It has been a busy month. The lull in blog posts was caused by a number of projects presenting themselves all at once. Work is winding down on my documentary “Dixie,” but other work is taking its place. Some of this is of course, related to the film. The big project for the last month was a journal article I am writing about the life of Dan Emmett, the man who wrote the song “Dixie” and virtually invented the blackface minstrel troupe. If you are unfamiliar with blackface, well, that’s probably a good thing. Blackface was the act of white musicians burning cork and smearing the black residue over their faces to give the impression that they were African-American slaves. Bands of these performers, called “minstrel troupes,” sprang up all over the United States in the 1840’s and 50’s. Blackface became a persistent American entertainment. As recently as fifty years ago it was not uncommon to see local variety shows featuring blackface in communities throughout the U.S.
Some of America’s most beloved performers took their turn under the blackface. That’s beloved crooner Bing Crosby pictured above in an advertisement for the 1943 film “Dixie.” It is a glittery technicolor fantasy of Emmett’s life, but the film does get a few things right, like the blackface. Der Bingle dons the blackface mask on more than one occasion during the film. The truth of blackface is not so glittery at all, but it isn’t as simple as pure racism. There were many forces at work that led to whites taking on the mask of the African-American slave. The essay I’ve been working on tries to dig deeper and understand those forces through a comprehensive look at Emmett’s life. Blackface is a subject that, in many ways, we still see the consequences of on a daily basis. Blackface influenced almost every form of American entertainment that followed it–vaudeville, ragtime, jazz, early motion pictures, just to name a few.
What blackface meant to the performers, however, and to the preservation of African-American culture as culture as whole, however, is complex and woven tightly into the fabric of American history. It is a tragic and fascinating story that I hope to explore further, even after the publication of the essay. I know many of you who read this blog study music and racial history, or at least have a passing interest in it. I’ll keep you updated on where you can read the essay once it leaves the editor’s desk.
Yesterday, May 6, marked the 60th anniversary of the first sub four-minute mile in recorded history. British runner Roger Bannister set the record in 1954, during a meet between the British Amateur Athletics Association and Oxford University at Iffley Road track in Oxford. Bannister set a British record in the 1500 meters at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. He finished a disappointing fourth at those games and briefly considered retiring from running. It was then that he decided to become the first man to run a sub four-minute mile.
The four-minute mark loomed large in the minds of distance runners in the period following World War II. Up until that point, the world record had been broken fairly consistently. The disruption in training caused by the war, however, left Gunder Hägg of Sweden as the record holder from July 17, 1945 onward. Bannister was not the only man with a legitimate shot at breaking the four-minute barrier. Australian John Landy and American Wes Santee both recorded times of 4:02 in 1953. In fact, Landy broke Bannister’s record in June 1954 with a time of 3:57:9. This week’s monument, photographed by Don Janus, encapsulates the rivalry between Landy and Bannister. Specifically, it pays homage to the Aug. 7, 1954 race between the two men during the British Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, Canada. It was the first mile race where two runners finished in under four minutes. It was also the only time the two men raced against each other. Bannister, lagging behind, used a burst of speed during the last 90 yards to win the race. The sculpture depicts the moment Bannister, on the left, passed Landy as Landy looked over the wrong shoulder for his competitor.
The bronze statue was created by Jack Harman, based on a photograph by Vancouver Sun photographer Charlie Warner. The statue was created in 1967 and stood in front of Empire Stadium, site of the race, until the stadium was demolished in 1993. It now stands at the Pacific National Exhibition, an area in Vancouver that hosts a 17-day summer fair annually. Upon seeing the sculpture, Landy joked: “While Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back, I am probably the only one ever turned into bronze for looking back.”
Bannister, 85, and Landy, 84, have both gone on to do much outside of the sports realm. After breaking the world record, Bannister had a distinguished 40-year career as a neurologist. He was knighted in 1975. Landy, a noted naturalist, has written two books on natural history and was a distinguished public speaker for many years. In 2001, he was appointed Governor of Victoria, Australia, serving until 2006.
The world record in the mile continued to fall three or four times a decade until July 7, 1999, when Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco set the mark at 3:43:13. After nearly 15 years, that mark has yet to be broken.
This week Lost Places travels to the northwestern United States–Washington State, to be exact–courtesy of photographer Robin Flint. This is the 1910 Lynn School, located just off East Lynn Road near the Central Ferry crossing of the Snake River. Flint writes: “My favorite photo subjects are abandoned vehicles and houses in rural settings. Ghost towns are great, but locations like this one are preferred since they are generally miles from other attractions and I don’t have to wait for anyone to get out of my shot.”
Garfield County sits in southeastern Washington, in a region of fertile hills and prairies north of the Snake River known as the Palouse. The Palouse region underwent a settlement boom in the 1880’s. Now, Garfield County is Washington’s most sparsely populated county with just 3.2 inhabitants per square mile, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The 2010 population was 2,266. The population was almost double in 1910, during the heyday of the one room schoolhouse.
One room schoolhouses were based on a British system developed in the 1790’s called the “Bell-Lancaster Method.” Under this system, students of all ages were grouped together. Students who were able would help the teacher with tasks such as cleaning erasers and bringing coal and water into the school. Older pupils would also pass on their knowledge to younger students.
Horace Mann began advocating for reform in the mid-1800’s. Mann, appointed as Massachusetts Secretary of Education in 1837, stressed the importance of universal education to create a strong base of educated citizens for the fledgling U.S. republic. He used as his basis a model not from a republic, but from a kingdom. The Kingdom of Prussia, which consisted of parts of present-day Germany, Poland, Russia, Lithuania, Denmark, Belgium, and the Czech Republic. Prussia had introduced an eight-year, tax-funded, compulsory course of education in the early 19th Century. Mann’s reforms worked. By the time the 1910 Lynn School was operational, 72 percent of U.S. children attended school. Half of those students did so in one-room schools.
By the 1920’s, motorized school buses allowed students to travel longer distances to school. Albert L. Luce, a Ford dealer from Georgia, produce a bus body for a Ford Model T. Luce would go on to create the Bluebird, the first iron bus design. The increase in safety and distance made consolidation inevitable. By the 1940’s, one-room schools had been replaced in all but the most remote rural areas.
One-room schools are not extinct in the U.S., though. According to the One-Room Schoolhouse Center, 26 school are still in operation across the U.S. Ones that still survive are often re-purposed as restaurants, private residences, shops, and lodging areas. No word on what plans, if any, are in store for the 1910 Lynn School. If anyone matriculates onto Lost Places and has any information, let us know. We’re always interested in what happens to lost places–and we’re eager students.
What do you do with a memorial to someone you don’t want to memorialize anymore? If recent military history is any indication, you topple the monuments to the old ways as soon as possible. What happens when the revolution is one of the mind? What happens when the hearts and minds of a country change, rendering the ideals and values a memorial stands for obsolete? In the case of Thomas E. Watson, photographed here at the Georgia State Capitol, your statue gets moved.
Watson was a Georgia politician, first elected to the state legislature in 1882 at the tender age of 26. The young Watson proved to be an idealistic champion of reform, fighting unsuccessfully against the corruption rampant among railroad companies in the state. In 1890, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat. His crowning achievement during his time in Congress was authoring the bill that made Rural Free Delivery a reality. RFD created the system of roadside mailbox delivery from the U.S. Post Office still used today. prior to that time, residents of rural communities had to collect mail in the nearest town. Watson soon threw his allegiance to The Populist Party, a short-lived third party collection of reformers hostile to a national bank, railroads, and wealthy elites. In 1896, he was the Populist Party’s candidate for Vice-President, receiving 217,000 votes.
After his time in Congress, Watson began a lucrative career newspaper publisher. As his personal wealth grew, his political views began to shift. Gone were his agrarian and socialist sympathies. He was still the Populist Party standard-bearer, however, being nominated by the party for President in both 1900 and 1904. His views became increasingly anti-Catholic, even going so far as to call for the re-creation of the Ku Klux Klan. In 1913, Watson advocated the lynching of convicted Jewish-American factory superintended Leo Frank for the murder of a 13-year-old female factory worker named Mary Phagan. When prominent citizens of Marietta, Georgia did just that in 1915, Watson lauded the act in the pages of his newspaper.
Watson died in 1922 at the age of 66. Ten years later, a statue was dedicated to him near the entrance to the Georgia State Capitol. According to news reports of the time, thousands were on hand to see the unveiling of the statue. The likeness stood there, fist defiantly raised, for 83-years. The statue was moved in November 2013 after a prolonged effort on the part of activists to have the statue taken down. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R), said the move was done for safety reasons while repairs were being made to the steps of the Capitol. Removal of the statue was done when state offices were closed as part of the state’s late observance of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s birthday.
The odyssey of Watson’s statue does not seem to be quite over, though. The statue was moved across the street from the Capitol to Talmadge Plaza Park. The park’s prominent location in downtown Atlanta has left some residents and activists calling for the statue to be boxed or destroyed outright. Where Watson will end up is anybody’s guess.
