Some zeitgeist from Independence Days past

The following is a hodgepodge of images and text, taken from The Library of Congress’ American Memory site and the New York Public Library’s Digital Collection, which represent, without much comment on my part, some isolated moments and issues and attitudes from Independence Days past. They span the years between 1844 and 1970 and offer what I hope will be a bit of a gentle counterpoint to our drunken, parade-following, explosion-watching fun today.

07.04. filed under: history. 4

On The Magic Island

By W.B. Seabrook with illustrations by Alexander King.

In 1929 a travelogue was released that would, through the chain reaction it set off, have a profound effect on American popular culture and by extension the American collective consciousness. It was written by a fellow with a questionable resume of personal traits said to include alcoholism, occultism, sensory deprivation, and sadism, who would ultimately commit suicide by pill-overdose. His is not a household name, and is rarely spoken, yet it is through the continued fascinated invocation of another name altogether that we unknowingly evoke his legacy: Zombie! Zombie!! Zombie!!!


Hsueh Shao-Tang, Stamp Connector.

Quote: “Several years ago, at a sumptuous Chinese dinner in Geneva, my hosts asked whether I would do them a favor, or, rather, a favor for their cook, who had prepared the banquet. I intended driving through the Alps later that night, to arrive at dawn on the French Riviera for celebrations honoring the ninetieth birthday of Pablo Picasso; who would surely remain behind his locked gate working, as on any other day. He once had sighed, “If people could only give me their wasted hours! Instead, they bring me things.” So, when my friends explained that their cook wanted me to take a gift to Picasso “from an admirer who never met him,” I tactfully declined. My friends actfully persisted. ‘This one is different! It’s a good-luck picture, the Chinese god of Happiness and Long Life—made from tiny fragments of postage stamps.” Next morning I arrived on the Riviera as the gift-bearing envoy of Hsueh Shao-Tang . . . master artist and master chef.” –David Douglas Duncan.

06.20. filed under: art. history. people. 7

Are you familiar with the Federal Writer’s Folklore and Life Histories project? It was a subsection of the larger FWP (itself a New Deal arts program) undertaken to support writers during the great depression. The Folklore Project, in particular, has fascinated me for years because at bottom it is simply a collection of the musings of ordinary people walking the 1930’s streets; and largely anonymous ordinary people at that. For example, the typewritten text above is all we are given by way of biographical information on the man who dictated a piece I came across today, and wanted to share. See below for I’m a Might-Have-Been, recorded in New York circa 1938.

06.15. filed under: history. humanity. people. 2

Abracadabra!

Can you begin to imagine the amount of time spent by the human race in pursuit of magic? I am not speaking metaphorically here. I mean can you imagine the sum total man-hours devoted to actively invoking, incanting, intoning, beseeching, divining, scrying, summoning, chanting, conjuring, and casting? And though, so far as we know, not a single minute of all that feverish sorcery yielded the intentional result with greater efficiency than chance, magic continues, and will continue, probably forever. And do you know why? Well, setting aside the fact that the whole endeavor is damn poetic specifically because of its futility, fascinating because of its baroquely fanciful trappings, pathos-packed because of its provenance, and let’s face it, pretty hilarious on the whole, there is another, simpler reason; one which I believe will be self-evident if you take a gander at what I’ve set out for you below…


| page 2 |