A Mycenaean “Matter of Fact”: Part I, Joe Alsop Reports on the Greek Bronze Age
Jack L. Davis, From the Archivist's Notebook, 01-02-2015
Several months ago Louis Menand’s New Yorker review (Nov. 10, 2014) of Gregg Herken’s The Georgetown Set: Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington kindled my interest in Joseph W. Alsop (1910-1989), influential journalist, syndicated newspaper columnist, and trustee (1965-1985) of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. A bit of archival sleuthing at the University of Cincinnati (see below) led to the discovery that on Saturday, December 14, 1963, Alsop had summoned an A-list of Classical archaeologists and art historians to dine with him and his wife, Susan Mary, in their Georgetown, Washington, D.C., home — a strange flock for this longtime Washington insider to host.
Guests included Jack and Betty Caskey, professors at the University of Cincinnati, Emmett Bennett, professor at the University of Wisconsin, Emily Vermeule, then professor at Boston University, Cornelius Vermeule, curator of Classical art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and Sterling Dow, professor at Harvard.
Joe and Susan Mary regularly cultivated movers and shakers, and dinner parties were for them a means to an end. The Alsop home at 2720 Dumbarton St., N.W. was a focus for members of the so-called “Wasp Ascendency,” i.e., white Anglo-Saxon Protestant men who had risen to positions of highest political power in the United States. At boisterous Sunday night dinners, “zoo parties” as he called them, the Washington elite broke bread together, and Joe gathered scoops for this column, “Matter of Fact,” in The New York Herald Tribune. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, his cousin, commented in 1971: ”That’s the way Joe plays the game…I know that whenever I go over to Joe’s house for a dinner party I am working for him. I don’t mind a bit. I know Joe uses me. Good heavens, he uses everybody!”
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