Rolla Floyd (1832-1911), an American, was one of the principal dragomans and tourist contractors in Palestine in the late nineteenth century. I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know him through archival documents over the past few years, so it was time for a ‘pilgrimage’ to Jerusalem to find more tangible remains of the man.
After a long and successful career, marred only by a long-running feud with Thomas Cook & Son, Floyd retired to Jerusalem, to a house he built just off Jaffa Road. Its prime location in downtown Jerusalem (near the corner of King George V Street and Agripas Street, on the same plot as the old Eden Cinema) means that it has been demolished to make way for a new development. Sad though it is to find Floyd House gone, the magnitude of the hole in the ground where it once stood is actually quite impressive. There is some nostalgic Cinema Eden graffiti on the wall surrounding the site.
There’s nothing like a trip to a musty old antiquarian bookshop to lift the spirits after discovering the building you came to see has been demolished. I found a copy of John Cunningham Geikie‘s 1887 The Holy Land and the Bible, where Rolla Floyd gets an honourable mention, and some other dragomans less than honourable mentions. (Anyone who has ever read a Victorian Middle Eastern travelogue or devotional book will be able to guess its tone and contents fairly accurately.) This copy bears the stamp of the London-based Jewish Agency for Israel, and can’t have been a popular read, since the pages are uncut.
Floyd is buried in the Alliance Church International Cemetery on Emek Refaim Street, in the German Colony district of Jerusalem. (Not to be confused with the German Templar Cemetery next door.) It’s often closed, but I was fortunate not only to find it open when I visited, but to meet cemetery guide and historian Mero Aaroni, a fount of knowledge on Floyd and the cemetery’s many other fascinating ‘residents’ (contact details below).
Rolla Floyd does not have a Wikipedia entry in English, but there is one in Hebrew. Floyd House in Jerusalem may be gone, but the Times of Israel (2 March 2014) has a great, illustrated article on the present-day remains of the American Colony in Jaffa, of which Rolla Floyd had been a member.
For more on Floyd and other dragomans, see Mairs and Muratov, Archaeologists, Tourists, Interpreters (Bloomsbury, 2015) and Mairs, From Khartoum to Jerusalem: The Dragoman Solomon Negima and his Clients (Bloomsbury 2016).
To visit the Alliance Church International Cemetery: