Elsie Clews Parsons: Inventing Modern Life

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CHAPTER FOURTEEN
Other Americas

IN July 1928, Pliny Goddard was at the summer home he and Gladys Reichard had recently established, when he began vomiting violently. Before the tests ordered by Boas's physician son could be carried out, Goddard was dead, of an undiagnosed cancer of the stomach. Parsons, who was summering in Maine, wrote immediately to Gladys suggesting a field trip. As she wrote to Boas, "A new scene is an incredible help in distress of the spirit. . . . Time was when I wanted to get away from obsessing associations, and I thought she might feel that way." Two years later, when Mrs. Boas was killed in an accident, Parsons made the same suggestion, urging Boas to join her in Mexico. Deciding instead to "suffer in harness," Boas wrote affectionately to Parsons, "We each have our own way of meeting fate. . . . You have met fate bravely your way and so shall I."1

Parsons sought the solace of fieldwork herself in 1928 after the failure of her attempt at a loose but intimate companionship with Robert Herrick. By February 1929 she was in Mexico, striking out boldly in a new setting. But her turn to Mexico was not as quixotic or as personally motivated as it appears. During her visits to the Rio Grande pueblos and Taos in 1925 and 1927, she had been struck by the mixture of mimetic animal dances, Plains ceremonial, and burlesque of Christian practices that characterized Pueblo dancing during the Christmas season. Part of Parsons's intense excitement in Majorca in the 1928 spring--and no doubt one of the reasons Herrick felt neglected and de trop--was her discovery that Mexico was the central link in a chain that led from Majorca, where the religious dancing reminded her vividly of the Pueblo kachina cult, to the American Southwest. Examining the records of the San Francisco monastery at Palma, she found that Majorca supplied many of the early Franciscan missionaries to Mexico. The pioneering Antonio Llinás came from the Majorcan town of Artá, and

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