History Monday #91

Let’s go to the art show

Another week is upon us, and that means it’s time to discuss an event in history, and today’s event is all about being framed. Now, this isn’t about people being unfairly convicted of a crime, but about works of art being celebrated and displayed. Today’s #HistoryMonday looks at of all things an art show that was the first of its kind in the United States.

On this day in 1913, the International Exhibition of Modern Art opens in the National Guard’s 69th Regiment Armory in New York City. The location of this exhibition would give it its more familiar name, the Armory Show.

Art shows in the United States were nothing new in 1913 of course, but this show featured works of modern art. Among this classification, styles like Fauvism, Cubism, and Futurism were observed by Americans for the first time. These schools had already achieved acclaim in Europe, but now had a chance for Americans to see these new works.

The exhibition was informally organized by a handful of artists in 1911. As they and other influential folks in the art world had continued discussion, they formed the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS) to promote contemporary art. After forming as the AAPS, the members began to plan the International Exhibition of Modern Art, and selected the Armory for its large space needed to display the works of art.

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Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 by Marcel Duchamp (one of the works featured at the Armory Show)

Conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp drew the most attention for his Cubist/Futurist work Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2. The work features successive images of a human figure superimposed on each other in a Cubist style. These images are similar to stop motion art like flip books and cartoons. Although the Cubist style makes the human features indistinguishable, the title gained attention. Even Pres. Teddy Roosevelt who saw the work disparaged it, comparing a Navajo rug as a better work of art than Duchamp’s. Other well-known artists featured in the show include Pablo Picasso, Mary Cassatt, Paul Cézanne, and Wassily Kandinsky just to name a few.

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Oddly enough, this was the only exhibition that the AAPS mounted. The organization did take the show to two more locations after the success in New York City. The second city to feature the show was not surprisingly the Second City—Chicago at the Art Institute of Chicago nearly a month after its opening in New York. The final location was at The Copley Society of Art in Boston, although the works by American artists were soon removed from the show as this location lacked enough space for all the works.

Many who observed the modern art were scandalized by the shift from realism that had existed in the centuries prior. The odd use of colors, subjects, and unconventional techniques caused many to question the legitimacy of the works as art. Like Pres. Roosevelt’s critique of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, many others lampooned or criticized the newer works as folly and not worth the attention of serious artistic folks.

Not everyone was opposed to the newer art and many found elements of art in the works featured in the show. The exhibition has been recreated in other locations in the United States during the 20th Century, including one in 1966 featuring performance artists at the 69th Regiment Armory. Centennial celebrations of the show were held in a handful of locations in 2013 including the 69th Regiment Armory and the Art Institute of Chicago like the original show.

As modern art has given way to postmodernism, other art shows have featured even more unconventional and provocative works. Of course, as the envelope is pushed further each successive generation, the debate draws more attention to the shows than if presented without the debate. Admittedly, much of the modern art and postmodern art is not my cup of tea, and I probably would side with Pres. Roosevelt and others that satirize and critique the newer and unconventional art.

Do you like works of art by Picasso, Duchamp, or Cassatt?

History Monday #90

Cars & Congress meet in a head-on collision on this day just over five decades ago

A new week is upon us, and that means looking at an historical event that occurred on this day. I’ll get into the post fairly shortly, and that’s not an unsafe speed which is good thing for you the reader as well as for me the author. Oddly enough, congressional testimony like today’s #HistoryMonday is rarely going to be associated with speed and danger, but that’s exactly what today’s event is all about.

Young-looking Nader at 40+ years old gesturing as he speaks, wearing a coat and tie with unruly wavy dark hair.
Ralph Nader

On this day in 1966, Ralph Nader presents findings from his work, Unsafe at Any Speed in testimony before Congress. Nader had published the book in November of 1965, shortly before Congress had asked him to testify.

Nader, an attorney was concerned with design choices of the automobile industry and detailed the danger of these choices in the book. Particularly, dangers from automobiles were caused by automobile makers that prioritized aesthetics and power over any safety. Highlighting the unregulated nature of automobile design, Nader suggested that congressional oversight would be beneficial.

