Cradle of Gold: The Story of Hiram Bingham, a Real-Life Indiana Jones, and the Search for Machu Picchuby Christopher Heaney
In 1911, a young Peruvian boy led an American explorer and Yale historian named Hiram Bingham into the ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu. Hidden amidst the breathtaking heights of the Andes, this settlement of temples, tombs and palaces was the Incas' greatest achievement. Tall, handsome, and sure of his destiny, Bingham believed that Machu Picchu was the Incas
In 1911, a young Peruvian boy led an American explorer and Yale historian named Hiram Bingham into the ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu. Hidden amidst the breathtaking heights of the Andes, this settlement of temples, tombs and palaces was the Incas' greatest achievement. Tall, handsome, and sure of his destiny, Bingham believed that Machu Picchu was the Incas' final refuge, where they fled the Spanish Conquistadors. Bingham made Machu Picchu famous, and his dispatches from the jungle cast him as the swashbuckling hero romanticized today as a true Indiana Jones-like character. But his excavation of the site raised old specters of conquest and plunder, and met with an indigenous nationalism that changed the course of Peruvian history. Though Bingham successfully realized his dream of bringing Machu Picchu's treasure of skulls, bones and artifacts back to the United States, conflict between Yale and Peru persists through the present day over a simple question: Who owns Inca history?
In this grand, sweeping narrative, Christopher Heaney takes the reader into the heart of Peru's past to relive the dramatic story of the final years of the Incan empire, the exhilarating recovery of their final cities and the thought-provoking fight over their future. Drawing on original research in untapped archives, Heaney vividly portrays both a stunning landscape and the complex history of a fascinating region that continues to inspire awe and controversy today.
“Hiram Bingham and the Machu Picchu saga deserve no less than Cradle of Gold, Christopher Heaney's thorough, engrossing portrait of a mercurial figure at a crucial juncture of his life.” The Wall Street Journal
“Heaney tells Bingham's fascinating story well. But this excellent book is more than just a rollicking adventure tale – it is also a nuanced study of conflicting claims on history.” Financial Times
“A well-researched and very readable biography of Bingham…[Heaney] probes the depths of Bingham's work and character, examining setbacks, scandals, and achievements and skillfully unraveling Bingham's role in the controversy that still exists today between the government of Peru and Yale University over the ownership of the Machu Picchu burials and artifacts.” Library Journal
“Offers a wealth of information.” The Chronicle of Higher Education
“A lively, suspenseful, and well-written yarn...Heaney leads us through jungle trails, up into the Andes, across rushing rivers, along the original Inca Trail, to Espiritu Pampa, 'The Plain of Ghosts' and location of Vilcabamba, the Incan city built in flight from the Spanish -- all juxtaposed with the cruel and ruthless history of the Spaniards in Peru…and the destruction of an empire that was larger than any other on earth, stretching from Chile to Colombia, the Pacific to the Amazon.” Providence Journal
“A fascinating work of narrative history that combines careful research with a subtle portrait of a man of great contradictions. Hiram Bingham was an explorer, adventurer, extraordinary scholar, U.S. Senator, and, in the eyes of many, high-handed thief. Heaney's highly readable book at last gives him his due.” Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold's Ghost
“Full of intriguing detail and carefully researched, this is a fitting testimony to one of the greatest of American explorers.” Hugh Thomson, author of The White Rock.
