The American Colony in Jerusalem

American Colony members fighting locust plague, 1915 (29)

From March to October 1915, a plague of locusts stripped areas in and around Palestine of almost all vegetation. This invasion of biblical proportions seriously compromised the already depleted food supply of the region and sharpened the misery of all Jerusalemites. Djemal Pasha, Supreme Commander of Syria and Arabia, who mounted a campaign to limit the devastation, asked the American Colony photographers to document the progress of the locust hordes.

Locust Album

The Colony created the “locust album” that documented the course of the plague of 1915 at the request of Djemal Pasha. On these pages, a fig tree photographed just before and after the locusts attacked is graphic proof of the destruction wrought by the insect invasion. In his account of the devastation in The National Geographic, Colony member John Whiting wrote that the locusts were so voracious and numerous that they could swarm over an unguarded infant and devour its eyes within a few minutes.

Photographic album documenting the locust devastation, 1915. Photograph 1. Photograph 2. Photograph 3. Hand-colored silver gelatin prints. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (29)

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Specimen of a Locust

This locust, from the 1915 invasion, is in its adult winged stage. It has hung on the wall of the American Colony Hotel for many years. After the locusts laid their eggs, Djemal Pasha ordered all adults and youth in and around Jerusalem to dig up half a kilo of locust eggs in order to contain the next onslaught. This proved an impossible task as the female locusts burrowed their eggs into the hard stony soil.

Mounted locust specimen, 1915. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (27)

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John Whiting Describes the Locust Invasion

Born in Jerusalem after his parents arrived with the Spaffords in 1881, John Whiting spoke fluent Arabic and was an expert on the topography, history, and local customs of the Holy Land. He served as American Vice-Consul of Jerusalem from 1908–1910 and from 1915–1917. The National Geographic published several of his articles on Palestine including his account of the locust plague of 1915. John Whiting married Grace, a daughter of Horatio and Anna Spafford.

John D. Whiting. “Jerusalem's Locust Plague…” in The National Geographic Magazine. Vol. 28, no. 6 (December 1915). Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (28)

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Djemal Pasha at the American Colony

Two-year-old Louise Vester sits on the lap of Djemal Pasha and beside her mother Bertha and brother John. The cordial relationship that existed between Djemal Pasha, Supreme Commander of Syria and Arabia and military governor of Jerusalem, and the Colony facilitated its members' relief work during World War I.

Bertha Vester, John Vester, Louise Vester, Djemal Pasha, (left to right). Silver gelatin print, ca. 1915. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (26)

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