Notizie da Elena: The Eiffel Tower and AFS

Note from the Archivist: This is the first post by Elena Abou Mrad, the Fondazione CRT Intern in the AFS Archives.  Elena will shared her perspective on her internship, AFS, and the archival collections through these "Notizie da Elena" ("News from Elena") posts.

125 years ago, the Eiffel Tower was inaugurated at the opening of the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris. Initially meant as a temporary structure, the tower has since become a symbol of France, and is the most- visited paid monument in the world. The Eiffel Tower has never been a mere decoration: on the day after the inauguration, Gustave Eiffel built a meteorological laboratory on the 3rd floor; his passion for aerodynamics also led him to install gravity instruments in 1903 and 1905. On November 5, 1898, Eugène Ducretet conducted the first wireless telegraphy trials from the top of the Eiffel Tower. This even helped France in World War I, when a radio transmitter located on the tower jammed German communications and hindered the enemy advance on Paris.

AFS has an important bond with this iconic monument: during World War I, ambulance and camion drivers could see the Eiffel Tower from the AFS headquarters at 21, rue Raynouard in Paris. Located in the 16th arrondissement, the AFS headquarters were close to the Eiffel Tower and the Champ de Mars, and the Tower was frequently featured in photographs during that time (including the one depicted on the left above.) Though he could see it, AFS camion driver Edward H. Pattison wasn't able to actually visit the Eiffel Tower, as we read in a letter he wrote to his mother on April 29, 1917:

“We are in a very convenient location for sight-seeing, being only a couple of blocks from the Metro (subway). The Eiffel Tower is less than a mile off, and there are a lot of municipal buildings near it. However, no-one is allowed to go near it, so I have only seen it from a distance”

The picture on the right, taken in Paris in 2005, shows AFS Participants who were hosted in France. In the background of both photographs, we can see the Eiffel Tower, marking the deep connection between AFS and France from the very beginning of the organization. It is no wonder why past and present AFSers use this monument in photographs depicting the life-changing experience that AFS has been providing for nearly one hundred years.

The bond between AFS and France will be renewed once more in November, with the beginning of the AFS Centennial Celebration. Paris, “La Ville Lumière” (The City of Light), will be the location of some of the key events commemorating the 100th anniversary of AFS, an organization that has changed the lives of millions of students, families and volunteers around the world. One of the highlights will be the Returnee Day on Friday, November 7, when hundreds of AFSers of all ages will meet to celebrate the past of the organization, looking towards a future of life-changing experiences.

Click here for more information about the AFS Centennial Celebrations in Paris, and here (under the "October 2014" option) for more information on the AFS headquarters in Paris during World War I.  You can also read the complete letter from Edward Pattison to his mother by downloading the attachment here.

--Elena Abou Mrad, Fondazione CRT Intern in the AFS Archives

Photograph Caption:  (Left) Silhouette of an AFS Driver in uniform looking at the Eiffel Tower during World War I. Courtesy of the Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs. (Right) AFS Participants in front of the Eiffel Tower in 2005, which contained the logo for the unsuccessful bid for the 2012 Olympics. Courtesy of AFS USA. 

Posted October 10, 2014, by Nicole Milano