“Cradle of Gold brilliantly tells the story of how Hiram Bingham revealed Machu Picchu to the world. Chris Heaney combines dogged research with a gift for storytelling and a historian's rich and nuanced understanding of his subject's times. Bingham emerges as a complex, even tragic figure who, for all his faults, generated real excitement about Peru's past as no one had before. Heaney beautifully and skillfully captures the cultural clash between Bingham and his Peruvian hosts, without for a moment losing the momentum of this gripping story. The result is an immensely compelling tale of exploration and exploitation that has waited nearly a century for the right chronicler. In Chris Heaney, Bingham's story has finally found it.” Roger Atwood, author of Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World
“An unforgettable journey into the heart of Peru's past that takes the reader on a hunt for the lost cities of the Incas, the famous Machu Picchu among them. It's also a sensitively written portrait of Hiram Bingham, one of the last great explorers of our time--a man set on fulfilling his destiny--and a judicious historical account of the disenfranchisement of the Peruvian people, who had their heritage stolen by those claiming to protect it.” Peter Nichols, author of Final Voyage and A Voyage for Madmen
“Cradle of Gold illuminates Bingham's stunning and controversial discovery-and singular life-with gripping pacing and vivid detail. The book's young author, Christopher Heaney, is a notable discovery in his own right.” Jim Rasenberger, Author of America, 1908
“Hiram Bingham's excavation of Machu Picchu in the early twentieth century is one of the most intriguing stories in a crowded era of exploration.” Candice Millard, author of The River of Doubt
“Cradle of Gold is a wonderfully moving account of those who invented and reinvented three cities nestled deep in the eastern slopes of the Peruvian Andes: Vitcos, Vilcabamba, and Machu Picchu. It is also a subtle, penetrating study of the imperial hubris of early twenty-century US archeology as it traces the origins of Yale's misbegotten collections of Peruvian ‘antiquities.' It is a powerfully argued ethical call for the ‘skulls and bones' of hundreds of both humble and powerful Andeans to be returned to Peru, to their original, ancient, resting grounds, not to museums of natural history where they do not belong.” Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, Alice Drysdale Sheffield Professor of History, University of Texas at Austin, author of Puritan Conquistadors: Iberianizing the Atlantic, 1550-1700
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Cradle of Gold
The Story of Hiram Bingham, a Real-Life Indiana Jones, and the Search for Machu Picchu
By Christopher Heaney
Palgrave MacmillanCopyright © 2011 Christopher Heaney
All rights reserved.
The Black Temple
Many years later, when he hefted an Inca war club for the very first time, Hiram Bingham remembered his childhood and perhaps the familial piety that loomed over it all.
In 1819, his grandfather, Hiram Bingham I, left his parents' Vermont farm, sailed around the horn of South America, and made landfall in the Sandwich Islands, as Anglos then called Hawaii. He was twenty-nine years old, tall, and darkly handsome. His name suggested potency, monuments, and service: a Biblical figure named Hiram had helped King Solomon build his temple. By his side was his wife, Sybil, a willowy, sensitive, blue-eyed schoolteacher. They had married only two weeks before leaving. Sybil would bear seven children, five of whom survived infancy.
With each child, Sybil's health grew ever more fragile, but Hiram's energies proved volcanic. He was a fierce Protestant missionary who believed his ship plowed the same waves as the Mayflower. But where the Pilgrims sought religious freedom, Bingham and his brethren sought conversion of the "heathen." They burned to bring native Hawaiians "the great salvation of Jesus Christ."
Their timing was perfect. King Kamehameha I, who had united the islands and protected the old gods, died four months before the missionaries' arrival. His wife, Ka'ahumanu, the wealthiest woman in the islands, was in charge now, and she saw a political advantage in converting to Christianity. Before Bingham met with her, he visited an enormous, toppled temple of black lava stone named Pu'ukohola heiau, whose cornerstone had been laid by Kamehameha himself. Bingham walked its ruins with gratitude and hope.
Over the next twenty years, the Binghams and their fellow missionaries converted the royal family and preached to their people. They encouraged European dress and tamped down native culture and "immoral" customs like the hula dance. Bingham designed the great religious symbol of the new regime. Its name was Kawaiaha'o, and it was Hawaii's largest building, a church built of 14,000 thick slabs of white coral, quarried underwater by King Kamehameha III's subjects.
