Stephens set down his cup and squinted at his pocket watch. He sighed and went out of the tent. Insects droned around his face and neck despite his upturned collar. The jungle birds had begun their dusk cacophony. He walked across the new clearing toward the massive pyramid.

There sat Catherwood at his easel, madly sketching. A withered Indian held out an umbrella to protect the artist from a sun no longer in the sky.

“I say, Catherwood!” called Stephens. “That’s enough for one day, what? Be a good chap and come in and have a gin with me.”

Catherwood sketched on, seeming not to have heard. Ever since they’d proved it was indeed native Mayans who constructed these ruins, Catherwood been fanatical about painting them despite the malarial fever that wracked his body.


What Pegman Saw: Tulum

When the book Incidents of Travel in Yucatan is mentioned, the author John L. Stephens is usually recalled, but the name of the artist Frederick Catherwood is frequently overlooked. Aldous Huxley wrote:

From dawn ’til dusk, day after day and for weeks at a stretch, this martyr to archaeology had exposed himself to all the winged and crawling malice of tropical nature. Ticks, ants, wasps, flies, mosquitoes: they had all bitten him, stung him, drunk his blood, infected him with malaria. But the man had grimly gone on drawing. Itching, swollen, burning or shuddering with fever, he had filled whole portfolios with the measured plans and elevations of temples, with studies of Mayan sculpture so scientifically accurate that modern experts on pre-Columbian history can spell out a date of a stele from Catherwood’s representation of its, to him, incomprehensible hieroglyphics.


Add Yours
  1. Joy Pixley

    What a dedicated man, so driven to collect and preserve knowledge — I have such respect for that! The emotions are wonderfully portrayed in your story, even without the historical note, although that definitely added to it for me.

  2. Alicia Jamtaas

    Thanks for introducing us to Frederick Catherwood. I’d never heard of him before. (Catherwood been a fanatic ~ is there a “had” missing in this? Ignore me if I seem crazy, many do. ;-) )

  3. Jelli

    Wonderful! I wish I still had all the journals and sketches I made during my time there. The memories are so fond that they still bring great smiles and looks no one who hasn’t been there or experienced it can understand. Loved your story… remember what it was like all too well.

Don't just stand there.