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Allan Davidson Letter, May 1, 1918
Davidson, Allan H, Correspondent
Dad (Name unknown)
, Recipient
Media Type
Item Type
A typed letter from Allan Davidson to his father. Sent from Naples, Italy.
Date of Publication
1 May 1918
Personal Name(s)
Davidson, Allan H
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Campania, Italy
    Latitude: 40.55073 Longitude: 14.24263
  • Campania, Italy
    Latitude: 40.83333 Longitude: 14.25
  • Campania, Italy
    Latitude: 40.75 Longitude: 14.48333
  • Campania, Italy
    Latitude: 40.82293 Longitude: 14.42874
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Full Text

Hotel Patria

Napoli Maggio I.

Dear Dad

Well here I am back in Naples for a few days. We spent six days at Capri four of which it rained most of the time. We came here two days ago. The first day we walked around and say the place generally and yesterday we went to Pompeii and Vesuvius.

They are most marvelous places Pompeii and Vesuvius each in it’s own different way. We were very fortunate in going under the auspices of Cook’s tourist agency. There is a special rate for men in uniform and is does away with all bother of tipping and supplies a first class guide who is paid by the Cook Compay.

There were four of us, the boy who is with me named Holmes, our treasurer whom we met here, and an American who supplied fun for the whole of us. We went by an electric train from Naples and skirted along between Vesuvius and the sea until we reached that “City of the Dead”.

The paving blocks are there on the streets with the ruts of the chariots just as they were two thousand years ago. This first thing our American friend said when he saw how modern they looked was to suppose that they had been put there for the convenience of tourists and when told their age exclaimed in true American fashion “Well what do you know about that”.

We walked up the main street and saw the old shops with marble counters where they sold their wares. Wineshops with huge earthen jars sunk in the counters and bakeries with the ruins of the ancient ovens, also flour mill with huge stones for crushing the grain still in the same positions as they were abandoned so long ago.

One of the first things we saw were the skeletons of six people who evidently had tried to escape the pending doom and had succeeded only in reaching the hall where they had been suffocated.

In 63 A.D. Pompeii suffered from a tremendous earthquake which destroyed practically everything. Immediately the inhabitants started to rebuild it and it was in this state of incompletion when sixteen years later in 79 A.D. the eruption of Vesuvius took place and buried it with the rain of ashes. Then because the city was in an incomplete state the people did not come back to reclaim it. Thus the place was lost and forgotten until in the early eighteenth century some workmen constructing a drain for a watersupple accidentally dug into the temple of Isis (do you remember in “The last Days of Pompeii?) and from that beginning the excavations date.

Most of the statues frescoes off the walls etc have been taken to the Naples Museum but one house the “Casa dei Vetti” they have left with all the originals and have in a way restored it to what it was and replanted the garden. In this house one enters the door and finds himself in a sort of hall open to the sky and with little bedrooms all around. He then goes farther in and he comes to the garden completely surrounded by the house and rows of columns. The plants in it are nearly as possible the same as those which were there originally. Around this are the various living rooms etc, and off to one side are the servants quarters. This house was one of the Patrician class and there have been found upwards of 200 of the same class in the city. Pompeii in the time of it’s prosperity boasted a population of 24000 people.

We saw the house of Glaucus the Athenian and I told you the temple of Isis. There are also the remains of many other temples and the farum which destroyed by earthquake was being rebuilt. The great blocks and columns of marble are placed there just as the workmen had left them ready to be put up.

The pomeian civilization was very high and quite modern in some ways. They had a wonderful watersystem and a reservoir capable of holding a years supply of drinking water if the city chanced to be besieged. Also they had extensive systems of underground water piping made of lead just as we have and taps and stopcocks much on the style that we have so many of down in our cellar.

The men had a wonderful bathing house, first there was a waiting room with rows of benches, then there was a warmer place where they disrobed and accustomed themselves to the heat (It was a perspiration bath) then lastly thre was the sweat room with a double wall and windows facing the sun and a jet of boiling water at one end a bath at the other and a stove outside to fire up, all executed in marble. Also there was a pool for a cold dip for all those who felt inclined.

