El Pasatiempo is here. After the burning of Zozobra this evening at 8 P.M., the town will be dedicated to jolly fun. Any Santa Fean who is suspected of harboring dull care after that hour, or even of thinking a serious thought, will be liable to a fine, not to exceed five hundred dollars, same to be paid to the Pasatiempo committee.
If you can't wear a rose in your hair, and you haven't got a lace mantilla you can get out your white duck trousers and tie a red cheese cloth around your middle. If Paddy's pig were here he'd be more Spanish than Irish tonight. Then of course there is considerable latitude. If you would rather be a Mayan noble see Doc Morley and learn how to turn egg beaters into earrings and pie tins into armor. If you want to be a bad man get the forty-four from under the mattress, find a neck cloth and a big hat and join the forces of Billy the Kid. — The Santa Fe New Mexican, Sept. 3, 1926
Roaring '20s, Santa Fe Style
On Sept. 8, 1926, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that the Yucatantrums, the float organized by archaeologist and sometime local resident Sylvanus Morley, had won the prize for the most beautiful entry in the Hysterical Pageant of the Santa Fe Fiesta. There was much to entertain Santa Feans at the 1926 Fiesta, including processions of men in charro costumes and women in old Spanish outfits, a burro parade and race, and a Billy the Kid Melodrama, performed on the roof of La Fonda by a host of well-known figures, who pantomimed the story of the Kid, with the inevitable six-guns blazing at the climax. The 1926 Fiesta also saw the first public burning of Zozobra, the "Rey de los Diablos, " or Old Man Gloom, according to the schedule published on Sept. 3. The other floats in the Hysterical Parade that year included painter John Sloan's "Kiddie Car, " which spoofed the Indian Detour cars — large station wagons the Fred Harvey Co. began using earlier in 1926 to take tourists to Indian dances. Inner tubes were the Kiddie Car wheels, and they were constantly made to go flat, at which time the car and all the prominent Santa Feans aboard — including painter Will Shuster, who co-invented Zozobra, and pioneer aviatrix and architect Katherine Stinson — fell disastrously to the ground. There were also Drunken Dancers and the Mud Hut Nuts, three men wearing on their heads miniature Santa Fe-style buildings designed by architects John Gaw Meem and Cassius McCormick. The Padrinos de los Burros section of the parade included children, pets, and burros — one dressed as a charro as well as a burro wedding couple. All agreed that Morley's "ancient Maya" float was brilliant and authentic. Before the float traipsed temple boys wearing jaguar pelts and soldiers dressed in barbaric splendor. The king and queen sat before the Maya-style building on the float, and were portrayed by Wallace Bouden and Ida (Rauh) Dasburg, respectively. Dasburg was the only queen at this fiesta, since the first Fiesta Queen did not reign until 1927. Instead Adelina (Nina) Otero-Warren, suffragist and New Mexico's Republican candidate for Congress in 1922, was voted Mother of the Festival. Morley's Maya priests were former New Mexico governor H.J. Hagerman (1906-1907) and Judge Frederick Wells, who was visiting from New York. There were court ladies, and the obligatory sacrificial maidens, played by Cecil Clark and Mary Rend (more on the virgin sacrifices later). The whole was directed by Morley and Herbert Spinden, both well-known Maya archaeologists, and the latter a curator at Harvard's Peabody Museum.
Morley's group put on a great show at the Hysterical Parade because most of the participants had worn the same costumes and acted the same roles earlier in the summer for the ceremonial inauguration of Santa Fe's first swimming pool (really a deep tank), built at the Garcia Street home of Amelia Elizabeth and Martha Root White. The White sisters were perhaps inspired to have a pool built at their home by a notice in The Santa Fe New Mexican on June 26, 1926, that lamented the fact that there was no pool in town. A month later there was a pool, and Santa Fe's cultural elite gathered to inaugurate it with their own version of a Jazz Age spectacle. The White sisters had visited Morley's archaeological project at Chichén Itzá, Yucatán, in Feb. 1926. Their visit and the antics of the Yucatantrums coincided with a 1920s craze in the U.S. for all things Mexican and Maya, which is detailed in several books and exhibition catalogs, especially South of the Border (1993) by James Oles, The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican (1995) by Helen Delpar, and The Maya of Modernism (2011) by Jesse Lerner.