General Motors (GM) felt the criticism most from Unsafe at Any Speed, particularly for its suspension system which was blamed for rollovers and other accidents. Nader discovered that GM had over 100 lawsuits pending in connection with crashes involving the Chevrolet Corvair. Through his research into these lawsuits, Nader discovered that crucial parts in the car’s suspension were left out for economic reasons.

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Thanks to Nader’s testimony, Congress unanimously passed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act later that enabled the federal government to set requirements for safety measures in automobiles.

For GM, things only got worse. Shortly after Nader’s testimony before congress it was discovered that a private investigator had been hired by GM to find damaging or compromising information about Nader. After discovering this investigation, Nader sued GM for harassment and invasion of privacy and won a settlement. Sales of the Corvair would also find its way into a nadir thanks to the negative publicity, and it was soon discontinued.

Ralph Nader would go on to create the consumer protection group Public Citizen to promote lobbying and activism for consumer rights’ interests. The book Unsafe at Any Speed also became a bestseller in the few months after Nader’s Congressional testimony and especially after the harassment lawsuit against GM.

Shortly after Nader’s rise to prominence in the mid 1960’s and his consumer advocacy efforts in the 1970’s, he would make four unsuccessful runs for Presidential election in 1972, 1992, 1996, 2002, 2004, & 2008 most often as a member of the Green Party. A couple of these campaigns seemingly had a spoiler effect and drew votes away from progressives in the Democratic Party concerned with free trade and environmental causes.

Did you ever ride in or drive a Corvair?

History Monday #89

Good old boys drinking whiskey and rye, saying this’ll be the day that I die

It’s a historic day in Iowa, and not just because the 2020 Iowa Caucuses are today. I could belabor this intro, like a musical account of today’s event for #HistoryMonday but I’ll keep it short. So, without any further ado, let’s discuss the Day the Music Died.

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From Left to Right: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson

On this day in 1959, a Beechcraft Bonanza plane crashes in Iowa while carrying 3 up-and-coming pop musicians. The crash killed all on board including the pilot. Among those killed were Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. Holly had scored major success with songs such as “Peggy Sue”, “Oh, Boy!”, and “That’ll Be the Day” which led to his headlining of the tour. Valens, who was born Ritchie Valenzuela had scored hits with “Come On, Let’s Go”, “Donna”, and “La Bamba.” Richardson’s biggest hit was “Chantilly Lace.”

After experiencing travel hardships on their tour bus for the Winter Dance Party, Buddy Holly had chartered the plane for himself and his band. Before departing however, Richardson and Valens earned seats on the plane. Valens had won a coin toss between himself and a band-member before the takeoff. Richardson had also convinced one of the band-members to let him fly on the plane due to his having the flu. Oddly enough, that band-member was Waylon Jennings, who went on to major success himself. When Buddy Holly heard Jennings wasn’t traveling, he joked, “Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up.” Jennings responded: “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.”

After the show ended at Clear Lake, Iowa on Feb.2 at the Surf Ballroom, the club’s owner Carroll Anderson drove the singers to a nearby airport. The weather at the time of departure was reported as light snow, a ceiling of 3,000 feet (900 m) AMSL with sky obscured, visibility 6 miles, and winds from 20 to 30 mph (32 to 48 km/h). Sadly, these deteriorating weather conditions were not communicated to the pilot. Along with this, an unfamiliar instrument array contributed to the accident

The plane took off at 12:55 am Central Time on Tuesday, February 3. The charter company owner, Hubert Jerry Dwyer observed the take-off from a platform outside the control tower, watching the aircraft’s tail-light until it disappeared out of view soon afterwards.

Later that morning, as Dwyer, received no check-in from the pilot since departure, departed with his own plane to search for the wayward flight. Around 9:35 am Central Time, he spotted the wreckage and contacted the sheriff’s office who investigated the site, nearly 6 miles from the airport.

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As Holly’s wife, María Elena, received news of his death thru a television news report, she miscarried their baby she was carrying, due supposedly to the emotional trauma his death had inflicted on her. Feeling distraught for not traveling with Holly, Maria chose not to attend the funeral or visit the gravesite or tributes to her late husband. This compounded tragedy led to a policy that media outlets were not authorized to release victims’ names until their families had been informed.

