I came across this image while researching something else and thought I would share. It comes from the July 1918 edition of The National Magazine. The children are refugees in a Venetian bomb shelter and their caretaker is a nun with the American Red Cross. They are looking up at an airplane during a bombardment. From the day Italy entered the war in May 1915 until the end, the Central Powers bombed Venice more than forty times. The damage to the city was as great as anything Italians would see during the Second World War, which is saying a lot. The editors described this as a “flashlight photograph,” by which they presumably meant it was taken in darkness with a flash bulb. Hence the title: “A Modern Rubens by Flashlight.” The Rubens reference may be to the Flemish master’s early seventeenth century “The Massacre of the Innocents.”
Merry Christmas, everyone. I saw this 1942 Christmas card from Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and fell in love with it for so many reasons. Judging by his white suit and her white dress the image would have been taken in that summer of 1942, seventy-five years ago. Franklin and Eleanor spent the Great War years in Washington and now here they are back in the District of Columbia as President and First Lady with the world at war a second time. One can only imagine the burden. In this image they seem to be trying to project an air of calm and tranquility in a troubled world. The white card stock is perfect for the photograph of two solitary figures sitting in white clothes on a veranda of the White House. There is no clutter on the table. Visually the picture is in balance with the concise message in simple black lettering on the right. Note that the card wishes the beholder a “happier” New Year, a subtle but telling word choice. The Roosevelts’ Christmas card went out to about 400 individuals.
Enjoy your day, all.
I hope everyone is enjoying their holidays. I came across the image you see above, which appears to an official Roosevelt Family Christmas portrait. Here is the image as I found it on Wikimedia Commons. It is titled Christmas 1941. For a few minutes I could not put my finger on it, but I knew something was off. The caption at the bottom reads 25 December 2041, with someone adding an addendum noting that “This date is not correct.” That is obvious true but something was still off. At first I noticed the relaxed poses of everyone in the picture; remember, this would have been just a few weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Even at Christmas, they would not have been so casual. The poses are a tip, but still just circumstantial.
After another minute or so I got it: that is Sara Roosevelt, Franklin’s mother, sitting next to Eleanor on the left. Sara died in September 1941, so for this Christmas photograph to have been from 1941 is obviously incorrect. So when was it? I then looked at the baby, not quite yet a toddler, seated to FDR’s left. That’s John Roosevelt Boettiger, standing on the lap of his mother Anna. An internet search informs us that John is Franklin and Eleanor’s grandson and that he was born in March 1939. A retired professor, he is still alive today. Here he is the center of attention. Everyone is looking at the little tyke. With Sara in the picture we know definitively that this is not 1941. For this photo to be taken in 1940 little John would have been well over 21 months old. That seems unlikely. 1939, when he would have been nine months, is a far better bet. Sure enough, outtakes conclusively show that this Christmas family photograph was taken in 1939.
I found this image in several places where they get the date incorrect, which is inevitable but always a little dismaying. Were it not Christmas Eve, I would go into that more depth. The point in analyzing the image today is to have a little fun. Merry Christmas, all.
Last night was a special evening: a friend invited me to a group event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a private reviewing of the World War I and the Visual Arts exhibit currently on display through 7 January 2018. There were about a dozen of us on the tour, which took place after the Met Museum closed. To be in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is always special, and even more so when it is the holidays and the place is empty. We arrived a little before the tour when the museum was emptying out and got to take in the Neapolitan Christmas tree that is on display every year. Here are a few photos from the evening.
All in all this was a special night. Here is to good friends who think of you when opportunities such as this arise.
Good morning, all. I know the blog has been quiet for much of this past week but there has been so much going on. This morning I emailed the draft of a small thing I wrote over these past few days. I won’t go into the details here, but will wait until it is published. I am having my morning coffee before heading to Baruch College for a library conference. I always enjoy the 69th Regiment Armory there on 25th Street as I’m on my way to Baruch. I spent the morning sending a few emails about a film showing we are having a week from tomorrow in Yonkers. I am glad we are going to the community where our doughboy, Thomas Michael Tobin, lived and built a legacy for himself and his family. Here is the flier in case one is in the New York City area next weekend.
We showed our film today. I will have more to say in the coming days but for now wanted to share it. Enjoy.
Should one happen to be in New York City this week you are invited to attend the showing of our World War One documentary. The event is being held at New York City College of Technology (CUNY), which is convenient to most public transportation. The program is being held in the Ursula C. Schwerin Library on the 4th floor of the Atrium. The event is free and runs from 1:00-2:30 pm. Lunch will be provided. Please RSVP to the email below or to me here at the Strawfoot.