As The Santa Fe New Mexican reported on July 20, 1926, 19 prominent Santa Feans gathered at the home of the White sisters to present to a crowd of a hundred the drama Ceremonial Sacrifice at the Sacred Well, written by Morley.
The dramatis personae included:
Chac Xib Chac (The Very Red Man) Halach Winik of New Chichén Itzá: W.P. Henderson
Nicte Ha (The Water Flower) his Queen: Ida Dasburg
Ahkin Mai, The High Priest of the Feathered Serpent: S.G. Morley
Xibalbay, The Court Herald and Odist: Witter Bynner
Nictekin (The Day Flower): Margaret McKittrick
Nictecab (The Night Flower): Cecil Clark
Ek Balam (Black Tiger), First Temple Servant: H.J. Hagerman
Yum Cimi (Lord of Death), Second Temple Servant: F. Wells
Chief Warrior: Gustave Baumann
Three Temple Boys: The Dasburg Boys, Johnny Meem [John Gaw Meem]
Warriors: Eddie Brooks, Ashley Pond, Jim McMillan
Court Ladies: Alice Corbin, Aggie Brooks, Jane Baumann, Gladys Brown Ficke
As the pantomime was performed, the Court Herald and Odist, played by Witter Bynner, Santa Fe's unofficial poet laureate from the 1920s to his death in 1968, recited a humorous ode he wrote for the occasion. The Feathered Serpent tells his people that if they wish to appease the rain god, end the drought and famine, and cure the king's cold, they need to sacrifice two virgins every year. "They must be beautiful as the tender newborn mountain kid." It was also a good opportunity, continued the Feathered Serpent, to get rid of girls who smoke. Accordingly, Bynner's virgins were named Nicotine and Moonshine, the latter surely a reference to Prohibition. The climax of the drama was of course the sacrifice of the "virgins, " played by Cecil Clark and Margaret McKittrick, who was chair of the New Mexico Association of Indian Affairs and who later became a noted photographer. The pair were probably youthful proxies for the White sisters, as Bynner's ode seems to contain oblique references to the pool's patronesses. The virgins were led to the edge of the sacred well and tossed in by Gov. Hagerman and Judge Wells, in their alter egos as Ek Balam and Yum Cimi. In Morley's words: "As the maidens sank, there was a groan and a cry from the assembled multitude. But soon tears were turned into joyous laughter — the maidens rose amid paeans of exultation. The rain deities were appeased — the sacrifice was accepted." The surviving images of the event, in an album housed at the School for Advanced Research library in Santa Fe, and in the W. P. Henderson Papers at the Archives of American Art, show the players garbed in pseudo-Maya or at least pseudo-Native American garb. Morley wears a North American Indian feather bonnet, a jaguar pelt over his swimming trunks, and a heart-shaped pie tin. Laura Holt, SAR's librarian, told me that the tradition was that everyone had to incorporate kitchen implements into their costumes. The photos show tea balls used as earrings and eggbeaters as scepters.
This was not Morley's first attempt at writing historical fiction. Letters in the Edgar Lee Hewett papers at the New Mexico History Museum Chávez Library suggest that Morley had a hand in the scripts for the earliest de Vargas pageants for the Santa Fe Fiesta, about 1912. He also wrote the screenplay for Last of the Itzas, a silent feature film he was charged to make with archaeologist and photographer Jesse L. Nusbaum at Chichén Itzá in 1913 for the anthropological exhibition at the Panama-California Exposition (1914-1915). The screenplay of Last of the Itzas, which survives, with Morley's corrections, in the Hewett papers, tells the story of the star-crossed lovers Ulil and Zuhuykak, he a prince of Chichén Itzá and she the king's daughter. To serve the dynastic and geopolitical realities of the day (12th-century Yucatán), Zuhuykak is married not to her beloved, but to the son of the king of the neighboring city of Mayapan. Consumed by jealous rage, Ulil kills his rival on his wedding day, and in retaliation, the king of Mayapan sends an army to crush the Itza. Ulil and Chichén's king, Chac-Xib-Chac, are condemned to be sacrificed by being hurled into the sacred well at the site. In the last scene, just as the men are tossed into the well, Zuhuykak escapes her captors and also throws herself in, joining her love in his watery grave. Morley's overheated plot would make an excellent opera. Forget Tosca jumping off the Castel Sant'Angelo! Morley and Nusbaum never made the film, as they did not have nearly enough money to hire actors or buy costumes for the story's 27 scenes. The Mexican Revolution also entered a bloody phase in early 1913, and our Santa Feans could not find actors in or around Chichén, the natives having fled deeper into the bush.
