Gifts to the Hoovers

The Paracas Mantle, a gift to the Hoovers from the Peruvian President during their Good Will tour in 1928.
The Paracas Mantle, a gift to the Hoovers from the Peruvian President during their Good Will tour in 1928.

As the Hoovers toured Latin America, they were feted with lavish dinners and receptions by heads of state and other dignitaries.  At these events the Hoovers were usually given a memento to mark the occasion.  By the time the Hoovers reached Chile, these mementos had grown so numerous that it was decided to ship them home separately.  The artifacts were carefully wrapped and packed into crates and left under the care of Commander A. T. Beauregard, officer on the USS Maryland.

Beauregard’s December 9, 1928 cover letter was explicit in its instructions on how to handle the crates. Upon their arrival in the United States Navy Yard near Washington DC, the Hoovers were to be notified so that any questions regarding customs clearance would be answered.  He warned the shippers to take especial care of crate #8, as it contained large glass panels depicting the crucifixion—insured for $800.  The items in the other twenty-four crates were insured for just over $1700 in total.  These cases held silver plates and pitchers, rugs and tapestries, cabinets of mahogany and inlaid with ivory, pottery, hats, a copper llama statue, and a gold Incan mask.  The delivery receipt, dated February 7, 1929, reported the safe arrival of all crates with all artifacts arriving intact.

One item, the Paracas Mantle, an ancient burial cloak given to the Hoovers by Peruvian President Augusto B. Leguia, was not listed on the manifest.  This struck me as odd.  The Paracas Mantle is one of the oldest artifacts in the Hoover Museum collections, dating back nearly 2500 years to an indigenous culture that pre-dated the Incans.  The archaeological site was found in late 1927 by Julio Tellos and had scores of mummified remains cloaked in multi-hued mantles woven of cotton and camelid wool.  The burial caverns, described as a necropolis by Tellos, contained some of the oldest cloth artifacts ever found in the western hemisphere.  That one of these cloaks was given to President-Elect Hoover bespoke the high esteem Peru held for America.  Why wasn’t it listed among the gifts?

Closer examination of the manifest showed that crate #23 contained a mahogany chest.  Within the chest was an ‘old shawl from President Leguia of Peru.’  Clearly this must have been describing, however obliquely, the Paracas Mantle.  Interestingly, the mahogany chest was insured for $25.  The old shawl, a priceless piece of Peruvian patrimony, had no insurance value declared.

The documentation for this story can be found in box 179 of Lou Henry Hoover’s Subject Files on the South American Trip. These include folders on ‘Gifts and Purchases,’ ‘Paracas Mantle,’ and ‘Places Visited.’  Among these files are lists of gifts and purchases, thank you notes, bills of sale and correspondence shedding light on tourist tchotchkes picked up by the Hoovers on this trip.

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