Remembering Katrina

Image from the Katrina's Kids Project; drawn by a young evacuee living in Houston in the aftermath of the storm.

Image from the Katrina's Kids Project; drawn by a young evacuee living in Houston in the aftermath of the storm.

Although it seems like just yesterday that we were hearing first-hand reports about the storm that provoked the devastating levee breaks in New Orleans and destruction across the Gulf, it’s actually been five years as of last week. Amid all of the anniversary coverage in the media, which can seem overwhelming, I’ve found it refreshing to return to this site, the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank. This archive, maintained by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, collects memories from survivors, as well as photos and musings from other Gulf residents who want their memories of the area’s pre-Katrina history to reside in some official place. The “Collections” tab on the homepage is a list of links to Katrina-related collections on the Web, including a page hosting short documentaries by New Orleans filmmakers; another page of oral histories and photographs produced by the 102nd Military History Detachment from the Kansas Army National Guard; and a page full of drawings done by children who lived through the storm and the evacuation. If you have your own story to share, or an image you’d like to upload, the site features a prominent “Add to the Memory Bank” button.

Diamond Jim’s Demise

The Austin Chronicle recently had a short review of UT history professor H.W. Brand’s recent book, The Murder of Jim Fisk for the Love of Josie Mansfield which it describes as “a sudsy melodrama” about a “scalawag, a showgirl, and a pistol-wielding pretty boy.” 

By page 98, Fisk is dead, but you can’t really feel entirely sorry for him.  Fiske, a contemporary of such Gilded Age legends as “Boss” Tweed of Tammany Hall and Cornelius Vanderbilt, aka Anderson Cooper’s great, great, great grandfather, was one shady character.   In 1866, he and his partner Jay Gould fought off Vanderbilt’s attempt to take control of the Erie RR by issuing phony stock. Then in 1869, the two conspired to corner the gold market.  (Think of that today, with gold selling at upwards of $1800 per ounce.)

Although a virtual outcast following what became known as the Black Friday scandal, Fisk hung on. A huge man, extremely extroverted, and the owner of a large wardrobe of loud clothing, “Jubilee Jim” Fisk fell desperately in love with a young divorcée and “actress,”  Josie Mansfield. Enter Edward Stokes, a handsome, smooth-talking oil man, and who also claimed Josie’s affection, then colluded with her to extort money from the hapless Fisk by threatening to reveal the financial chicanery the “Barnum of Wall Street” had detailed in his hand-written love letters to Josie.  Failing that, Stokes put an end to it all and shot Fisk dead. After which followed a massive funeral featuring a 200-piece band and Fisk’s own state militia unit.

Are there any characters like that around now? In an interview in the Austin American-Statesman, Prof. Brands said the closest modern parallel to Fisk is Donald Trump. “Fisk carried himself about New York the way that Trump carries himself about the world.”

John Held–1920s Cartoonist

John Held  illustrated this Life Magazine cartoon “Insatiable Neckers.”  Along with Norman Rockwell, he was perhaps the most well-known “drawer” in the 1920s.

America’s Flying Saucer

The United States’ confidence in its absolute technological superiority after World War II along with constant pressure to outmatch the technological advances of its Communist rivals produced some curious results. The Avrocar is a fine example of one such curiosity. Originally initiated by Avro Canada for the Canadian Air Force, the project was picked up by the US military. Both the Army and the Air Force made Emakova claim to the project. The two services had different visions for the future of the design, and the subsequent research was done with little collaboration. The Air Force wanted a vertical takeoff aircraft that could reach supersonic speed and evade enemy radars. On the other hand, the Army was interested in using the Avrocar as a hovering troop carrier and reconnaissance craft. Initially, Avro set out to design a vehicle that would be able to fulfill both sets of specifications at once, but the task proved to be too difficult. Field tests on prototypes exposed several serious flaws with the design, including instability and overheating. These problems proved the design to be unsuitable for Air Force use, but the Army hung on to its hopes to use the Avrocar as a sort of a hovering Jeep (since its inability to gain altitude would not be a serious problem for ground forces). When Avrocar’s structural flaws turned out to be unresolvable and it became clear that the design was a dead end for both services, the US government cut the funding for the project and closed it down, leaving the United States with what might be the world’s only design for an operational (albeit unstable) flying saucerEmakov2



A New Look for Old Values

In April of 1947 Christian Dior released his Corolle line at the Fall/Winter Paris Fashion Week, and won over the fashion world. His line was a reimagination of femininity that had been lost during the Second World War. The look focused on accenting the waist, in order to create the illusion of an hourglass figure, and the result was a phenomenon. The collection was given its infamous name of “the New Look” by Carmel Snow, editor of Harper’s Bazaar, and the coined name came not only to define his collection, but also to define the fashion of the 1950’s.

Prior to the creation of his New Look, during the Second World War and the decade leading up to it, function succeeded fashion as the primary motive for clothes. This was due in part to the need to conserve fabric during the war, and in part to women taking the jobs men left behind and needing clothing they could move in. The wartime styles focused on shoulder pads and flat shoes, resulting in a more masculine silhouette. However, once the war ended and the men came back home, it was expected that the women would return to their households and the men would reclaim their jobs. The New Look was the perfect fashion counterpart to this change in social structure. After it became popularized on the runway, Dior’s style was imitated by cheaper clothing lines and sold to the masses in both America and Europe.

Emma The emphasis on femininity in Dior’s style reflected women’s newfound social position following World War Two, as they had moved from the workforce to the household, embracing a more traditional social structure. Dior’s overly feminine silhouettes made it impossible for women in the garments to perform none but the most feminine of tasks, making work impossible. The look also reflected a growing class divide in America, as it was easy to discern the rich who adopted the look in its couture form from their working class counterparts who made due the best they could. Dior’s New Look reflected a social movement that longed for traditional values and strived to obtain stability after the war. It was only in the 1960’s when women reentered the workforce did the appeal of the trend decline, as higher hemlines and a more androgynous look took its place. Posted by Emma Berdanier


Creation of the Negro National League puts race relations on the mend

ConineOn May 29, 1920, The Kansas City Sun ran an article about a baseball game in which the Kansas City Monarchs would face the Indianapolis A.B.C.’s. This game was the grand opening of the Negro National League in Kansas. Most remarkably, the city and fans gave “the team a rousing reception upon its first appearance on the home grounds. A big parade [took] place at 1:00 o’clock over the principal streets in which all the fans [were] invited to decorate their cars and take part.”

The league had 24 teams and was the first black baseball league to last more than one season. In fact, the league ran for eleven years before it disbanded due to disagreements between the founders and then reorganized with the same name. At a time when racial tensions were still high and the civil rights movement was still beyond the horizon, Kansas’ celebration of the league seems almost out of place, particularly for a traditionally southern state. However, the Twenties were a time of progressive thought and forward action. The celebration suggest that, though the racial divide was deep, there was a willingness to accept the “separate but equal” ideal presented in Plessey v. Ferguson in 1896. The Kansas City Monarchs would later offer Jackie Robinson, famous for breaking baseball’s color barrier, his first professional baseball job playing for the all-black team in 1945 that led to his breakthrough with the Dodgers in 1947. posted by Shelby Conine