We saw the ruins of the temples with their carved altars for the sacrifices of animals a different sized altar for each different animal. The place where the statue of Isis had been was very interesting. The people used to come to it for oracles and prophecies. Well there was a cell just behind it and a tube reached from it to the back of the mouth. There was also a string attached to the head which was movable. A priest would secrete himself in the cell and when people came for advice he would speak and pull the string thus turning the idol’s head thus fooling the people.

The Pompeian also had their theater and a small one for comedies, wonderful places only they had stone seats and no roofs so I don’t think they could have been very comfortable.

We returned through lava fields, that in 1906 had destroyed over 200 houses and passes the great Macaroni city “Torre Annunziata” but we didn’t see them making any. In peace time they say it is quite a sight and it is made in places along the track and can be seen from the train. I am afraid there is too little of it made now, for the three days we have been here we haven’t even seen any of the national dish and it is a pity too because it is so filling. Conditions here are very much more strenuous than before the war. Our guide was telling us that than a guide might make a hundred lire a day out of foreigners. Now he says they seldom make ten and that ten lire now will hardly buy what one would then. He may have stretched it but I know one has to spend nearly 20 lire a day at hotels to live and that now is between two and three dollars.

Well I will proceed, on our way back we stopped at Cooks private Vesuvian railway and started the ascent of the world famous pinnacle. The railway ascended about three thousand feet often at a grade terribly steep and then the last five or six hundred was accomplished by a rope drawn incline with a grade of about one foot in two.

All the way up we could see the smoke coming from the huge crater and the brownish colour of the glow. Finally we reached the top and were able to look over. I hardly know how to describe it. The big crater is three miles in circumference and the inner one from which the flames and smoke issue is much smaller and is six hundred to 1000 feet lower. It is very much like a volcano of one’s imagination belching fire and smoke set within another.

In the Diagram (A) is the edge of the big crater on which one stands and looks down one thousand feet. (B) is the little crater belching flames and smoke and making a noise like a blast furnace or the forced draft on a huge streamer and (C) is composed of yellowish green fields of sulpher streams of molton red hot lava from (B) and tiny craters exploding every once in so often with a report and whistle like a gun.

Outside the outer crater is old lava and rocks and ashes from the last eruption. We had to walk though this for a few hundred yards to the incline. At the top is a government guide. He is paid by Cook only he tries to give you lava that has been brought from the bottom of the big crater. We thanking him declined his offer, but our American Noo Yorker thought how kind of him and accepted the gift and was extremely indignant when the guide demanded a lira for it when he was leaving. It really is awful this tipping business. The people at our hotel anxiously inquire after each meal whether we going or if we will return for the next, and a tip is expected if a man little more than looks at you.

We were at the museum this morning. It is supposed to be the most complete and to have the finest collection of antiquities in Europe. The majority of statues etc were taken from Pompeii. There are many Appollos, Venuses, Hurcules, etc and very few of them with any clothing.

There is one most marvelous group depicting an old legend which I had never heard before. “One of the God (I don’t know which) married and had two sons, then he got tired of his wife so had another one. Meanwhile the sons had grown up and of course were strongly in sympathy with their mother so she had to be revenged. Being of the cruel nature of the time they undertook to tie the poor unfortunate second wife to the horns of a bull”. The group shows them in the act of doing this.

Then there is the room of the bronzes all green with age just as they were dug out of the ruins. The Ceasars are all depicted and most wonderfully done too. The perfect forms of the expressions on their faces and the different attitudes and acts that are shown are all wonderful and show what a great civilization was theirs.

We also saw rooms of the household and commercial articles of Pompeii. Great weights that had been used for the weighing of merchandise in the form of pigs, fish, and other animals. Old stoves very much like modern Italian stoves and I expect equally as unsatisfactory. Altars for the sacrifices of animals, tables of mosaic and marble on legs of bronze inlaid with silver, little statues of household Gods of bronze and silver wonderfully in the ashes for twenty centuries.

There was a collection of Pompeian surgical instruments which might interest the Doctor, also a fine collection of theatre tickets which I am sure would delight you. They are made of shells, almonds, or peach stones, bits of wood etc. All depending on the price of your seat.

There were wonderful old frescoes from Pompeian houses showing the life and daily happenings there, some of which might not come up to our twentieth century standards of morality.

We did not see so very much in the museum because many of the more valuable articles have been taken to safer places on account of the fear of air raids. Of course you know that there was one here. I don’t think it did much damage though.

