Armenian News Network / Groong

Mary C. Masterson, Daughter of Harput Consul William W. Masterson, Dead at Age 92

Armenian News Network / Groong
June 11, 2007

Special to Groong by Abraham D. Krikorian and Eugene L. Taylor


Many readers will be familiar with U.S. Consul Leslie A. Davis who served in Harput (actually Mezereh) from 1914-1917. The slim volume "The Slaughterhouse Province, An American diplomat's report on the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1917" (Susan K. Blair ed., Aristide D. Caratzas, Publisher, New Rochelle, NY, 1989) has now assumed a special place in genocide literature as a classic. William Wesley Masterson, Leslie Davis' predecessor as U.S. Consul to Harput is much less well known but he too has a special place in Kharpert history, albeit pre-genocide, but here is not the place to delve into that.

Since we live in Port Jefferson, Long Island, it seemed that we could have a 'leg up' in any additional study of Leslie A. Davis and his role among the Armenians in Kharpert region during the Genocide. Indeed, Port Jefferson was Leslie Davis' hometown. But it seemed more than coincidence when we discovered that Consul Masterson was from Carrollton, Kentucky, the home town of one of us (ELT). The name Masterson is well-known in Carrollton. The two Masterson sisters (maiden sisters of the Consul) were active in the Methodist Church and could be seen strolling along the streets of this small town on the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Louisville, going here or there. A phone call to Carrollton revealed that Mary Carroll Masterson, the daughter of William Wesley Masterson and his wife Louise Carroll Masterson was still alive and well at the ripe age of 89, and living in Carrollton! She was described as a bit of a recluse and renegade, and it was intimated that she might not welcome contact. To the contrary, our phone call revealed her to be a dynamic, charming and forthright person. She would be more than delighted to have us visit, and talk. So our adventure with Mary C. Masterson began. We quickly established rapport and became good friends, a relationship that lasted until her death.

We learned that Mary's mother, Louise C. Masterson accompanied her husband to Harput in the summer of 1913 soon after their marriage, and that Mary was born at the American Hospital there (The Annie Tracy Riggs' Hospital in Mezereh) on June 23, 1914. She was delivered by Ruth Azniv Parmelee, M.D., who was descended from an old missionary family serving in Erzerum and elsewhere, assisted by nurse Margaret Campbell, who had traveled with the Mastersons to Harput. In fact, it was the first task of Dr. Parmelee in Harput upon her arrival there after completing her medical training in America. (The delivery of Consul Masterson's daughter is mentioned on page 5 of Dr. Parmelee's memoir booklet "A Pioneer in the Euphrates Valley," Gomidas Institute Press, 2002).

On our initial visit, when we inquired about papers and photographs from the period, Mary Masterson thought that a photo album or part thereof that her mother had maintained from the period in Harput had been given to an "Armenian family" years ago somewhere in California (coincidentally Mary and her mother had lived in Pasadena) but could not recall details. We concluded that it was unfortunate that we had not been able to glean more information. And we decided that tracing the "Armenian family" would be like finding a needle in a haystack. Then one day a sizeable box arrived with a wide range of photographic materials, papers, draft manuscripts etc--no photo album, but loose photographs, or photos still attached to photo album pages that had been cut down in size. Mary had hunted through her closets and had come across materials that she had not realized were there.

What she found is of great interest and very useful from several perspectives. Mary's mother, Louise Carroll had beautiful handwriting and took pains to write on the back of photographs as to who was who, and what was what. This has enabled a number of identifications of previously published photographs which have been inachievable or spurious to be attributed properly.

There are some photographs taken inside the Consulate building and in the outside garden, of the consular staff, of the house servants, visitors etc. The Mastersons spent considerable time at Lake Goeljuk during the hot summers. That lake later became infamous as the scene of murders during the Genocide. A few of the still photos of leisurely life at Harput and at the Lake and which are used in J. Michael Hagopian's film "Voices from the Lake" (Armenian Film Foundation, 2000) exist in what we now refer to as the Masterson Collection. Unfortunately there are no negatives but high resolution scans have been made of the slowly but surely deteriorating photographs. Hopefully they will one day see the light of day. Mary, who had failing eyesight, was delighted to see the scans blown-up.

Quite a few special insights of life in Mezereh-Harput before the Genocide and at the outbreak of World War I are obtainable from the photos and the papers. Again, this is not the place to enumerate these. Suffice it to say that the opportunities to trace Americans who were born in Harput (and elsewhere) and their descendants are almost all but gone. Having been taken from Harput when she was only a month old, Mary could not bear direct witness to what went on, but it was clear that she learned from her mother much about that period, and even spoke of the ever-efficient and loyal consulate Cavass Garabed Bedrosian who maintained a correspondence with them after he came to the US, initially to Whitinsville, Massachusetts and later Fresno. In that and other ways Mary was for us an invaluable and valid conduit of information that might otherwise have been lost or at least very difficult to retrieve. So far as we know, Lorrin Riggs of the famous "Riggs family of Harpoot," born in Mezereh, albeit now in very frail health and in his 90s, remains the only one alive among the offspring of those "Harpoot" Americans who tried to serve the Armenian community in those fateful years. (Incidentally, we feel fortunate that we were able to visit Professor Riggs as well.)

With a bit of simple arithmetic, the reader would be able to calculate that Mary C. Masterson would have been 93 had she lived another 40 days. One evening, she had a fall down the steep steps going up to her apartment, but miraculously was able to navigate upstairs and thought she would be O.K. but ended up in the hospital across the street the next morning. She had injured her already troublesome and much-weakened back. It seemed that she would recover and was admitted after a period in hospital to the Green Valley Health and Rehab Center in Carrollton. She died early in the morning on Mother's Day, 13 May. Miss Masterson never married but lived a full, varied and proverbially checkered life in New York, Washington, California etc. She complained that she had outlived the vast majority of her relatives and most of her close friends. A graduate of the University of Kentucky, she was widely traveled, an avid photographer, a gourmet cook, a bridge player and voracious reader of historical novels. She was alert to the end, widely-read, abreast of current events and liberal and progressive in her views.

Her father "Will", her beloved "Daddy," died on May 10, 1922 in Plymouth, England of an infection after an operation for appendicitis. Mary was not yet 8 years old. Consul Masterson was posted from Harput to Durban, South Africa in 1914, and became Consul at Plymouth in 1920 until his death. He was a lawyer, and had started his consular activities in Aden, Arabia from 1895-1898. His widow died in Carrollton in 1960. Mary C. Masterson will have served the Armenian community well, albeit by default, because of her willingness to share knowledge and information and photographs about a geographical region and period of great interest to many of Armenian ancestry. It was our privilege to have known her.

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