Bingham would never see his "new Solomon's Temple" finished, however. In 1840, two years before the great white church was dedicated, Sybil's health failed and the family returned to New England, where she eventually died. Bingham remarried, but the missionary board wouldn't let the domineering Vermonter go back to the islands. His piety had become a liability. While there, he had preached against the foreign merchants and sailors who had encouraged the islands' trade in alcohol and prostitution. It wasn't just Protestant prudishness; Bingham wanted the royalty to maintain their political independence. Nevertheless, his efforts won him no friends among other foreigners, and he and his fellow missionaries suffered bombardment and lynch mobs. His critics accused him of manipulating the royalty and called him King Bingham—a reputation that lasted into the twentieth century, when he served as the model for the chilly, arrogant missionary in James Michener's novel Hawaii.
He died in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1869, but by then his legacy had passed on to the next generation. His son, Hiram Bingham Jr., married a woman named Clara Brewster, who traced her lineage back to Mayflower passenger William Brewster. Clara was full of an "inborn love of neatness and order," and she accompanied Hiram Jr. to a remote group of islands in the South Pacific called the Gilberts. Hiram Jr.'s Christianity was as gentle as his father's was fierce, however, and their arrival in the Gilberts was as hard as his father's arrival in Hawaii was easy. Two months into their stay, Clara gave birth to a stillborn boy. Hiram Jr. buried the baby, but the Gilbertese people found the grave and spread his remains across the sand. The Gilbertese saw little advantage in Christianity and wanted to make their dislike for the missionaries known. In their first seven years Hiram and Clara converted a meager four souls.
After seventeen years of struggle, they got a second chance at familial happiness. Clara was pregnant again, and although they were finally building a congregation, she decided to leave the Gilberts. Hiram Jr. was deathly ill with dysentery, and she knew that neither her husband nor baby would survive on a dry coral island. With the help of some native friends, she flagged down a passing ship and talked their way aboard even though it was going to Samoa. From there they sailed to Fiji, and from there to New Zealand, going ever farther from home. Finally, when Clara was eight months pregnant, she got them on a ship headed back to Hawaii. They arrived in Honolulu in early November, and Clara helped her husband take refuge in his sister's school, nestled in the shadow of the great white Kawaiaha'o church.
Clara's contractions began six days later, and at 3:15 in the morning of November 16, 1875, she remembered, "my heart was filled with wonderful love and joy at hearing the cries of my precious darling child, a fine baby boy. Everything went well—except I had too little milk for my darling—which almost broke my heart." At ten the next morning, Hiram Jr. came in to see their son, Hiram Bingham III, who had already traveled further while in the womb than most Americans would their whole lives.
For mainland American children in the nineteenth century, Hawaii was a far-off island paradise warmed by tropical breezes, filled with fabulous fruits and foreign peoples. For young Hiram Bingham III, or Hi, it was a colorful prison.
After Hi was born, the missionary community rallied around his parents, who had little save their piety and a meager stipend. When the family could not afford a home, the missionaries built them a large one in walking distance of Punahou, the school founded on land given to Hiram Bingham I by the Hawaiian royalty. The house was the religious retreat his parents needed—their life's work would be translating the Bible into Gilbertese—but for an only child, it was a cold, lonely place. There was little division between home and church. The Sabbath began Saturday evening and continued with five separate services on Sunday. Hi lived like a tropical monk, "shoved off into a sort of closet space under the slope of the roof on the second floor" where he slept under a thin mosquito netting that hung from the timbers only a few inches above. Playing cards were considered diabolic, and chess and backgammon were nearly as dangerous. His father kept a short, hard stick at hand for discipline.
When young tow-headed Hi wasn't being chided for not living up to his grandfather's standards at home, he was teased for them everywhere else. His father's playmates had gone into business rather than follow their parents into the church. White Americans had bought up much of the islands, shifting control away from the native royalty and disenfranchising poor Hawaiians and Asians. It was all that conversion to Christianity was supposed to prevent, and the missionaries' influence had all but disappeared. When Hi introduced himself at Punahou as "Hiram T'ird," his classmates jeered.