The day before yesterday we saw the aquarium, one of the finest in existence and containing a collection of Mediterranean marine animals. There were many different fishes, dogfish, flying-fishes and salmon, also many of the little sardine like fishes that they catch in the bay here. The other morning coming from Capri we saw them catching them. They use nets and when they draw them into the boat they are one mass of teaming tiny fishes which they all start to pull out of the nets. Men women and children down to four or five all help and it is amazing the amount they get. The fish boat, the women in gay colours, the ragged looking barefoot men and children picking fish out of the nets in a boat rocking on the bluest water you ever saw made one most picturesque sight.

Well to return to the subject in the next case were some lovely eels, looked just like sea serpents wit lovely brown spotted velvety skins.

Then there was an abundance of sea anemones of all colors looking exactly like flowers only waving their twigs and branches about in a more lifelike manner. The guide (for a 20 cenesimie reward) fed them for us and whatever touched even the tip of one of the rays was dragged to the central stalk like a portion of the flower-animal.

Then there were huge lobsters and crabs, things which are much nicer either behind a glass case or dead than in the same room with you, also fish that buried or camouflaged themselves in the sand leaving only their noses and eyes out in the water.

I think the most interesting and repulsive animal was the octopus. There are three of them altogether and the guide (for another 20 centesimi) fed them some craps. Two eyes and an opening in front and a rather large sack form the center of this lovely animal. Radiating from the central opening are the textacles with one side covered with two rows of suckers. The crab was suspended by a string, a tentacle reached out and grabbed him and he was drawn slowly but surely to the central opening where he was engulfed whole and still alive.

The octopus is not very large at all, I suppose it would close up into a much less than a cubic foot but it can spread out to about a width of three feet and is quite powerful enough if it should catch a swimmer unawares to take hold of him and drag him under and drown him. Once the suckers take hold of anything they never let god. They are found someplace in the Mediterranean.

Naples has a very log seafront and fine parks along it but as far as I can see there is no place to bath a terrible disadvantage to such a large hot city as it is. However perhaps the people don’t mind. They and their streets look as though they didn’t. I never saw such dirty streets but withal they are exceedingly picturesque. The city is on a slope so some of them are flights of steps and some days these are lined with flower stalls of every variety and gaudily dressed women and half naked children lounging around trying to sell you flowers.

There are many beggars a lot of them blind. Every church door has one and some have two and you pass one or two walking between. In some places the little children will turn carwheels for you and then ask for pennies, other places they will simply come after you crying out “Soldi” “Soldi”.

The clothesdrying place is a pole outside the window or a line stretched across the street. It is not an uncommon thing to be unable to see down a street because of the clothes hanging in it. I don’t know how many people live to the room in the populous sections but I have seen two double beds in a down stairs front room that ought to be a parlour. I expect the whole family would live there altogether.

We saw the milkwoman come around this morning. She drives a herd of goats through the streets crying out announcing her ware from time to time. If someone wants milk he brings out a vessel and the good lady sits down and milks it for him, pockets the money and goes on to the next house.

There is one street here nearly always crowded, the Viu Roma it is the most important thoroughfare and at times is almost impossible to get along. The street cars are vile and the conductors are all conductrixes. The streets also abound in guides who offer to show you anything from the next street to Pompeii and Vesuvius and even when you tell them they aren’t wanted they stick to you like a leach. It is really awfully annoying sometimes.

We went to a musical comedy two nights ago. The theatres are very different. There is the pit and all the rest is boxes, no gallery or gods, but six rows of boxes. I could gather a little of the plot when they spoke but not any of the singing. However I enjoyed it and am going to an opera in Rome probably tomorrow night. We leave here at 6 A.M. tomorrow. Holmes my companion is going straight back but I am going to stop 3 days in Rome and about a week in Florence if my money holds out.

Do you know time flies, it is almost more than 7 months since I left home and by the time you get this you will be thinking of fruit again. I certainly wish I were going to be there too instead of in this country although I do like it.

You must let Pearl and the Doctor see this also any on interested.

Love to you, Mother, Con, and Glp.


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Allan Davidson Letter, May 1, 1918

A typed letter from Allan Davidson to his father. Sent from Naples, Italy.