, the Maya were their family and they were as unable to see their imperfections as parents would be. Alice and Augustus could never reconcile themselves to the lack of acceptance their efforts achieved.
I hope that we have succeeded in helping them live again.
Phyllis Mauch Messenger