Despite his curiosity and natural intelligence, Hi would always "[struggle] with a sense of inadequacy," one of his sons later wrote. Hi was small for his age and picked on by bullies. For comfort, he escaped into books and his imagination. At first his parents only allowed illustrated Bibles and a green scrapbook containing morality tales for children, a missionary hymn written by his grandfather, and almost oracular engravings clipped from the newspaper—Roman ruins, the German geographer Mercator, an Andean condor. When he grew older, however, he hid in Honolulu's library, an island on an island, where he could read everything he wanted. He loved Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, as much for its portrayal of America as for its story of escape. In 1887, Hi visited the United States, his "homeland," for the first time. He and his father spent the summer in California, where Hi thrilled at Gilded Age San Francisco. Brass, gold, ferries, and cable cars clanged in Hi's chest, affecting him so deeply that after returning to Hawaii, he used the money his parents had saved for his theological education to buy a steamship ticket back to the States. His father caught him at the docks before he could run away, but Hiram's sad betrayal devastated the family. "It is dreadful to think that such a boy has so deceived his parents," wrote a family friend. "I believe he got the fancy from books he has read."
The family friend was right. There was something growing in Hiram that thirsted for lands less holy than Hawaii. Following his failed escape attempt, his penitent parents gave him more freedom. Hi started to hike in the mountains of Oahu with his natural history teacher, who taught him "the joys of living out-of-doors and of exploring" and how to collect zoological, biological, and antiquarian specimens for the school's small museum. Under his wing, Hi might have learned that his family's belief in a 6,000-year-old biblical world now conflicted with scientific theories of evolution and geology. Christianity no longer had a monopoly on the truth.
When Hi was almost sixteen, the family returned to the United States. While his parents oversaw the publication of his father's Gilbertese Bible in New York, Hi boarded a train for Massachusetts. He enrolled in Phillips Academy, a prestigious boarding school in Andover, hoping to follow in his father's footsteps to Yale University. Andover was cruel to a boy rich in spirit, intellect, and travel, but desperately poor where it counted most. The other students made fun of his clothes, made cheaply by a Chinese tailor in Honolulu. To pay for his room and board he worked five hours a day in the dining halls. His dorm room went unheated until his father sent money for a stove that raised the room's temperature to a balmy 53 degrees in January.
The experience gave him a lifelong distaste for poverty, but it also gave him focus. A taller, more mature Hiram met his parents in the summer of 1893 at the epoch-making Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Staged in honor of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World four hundred years before, the Chicago World's Fair made a fittingly deep impression on young Hiram. One wonders what a boy raised by Hawaiian missionaries thought of the "White City" and its illuminated, alabaster-stucco classical architecture; what he thought of the displays of Arab alleyways and "savage" villages; and whether he was in the audience when Frederick Jackson Turner declared that because the Western frontier had been closed, American energy would need "a wider field for its exercise"—a trend that the Bingham family had observed in Hawaii for years.
So much had changed since his parents and grandparents devoted themselves to saving the "heathens" of the Pacific. Science and racial theories, not religion, ruled the day. Darwin's theory of evolution had been applied to society, and with the near-total confinement of Native Americans to reservations, white America was eager, if regretful, to prematurely declare the passage of indigenous America from the national stage. (Fortunately, reports of the American Indian's demise were much exaggerated.) Industry, not agrarianism, was changing the country. Dollars and adventurism, not democracy, were shaping American ambitions abroad. That January, American troops had landed in Honolulu to help American businessmen shore up a mostly white revolt against Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani and her people. Although President Grover Cleveland denounced the intervention, Hawaii was looking increasingly like America's first overseas imperial possession. Hi's grandfather had designed the great white church at Kawaiaha'o to replace the Hawaiians' black lava temples, but Anglo Hawaiians now believed that the temples' true successors were the white columns and facades like those of the fair's secular temples, alluding to European civilizations of the past and American empires of the future.