Today is Earth Day. The day first proposed by Iowa-born activist John McConnell at a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) conference in San Francisco in 1969. Earth Day was first celebrated March 21, 1970. This original Earth Day was primarily focused on world peace. U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin) organized a separate Earth Day dedicated to environmental issues on April 22 of that year. Earth Day is now celebrated by more than 192 countries each year.
It is a turbulent and oftentimes confusing world we live in. It can be difficult to gain perspective on the fragile nature of our planet. Fortunately, the Earth day movement came of age during a time when humanity was exploring outer-space for the first time. There is a phenomenon dubbed “The Overview Effect” by author Frank White in his 1987 book The Overview Effect — Space Exploration and Human Evolution. Simply put, the Overview Effect describes the feeling some space travelers have upon seeing the earth from space. It is a shift in awareness. Astronauts have expressed a need to see humanity unite to protect what they see as a fragile planet. Astronauts have certainly seen the earth in a way many of us can only imagine. For Earth Day, here are some of the most interesting quotes on the earth from space voyagers from around the world:
“When I watched the horizon, I saw the abrupt, contrasting transition from the earth’s light-colored surface to the absolutely black sky. I enjoyed the rich color spectrum of the earth. It is surrounded by a light blue aureole that gradually darkens, becoming turquoise, dark blue, violet, and finally coal black.”
Yuri Gagarin, Cosmonaut, First Human in Space
“Up in space when you see a sunset or sunrise, the light is coming to you from the sun through that little shell of the Earth’s atmosphere and back out to the spacecraft you’re in. The atmosphere acts like a prism. So for a short period of time you see not only the reds, oranges and yellows, the luminous quality like you see on Earth, but you see the whole spectrum red-orange-yellow-blue-green-indigo-violet. You come back impressed, once you’ve been up there, with how thin our little atmosphere is that supports all life here on Earth. So if we foul it up, there’s no coming back from something like that.”
John Glenn, Astronaut, First American to Orbit the Earth
“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”
Neil Armstrong, Astronaut, First Human to Walk on the Moon
“A Chinese tale tells of some men sent to harm a young girl who, upon seeing her beauty, become her protectors rather than her violators. That’s how I felt seeing the Earth for the first time. I could not help but love and cherish her.”
Taylor Wang, Astronaut, First Ethnic Chinese Person in Space
“Something about the unexpectedness of this sight, its incompatibility with anything we have ever experienced on earth elicits a deep emotional response… Suddenly, you get a feeling you’ve never had before… That you’re an inhabitant… of the Earth.”
Oleg Grigoryevich Makarov, Cosmonaut
“If people can see Earth from up here, see it without those borders, see it without any differences in race or religion, they would have a completely different perspective. Because when you see it from that angle, you cannot think of your home or your country. All you can see is one Earth.”
Anousheh Ansari, Iranian-American Space Tourist
“I left Earth three times. I found no place else to go. Please take care of Spaceship Earth.”
Wally Schirra, Astronaut, Mercury and Apollo Programs
“As we got further and further away, it [the Earth] diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man.
James B. Irwin, Astronaut, Apollo Program
“Looking outward to the blackness of space, sprinkled with the glory of a universe of lights, I saw majesty—but no welcome. Below was a welcoming planet. There, contained in the thin, moving, incredibly fragile shell of the biosphere is everything that is dear to you, all the human drama and comedy. That’s where life is; that’s were all the good stuff is.
Loren Acton, Space Shuttle Astronaut
“The Earth was small, light blue, and so touchingly alone, our home that must be defended like a holy relic. The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word round meant until I saw Earth from space. ”
Aleksei Leonov, Cosmonaut, First Human to Conduct Extra-Vehicular Activity
And finally, one last passage from Carl Sagan:
“Look again at that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
Carl Sagan, Astronomer
Historic preservation. It is a controversial topic in small towns across the United States. How does a small community effectively and efficiently preserve the architecture of its past? Architecture that cannot be duplicated. Architecture that tells the story of the people who have lived and died in a community, helped build a community from the ground up. It is a tall order for any community on a limited budget. In this era of stagnant economies, the task becomes almost herculean. Local preservationists must come to a building’s rescue. Today’s photo shows one such case: The Sterling Opera House in Derby, Connecticut. The image comes to us courtesy of New Jersey-based photographer Steven Bley. Bley is particularly interested in abandoned places and has some great shots on his site, located at www.stevenbley.com and on his Flickr page at https://flickr.com/stevenbley.
The Sterling Opera House is not quite a lost place, but at one time it was heading in that direction. The opera house opened 125 years ago this month, April 2, 1889. The building served as an arts venue until 1933. The first two floors served as the community’s city hall and police station until 1965. In 1968, it became the first site in Connecticut listed for historic preservation status. Local preservation efforts from the 70’s through the 90’s raised enough funds and awareness to completely restore the exterior of the building. The opera house hosted some luminaries in its day: bandleader John Philip Sousa, comedian Red Skelton, magician Harry Houdini, actor Donald O’Connor, aviator Amelia Earhart, and no less than three Barrymores: Lionel, John, and Ethel. According to some locals, including town dignitaries, the opera house still hosts a few residents in the form of ghosts. Locals have reported mysterious slamming doors and strange sensations in the building.
The sign in the image promotes 19th century French strongman C.A. Sampson. Sampson was famously defeated in a show of strength against strongman Eugen Sandow. According to news accounts at the time, Sandow substituted materials prior to the exhibition which made him look much stronger than Sampson. Sampson walked off stage in protest. Sampson was a also a writer, penning “Strength: A Treatise on the Development and Use of Muscle” in 1895. The book advocated, among other things, deep breathing, walking, cold baths and the use of elastic bands tied around the muscles during weight training. Sandow is by far the more well-known of the two men. Sandow, born in Germany, measured Greek statuary to build his physique up to the standard of the “the Grecian ideal.” It is with good reason that Sandow is often called “the father of modern bodybuilding.”
Derby continues to do some body modification on the opera house itself. Jean Falbo-Sosnovich of The New Haven Register reported in early March that the city received a $20,000 grant from The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation. The money will help the city apply for a state tax credit that would significantly lower the cost of continued restoration. Preserving the past often comes with a high price tag.
Florence was the first city of the Renaissance. It was from the heart of that city that the flowering of arts and literature took shape and spread throughout Europe. It is the city where Leonard da Vinci and Michelangelo did some of their best work. It is no surprise, then, that art is built into the very foundations of the city. Such is the case with the Ponte Santa Trinita and the four statues of the seasons that have watched over it since 1608. One of these statues, pictured above in a photo by Ben Rimmer, was Primavera, or Spring by Pietro Francavilla. Summer and Autumn were created by Giovanni Caccini and Winter by Taddeo Landini. The sculptures have lived a perilous existence, due in part to the location of the Ponte Santa Trinita itself.
The Ponte Santa Trinita, Italian for “Holy Trinity Bridge,” spans the Arno river and was built in 1567. The bridge is itself is a work of art, involving three flattened ellipses and making it the oldest elliptical bridge in the world. The four statues were commissioned to celebrate the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo II de’ Medici’s wedding to Maria Magdalena of Austria. World War II proved almost lethal to the four statues. In August 1944, Allied forces pressed deeper into Italy. As the Germany army retreated, four of the five bridges spanning the Arno were destroyed. Only the Ponte Vecchio was spared. Art critic Emilio Lavagnini said the destruction of Ponte Santa Trinita was the most important piece of architecture destroyed by the war in Italy.
Restoring the bridge and the damaged statues took years after the close of the war in 1945. Piece after piece of the bridge and statues were dredged from the river. Architect Riccardo Gizdulich studied had handmade chisels produced to construct the bridge in much the same way Bartolomeo Ammanati had constructed it in 1569. Stone from the same quarry was used to piece the bridge together. Art historian Bernard Berenson raised money abroad for the construction, though the bulk of the project was paid for by the Italian government. Primavera was headless for many years. It was rumored that an American GI had stolen it. It was not until 1961 that her head was found in the Arno and put back in its rightful place. Let’s hope she keeps it for at least another 400 years.
At Lost Places, we see a lot of images from places that are slowly falling to the ground. This week, however, we see a place that is already gone. This image is of the outfield at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The image was taken by the late Michael Senger, a software developer who received his psychology degree from the University of Pittsburgh in the 1970’s. This is one of many photos Senger took of Pittsburgh and Boston during that time period. The history of baseball is ingrained in the minds of millions of Americans. Fans hold certain statistics, such as Pete Rose’s 4,256 career hits or Cal Ripken Jr.’s streak of 2,632 consecutive games, as almost sacred accomplishments.
It is no surprise, then, that the parks where baseball is played often have the aura of shrines. Baseball parks in the early 20th Century were built to last. Some parks lasted so well that generations of fans grew up attending games within their confines. Some of the parks are still alive and kicking, like the two gray ladies of Major League Baseball: Boston’s Fenway Park (opened in 1912) and Chicago’s Wrigley Field (opened in 1914). Both are beloved by fans. In many cities, though, beloved parks are razed to make way for progress. Such was the case with Forbes Field.
