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Historical Fiction: Eric Sommers Part 2: Return to America and Back to the Near East 1898-1906

December 20, 2020

I returned to America in late July 1898 and took a few weeks off to recuperate from my sea journey to New York, taking the opportunity to catch up with family and friends in Rochester. I received a letter from the New York Tribune offering me the position of literary editor. This was a position I always desired when I worked for that newspaper.  The newspaper told me to start after summer, giving me a chance to do some sightseeing in our beautiful New England states.

In September, I started my new position as a literary editor and am pleased the management gave me a free hand to write pieces on the classics. I was delighted to promote the ancient Greek classics to our readers. Many readers wrote thanking me for my articles and book reviews. I suppose the newspaper was happy to have a former Consul on its editorial staff. The next three years were a delight, which also allowed me to write two books on my experiences in Greece.

The books sold well and received favorable reviews in the New York Times and in other U.S. newspapers. These books helped me, as I shall explain later. In 1901, I continued in the same position until my resignation in December 1903.

I resigned from my position, not from a lack of job dissatisfaction, but because I wanted a new direction for my life. I seized the opportunity to go on speaking tours earning a good income talking about my books. Audiences were very appreciative of my presentations given at major universities and church halls across America. I became known as a major speaking celebrity. Several individuals compared me to Mark Twain. What an honor to be compared to this literary giant!

In early 1905, my life took a new direction as I was promoted to U.S. Consul General in Athens. I was thrilled to be back in the land of Pericles. I continued my private visits to the Palace, discussing the major political events of the day with King George. We sipped our brandy until late into the evening before heading back to our Legation.

The political situation in Greece and the Balkans was fluid. I will cite some examples of Greek politics for illustrative purposes. The Prime Minister, Theodore Deliyannis, was murdered by a professional gambler at the main entrance of the Chamber of Deputies as revenge for the passing of strict laws against gambling houses. The country mourned the loss of its popular premier. Athenians wanted to lynch the culprit. Thank goodness sanity prevailed.

Crete was another issue that caused problems for Greece. The Cretans were always pushing for union with the motherland, which brought Greece into conflict with Turkey and the great European powers (Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary). Prince George of Greece, appointed as the High Commissioner for Crete by the major powers, was keen to promote the idea of union with Greece. However, his efforts were ignored by the major European powers. They wanted to preserve the balance of power on the continent and maintain the Ottoman Empire as long as possible. They didn't want a European war over Crete.

In 1905-06, the political situation in Macedonia was highly explosive, which could have erupted anytime into a Balkan War. The British Minister in Athens, Sir John Morris, explained to me that the European powers wanted this region pacified, thus dampening down any prospects of conflict. Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria coveted Macedonia. They set up schools with each promoting their language and culture to the mixed populations that inhabited this region.

The operation of Greek, Bulgarians, and Serbian bands in Macedonia resulted in civilian casualties, including the burning of villages, which proved a major headache for the European powers. The hatred between Greeks and Bulgarians and Serbians and Bulgarians was as intense as their common hatred for the Turks. Muslims committed atrocities against Christians in Macedonia too as the Ottoman army did everything in its power to stop these bands from crossing onto its territory. I heard that the Greek, Bulgarian, and Serbian governments were secretly aiding and encouraging these bands to create chaos and panic in Macedonia. Athens, Belgrade, and Sofia were warned by the powers to stop giving material aid to these bands.

Several prominent Greek politicians approached me thinking I would support their cause in Macedonia. That was wishful thinking on their part. I told them that our government had a non-intervention policy in the internal affairs of European nations. They were disappointed with my statement.

Despite this, we maintained good relations with the Greek government. There was one issue that needed rectification before it became a significant issue between our two countries. Our Minister in Athens and I were invited by the Greek Foreign Minister, Alexandros Skouzes, to discuss Greek migration to America. Some Greeks headed to St Louis, were denied entry by U.S. Immigration in New York. Skouzes wanted to know why these individuals were denied entry, whereas others went to Boston, Chicago, or Los Angeles without any problem. We showed him copies of correspondence exchanged between the Secretary of Commerce and Labor and the State Department that these individuals’ entry violated the foreign contract labor laws. He wasn't happy with this decision but accepted the right of our country to deny entry to such individuals. Skouzes told us that he would ensure that Greeks migrating were to be informed of the strict U.S. immigration and labor laws to avoid such future occurrences.

The happiest event for us was the Intercalated Olympic Games staged between April 22-May 2, 1906. It brought back beautiful memories of 1896 all over again. Our athletes arrived several days before the official opening of the games with our Olympic committee headed by Jimmy B. Smith. King George officially opened the games before 70,000 spectators. The Greek and American athletes received thunderous applause from the crowd when they entered the stadium. Our athletes won the respect of the Greeks by not arguing with the judges, accepting the competition rules, and displaying good sportsmanship towards their fellow athletes. The New York Tribune reported that "the King gave a gala dinner of 400 in honor of foreign delegates, athletes committee, judges and winners" at the Palace. President Theodore Roosevelt sent a congratulatory telegram to Smith and athletes for their performance at the games.

Later that year, I was recalled back to the United States and would spend the next two years writing books and giving public speeches.

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