Hi entered Yale the following fall, but first he completed a sacred, filial task. Sybil Bingham, his grandmother, was buried in Massachusetts. Hiram I, who had died two decades later, was buried in New Haven, in his second wife's plot. Hiram Jr. charged Hi with exhuming his grandmother's bones, transporting them to New Haven, and reburying them alongside her husband.
Four days before starting his freshman year at Yale, Hi and a hired laborer spent a September afternoon digging through the sandy soil of her grave. Three feet down they found her. There was no trace of the box that once protected her from the dirt, save "two old fashioned brass handles."
"The bones were all together," Hi wrote his father. "The skull, leg bones and ribs were all within a few inches of each other. We looked very carefully for traces of a box but found none.... The gravedigger searched very thoroughly, and I believe that all of the remains that lay there were safely removed." Hiram packed his grandmother's bones in a pine box and brought it to New Haven by railroad— likely the only member of Yale's class of 1898 to arrive with his family's bones literally in his baggage.
Yet once he started classes, "Sybil's bones were not on his mind," one of Hi's sons would write. His next letter home gushed about the "fine, great, grand," university, and it wasn't until two weeks later that the young man told his father that Sybil had been reburied next to Hiram Bingham Sr. But there had been some wrangling with a family friend, a Mrs. Champion, over the headstone's epitaph.
"It seemed to me that the word 'relict' is obsolete. By the way, Mrs. C has made us a present of a very pretty sofa pillow."
Perhaps Hi's chirpy transition from his grandmother's remains to physical comfort was just that—a transition, to cover the space of what may have been a truly upsetting experience. By the time he reached Yale, Hi had been so weighed down by the darkness and demands of his family legacy that perhaps there was no other way to be other than blithe and cheery, especially when burdened by the bones of his family.
If that cheeriness bothered his father, who had wept while burying and reburying his first son in foreign soils, he said nothing. He was certain Yale would keep Hi pious, as it had him, forty-five years before. Hi would respect the dead. He would be a missionary yet.CHAPTER 2
The Ivory Tower
It was the spring of 1898, and from the outside, Hiram's life looked perfect. He was about to graduate from Yale, one of the most prestigious academic institutions in America. He was six-feet-four and delicately handsome, a little shy but a little less stiff than he had been as a child. As for wealth, it hardly mattered where he was going. He had his life planned out for him as a missionary in China, his father wrote, as a "teacher of the Emperor of the Celestial Empire just as your grandfather was of the Kings and Queens of the Sandwich Islands."
But if life was so good, then why did he confess in a letter to be "approaching insanity"?
College started off well. Like his father, Hiram raced sailboats and won all cups offered in 1897. He sang, refereed football games, and, as his father hoped, found the university's religious niche. Most visibly, Hiram took a leadership role at Dwight Hall, the university's Christian public service group.
Socially, however, his time at the elite, exclusive institution was challenging. Although there were strivers like himself, Yale in the 1890s was a playground for the children of the Gilded Age, where they could search for their purpose, show off their status, and make the contacts that guaranteed them fortune and glory. Bingham's classmates included future senators, oilmen, diplomats, railroad barons, wealthy philanthropists, authors, and a Pulitzer Prize–winning composer. Some were self-made, others were heirs, and Yale filled both groups—almost all white Anglo-Saxon Protestants—with a driving ambition for worldly, not spiritual, success.
Faced with opportunity at every turn, Hiram began to relax his Puritanism. He tutored the wealthy, studying their habits. He played cards and joined the Psi Upsilon Fraternity and Yale's Hawaiian Club, where he saw friends smoking and drinking, activities forbidden in missionary Honolulu. He read novels openly and danced with women at parties. He read the Bible as allegory, not history, and looked down his nose at evangelists. He was still Christian, he wrote his parents, but he didn't need to be a zealot to prove it.