Several other popular musicians have suffered similar fates, including Patsy Cline, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Otis Redding. As with Holly, Valens, and Richardson, these artists enjoyed an immediate surge in the popularity of their songs and some even earned industry awards for their sales posthumously.

The trio were memorialized with a monument in front of Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Besides this monument, they were immortalized in film. The biographical film The Buddy Holly Story, includes the accident as part of Buddy Holly’s life. Valens story, including the crash is told in La Bamba, named after his hit song of the same name. Fans of the singers have gathered for annual memorial concerts at the Surf Ballroom since 1979, the twentieth anniversary of the tragedy. Besides the film, as mentioned in the intro to this post, the song “American Pie” written by Don McLean in 1971 revolves around the tragedy and the loss of innocence for many in the baby-boomer generation.

How long do you think the track length is for “American Pie”?

History Monday #88

Limiting the use of outer space for military use is overshadowed on this day by tragedy in Florida.

Another week begins and it’s time for #HistoryMonday again. That of course means I choose a historical event that occurred on this day and offer my thoughts about that event. Today provides an opportunity for a double-header both dealing with outer space.

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The Apollo 1 crew. From left to right: Edward H. White II, Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, and Roger B. Chaffee.

On this day in 1967, the AS-204 command module catches on fire at the launch pad while program tests were being conducted at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The fire resulted in deaths of astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II, and Roger B. Chafee. Investigators believed a faulty wire sparked in the oxygen-rich environment of the

Astronauts Grissom and White had already flown space missions during Project Gemini, while Chaffee was expecting to make his first spaceflight with the launch of the AS-204 spacecraft. North American Aviation was responsible for the construction of the spacecraft. Shortly before the spacecraft was delivered to Florida, the crew expressed concern of the plentiful use of flammables such as nylon netting and Velcro that were usually used to secure tools and equipment. Skepticism about the timeline of the program led the crew to jokingly remind the construction manager for the spacecraft that maybe divine intervention was necessary.

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Signing of the Outer Space Treaty by representatives of the U.S.S.R., U.K., & U.S.

Also happening subsequently around locations in London, Moscow, and Washington D.C. the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (Outer Space Treaty) is signed by a plethora of UN members. The Outer Space Treaty provides the framework for international space law. Signatories to the treaty agreed that weaponizing space is not permissible according to the terms of the contract. By signing this contract and including the moon as safe zone from weaponization, the three major nations of the United States, United Kingdom, and the United Soviet Socialist Republics foresaw that reaching the moon by space travel would be soon accomplished.

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Shortly after the AS-204 failure, an investigation was launched by NASA pursuant to their established procedures after the Gemini 8 failure. The investigation determined that a pure oxygen atmosphere, flammable materials, faulty wiring, and restrictive hatch design ultimately contribute to a perfect storm of issues leading to the disaster. Congressional investigations were also launched which included reports from a previous investigation into construction delays and costs of the spacecraft. Based on the investigation of the failures, insulated wiring, fireproof coating of the nylon netting, a 60/40 mix of oxygen to nitrogen under pressure, and an outward opening hatch were to be installed on the next spacecrafts.

The widows of the astronauts asked NASA to officially designate the mission Apollo 1 which the crew had hoped to name the mission before their untimely deaths. NASA complied with this request in honor of the crew’s wishes. Although, three unmanned missions had launched before the new Apollo 1 mission they were left nameless. Of these three flights, only 2 included spacecraft and were connected to the new number sequencing. This resulted in Apollo 4 being the next launch while Apollo 2 & 3 were left unused. The mission and the crew have been memorialized in various locations around the U.S. Of course, as a Hoosier, I’ve visited Gus Grissom’s hometown Mitchell many times and seen a memorial dedicated to his memory in Spring Mill State Park. Grissom’s work at NASA likely inspired a handful of others in Lawrence County, Indiana to become astronauts as well.