Of all the possible stories to tell about the ancient Maya, the sacrifice of maidens into the sacred well at Chichén Itzá has been one of the most enduring. In the early 20th century, Morley was not the only (male) writer whose imagination focused on virgins being given up as a sacrifice to the Maya rain god Chac. In 1922, perhaps inspired by Adolph Bandelier's novel The Delight Makers (1890), anthropologist Elsie Clews Parsons edited American Indian Life, a collection of historical fiction by prominent anthropologists and archaeologists. Four of the contributions deal with ancient Mexico. Herbert Spinden wrote "An Understudy of Tezcatlipoca, " about the Aztecs. J. Alden Mason wrote "The Chief Singer of the Tepecano." Morley's piece in the anthology is called "How Holon Chan Became the True Man of His People, " which takes readers back to the ancient Maya city of Tikal, Guatemala, in its heyday. Alfred Tozzer, who was Morley's near contemporary and his old professor at Harvard, wrote "The Toltec Architect of Chichén Itzá." And wouldn't you know it, Tozzer's story ends with someone hurled into the well of sacrifice. T.A. Willard's City of the Sacred Well, published the same year as the White pool party, includes a frontispiece image of a virgin sacrifice, as well as a legend about doings at Chichén and the sacred well that sounds a lot like Morley's scripts from 1913 and 1926. The circle closes when we realize that Willard's source was Edward Thompson, a longtime resident and sometime owner and looter of Chichén Itzá and its sacred well. Thompson said he heard the story from "an old Indian." Either Thompson or the same old Indian probably also told Morley. Thompson was at Chichén in 1907 when Morley first visited the site. Even the National Geographic Magazine contributed to visual inventory about virgin sacrifices at Chichén, and in 1936 published an artist's (H.M. Herget) imagination of the last moments of an Itzá maiden.
In the Yucatec Maya language, Chichén Itzá means "at the mouth of the well of the Itzá." The Itzá were a group of Maya who ruled Chichén, though probably earlier than the 1200s, as Morley supposed. The well of the name refers to the great cenote, or dzonot, in Yucatec Maya, which was a pilgrimage destination for centuries before Chichén was built. The Yucatán Peninsula is a shelf of weak limestone, with no rivers or lakes. Rainwater quickly sinks into the ground. Caves abound and so do cenotes, sinkholes formed when the limestone bedrock collapses down to the water table. At Chichén, the water table is about 80 feet below the surface, and the two cenotes at the site are both about that deep from ground level to the water. The ancient Maya believed that the Underworld was a watery place, and also that caves were entrances to that abode of the gods and ancestors. Hence, there could be no better real-world location that more closely resembled underworld entrances than cenotes. One of Chichén's cenotes is located at the end of a causeway, connecting it with the Castillo and other structures on the Great Plaza. This cenote has been explored twice: once a century ago in a quasi-legal dredging operation by Edward Thompson; and again in the 1960s, by Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia. In addition to much loot that proved that the Maya were hurling some of their most prized possessions into the well, both projects recovered dozens of skeletons. Of course, it is impossible to tell if someone were a virgin from a skeleton, though osteologists can sometimes see if a woman has had children from the condition of her pelvis. Spanish colonial writers 500 ago were the first to suggest that the Maya of Yucatán were sacrificing maidens or virgins to the gods (especially Chac, the rain deity) by hurling them into cenotes. But it seems clear that the 20th-century mania about "virgins" being tossed into Chichén's cenote coincided with Morley's archaeological project, sponsored by the Carnegie Institution of Washington. The Carnegie Chichén Project spanned the years from 1923 to 1940, and discoveries were regularly published in The New York Times, as well as in The New Mexican. Tourism to Chichén began during the same period, and has only accelerated in the intervening decades. With the development of the beach resorts at Cancun in the 1970s, hordes of tourists have been making latter-day pilgrimages to Chichén to see the Castillo and search for virgins around the Well of Sacrifice. Buena suerte!
The pool at the home of the White sisters is now the visitor's center at the School for Advanced Research on Garcia Street. Modern Santa Fe has many pools. But as the town Fiesta is now upon us, we should all tale stock of our tea balls, egg-beaters, and pie tins. For the Feathered Serpent calls. ◀