This past week we showed to a class the first cut of our World War One film. For homework the students are now reading a series of excerpts from the Library of America’s World War I and America: Told by the Americans who Lived It. Historian A. Scott Berg, the author of a 2013 biography of Woodrow Wilson, edited the work. For Thursday the students read Hemingway’s “Soldier’s Home,” which appeared originally in Hemingway’s 1925 collection In Our Time. While preparing for the class I came across an essay by Philip Caputo that appeared this month in the online journal Literary Hub. Caputo was a marine who in 1965 landed at Da Nang during Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of American involvement in Vietnam. In 1977 he published his seminal memoir A Rumor of War. That book secured Caputo’s reputation as a writer. Now in his seventies he has written many more works since the publication of Rumor forty years ago. He published a new novel just this year.
The reason I say all this is because Caputo makes an interesting point in his essay: many of the best war writers actually spent only a small amount of time in combat. The reason these are the writers who write most eloquently about the combat experience, Caputo speculates, is because warfare is just that intense. Endure it too long and it becomes too much a part of you. Caputo uses Ernest Hemingway as the most striking example. For all we associate him with war, Hemingway spent just two weeks on the front lines during the Great War. He graduated high school in June 1917, wrote for the Kansas City Star from that October to April 1918, quit the paper and volunteered for ambulance duty that spring, sailed in May, worked in war torn Paris for much of June, was wounded in Italy on July 8, coalesced in a Milanese hospital for six months, and was home in Oak Park, Illinois by January 1919.
Chronologically the time may have been short, but the intensity of it led to his incredible output over the next decade. A husband and father by the early 1920s, he paid the bills as a foreign correspondent in Europe for the Toronto Star, where among other things he covered the Genoa Conference in 1922; met leaders such as David Lloyd George, Benito Mussolini, and Georges Clemenceau among others; covered the rise of Fascism and Bolshevism; and witnessed the general anomie of European society in the wake of the Great War. In this same decade he published In Our Time (1925), The Sun Also Rises (1926), and A Farewell to Arms (1929), all of which draw to greater or lesser extent on what he witnessed and experienced during his short time in the war zone.
(image/Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, JFK Library)
An interesting article appeared in the New York Times a few weeks back about the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick Vietnam War documentary. Its authors, Andrew Wiest and Susannah Ural, wonder if the eighteen hour documentary will be a historiographical turning point in our understanding of the war in Southeast Asia. Or, they continue, will it be the culmination of the narrative we have been telling ourselves for the past four–five decades? The answer to that doesn’t lie with Burns and Novick, who with their colleagues have already done their part by giving us the film. As they themselves have said, the documentary’s ultimate purpose is to ask more question than provide answers.
Wiest and Ural draw an interesting comparison, arguing that the documentary might do for Vietnam what historians did for World War One historiography in the early 1990s. Others are better positioned than I am to make the call, but personally I don’t see the needle as having having moved that much over the past 20-25 years. Yes, some archives have opened up and that sort of thing, but our understanding of the Great War remains much as it has since at least the 1960s. The current narrative is still very much the “lions led by donkeys” story line that has been with us for at least half a century. Perhaps a better comparison for The Vietnam War might be The Sorrow and the Pity, the 1969 documentary that nearly thirty years after the fact led the French to more closely examine their role in the Second World War.
Wars often lead citizens to question their societies, often vehemently. Americans examined their country during and immediately after the Great War, which led Prohibition, Women’s Suffrage, and the New Negro Movement in the 1920s. The same thing happened in different ways in the 1960s and early 1970s. Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Gay Rights, and much more all came out of the social upheaval. In addition it led to rifts that have yet to heal. So many of our current political and cultural divisions have their roots in the Vietnam War Era. Even militarily there is much that remains to explore regarding the Vietnam War. Time will tell over the next few years if we reach any new consensus on that turbulent period. Wiest and Ural make a strong case that this is the opportune time.
(image by Clara E. Laughlin from Foch: The Man)
I have not mentioned it in a while but my friends/colleagues and I are still plugging away on our Great War documentary. We intend to wrap up in the next 7-10 days, after which we will show it two two English classes at my college and at various other venues this fall. Today I met with our editor Tim, who interviewed me for the film and recorded my narration. I mentioned this in the summer but, again, I can’t express how much Tim has brought to the project. He has such professionalism in the technical aspects of the craft and an incredible sense of narrative as well. In addition to being a film editor, he is musician and novelist. We know we have to finish this one first, but as we were wrapping up today we were already talking about potentially working on another project. I hope that comes to pass.
We really think we’re on our way to tell a story about the Great War, contemporary veterans, and New York City all rolled into one. When our film is finally in the can, I will share it here and elsewhere. In the meantime, here are some photos from today’s effort.