I had supper last night with the great-granddaughter of Frederic Church at her home less than a mile from Olana. She said she found one of Church’s journals from his Near East expedition as she was exploring the attic a year or two ago.
“The reason I liked him,” she said, “is he seemed to have no fear.”
During his 1868 expedition to the lost city of Petra, she told me that Church was in mortal danger from the local Bedouin tribes, who had killed an artist in the region not long before. It was considered blasphemy to make graven images. But Church “hired a bunch of people to guide him. He payed them a great deal of money so they didn’t want to kill him.”
At one point the locals blocked his way and threatened his life. Church then asked to borrow a mirror, because “he realized a mirror was a sacred thing.” He took the mirror, and, while the Bedouins weren’t looking, he painted a crack on it. He then showed the cracked mirror to the angry men.
Then, announcing he would restore the mirror to its original condition, “he went behind the tent and erased the crack.” The men believed him to have divine powers, and they alllowed him to pass safely.