Although we’ve known each other for years, this is my first time in their house. When I enter, I nearly trip over piles of books. They are everywhere. “I promised myself to only photograph unknown people from Leiden, but for you I’d like to make an exception,” I say as I sit down. Jeremy laughs and thinks for a moment. Then he speaks slowly and thoughtfully.
“You wanted to talk about the bond between my homeland and our city. I have tried to display this in the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, which has been located on the Beschuitsteeg for 25 years, next to the Hooglandse church. The pilgrims were puritans who lived in Leiden for 12 years before traveling on the Mayflower to the country that is now the United Stated. The museum shows how they lived and houses a collection of documents from that period.”
“Me, I arrived in our city in 1969. I had been involved in the Chicago riots and thought it would be wiser to leave the country. I had three opportunities to work in England, but they all fell through for various reasons. My father taught church history in Leiden, so I ended up here. I had never heard of pilgrims back then.”
“I decided to stay and undertake my PhD in art history. This is how I learned about the pilgrims, to which I have devoted the rest of my life. I first worked at the Leiden Archives, but there nobody seemed interested in that part of our history. Yet when I discovered all kinds of new documents, I was allowed to add them to a small exhibition in the hallway. This eventually led to the current museum that I still manage and which has even been visited by some high-ranking American politicians.”
“One interesting discovery is the connection between Leidens Ontzet and American Thanksgiving, which took place yesterday. In the 17th century, the latter was a harvest festival with a biblical foundation. People were grateful for the produce of the land. There is enough evidence that in 1621, after the pilgrims’ first harvest, the first Thanksgiving took place. And that it referred directly to our October 3rd celebrations.”
Then he surprises me. I say: “One could say that you have become the authority on the history that connects Leiden and the USA.” He thinks again for a moment. “Certainly, but actually I did all this work because I couldn’t make a living from painting,” he states with a laugh. Because that is my true passion.