In the aftermath of World War II, a group of men and women from around the world were charged with the mission of protecting Europe’s cultural treasures. Among these Monuments Men—portrayed in a new movie of the same name—was Frank Phidias Albright, whose postwar career included a year teaching Latin at UT.
Born in 1903 on a small family farm in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, Albright grew up one of seven children and went from Wittenberg College in Springfield, Ohio, to Johns Hopkins, where he earned his master’s degree in 1936 and his PhD in classical archaeology in 1940.
In another era, Albright might have become a museum curator or college professor, but with the draft looming, he enlisted in 1942 as a private in the Army Air Corps. Albright was first assigned to teach meteorology and navigation, then worked with photo intelligence and prisoner interrogations, and also performed research on German buildings at the Pentagon.
After Victory in Europe Day in 1945, Albright was assigned to the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives branch in Nuremberg, Germany. There were around 345 men and women from thirteen nations in the group who became known as Monuments Men. The group was a product of the Roberts Commission, which was established by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1943 to promote and preserve cultural properties in war areas.
Albright directed the reopening of the Germanisches National Museum and assisted with the return of art that had been looted by the Nazis. Most notably, Albright was among those who rescued Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine from Berlin and helped return it to its rightful owners in Krakow, Poland.
Discharged with the rank of captain in 1946, Albright modernized and electrified his family farm in Minnesota before receiving a call to teach Latin at UT. After a year in Knoxville, he moved to Union College in Schenectady, New York, to start an art department and lecture on ancient and medieval engineering.
In 1951, he was made chief archaeologist with the American Foundation for the Study of Man in South Arabia, eventually compiling the findings from his adventures in the book Archaeological Discoveries in South Arabia (Johns Hopkins, 1958).
Albright later wrote a study of a German-born master clockmaker, Johan Ludwig Eberhardt. He reconstructed Eberhardt’s clockmaking methods in precise detail and cataloged the characteristics of each clock, using records of inventories and the purchase invoices of equipment and materials.
Until he was ninety-one, Albright climbed into the belfry of Winston-Salem, North Carolina’s Home Moravian Church to work on its clock. He died in 1999 at the age of ninety-six.
Photo: Monuments Man Lt. Frank Albright (second from right), Polish Liason Officer Major Karol Estriecher and two American GIs return Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine to Krakow, Poland, in April 1946. National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland/Courtesy of the Monuments Men Foundation