All my posts on Harvard last week reminded me that I have never written about the Harvard Expedition to Liberia and the Belgian Congo in 1926-1927. The journey mostly concerned Medicine, Zoology, Ornithology, and Botany, and could be imagined as a classic jungle safari with pith-helmeted professors taking samples and specimens.
The venture resulted in a 2-volume, 1,064 page encyclopedic report, published in 1930, which chronicled the journey and its findings. The African Republic of Liberia and the Belgian Congo: based on the Observations Made and Material Collected During the Harvard African Expedition, 1926-27 (yes, that is the whole title) contains both interesting reports, such as accounts of elephants and even beached whale bones, and also pages and pages of rancid tropical diseases. Forsaken African villagers, crippled with elephantitis or ravaged by other horrors, are chronicled in bleak photographs. Surely this was for the betterment of all in advancing man's conquest of these ailments, but it makes for a rather grotesque document over all, especially if the history of tropical medicine isn't your thing.
Most germane to this blog, however, the beginning of the volume concerning the time in Liberia contains a series of photographic plates of Monrovia in its pre-war splendor. I'll mostly let those speak for themselves below, as they are some of the best documentation of the late-Settler town.
Its not particularly helpful that, for all the scientific exactitude that these scholars brought to their own area of enquiry, they were rather vague in the specific location of each photograph. Its possible to make some educated guesses on some, with the feel of Broad or Benson Streets, and others are more obvious. The first one, above, is clearly from Snapper Hill, although without the lighthouse or the Ducor, it seems quite different. A classicly-shaped palaver hut sits about where the Ducor pool might be now. The view from the harbor, below, gives an excellent sense of the overall prospect of the city.
Several of the plates show quite grand, multi-story mansions, two of the most imposing are labelled the President's Residence (whether a state building or a private house, its not clear) and Monrovia College. The residence looks to be on Broad Street; the college seems to be away from other buildings--perhaps even where the University of Liberia is now? Neither of these exist today.