Yucatan, Day 2

March 10th, 2008 by ejalbright

My throat has been scratchy since landing. My voice sounds like a wheezy accordion. Today I am convinced I have full blown cold or other sickness. Everyone in my office has been ill, so it made sense that I eventually would get it.

I started the day at Dzibulchultun, a restored ruin north of Merida. I came in search of a stelae that had originally been in Uxmal, a restored ruin well south of Merida. In the early 1890s, Edward Thompson had been commissioned to make molds of buildings at Uxmal and Labna for recreations of these buildings at the 1893 World Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. Thompson led a small army of Maya workers to the sites during malaria season. Men started dropping from disease, and eventually Thompson also took ill with fever.

While Thompson lay in his hammock trying to recover, one of his assistants came and told him of finding a stelae with glyphs. Thompson somehow managed to find the strength to get up and take a look. He photographed the monument, then collapsed and had to be helped back to his quarters.

Over the intervening years, Thompson returned to Uxmal and tried to find the stelae, but he couldn’t remember where it was. His assistant who had found it had died. It became known as Thompson’s Lost Stelae.

However, the stelae was never actually lost. Others knew of it, including Sylvanus Morley, who rediscovered it in 1923. Eventually the stelae was moved by the 1980s to La Ermita, a church in Merida, as a decoration for its garden. A few years ago it was moved again to the museum at Dzibulchultun, a restored ruin north of Merida, which is where I found it this morning.

After snapping a shot of the stelae, I headed for the state archives to look up records pertaining to tax relief that Edward Thompson had received in 1910. The two women who ran the archives this day spoke little English, which was the perfect complement to my complete lack of Spanish. We flailed around trying to find the records until I remembered the two key words, Congreso (the state senate) and Legislativo (the state house of representatives). Once we had that, then the women knew right where to look.

Late in the afternoon I had coffee with George Ann Schuck, a retired professor who has been attempting to write a book about Felipe Carrillo Puerto, the martyred governor of Yucatan, and Alma Reed, the American journalist that he fell in love with. The chapter I am working on deals briefly with their love affair, and their relationship with Chichén Itzá. George Ann was a delightful coffee companion. We swapped stories and information about what we had discovered in our research.

We took a drive to see Felipe Carrillo Puerto’s grave, but the cemetery was closed. I planned to return tomorrow in the morning. I dropped George Ann off near her car and headed back to my friend’s. My throat was on fire, and I could barely keep my eyes open. When I got back, I just went up to my room with the idea of taking a brief siesta. Instead, I slept through the night.

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