Forbes Field was home to the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team from 1909-1970 and to the National Football League’s Pittsburgh Steelers from 1933-1963. Built in 1909, the stadium was the first steel and concrete baseball stadium in the nation. At the time, it was lauded as the finest ballpark in all of baseball. The Pirates won the World Series in their first season in the new park, defeating Ty Cobb’s Detroit Tigers. The Pirates were led by Honus Wagner. It was the only time the two future hall of famers would face each other during their careers.
During its 61-year history, the park hosted some of the most noteworthy events in baseball history. In 1920, the park hosted the last triple-header in the major leagues. On May 25, 1935, an aging Babe Ruth hit the last three home runs of his career in Forbes Field while playing for the Boston Braves. In October 1946, Jackie Robinson and his African-American all-stars squared off against Honus Wagner’s all-stars in an exhibition at Forbes Field. Robinson famously broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Forbes Field was home to a number of great African-American ballplayers, including some of the top teams in the Negro Leagues. The Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues played their from 1922-1939. The Grays counted many hall of famers among their numbers, including Josh Gibson.
The most iconic moment in the park’s history came during the 1960 World Series. Pittsburgh second baseman Bill Mazeroski cracked a home run in game seven to beat the New York Yankees 10-9. It was the first time a home run had ended a World Series. The win gave the Pirates their first world championship since 1925.
Forbes Field is now gone, like so many legendary ballparks of the past. The nature of the the parks–places whose stories are passed down from generation to generation, where past glories are recounted every spring–means they will still live on. Unlike many lost places, whose stories are forgotten by time, baseball stories will get told each and every spring as long as people are playing the game.
Baseball season is in full swing here in the United States, despite the chilly weather we’re still seeing in the northeast. This week, we celebrate that great American tradition by paying homage to Abner Doubleday. For many years, Abner Doubleday was considered the inventor of baseball. That story is pure legend. The truth of his life, however, is much more interesting.
Doubleday eventually found himself on administrative duty in Washington. He was a staunch supporter of Abraham Lincoln and rode with him on the train to Gettysburg, where Lincoln delivered The Gettysburg Address, one of the key speeches in American history. After the war, Doubleday commanded troops in Texas and San Francisco, where he eventually became president of the American Theosophical Society, whose members included Thomas Edison. He spent much time writing, eventually penning two major works on the Civil War.
Doubleday’s connection to baseball comes from a 1907 report claiming Doubleday invented the sport in a cow pasture in Cooperstown, New York in 1839. In the years leading up to the report, a vicious debate raged in the United States on the origins of baseball. Had baseball been invented in the United States or was it a variation on a British game called rounders? National League president Abraham G. Mills and Chicago Cubs president Albert Spalding certainly didn’t want to believe the game was British. Sportswriter Henry Chadwick, a native of Britain, believed the game had indeed evolved from rounders. He outlined similarities between the two games in a 1903 article. A commission was formed to research the truth–a committee of men handpicked by Spalding.
Enter Abner Graves, an engineer told the Akron Beacon Journal in 1905 that Doubleday had invented the game. Graves said he saw Doubleday diagram the game of a baseball field. Spalding wrote to Graves asking for proof. Graves told Spalding that no copies of the diagram survived and that almost all of the players were dead. He did, however, send Spalding a diagram he claimed looked just like the one Doubelday had drawn up. That was enough for Spalding, the 1907 report by Mills gave Doubleday–and America–credit for inventing the game.
There are some problems with that version of history. Doubleday wasn’t in Cooperstown at all during 1839. He was a cadet at West Point–a first year cadet, to be exact, one who would have rarely been given leave. Doubleday left a prodigious body of written work, with only one mention of baseball–in 1871. Graves, if he did see the diagram, would have been five in 1839. Graves was also committed to an insane asylum as an old man. Mills’ bias was obvious, too. Remember the Theosophical Society? Mills donated money to the organization.
Despite evidence to the contrary, the myth is resoundingly resilient. The National Baseball Hall of Fame was built in Cooperstown, New York in 1939, site of Doubleday’s mythical first game. In 2010, Tim Arango of the New York Times revealed that Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig had written a letter, satating: “I really believe that Abner Doubleday is the ‘Father of Baseball’.” History is forgotten, but myth dies hard…especially when there is money to be made.
This week’s statue was photographed by Abner Doubleday’s 5th great-grand nephew, Scott Nelson. The statue stands on Reynolds Avenue. The statue stands nine feet tall on an eleven foot tall granite base. The sculptor was John Massey Rhind. It was dedicated on September 25, 1917 by the State of New York.