There and back again

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Forsythia in full bloom at the entrance to the 86th Street transverse. Photo: JH.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021. Sunny and in the high 60s yesterday in New York.

Our Diary on the cars of the past century (and particularly the ones post-World War II) captured the imagination as well as the reverie of many including this writer. Coincidentally yesterday afternoon I received an email of old photographs that evoked a comparable sentiment of time in the American history of the past 20th century and even beyond. We couldn’t resist the glance — and in the reminder — of the USA and world at another era and in comparison to today:


Here is Miss America 1924, Ruth Malcomson, age 18.  This was the first annual contest held in Atlantic City, New Jersey which was then a highly popular beach resort on the East Coast. The contest was a public relations creation in an effort keep drawing crowds at the end of the “summer season” after Labor Day. It was a very different contest compared to a century later. Although the objective, the view was comparable, just different (far more “amateur”) and a celebration of the progress of the still growing country that was now made up of 48 states.

Here in the early 1920s on a film lot in Los Angeles/Hollywood were two of the most famous people in America of the time – Helen Keller meeting Charlie Chaplin, the most famous film comedian in the world. Miss Keller was very famous to Americans throughout the last decade of the 19th century into the middle of the 20th. She lost her sight and hearing after an illness as a 19-month-old baby in Alabama. At age 7 she met Anne Sullivan, her teacher and lifelong companion, who taught her language. She attended Radcliffe and became the first deaf/blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree and became famous across the world as a writer and lecturer.

These are the leather gloves worn by President Abraham Lincoln to Ford’s Theater on the night of his assassination on the night of April 15, 1865. His blood stains are visible on the cuffs.

Phoebe Ann Mosey, born in August 1860, became famous across America as Annie Oakley a sharpshooter who starred in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show performed across American beginning in 1885. At 15 she won a shooting contest against a famous marksman named Frank Butler. She could shoot a cigar from her husband’s lips, and once shot the ashes off of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s cigarette on his invitation. She died in 1926, and 20 years later she was immortalized in a Broadway musical starring Ethel Merman with a score written by Irving Berlin called “Annie Get Your Gun,” later made into a film starring Betty Hutton. 

A very young Lucy – Lucille Ball, then a starlet on the RKO film lot in Hollywood in 1930. She had been signed for her looks with an eye on playing a leading role, first appearing as a member of the chorus in their musicals.

Two Victorian sideshow performers boxing — the fat man and the thin man — in vaudeville.

English aviator Amy Johnson (1903-1941). One of the first women to gain a pilot’s license, Johnson won fame when she flew solo from Britain to Australia in 1930. Her dangerous flight took 17 days. Later she flew solo to India and Japan and became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic East to West. She volunteered to fly for The Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in WW2, but her plane was shot down over the River Thames.

Belva Gaertner awaiting her trial. She was acquitted of murder in a 1924 trial, inspiring elements of the 1926 play Chicago, later transformed into Kander and Ebb’s 1975 musical on Broadway.

Jessie Tarbox Beals and Punkin set up to take a photograph at the 1904 World’s Fair.

Roald Amundsen, the first person to reach the South Pole. At approximately 3 p.m. on December 14, 1911, Amundsen raised the flag of Norway at the South Pole and named the spot Polheim,”Pole Home.”

Maud Allen was a Canadian dancer, who was sued for being too lewd, outed as a lesbian and fled London after being branded a German spy (who was sleeping with the former prime minister Herbert Asquith’s wife).

Everybody knows this serious girl (5’10 ½”) US Marine Bea Arthur (nee Bernice Frankel), who was enlisted and assigned as a typist at Marine HQ in Washington DC. Of course, she’s best remembered for her title role in the TV series Maude and as Dorothy in The Golden Girls.

And this boy, then age 6 and living with his parents in Brookline, Massachusetts — John F. Kennedy.

Wedding day photograph of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln taken November 4, 1842 in Springfield, Illinois after three years of a stormy courtship and a broken engagement. Their love endured.

The wee Billie Holiday at age two years in 1917. 15 years later she was singing in nightclubs in Harlem where record producer John Hammond saw her perform and signed her to a recording contract with Brunswick Records in 1935.

Walter Reed Hospital flu ward, Washington, D.C., circa 1919. One of the very few Washington-area photographs documenting the influenza contagion of 1918-1919, which killed more than 500,000 Americans and more than fifty million around the globe. Most victims succumbed to bacterial pneumonia following influenza virus infection. (Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress via AP)

Filming the famous MGM logo, Leo the Lion. (Wikimedia Commons)

Amelia Earhart, the first American woman aviator to fly the Atlantic solo, and the first to fly solo from Hawaii to the American mainland.  She set many records, wrote best-selling books about her flying experiences and disappeared on a flight to New Guinea on July 2, 1937.

Mae Questel, ca. 1930s. She was the cartoon voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl, Minnie Mouse, Felix the Cat (for three shorts by the Van Beuren Studios), Little Lulu, Little Audrey, and Casper the Friendly Ghost.

In 1911, Bobby Leach survived a plunge over Niagara Falls in a steel barrel. 14 years later he slipped on an orange peel and died.

Emily Todd, Mary Todd Lincoln’s half-sister. In 1856 she married Benjamin Helm, a Confederate general. After Helm’s death in 1863, Emily Helm passed through Union Lines to visit her sister in the White House. This caused great consternation in the Northern newspapers. Emily Helm took an oath of loyalty to the Union and was granted amnesty.

Three days before his 19th birthday, George H.W. Bush became the youngest aviator in the US Navy.

Market Street after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

First All-American Girls Professional Baseball League players signed in 1943. Photo courtesy of Northern Indiana Center for History Collection.

A Confederate and Union soldier shake hands during a celebration at Gettysburg in 1913. Image: Library of Congress. 

Vintage baked potato cart, which was a legitimate fast food lunch option back in the day.

Cyclists ride in the first running of the Tour de France, 1903.

Sergeant Stubby (1916 – March 16, 1926) was the most decorated war dog of World War I and the only dog to be promoted to sergeant through combat. America’s first war dog, Stubby, served 18 months ‘over there’ and participated in 17 battles on the Western Front. He saved his regiment from surprise mustard gas attacks, found and comforted the wounded, and even once caught a German spy by the seat of his pants (holding him there until American soldiers found him).
“Night Witches” — Female Russian aviators who bombed Germany during WW2. They had old, noisy planes and the engines used to conk out halfway through their missions, so they had to climb out on the wings mid-flight to restart the props. To stop Germans from hearing them start up the anti-aircraft guns, they would climb to a certain height, coast down to German positions, drop their bombs, restart their engines in midair, and get the hell out of dodge. Their leader flew 200+ missions and was never captured.

Marilyn Monroe meets Queen Elizabeth II, London, 1956. Both women were 30 years old at the time.

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