Toward the end of the nineteenth century—at the same time as Europeans and Americans were shying away from tattoo-emblazoned sailors and flocking to gawk at primitive people covered with inky designs—a veritable tattoo craze was underway among pilgrims in Jerusalem. It followed hundreds of years of less flamboyant dissemination of the practice among westerners visiting the Holy Land. An Armenian known as “Prickly Jack” haunted hotels in the vicinity of the Holy Sepulcher, presenting certificates of endorsement from former clients to every traveler he could accost. One of these read: “This old fellow picked my arm until it was ‘deeply, darkly, beautifully blue,’ thereby giving me a deep and everlasting impression of Jerusalem.” Pairs of men hovered in the doorways of churches inquiring among passing pilgrims whether they would like to have the representation of a sacred object pricked into them. Young ladies pleaded with their fathers to approve their getting inked and suffered distress of mind as to where to place the mark so that it would neither stain the effect of a sleeveless décolleté costume, nor prove too inconveniently concealed to flash to a friend.
more from George Prochnik at Cabinet here.