A wave of more worldly success helped him along. At the end of freshman year, he and two other members of the Yale freshman debate team argued down Harvard's team, giving the campus "the first victory in debate which Yale can boast." The students exploded in cheers, stormed the stage, lifted the three freshmen on their shoulders, and carried them around campus, Bingham later told his sons. Hiram had no illusions that he could become a railroad baron, but his intellect and rhetorical skill suggested other paths to acceptance by his peers. He presided over the senior debate society, broke the Sabbath to study, and worshipped his professors. Hi cruelly declared to his father that "no minister has onefifth of the chance to accomplish more good and affect the world more by his influence than a teacher." He took out more books than any other student, the university's librarian told him, and at the end of his junior year he was on track to graduate Phi Beta Kappa and begin a career in academia.
Excerpted from Cradle of Gold by Christopher Heaney. Copyright © 2011 Christopher Heaney. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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Meet the Author
Christopher Heaney worked as a journalist in Peru on a Fulbright fellowship. He has written articles on Hiram Bingham for the New Republic and The New York Times. A graduate of Yale University, he is currently a doctoral candidate in Latin American History at the University of Texas, Austin.
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On the morning of July 24, 1911, a tall lecturer-cum-explorer from Yale University set off in a cold drizzle to investigate rumors of ancient Inca ruins in Peru. The explorer chopped his way through thick jungle, crawled across a "bridge" of slender logs bound together with vines, and crept through underbrush hiding venomous fer-de-lance pit vipers. Two hours into the hike, the explorer and his two escorts came across a grass-covered hut. A pair of Indian farmers walked them a short way before handing them over to an Indian boy. With the boy leading the way, Hiram Bingham stumbled upon one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century: Machu Picchu. Christopher Heaney's "Cradle of Gold" recounts the discovery of Machu Picchu , and dives deeply into the expeditions leading up to this seminal archaeological discovery, as well as later expeditions and the political intrigues that still exist today. Heaney spent years researching the story to compile fresh and historic perspectives on Bingham the man, and Bingham the explorer. Heaney covers Bingham's childhood where he group up with a deeply religious father and grandfather, both of whom were, and are, renown for their work in spreading and reinforcing Christianity across the Pacific. According to Heaney, Bingham found himself caught between the conservative world of his religious upbringing, and a strong desire to explore. He ended up marrying an heiress to the Tiffany fortune which provided the early funding of his first trips to South America. He had a knack for history, writing, and leadership. The combination of the three landed him in Peru in 1911. A second ruin-hunting expedition, with primary funding from Yale University, where Hiram graduated and lectured, and the National Geographic Society, returned him to Peru to flesh out his previous discoveries and the historical theories he proposed. Bingham explored, excavated and publicized on his own behalf. But there's more to the story than discovery. There's a political side that adds a rather distasteful bit of reality to the dream-like elements of the Inca city in the clouds. Within the last three years, Peru has been pushing Yale, in the press and in the courts, to return the artifacts that Bingham purportedly took with him from Peru during his series of expeditions. This political battle is not new. It emerged essentially as Bingham was making his round of celebrity lectures in the U.S. lauding his discoveries. And the battle didn't simply occur around Bingham, he was often right in the middle of the fray. Heaney also makes it clear that Bingham was not a mere innocent bystander, but he helped create a problem that has lasted almost a century. The story of Bingham's discoveries evoke the youthful passions to take on incredible challenges in far-off lands. The realities of Bingham's jungle and mountain adventures are mere fantasies of young boys across suburban America...fantasies that are reinforced through pop culture icons like Indiana Jones. Heaney suggests that Indiana Jones was modeled on Hiram Bingham. He references an old Charlton Heston film,"Secret of the Incas", upon which the costumers of Raiders of the Lost Ark based Indy's outfit. Heston's character in "Secret of the Incas" is, of course, a dead ringer for Bingham. Like Indy, Heaney's story has good guys and bad guys. Unlike the movies the bad guys don't always wear the black hats.
The book was horible