The Outer Space Treaty would eventually go into effect on 10 October 1967. It has since been signed by 109 signatories the last being France in September of 1967. Many others have deposited their accession to the treaty at one of the three locations even as recently as February of last year. Follow-up agreements include: The Rescue Agreement of 1968, The Space Liability Convention of 1972, and The Registration Convention of 1976. These treaties are coordinated by the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) to answer relevant questions of space jurisdiction. It’s worth noting these treaties are only agreed upon by Earth parties and it isn’t known whether extraterrestrial parties will sign these treaties. More likely, the United Federation of Planets will combine elements of these treaties with treaties from other planets in order to form their government and law into founding documents next century sometime in 2161.

What do you remember about Gus Grissom and the other astronauts on Apollo 1?

History Monday #87

History is made with the first celebration of a federal holiday

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! enjoy the paid federal holiday that you have today. As it is a significant holiday, it’s worth discussing it in today’s #HistoryMonday that was first celebrated as a federal holiday on this date.

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On this day in 1986, the holiday was first celebrated as a federal holiday after being approved and signed into law on November 2, 1983. This was after the first introduction of the notion of recognizing King for his Civil Rights efforts in 1979 by Rep. John Conyers (D) of Michigan & Sen. Edward Brooke (R) of Massachusetts.

The passage of a bill establishing the holiday was not easily accepted despite Rev. King’s Civil Rights contributions and eventual memorials. Objections to a federal holiday included the cost of paying for employees to have a vacation and whether a private citizen merited a federal holiday. At the time of discussion of establishing a holiday honoring Rev. King, only George Washington and Christopher Columbus had been recognized with federal holidays.

Senators Jesse Helms and John Porter East (both Republicans from North Carolina) led objections to passage of legislation establishing the holiday that Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t necessarily important enough to deserve a holiday. Sen. Helms added further objections that were more specious and scurrilous, accusing King of Communist sympathies which were the reasons why King questioned American involvement in Vietnam. Most Senators who promoted the holiday rejected Sen. Helms accusations and pressed forward in their efforts.

As the holiday was signed into law, it established a Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission as well as establishing the day as the third Monday of January each year. Shortly after the commission was established, Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King Jr. was appointed to the commission.

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While the holiday was first celebrated on this day in 1986 as a federal holiday, state legislatures decided individually whether they would recognize the holiday as well. Eventually each state established the day following similar guidelines laid out in the federal legislation with the last two establishing the holiday in 2000, being New Hampshire and South Carolina. New Hampshire’s passage of legislation was a technicality and named the day for Martin Luther King Jr. after celebrating the day while it was named Civil Rights Day until 1999. South Carolina did allow citizens to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. or one of three Confederate holidays which creates a unique dichotomy.

Southern states of course had some challenges celebrating the day given their negative involvement with Martin Luther King Jr and other Civil Rights leaders and already established holidays dedicated to Gen. Robert E. Lee, born on January 19 and Gen. Stonewall Jackson, born on January 21. As you can imagine celebrating Generals leading the Confederate Army while celebrating the hero of the Civil Rights movement creates some issues. These original holidays generally were dedicated primarily to Robert E. Lee, except in Virginia.  Eventually, most Southern states moved a celebration of Robert E. Lee to a date in October commemorating the occasion of his death. Virginia celebrates Lee-Jackson Day as the Friday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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Many public-school systems decide whether to celebrate at a local level. Growing up in Southern Indiana, which is 97% in most communities will opt to conduct classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, except in more diverse school districts who use it as a snow makeup day if needed. Personally, there is more education about Martin Luther King when school is in session than when kids are home on vacation and pay little attention to the holiday’s namesake. This is typically true of most public schools around the nation and not just in my neck of the woods.

Does your community do anything special for Martin Luther King Jr. Day?

History Monday #86

An important event happens when you bring Cash to a prison

♪ I’m stuck in Folsom Prison and time keeps dragging on ♪ These popular lyrics were penned by Country music legend Johnny Cash who only spent two days in the prison but captured the desperation of its residents. Today’s #HistoryMonday is all about Cash’s more important day in the prison.

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On this day in 1968, Johnny Cash performed a concert at Folsom State Prison as a nod to his popular song “Folsom Prison Blues” which he had written nearly a decade and half earlier. Although having been arrested for minor offenses with drugs and alcohol, Cash had only spent a few days in local jails and was inspired by a documentary about Folsom Prison.

Having played at the prison in 1966 to a smaller crowd, Cash realized that recording a live album might draw help re-start his career. As predicted, the concert drew large media attention which reinvigorated Cash’s success in the musical market and the album At Folsom Prison hit number 1 on the charts.

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Johnny Cash had been encouraged by a local preacher to meet with the prisoners for the 1966 concert in order to help deal with struggles in Cash’s life. Through that concert, Cash began correspondence with many of the prisoners. He soon realized the unorthodox recording at a prison would help him recover his career after several high-profile divorces and substance abuse struggles which hurt his image.

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Johnny Cash was moved by stories of the prisoners and personal observation of their lives at Folsom prison and began to advocate for prison reform. This push for prison reform eventually led him to a meeting with Pres. Nixon to change the way prisons were run in the United States.

From the success of At Folsom Prison, Cash recorded a live album at San Quentin shortly after which also met with similar success. A prisoner at San Quentin was inspired by Cash’s performance and upon his release, started a Country music career of his own. Following the same outlaw genre of Cash, Merle Haggard wrote and performed songs telling tales of a prisoner’s desperation and encounters with the law.

This concert also has inspired other artists who realize that prisoners are worthy of human rights and deserving of hope. Most recently Lauren Daigle and Kanye West performed at prisons while promoting Christian music and attempting to bring something encouraging and hopeful to the inmates. A fictional concert in the movie, Airheads sees the main characters record a live album while being inmates serving time for being convicted of kidnapping after taking a radio station hostage in order to get their unsolicited single played.

Have you listened to At Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash?

History Monday #85

A State of the Union with 4 times the freedom

We’re back after a New Year’s hiatus, and it’s time for #HistoryMonday as usual for the start of a week. Today’s entry looks at one of FDR’s key speeches during his presidency. Given that Pres. Roosevelt had four inaugural and a dozen State of the Union addresses in addition to many others, that’s quite a library to choose from.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt headshot

On this day in 1941, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt delivers his annual State of the Union address that would come to be termed the Four Freedoms speech. Pres. Roosevelt would outline four specific freedoms that everyone worldwide and particularly in the United States could expect to find.

The four freedoms listed by Pres. Roosevelt are: (1) Freedom of speech, (2) Freedom of worship, (3) Freedom from want, and (4) Freedom from fear. Of course, the first two freedoms are guaranteed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The freedom from want appealed to social welfare proponents and promoted an idea of basic economic security which exists with calls for higher minimum wages or Universal Basic Income (UBI) as championed by presidential candidate Andrew Yang. The final freedom from fear hoped to assuage concerns of national aggression particularly as World War II was ravaging many other nations and the United States was intent on remaining uninvolved.

Pres. Roosevelt was inspired by his hometown to include the motif of Four Freedoms in the State of the Union for 1941 after seeing the success of four freedoms as the theme of the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. The Four Freedoms theme of the World’s Fair highlighted freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly with statues depicting these freedoms. Mayor Fiorello La Guardia of New York praised the statues and no doubt Pres. Roosevelt hit on the success of these statues to promote his Four Essential Freedoms.

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After delivering the speech, Pres. Roosevelt expanded the U.S. involvement with Allied Powers France and Great Britain through the Lend-Lease Act. By aiding friendly nations in their wartime efforts without actively declaring war, the United States could maintain their isolationist stance and avoid legal liabilities at that time.

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Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms

Inspired by the speech, the Saturday Evening Post commissioned four paintings with accompanying essays for the particular freedom. Each painting was illustrated by Norman Rockwell. Each painting was hung in the U.S. Treasury. In commemoration of the speech and the accompanying paintings, the United States Postal Service created postage stamps in 1943, 1946, and 1994.

The speech also was commemorated with the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York. The park includes a large bust statue of Pres. Roosevelt with stone block containing the portion of the speech.

Pres. Roosevelt also commissioned a Four Freedoms Monument shortly after the speech. Eventually this monument was constructed and placed near Madison Square Garden in 1943 and was dedicated to Collin Kelly, a World War II hero. A similar monument include a statue in Madison, Florida the hometown of Collin Kelly. Other similar statues include locations in Evansville, Indiana and Cleveland, Ohio.

Which of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms is your favorite?